Alumni Spotlight: Rick Proctor
Interview by writer and 2-time Art of Freelance alumna Hanne Steen | All photos by Rick Proctor
Rick Proctor is on a mission to challenge your assumptions. Like the stunning book of confronting photography he is currently working on titled How I Get High, which aims to dismantle stigma around marijuana use by shining a light on the vast diversity of its users, Rick himself defies stereotype. Tall and thick-shouldered, the first mental label I slapped on him when he opened the door to his suburban bungalow was some amalgamation of all-American bro dude. But once inside his artfully-decorated home, it became clear that once again the old adage not to judge a book by its cover was proving itself worthy. I hung out with him and his cat on a sunny Saturday in Culver City while Rick told me about his redneck roots in Georgia, his gay interracial relationship, his serious love of weed, and his new life as a freshly unemployed designer-turned-freelance-photographer. Slipping in and out of Southern drawl for self-deprecating effect, he told me about fighting the temptation to sleep till noon and watch Ellen and Oprah all day, and he told me about how when he finally took the plunge and quit his product marketing job six months ago to pursue merging two of his passions—pot and photography—Art of Freelance helped him transition from working for The Man to becoming the working man he wants to be.
What do you do and when did you know you could do it for a living?
I’m a photographer. I still don’t know that I can do it for a living. I have always loved cameras. I’m a buttons and gadgets and doo-dads kind of guy and I’ve been that since I was a kid— building my own computers, all the different geeky things you could possibly do, and cameras fell into that. As I grew up my job was in a designer role, so I never really did my photography for a living, but I quit my day job in October to do this. It’s hopefully going to be a book, hopefully a documentary series, hopefully a bunch of things, but at the moment it’s photos and interviews of recreational users, people that are going through really hard times like breast cancer and Krohn’s disease, to people that use it for anxiety or depression. I’m exploring all the different types of users, from the moms that have a joint instead of a glass of wine at night, to the people that smoke all day every day aggressively.
" There’s a bubble in LA of artists and creatives and freelancers and entertainment people and it turns into this self-aggrandizing talking about yourself, but we’re never talking about what we can do for ourselves and we’re never talking about what we could do for others in a positive way. "
How did you decide to take that leap and quit your job?
My partner is a writer-director-creative type, so being around him and all his friends who are artists and actors, I sat around in my boring day job and I was like, ‘This isn’t working for me.’ I’d been preparing for a couple years because I knew I wanted to do something different, but the day I got the mental fortitude to quit my job I got an email from the Art of Freelance people about the first session. I’m not a woo-woo guy but I was like, ‘The universe is trying to tell me something.’
What are the secondary jobs that are sustaining you?
It’s weed. (Laughs) I’ve been doing product photography and social media for a company that sells pre-rolled cannabis cigarettes and they’re going for a much higher-class market, but it’s been light and I’ve been living off my savings and buckling down for the last couple months. It also helps that I have a very loving, supportive boyfriend who helps out with some of our living expenses, but figuring out how to make money doing this is still a work-in-progress.
Describe your experience of doing Art of Freelance—highs and lows.
The highs were definitely the weekly check-ins and the accountability. If I went and took a photography class it would be all photographers, it wouldn’t be a writer and painter and a journalist. There wouldn’t be this community of people who have different lives but all have this goal of leading their own life. That’s what I was missing, this sense of control and this sense of manifesting my own destiny. Wow, I am sounding like Oprah.
There’s a bubble in LA of artists and creatives and freelancers and entertainment people and it turns into this self-aggrandizing talking about yourself, but we’re never talking about what we can do for ourselves and we’re never talking about what we could do for others in a positive way. I think what the community needs is to talk about ourselves not in this self-promotional way, but more: I need this for my life, I need to get this accomplished, this is my job, help me be accountable for my job. I think that’s the difference between the city of LA and the people I met in Art of Freelance. You have to talk about yourself, but trying to get your true self out versus I want to be famous, I want people to know my name, I want I want I want. It was more: This is what’s important to me and this is what I’m doing with my life. I hope you like it.
" That’s what I saw with the rest of the group—everybody had thought of this brilliant idea and nobody had thought about what to actually do with it. I think that’s what a lot of freelancers and artists suffer from—all these brilliant ideas. "
How long had you had the idea for this project and what did it feel like to move it from concept to reality?
I had been working on the photos for two years. The feeling of moving it into the physical version was a pride that I hadn’t felt before. I don’t know what it was about holding a book and having my photos on a wall and getting up in front of people and telling them about my experience—it was this happiness, this fulfillment that hadn’t happened in my previous work because I was always doing stuff that I didn’t really care about. It felt like this could be what I’m doing for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t have had that moment if it hadn’t been in that structure. I hadn’t done a lot of that pre-work, which in one way seemed so simple to me when I was filling out the [Art of Freelance] worksheets, but then halfway through I thought, Oh, but I haven’t done any of this. So I may be be calling it simple in my head but I didn’t do it, and I didn’t think about it, and I didn’t put all these pieces together and I didn’t come up with this cohesive way to talk about my project and what my goals were. That’s what I saw with the rest of the group—everybody had thought of this brilliant idea and nobody had thought about what to actually do with it. I think that’s what a lot of freelancers and artists suffer from—all these brilliant ideas. Which is why we’re great at jobs where people need creatives and they need ideas, but when we have the motivation to do it for ourselves it’s scary because this could be successful, or it could be that I make five thousand dollars next year and I’m saying, ‘Hey boyfriend, can you pay for everything?’ But the chances are greater than zero that this will turn out very positively for my life and that I will have a career that I enjoy and that I can believe in, and when I go to a party and somebody asks me what I do, I can say with confidence and a smile on my face, ‘I’m a photographer.’
How do you hold yourself accountable when it comes to your art?
" It’s a mind fuck because you have to spend money to make money when you have no
The side gig has definitely been helpful because their timelines require me to get up and do x, y and z. Being a creative and doing it for myself is a struggle because I’m the only one that’s hurt by it not happening. I took a seminar the other day and I walked away with a $13,000 shopping list. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ve got to figure out how to make that money.’ There’s some significant expenses between me and high paying jobs. It’s a mind fuck because you have to spend money to make money when you have no money. But that’s also made me consider things that I wouldn’t necessarily, like commercial photography or product photography, which I actually do enjoy—setting a stage, especially if it’s for cannabis brands, putting leaves out everywhere, that’s fun for me. I want to find a balance between doing my own thing and making money doing stuff that I still enjoy. The only way I was going to find that balance was leaving my day job that was easy and comfortable.
How do you celebrate success? Do you celebrate small wins along the way or do you wait until the final book is published?
I’m a gadget-head. Every time I set a goal and I do it, I get that next piece of equipment. I’m not spending the whole $13,000 but I’m getting one light here and one reflector there and one stand there. They’re little treats and it’s definitely motivation to keep going, and every time I do that it makes the next session better because I have the light that does x, y and z or I have the “snoot” or I have whatever I need that honestly I didn’t know existed before I quit my job six months ago.
What about other hobbies or outlets? How do you fill the well?
My brain is very active twenty-four hours a day so it’s nice to stop it for a second and just watch a nice sunset. Getting outside, getting into nature, hiking, driving where you can actually drive (so not in Los Angeles). When I get geeky I like coding or designing a logo for myself. I pretty much delete all of them because they don’t have any purpose, but playing with color, playing with shapes, working with the pre-roll company allows me to get some of that creativity out as well. I’ve always done creative work for other people. Getting to do it for myself is definitely a mind change. I did Art of Freelance to transition from working for somebody else. It wasn’t boring work, but it was for somebody else, so every couple of days or every couple of weeks I feel this need to go code something.
How much of a role does collaboration play in your process, not just in making the work but now in evolving the work to the next stage?
I’m a horrible collaborator. It’s something I’m trying to work on. I’ve always wanted to keep everything in and if I’m going to show anybody it’s going to be the packaged product, but this is such a big endeavor that I do have to share it in bits and pieces and get feedback. Being in a household with another creative is helpful because I can show what I shot that day, what I’m doing to the photos, and see if they feel it, if they don’t. Outside of that I kind of want the public at large to just consume what I’ve done. I don’t know if that’s because in my past life in design I thrived as a person of one—in product management and product marketing you have to be alone on an island, you have to make a lot of decisions, and that’s what I’ve known. It’s very weird to be moving into an artist space and trying to be more of a collaborator, but this is never going to be a bigger book, it’s never going to be a series, it’s never going to be a documentary if I don’t learn to collaborate with other people.
Do you make work for yourself or for other people?
I’ve always made work for other people and now I’m making work for myself. That’s a fundamental shift in the way your brain works. I feel so accountable to my consulting job, I treat that like it’s forty hours a week and paying me my full living wage when in reality they’re paying not a whole lot of my living wage and in all honesty don’t need the attention that I give them. And I give them that attention because it’s Somebody that I Work For, and it puts me back into that mindset that I had before I quit my day job. I think that’s my biggest hindrance to getting my work out and doing things for myself and having my own business. When you have the confidence to call yourself a professional artist, you have the confidence to say no to things that aren’t right for you. That’s what I’m learning, how to say no to things that aren’t right for me.
What did you learn about yourself in the process of doing Art of Freelance—good, bad, ugly?
That I’m a little bit more lazy than I would like to admit. That collaboration is necessary when you’re trying to be an artist or creative. And that I didn’t make a bad decision. I think that’s what I was looking for the most out of Art of Freelance. I kind of jumped out a window and while I’m still waiting for the parachute to open, I’m not at the ground yet. The day I got out of my job I thought that would be a faster descent. I think it’s given me a little confidence in myself, a little believing in myself, a little pride. If I can have something at the end of ten weeks, maybe ten weeks from now I can have a publisher, and maybe ten weeks from that I can have a deal and maybe ten weeks from that I can have… I’m very positive that something will come out of me going with the flow.
How did finishing this project change your career path or your view of it?
It definitely gave me more confidence that it could be a career path. It was as simple as going to a website and uploading photos and having the book arrive in the mail. It’s not like they’re printing thousands of these; I have two copies. But it made me believe there will be a full version of this, there will be a large book sitting at Urban Outfitters and Barnes and Noble and every indie shop and every dispensary in the world. There will be this book that is telling people’s stories and is trying to change an opinion about somebody, and that’s going to be my congratulations to myself. In the end if this can change one person’s opinion about the community of cannabis consumers, then I’ll feel accomplished.
What advice would your 80 year-old self give you now?
Give a fuck about less things. A lot less things. Do the things that scare you. From this point forward I have to live the life I want to live, not for somebody else. My eighty year-old self would say, ‘Why didn’t you do it ten years ago?’