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Life and Work with Cortney Armitage

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cortney Armitage.

Cortney, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I can start with where I am today. The basics: I’m 44 years old. I’m a concert/wedding/commercial photographer and PreVisulisation Artist for animated feature films. I’m single with two cats and I’m constantly on the verge of having zero dollars in my bank account, but I like long walks on the beach and I have never missed rent. I do know if that is an accomplishment, but it’s my way. I guess if anything my story might be a cautionary tale, as I after re-reading this, the way I tell it, I could possibly completely de-romanticize the life of an artist, because I do believe that to be an artist you really almost have to be slightly insane.

To me, the act of art is a compulsion. I, as most artists that I’ve spoken to about the topic, truly have no other choice in occupation, as the insanity to do art drives us, we do not know any other way. There isn’t thought of doing something else.

I was born a completely below average musician to two extremely talented rock ‘n’ rollers. (My first concert was at 5 years old at CBGB’s when my mom couldn’t find a baby sitter. By high school, I was the only kid who really didn’t want to go out to bars. I’d already had my fill after once night I told my mom my ears hurt and she broke off the filters to two cigarettes and said, “Use these.”.) But being a great disappointment in the music department, it, however, was ascertained my proficiency and proclivity for art and photography.

I auditioned for the Magnet school Laguardia High School in New York, which meant at the age of 14, I had a full portfolio of art at the ready. At the age of 17, I started my first job in animation. I was a colorist on Beavis & Butt-Head and universally hated on the crew the day I had to take a day off to graduate high school. I ended up at NYU in the Tisch program. I paid my way through college making graphics at CBS News on the weekends. I had an apartment in Jersey City and often ate sardines and crackers to keep the lights on.

After graduation, there was a blip. I had worked as a graphic artist to get out of being one and then upon graduation the cruel irony was simple, it was now the only thing that I had experience doing. Classic. Not wanting to be stuck in New York as a graphic artist, I packed up and moved to San Francisco. It was looking pretty bleak for the first year. I, you guessed it, after desperate attempts to not, I ended up working once again as a graphics artist, this time at ABC 7. But then, one fateful night after the 11 o’clock news, I was on the internet looking for jobs and that’s the night I decided to buy a Wonka Bar and when I opened it, yup, the golden ticket. Pixar Animation Studios hired me.

It was a dream come true until it wasn’t. Pixar’s sorted sexual harassment history is all true. I’m a survivor of it. It took seven years before I finally gathered up my gumption and left to Los Angeles to work at Dreamworks. It was my time at Pixar that made me question everything I was doing and it was my time at Dreamworks that lead me back to my first love. Being a photographer. It was living in Los Angeles that brought me back to my rock ‘n’ roll roots, this time, I’d get the best seat in the house… for the first three songs.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
If you’re an artist, your art will be defined by the struggle. There is never a smooth road unless you have a trust fund or some philanthropist decides to fund you.

As a photographer, you will cry; often. You will be treated like crap, especially by security and often by other artists. You are always going to be guilty until proven innocent and upon exoneration treated like a burden or more specifically a piece of crap. You are basically going to get metaphorically punched in the face two hundred times for every punch you land. If you want a seat at the table this is something that you’re just going to have to accept. The pay is crap. Most people will just expect you to give them your photos with no monetary compensation. Your best shots may be stolen. Doors will be actually slammed in your face. Opportunities that you get will seem like more of an act of mercy from God, as opposed to something that has come based on any merit. It sucks most of the time. You will rarely be recognized or given credit, and will always be the last one noticed.

This is where the insanity part I was referring to before comes in. Well, if it sucks to be a photographer so bad, why do you do it? You are chasing the high. That moment that you look at your camera and you know you just captured the most incredible moment. It’s in that moment, everything else, evaporates. The only thing you have is elation in your heart. It’s now your drug and there is nothing that will stop you from getting the next fix. You just keep going. There is nothing rational about that decision, it’s just the only way forward.

Tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
I think if I’m known for anything, it’s my work as a concert photographer. It’s also the work I’m most proud of (but there hasn’t ever been a willing participant to my camera that I haven’t enjoyed taking photos of). I think of concert photography as a look between the veils, the moment you can pull back the curtain and truly see another artist’s soul. No matter who the artist is, it’s always completely mesmerizing to me.

What advice would you give to someone at the start of her career?
The hardest lesson that you’ll ever have to learn is how to read the room and then even harder than that is how to negotiate it. (Never forget, 90% of regrets are things we don’t do.)

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
I took all the photos. Artists in them: Kolars, Courtney Barnett, Dan Hawkins of The Darkness, Juliette Lewis, The Struts, The Mowgli’s, Lucius, Black Pistol Fire

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