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Meet Christopher Heltai of Chris Heltai Photography in Marina Del Rey

Today we’d like to introduce you to Christopher Heltai.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
My story is a constantly evolving one. I got my first camera, a GAF 110, when I was 10 for Christmas. I immediately loved capturing images. I took a rather dramatically lit portrait of my Hungarian grandfather, Sandor Heltai, at the time and a lot of people loved it. I remember how much I loved composing that image and capturing something unique in his eyes. I have always loved taking pictures of people.

In addition to people, I am also a world traveler (along with my family) and capturing images from remote parts of the world, and the humanity in these parts, is a large part of my work. In 2016, I was invited to Haiti to teach adolescent and teenage girls about photography (specifically portraiture and composition) for 10 days in very remote regions of the country. That gave me a taste of photojournalism and the power of what the camera can do.

Currently, I shoot weddings, publicity photos, special events and portraits in studio and natural settings. I am also a 4th-grade elementary school teacher at Westminster Avenue Elementary in Venice, California. I am a relatively new teacher, having pursued acting for nearly 20 years (all the while shooting photographs!). My principal enticed me to work at his school by allowing me to build a darkroom in the school. He’s a very cool principal.

I am presently in the process of assembling an Artisan Workshop for 5-8 interested students who will work with donated film cameras where I will teach the virtues of composition and eventually process prints from their negatives.

I would like to get deeper into the photojournalism aspect of my photography. In the meantime, I continue to shoot for various projects and people based solely on referral. One of my most recent projects included being the event photographer for the Frieze Art Fair held at Paramount Studios.

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?
The road is not a bumpy one, it’s just a slow one. I am not killing myself for the next job as I am a school teacher as well. I do pick and choose my projects, although they are not as often as I would maybe prefer. I genuinely enjoy all sorts of events from weddings, bar mitzvahs, intimate concerts,

The reality of my life is such that diversity is key to everything. I cannot be pigeon- holed into one particular thing. The love and passion I have for photography is first and foremost and will always be my first true love. However, working with nine and ten year old children, running ultra-marathons, going to 10-Day Vipassanas, and periodically acting in commercials (I currently have a Visa ad running), not to mention being a father to two teen girls, keeps my life very interesting and full. It’s also the reality of living in one of the most dynamic cities in the world. We do what we can to make it work here.

What else should we know about your photography business?
My photography business takes pride in being honest, genuine and candid in its approach. People seek out my work because I am often the fly on the wall, capturing people in their honest experience. I make people feel at ease and get the best out of them, alleviating any fear or anxiety they have when being photographed. It’s not a unique ability. I just think people resonate with me and my sincerity in getting something real. I think this quality helps in my being a cognizant and effective teacher as well.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I do not believe that luck has been a huge component in my modest success. Perhaps that luck still remains to be seen! Circumstances, more than anything, have been the harbingers of change and fortune. From knowing someone who knows someone to having worked in a particular place, to just being at the right place at the right time: these have been the main forms of luck for my work. I just love taking photographs. Whether it’s with my digital SLR or my 1950 Yashica Medium Format camera, I’m happiest behind the lens.

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