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Meet Michael Khachadoorian of Khachadoorian Photography in Alhambra

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michael Khachadoorian.

Michael, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
As a teenager, I had the opportunity to work at my great uncle Papken’s camera stores, first subbing in for my dad’s cousin in Boston, then working full time 6 days a week up in Rockport, Mass at Camera Corner, for four summers straight. I am lucky to have learned from both Uncle Papken and his daughter Armenne, who gave me my first SLR when I was 17, and I spent the summer nights photographing my friends goofing around after work. Back then of course, it was all film… so we’d have the suspense of waiting a day or two before the film was developed. The thrill of opening the envelopes of photographs when they arrived, looking at the prints for the first time, and sharing them with each other… priceless.

Wanted to go to school for art, my dad was paying half, and laid down the law that I should study business.. so I went for Marketing with a minor in Art.. got to learn the darkroom and get my feet wet learning Photoshop in this class I remember like it was yesterday: ESP (Electronic Still Photography) with Professor Francis Olschafskie.. this was truly instrumental learning how to tweak and “photoshop” my images for the first time. All the Art majors were saying it’s nearly impossible to get an A in that class… maybe 1 or 2 people max… I should expect a B or B/C at best.. One of my proudest moments in college was acing that class with my final project, receiving high praise from the maestro himself. The question was then, how to parlay that skillset into actual work, post-college.

Young and stupid, I hadn’t a clue how to pursue actual “job jobs” after college. I can remember all the big job fairs at UMass Amherst, and asking all the non-creative business-type folks if there were any “creative” type jobs they were hiring for.. Anyways anxious to hear their response, each and every one had their own spin of what creative meant.. and so, yes, in their words, all the jobs being offered were “creative” in one way or another. I felt a little lost…

So when a childhood friend invited me to live out at UCLA for the summer after graduation, I drove across country, eventually landing a job in the billing dept. at world renowned TBWA Chiat Day. Seeing first-hand some of the greatest ad campaigns on earth (everything Apple.. the Energizer Bunny..) this truly got me even more excited about the advertising world.

I moved back east in 2000, started this company called Khach Card, and on the side, began taking on friends of friends as photography clients, shooting various portraiture.. this grew and grew, and around the same time, I started working at Converse. I had an illustrious career there spanning 7 years, the only employee to work on every floor, starting on 5, then 4, 3, 2, 1 in that order. On the marketing (3rd) floor, it was my job to write copy for all the new sneakers for converse.com, and to photoshop any changes from the development sample that were made to the final sample, be it, color or material alterations. This was fine at first, but when we went from 19 SKUs to 90 in the first 9 months, then way up to 750+ when Nike bought us, it just got to be too cumbersome a job to be photoshopping everything along with our new apparel line, so I started lugging all the boxes of shoes and apparel home with me, I’d shoot them at my home studio at night..

my manager Joanne Pendergast was was so awesome.. she didn’t mind how the work was done, so long as it got done. So I began my commercial photography career as a semi hush hush secret between us.

With her blessing, I pitched the idea of opening up our own state of the art in-house Converse photo studio to our CMO, David Maddocks. I needed a little patience as this took some time to sort out, but within a year, I became the first in-house photographer at Converse, and had my very own 1200 ft.² studio as an office, with all the best Broncolor lighting on the planet. I got to learn on the best, and to this day, have only ever used Broncolor.

Shooting mostly shoe after shoe after shoe after shoe, I became a true expert in shoe and product photography. I got super fast, some days not really starting “work work” until the late afternoon, and would do whatever it took, working late nights and/or weekends to deliver assets to the entire company, day-in, day-out. It wasn’t until Brandon Avery (Design Director at the time) saw more potential in me, and gave me the opportunity to start shooting lifestyle for Converse. This was around 2007, and by far the best of times for me at Converse. Jeff Steep became my manager, and Paul Tew his.. I had the best of the best in my corner. Jeff took the studio under his wing, and said to me “Khach, I want what you want”.. this resonated with me more than anything anyone ever told me.. because he meant it, and I could tell. Jeff was so incredibly helpful and remains one of my best friends on earth.

Around this time, I met Samantha Rockman, through our mutual retoucher friend, J.M. Zinter. Sam had just moved out west from Boston, and so we were phone buddies the first year of knowing each other.. she was instrumental in helping me grow my portfolio and business. She started producing jobs for Converse, 2 of which were in Alabama.. so we got to really know each other a whole lot better after spending a week in a car.. our friendship grew and grew, eventually into a greater love, and in 2009, I proposed to her in California, then flew back and gave my 12 week notice at Converse.

In April 2010, I drove across country once again, moved in with Samantha, who’s now been my loving wife for 4 years now (at time of this article in 2017). I feel blessed to have had her undying support through the years.. I truly couldn’t have done it without her.

I’m also very grateful for all the relationships that came out of my years at Converse. Take one for instance.. Chris Lindner left to become the CMO at Saucony in 2010. I had apparently left a good impression on him through our time together.. and he invited me to share my work with his marketing executive, Jessie Morey. Through that new relationship, I’ve been shooting for Saucony ever since, and loving every minute of it.

I would tell anyone who’s working in-house, be it any position.. do your best job, relish every relationship, because you never know where life takes you, and where life takes those you work with.

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 first year out on my own, I foolishly thought by “being repped”, the work would just come. This was a huge wake up call. Nothing just comes. Nobody ever just knocks on your door.. You’ve gotta want it, you’ve gotta have the book to show, but also the drive to show it.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
Khachadoorian Photography is a full service company offering high-end commercial advertising photography, along with soup-to-nuts catered to your every need production services.

I specialize in shooting people, wearing shoes and / or apparel, generally for a Brand i.e. Saucony, Converse, Fabletics, Riddell, etc. I tend to gravitate towards sporty athletic brands, mainly because I’ve always loved playing sports growing up, and being active all my life. Rather than fake it on a fashion runway, I can be myself and be 100% comfortable as “me” since I’m truly into athletic culture.

I’m the proud father of a 2 year old, our son Julian.. I’ve always been “Uncle Mike” to my siblings kids, I’ve always ADORED children, but having my own has changed me in ways I cannot even express. All I can say is, I truly enjoy photographing kids, like nothing else on earth. I’ve been grateful to have been given the opportunity to shoot for my latest client Burt’s Bees Baby.. It’s extra special getting to work with little kids, and see their parents’ devotion to such a great organic clothing brand such as Burt’s Bees.

I cherish the folks I get to meet and become friends with at all the companies I work with.. I think that’s my favorite aspect of the job. I just sent my friend at Saucony an extremely silly happy birthday voice memo this morning, and it made my day to see it made her laugh.. I feel blessed I get to meet such great folks.

People can say they’re perfectionists and will exceed all expectations.. the thing that sets me apart, I think, is that I truly care. I really do care how a client’s needs are met, how they feel on set, how the final shot looks, getting in more shots than they anticipated, etc, because I know from experience what it’s like to be the client. Having worked in-house for so long, I know how important a budget is, how crucial it is to stay at or below budget, and what it means to truly make a promise and over-deliver on that promise. I will do whatever it takes. Take that literally.. WHAT EVER IT TAKES to get the job done right, as if my life depends on it, because in the end, it does! This is what I love, and my family depends on me to perform. My clients come back to me over and over again because I try as hard as I possibly can to exceed their expectations every job that comes my way.

I know there are a million other options, so I try to never take my job for granted. If I weren’t here, like the day I left Converse, I know there’d be a thousand other photographers lining out the door to take my place. What also sets me apart is that I’m a workhorse. Converse didn’t just replace me with one photographer, it took 3 full time folks to fill my shoes, from everything my friends told me after I left.

I get my work ethic from my father, who never complained, ever. When my siblings and I were young, he had his full time job managing the eastern US budget for the Dept of Defense, and on top of that, he was getting his Masters Degree at night, while working weekends at the sub shop, and fulfilling his duties one weekend a month in the Army Reserve. I could never complain I was being overworked, because he was the king of work!

What were you like growing up?
Growing up in Wakefield, Massachusetts, I was the youngest of three kids, so luckily my other siblings broke in Mom & Dad, so by the time I reached high school, I was allowed to play football (unlike my brother) and because I kept all A’s and B’s and was an all around “good kid”, I felt like had a little more leeway to, I don’t know, maybe get away with a bit more. I’ve never been afraid of heights, or afraid to take a risk, and this helps me continue to be a little crazy on shoots.. like jumping out into the middle of the 4th St Bridge to run along the cars in order to get the perfect shot of a runner for Saucony, or getting behind home plate with a RED camera without any protection to get the perfect shot of Pablo Sandoval crushing a home run.. when Big Panda took a pitch and it grazed off my shoulder, it was the most exhilarating thing that happened in months.. I live for moments like that.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
All images © Michael Khachadoorian

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