Photographer Branden Harvey has traveled the world shooting and sharing stories of hope and positivity. While using social media to affect social change may seem like a lofty goal, through his photographic storytelling (much of it focused on nonprofit work), Branden has shed light on issues, people, and struggles all too often overlooked. But where did he get that optimistic and photographic bug? We caught up with him briefly to hear about his mentor.
Flavorwire: Who was your mentor that helped you to greatness?
Branden Harvey: When I was in high school I really took on the identity of being a photographer. I’d been given a camera as a part of a class and I spent all my time shooting photos, editing photos, and finding new photographers to be inspired by. One of the photographers that inspired me the most was this girl, Kaarin. I’d found her work on MySpace and realized she went to my high school years before I did. She was doing exactly what I wanted to do one day.
When and how did you meet?
One day I reached out on MySpace and said hi, and asked her a few questions about photography. I wish I could go back and find the message because I’m sure it was so juvenile. But she was kind, answered all of my questions, and told me that if I had more questions she’d meet me at the local coffeeshop to talk to help me out. It turns out she was back from her travels and living in our hometown. When we met up, I’m sure I threw a thousand photography questions at her. She graciously answered all my questions and was generous enough to start a little photography passion project with me, using our old school phone cameras to shoot photos.
What was your relationship like; how did it evolve?
Kaarin and I started shooting together with a few other local photographers once or twice a month. We’d find a location or a concept and we’d all bring our cameras and shoot together. Shooting photos was fun, but I really appreciated the time she’d spend teaching me technical skills and walking me through the business-side of photography.
So would you say she was more influential creatively, with regard to the technical and artistic aspects of photography? Or did she help you business-wise, as well?
It was both. I was first drawn to Kaarin because of her creativity. I thought she was a great photographer and artist (she still is), and I wanted my work to be like hers. But what was most helpful to me was learning everything else from her — all of the non-photo stuff. There are some incredible — I mean absolutely amazing — photographers out there who don’t know how to do anything but shoot photos, so they fail to make photography their full-time career. They struggle to be able to create because they don’t have the business side of things supporting them.
On the other hand, there are photographers who shoot pretty subpar photos but have enough business skills to thrive as professional photographers. The idea of being a starving artist doesn’t have to be a reality. You can be a great artist and support yourself creating your art. It’s possible.
Kaarin had a brilliant mix of photography skills and business skills and she taught me both — the most valuable being the latter, in my opinion. She taught me to value my work, how to work with clients, and how to make a difference with my art. She taught me how to make doing what I love something sustainable. For that, I’ll be forever grateful. Because of Kaarin, I get the opportunity to do creative work for a living.
Was there a specific lesson or piece of advice you found particularly valuable?
Maybe a year or so into knowing her, Kaarin approached me with an idea. What if, during the Christmas season, we donated some family photos to someone in need of them? Specifically, there was this single mom we both knew who we figured probably wasn’t able to prioritize getting photos of her and her kids made. Kaarin invited me to partner with her to give this wonderful mom free photos for Christmas. I said yes.
We went through with the shoot and it was incredible. I loved getting to experience giving such a meaningful gift, getting to spend time with this mom and her family, and learning how to make an impact with my work. Kaarin knew exactly what she was doing. She knew the impact our photos could make.
And she knew that she could teach me the power of using my art to make a difference in the lives of others.
And how does that lesson resonate in your work today? What’s been the lasting influence?
Because of this experience, I’ve been inspired to continue using my creativity and my platform to make a difference where I can. Sometimes that comes out in the storytelling work I do for nonprofits. Sometimes I get to do this by gifting photoshoots just like that one Christmas. Sometimes I use my platform to encourage people to make their own difference in the world. I’m so thankful and privileged to get to do something I’m passionate about with my life. And it brings me so much life to be able to use what I do to make a small difference in the lives of others.
Finally, where is Kaarin now? Have you two kept in touch?
Kaarin lives in a bigger town not far from where we grew up. She’s now married, and get this: Her husband found her through my Instagram! (You’re welcome, Kaarin!) I shared a photo of Kaarin, he thought she was cute and interesting, and he hit follow. When he saw she invited her followers to an art show a few weeks later, he showed up and nervously said hi. A year later they were married.
Since we first met she’s worked as a creative director, filmmaker, business owner, helped launch several businesses, and probably did a million other amazing things she never told me about. She continues to inspire me to try new things creatively, push myself, and make a difference in the world.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for length. In our Major Key editorial series, we talk with today’s most forward-thinking creators about their mentors, teachers, and inspirational figures who coached them towards greatness. #MyMajorKey is brought to you by Microsoft Surface.