Suzi Pratt is driven. She started out writing (and then photographing & editing) for SSG in 2009. In about 3 years time grew her hobby of photography into a business that includes the likes of The Stranger , Verbicide Magazine, Prefix Magazine , Pitchfork, New York Magazine as well as travel and culinary photography (check out her fantastic photostream). At a time when so many people let alone artists are really struggling, this talented young woman has managed to make succeeding as a working artist look easy. Then you sit down and have a couple drinks with her on a Friday night after you’ve both worked a full day job and you realize really quickly that it’s got nothing to do with easy and everything to do with love. She loves what she does and has a relentless passion for achieving her goals. It’s also not easy to communicate anything in the arena of “relentless” while being one of the more easy-going and adaptable people I have ever met but she manages to do it.
We talked candidly in March at a happy hour that kept getting happier (and more candid) by the round. It was a good thing we both had solid schedules that night. We were on a roll! We covered everything from the brains of artists, to secretly loving pop music, experiencing Seattle as a transplant, selling your art vs. selling out, how similar our boyfriends were, parents supporting or not supporting the dreams of their children, and well, you get the idea. My point is that this is the kind of woman who has a lot to contribute to the art world, valuable insight on many many things and someone I’m really excited about keeping an eye on. If she becomes president one day, I will not be shocked one bit though I doubt she’d be interested unless she can do some sort of strange death-defying base jump off the white house roof.
In High School on the Island of Oahu, Suzi loved to draw with charcoal. Her family would never go for majoring in something as unstable as art so when it came time to go to college, she majored in business at Seattle Pacific University and began working as a financial analyst at Boeing straight out of college. As she’s telling me her story, I find myself wondering how much being raised Japanese with incredibly driven and disciplined parents on a beautiful Hawaiian island has to do with the way Suzi has mastered relaxed but intense productivity. I for one am completely impressed how she is able to grind hard and accomplish goals while exuding serenity (as opposed to someone like me who exudes something along the lines of fried).
A thirst to try new things led her to volunteering at an event where she met a photographer for a small (at the time) music blog called Seattle Show Gal. He suggested that she get in contact with them “we’re always looking for writers”. So she did just that. Never mind that she didn’t have any previous journalism experience or much knowledge of the Seattle music scene. “I started off covering small shows like Romance, Beardo, and Crown City Rockers. My first “big” shows I ever wrote about were Flyleaf and Pixies. Photo-wise, I didn’t start taking it seriously until the 2010 Sasquatch Music Festival. Like a week before the event, I bought a Nikon D90 off Craigslist and pretty much learned to use it on the go throughout the entire festival.” Never mind that she had never taken professional photos before. Suzi is a self-admitted adrenaline junkie and saw this as an opportunity to be her next personal challenge.
You just jumped right in! Any embarrassing moments?
My first-ever published article/photos!
My first draft of this piece was written extremely formally—I had all those grammar and style rules from college English class running through my head. I remember Nikki Benson telling me my writing was too dry and I needed to loosen up my tone and style. That was definitely embarrassing, but I learned pretty quickly.
What about empowering “yes! I can do this” moments?
It’s both weird and empowering when people start putting a face to a name. There are many times I’ll introduce myself to someone and they’ll be like, “YOU’RE Suzi Pratt?! I’m such a fan of your work!” I think as constant content generators, it’s often forgotten that people actually read our words or look at our photos, so it’s cool to get that recognition in person.
Who/what inspires you to work so hard and more importantly to KEEP working so hard?
The recognition piece I mentioned before is huge. For me, the byline credit or paycheck is just a bonus. The real value in the stories I write or photos I take is effectively communicating a message that impact viewers. I love getting feedback on my work, whether it be positive or constructive.
Another piece of motivation is the simple act of achieving personal goals. Working in finance, I lost the meaning and significance of goals, often because they weren’t mine and if we didn’t achieve them, all we had to do was create a variance analysis report. It was a lot more meaningful when I felt the full personal satisfaction of making my goals real.
I also have incredibly strong and inspiring parental figures. Last November, I had the privilege of meeting my birth father in person for the first time. I discovered that he’s a self-made man who took his passion of martial arts and made a business out of it, going so far as to inventing his own form of martial arts (kukmoodo). Hearing his story and seeing his excitement as I told him my own goals of turning my dreams into a reality was incredibly inspiring.
On the same note, my adoptive father is the general manager of the Honolulu International Airport and a former Navy fighter pilot. My adoptive mother runs a high school culinary program she built from scratch, after going back to school and making a career change at the age of 50. They both have been incredibly inspiring, maybe not so much as I was growing up, but now as I set my own goals I really admire what they went through.
As a female photographer and writer, have you experienced any discrimination or push back from your male peers?
You know, I’ve been pretty oblivious to the whole male/female ratio in photography. I’m more inclined to notice if there are more Canons or Nikons than men or women. At the same time, it depends on the event. I’ve found male photographers in the fashion scene to generally be more friendly and polite when it comes to letting me stand up front, for instance. In music photography, it tends to be more dog eat dog with males and females doing whatever they can to get their shots. I’ve been punched, had camera parts land in my face, been shoved and stepped on, all in the space of a photo pit at a concert.
You take pictures of restaurants and food. You also write about restaurants and food. Where do you like to eat?
Marination Station for a quick, cheap bite to eat. Brave Horse Tavern for the pretzels and shuffleboard. Sitka and Spruce for any and every thing. Musashi’s chirashi bowl for a trip down memory lane.
What about music? What are you listening to? It is such a random mix! I’ve always been a pop music junkie, and currently I’m on a dubstep/electronic music kick– Skrillex, Avicii, and Morgan Page have been my music staples lately, as well as the Glee soundtrack.
Other random artists on my Spotify list include Thee Satisfaction, Grimes, Gossip, Gang Starr, Gotye, and Of Monsters and Men.
Any random secrets to share?
Food secrets? Eater Seattle and Capitol Hill Seattle blog! I may be biased since I work for them, but seriously, they are great local and current resources for food-related news. Overall photo/writing secrets? Social media—it’s how I’ve made 90% of my business connections.
You know of the Seattle freeze and busted straight through it. What’s your advice to someone who just moved here or has been here for a minute but still can’t seem to feel accepted by us chilly Seattlelites?
Honestly, it took me a year to figure out my social place in Seattle. First advice is don’t do what I did and move to Shoreline. Proximity to Seattle is essential. Second piece of advice is figure out what your passion or interests are and start making connections online. Use social media. I’ve met so many cool people and made close friends by using Twitter, Facebook, Couchsurfing, MeetUp, and even Craigslist. Before I found blogging/photography, I wanted to be a professional skydiver (no joke), so I delved in that scene before I realized I wanted my life expectancy rate to be a little higher. Do informational interviews, attend social gatherings. The thing about the Seattle freeze is that most Seattle residents are transplants anyway, so you just have to find and connect with them!
What would you say to young Suzi back in Oahu making charcoal drawings in her bedroom?
“Invest in The Facebook. It’s gonna be big.” I’d tell myself to keep pursuing my passion and life as a starving artist isn’t as dismal as my parents made it out to be. I tried following their advice of pursuing a worthwhile career, jumping from physical therapy to business, but never found complete satisfaction in either field. I’ve known since the age of 7 that I wanted to be an artist. Wish it hadn’t taken me 15 years to get the courage to pursue it.
How did the adage start that we must starve in order to be authentic artists or sell out in order to make money? It’s not always that polarized but the struggle (often internal) is real and on the table certainly. How do we meet our own basic needs and finance our art? How do we market our art with integrity?
“I wouldn’t be able to do any of this if I didn’t love doing it. I found a way to turn my hobby into a business”.
Waking up and doing what you love for a living is something you hear successful people say all the time. For some, it’s easier said than done, but for artists like Suzi it’s a clear directive. Suzi makes art. She also has a day job as a social media maven. She could do her art full-time but she chooses not to (at this time) because that is what works for her. She enjoys travelling. She enjoys not starving. Her best secret is that she turned her hobby into an artistic career pursuit so that while the woman works darn near 24/7 she is loving life and making some incredible art in the process. Suzi Pratt, I salute your hard work and creative vision and can’t wait to see what’s next for you!
Interested in working with Suzi or learning more about how she can contribute to your project?
Reach out! on twitter @Suzi123 via email firstname.lastname@example.org