While I’ve been a professional photographer for nearly two decades, my biggest influence isn’t another photographer: it’s the skateboarding, skiing and snowboarding communities I grew up in here in Seattle.
Like most of us raised on the West Coast, I tried to spend every second outdoors. Skateboarding, BMX biking, skiing and snowboarding were my lifeblood. Anyone who’s been part of one of these communities knows how strong their pull is: it was cohesive, communal — it felt like we were all working towards a greater purpose. It was also deeply formative in terms of the community-first worldview I would eventually develop. In action sports your work is your currency — period. Nothing else matters. You don’t have to be the best; you just have to try your best. We watched so many people just absolutely eat it and fail, but they kept trying because that’s how you get better. Those were the girls and guys we respected, and we were all interested in helping each other grow.
When I transitioned into photography — shooting professional skiers and snowboarders at first — I expected to find the same notion of support and belonging that I’d experienced at the skate park. I was dead wrong. The photography scene was fragmented, divisive and reluctant to share knowledge. I craved what I had before: a real sense of community. And I knew I wasn’t alone — I knew that other people wanted a supportive community just like I did.
At the skate park, nobody hoarded ideas; there were no jealously guarded “secret techniques.” To that end, within my creative community, I wanted to recreate the dynamic we had skateboarding, where you could approach those better than you and pick their brains or even get a quick lesson on a trick. I started by organizing physical meetups in different cities and also online, bringing passionate photographers together to meet and share knowledge. I also started sharing as many industry insights, photo tips and tricks as I possibly could on my blog. And soon another similar project took shape: Chase Jarvis LIVE, my podcast and live Internet show. We began hosting renowned guests from the photography, music and tech industries at our studio, live-streaming the events and inviting the world to watch in real time and ask questions on Twitter — all in the name of engaging one another around what we loved. The reaction to this was overwhelmingly positive — people from all over the world told us that we made them feel connected to a community of like-minded people who wanted to help each other progress. This would lead to us building an even larger community, one for all artists and creatives. The company we created, CreativeLive, is today the world’s largest live-streaming online education company. It allows anyone to not only learn from some of the best creators — photographers, designers, musicians, authors and entrepreneurs — but also ask them questions from anywhere in the world. It is a global creative community of learners.
They say you can only connect the dots looking backwards. I see how at the core of each of these projects resides the timeless philosophy I’ve maintained from my days at the skate park: that community is a powerful influence in our lives. Not only are communities made up of people and ideas that may change us, but the very concept of community can be an influence in and of itself — it has been for me. No doubt my personal experiences with community may be different from yours, but it’s not a stretch to see community can be a hugely powerful force, no matter what, no matter where.