BABE #133: MICHELLE CALLOWAY, Creative Director @ Space 42
Michelle is a photographer, mom to a five-year-old, and one of four masterminds behind the up-and-coming Jacksonville art gallery, shop and cafe: Space 42 (which also happens to be the venue where we're hosting A Merry + Bright Affair this Saturday!) We’re lucky to have her innovative mind and creative entrepreneurship, not to mention her killer work ethic and laid back personality, in our community. Thanks for chatting with us, Michelle! You are a babe.
Babe you admire and why?
So cliche, but probably my favorite living female photographer, Annie Leibovitz. I love her work and her ability to create impactful work for almost five decades.
How do you spend your free time?
I don’t know what free time is as of lately, but if I had to pick, it would be the gym. I love working out, it’s my stress reliever.
Go-to coffee order?
As of late, green tea latte with soy milk
Go-to adult beverage?
A strong cabernet
Three things we can always find in your fridge?
Veganaise, La Croix and tofu.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
I miss LA everyday, but right now it’s on fire. So, maybe Europe. I’d love to go back.
What’s one thing you wish you knew more about?
Sales. I’m terrible. I need a partner - anyone interested? Email me.
What’s something most don't know about you?
I’m really shy. I’m what you would call an introverted-extrovert. Large crowds make me uneasy and I’m much better one-on-one.
Last concert you attended?
The Lady Gaga - Joanne Tour in Los Angeles.
Tell us about your hustle:
I'm a Co-Owner and Creative Director at Space 42, a creative technology space, gallery and pop-up shop located inside a 22,000 sq ft. warehouse in Jacksonville, Florida. My day-to-day is pretty crazy; on a good day I run the pop-up shop, sales, social media, manage the gallery and marketing, clean the bathrooms, give tours; you name it, I’m doing it. It’s an extremely large undertaking, but being able to say I'm a part of establishing and managing something as ever-changing as Space 42 has taught me so much about strength and adaptability. On days that I’m not there, I’m working on my own hustle, which is photography. I’m currently working on a new gallery show and book.
What does your typical workday look like?
Mornings are not my friend, but because I’m a mother to a five-year-old, I’m up at 7:30 getting him ready for school. After he's dropped off, I head into the “office.” I usually start by opening the building up, then cleaning and restocking the store and gallery. By 10am, our doors are open and I’m at my desk answering emails, posting on social media, ordering supplies, talking with plumbers, meeting with our artists, collaborating on show ideas, working with local vendors, ordering art, shipping, updating the website - the list is endless. We have also done the majority of the renovations on the space ourselves, so on 'off' hours, you can catch me painting, ripping out walls, removing drop ceilings, climbing on ladders, etc. The hustle never stops.
How long have you been a photographer? When did you start, and how has your career evolved?
I started in photography when I was about eight-years-old. Being the introverted type, it was something I was naturally inclined to love. In high school, I shot in only film, and developed in the school darkroom. Eventually, I knew that photography was what I wanted to focus on in college. At Columbia, I really came into my own with it, photographing what interested me most: my friends, nudes, abstracts, self portraits, etc. After college, I decided to transition into commercial photography as a means to make money and became a still photographer on movie sets, later becoming a fashion photographer. I love fashion photography, but since moving to Jacksonville, the clientele just isn't the same, so I’ve decided to go back to my first love - creating art.
What are your favorite subjects to shoot?
Currently, my main focus is portraiture. Not in the traditional sense, but more in the documentary sense. I have this obsession with telling the stories of 'now.' Many of the great photographers I admire (Richard Avedon, Mary Ellen Mark, Nan Goldin, etc.) were able to tell stories showcasing certain periods of time. In this day and age where everyone is a photographer and social media has taken over our lives, I’m still dedicated to making art that will last. It might not be spontaneous, but there is a thought behind it. It’s my job as an artist to show the world my point of view; photography has been the best way I know how to do that.
When/how did you first get the idea for Space 42?
Space 42 has been a work in progress for many years. My husband, Kevin, has always wanted to own a warehouse space to house Ijhana, the technology company he founded in 2006 in Los Angeles. After we relocated to Jacksonville, the dream became more of a reality due to the affordable local real estate. With the help of his partner, James Higbe, they began to look for vacant spaces in industrial areas of town. We originally found a different space, but due to land contamination issues, we walked away. Ironically on that same day, our realtor was able to show us another property, which is now Space 42.
What did you know you wanted in the space?
The new space allowed ample room for Ijhana, a 12,000 sq. ft. gallery, pop-up shop, and outdoor cafe and community area. In just under 10 months, we’ve been able to completely transform the space, host countless private events, 3 art shows, multiple community events, and so much more. After originally walking in through the mess, machinery, junk and rat poop, we knew right away it was the space we needed. We said 'yes' that day, and the deal was done a month later. The saying that 'when one door closes, another one opens' is extremely true - you just have to be open to change and listen to your instincts.
Where do you think your love for art comes from?
Honestly, I never thought of myself as an artist or lover of the arts. I didn’t grow up in a family that valued art, but I had an uncle who was a writer and from a young age I idolized his family's lifestyle. They were creative, open-minded, fun, playful and different. I knew that I liked their ideals and wanted to have a life like that. It wasn’t until college that I was really able to come into my own artistic voice. College taught me what it meant to be an artist and to create work that meant something.
How often do you make time for your own photography, creativity, business pursuits, etc?
My photography had honestly been on the back burner for the last 10 months that we’ve been building Space 42, but recently it has come back stronger than ever. Artists reading this: you what I’m talking about. You can only ignore your inner artist for so long before it comes to the surface, needing to be expressed. Balance is key and you have to make time for your creativity at all costs. I give myself time to work on photography whenever I have a slow day and if I can have subjects come to the space during business hours for a shoot, I will.
What is your relationship to your local community?
Jacksonville is an interesting place. At first I hated it. I’m not from the South, and I didn’t understand it. It took me two years to really get used to it and see it for what it is. It is an amazing place to get work done, experiment, try new things, challenge yourself and get involved. Jacksonville is a very forgiving city and it allows people to do big things in a city that needs a lot of help growing. Part of opening Space 42 was that we saw a need to connect like-minded people; the people that with the support of each other can actually make this city grow. Jacksonville is on the verge of something great - it just needs more people working together for a common good.
How have your past internships, education, and work experiences prepared you for your work?
I’ve worked so many different jobs in my past that have all prepared me for today. In high school, I was a Certified Nursing Assistant, in college I assisted photographers, I’ve worked on movie sets, a doggy daycare, a factory, 3 startups, Film Extra work, photographed Bat/Bar Mitzvahs, you name it. The one consistency is that I’ve stayed curious and learned something from every opportunity, good and bad.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
I’ve never really thought about this question until the past few years after this sort of “girlboss” phenomenon came into the media. I’ve always lived by the motto, "work hard and always do your best." I’ve done many labor-intensive jobs in my career, and I’ve never let it stop me. I've chosen to forge ahead and not limit myself by my beliefs. If you believe and act as if you are as good as or better than your male counterpart, that's all that matters. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. Im a human.
What is the gender ratio like in your industry? Do you see it evolving?
I’m pretty sure that successful male photographers still dominate the industry. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, the median income for a male photographer in the United States is $35,500. The median income for a female photographer? Less than HALF that amount - a mere $16,300. Although I do see more and more female photographers sharing their voice and things are going in the right direction, the gender wage gap in the industry is still a different story.
What’s your biggest career milestone and why?
I don’t think I’ve had it yet, but it’s coming - I can feel it. I’m doing something completely new and I’m excited to see where it goes.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job that we might not see?
The internal battle between inspiration and action. It’s the curse of an artist. We are our own worst critics and fear will stop us dead in our tracks. Being a creative is extremely vulnerable and it takes a lot of self-talk to put your work into the world.
What would you say is your biggest strength in your current role?
Vision and tenacity. I have the vision of what I want long before I have it, and tenacity is what brings it to reality. Hold on to your vision and work on it everyday little by little, and soon enough, you'll achieve it.
What does success look like to you?
Someone who has figured out how to do what they love and make a living.
How do you find a work-life balance?
I really don't. I’ve learned to let go of that idea a lot this year. I hired a housekeeper and I take my son to school in my PJ's. I’m not really together, but I try my best.
What would you like to see happening in Space 42 a year from now? 5 years from now?
Our goals for Space 42 are to keep growing the community and keep impacting the city as a whole through arts and technology. Jacksonville is an amazing canvas for improvement and we hope that we can have a hand in helping to shape that change. On a personal level, I would like to see myself grow as a photographer. My focus has shifted away from all client work to more gallery work, books, series and documentary themes. This is a new space for me, but Space 42 has given me the experience to navigate some of these themes more easily.
Will you be attending our Merry + Bright Affair at Space 42 on Saturday? ;-)
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
I spent way too many years thinking I wasn’t good enough and now that I’m a little older I’ve realized it was time wasted. Take a deep breath. Stop wasting so much time being hard on yourself and just realize how lucky you are to be where you are.