We had the good fortune of connecting with Elaine Skylar Neal and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Elaine, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I’ve come to see risk as an ally in both personal and professional growth. Sometimes I feel like if I’m not taking risks, I’m not really living. I’m not really expanding on who I am and what I already know I can do. With that said, there are all sorts of risks, and some risks, such as financial risks, have greater consequences if they go wrong. I’m constantly weighing these decisions. And let’s face it, to take business and creative risks, there are going to be some financial ones in there too. So it’s all well and fine to be brave, maybe even resign from a 9-5 career or dead-end job you hate for the potential of exploring your passion, something you’re good at, something that has the potential to bring forth real happiness and growth. But I also sort of feel like you better have that nest egg ready to crack open should you fail.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m a photographer and a creative storyteller. I built my career within the photojournalism industry, working for newspapers across the United States for nearly 20 years. Since leaving the newspaper industry, I’ve shifted my focus to several creative projects, including publishing Travels and Curiosities, a travel and photography website featuring unique and curious travel inspirations from across the globe. Photography has changed dramatically since I started out in a full-time paid staff position in the late ’90s. The industry is more saturated than ever, with every phone-holding snapshooter loosely identifying themselves as a professional photographer. As a result, it’s more challenging than ever to stand out, not just as a photographer, but as a brand, individual, and even a creative for hire. There’s just an endless glut of sharing going on, to the degree that I’m not even sure how much people are really consuming anymore. We’re basically just a society of sharers now, so it is quite the challenge indeed to break through that huge wall of noise on a day-to-day basis. I think there are many ways to succeed in every creative profession. Some creatives succeed by setting themselves apart by a distinct style or niche. Others take the diversification approach, expanding on their skillset, and offering a broader range of services. A lot of questions for photographers right now, for instance, aren’t just whether they can make amazing photographs. It’s now become, can you shoot video, can you fly a drone? It’s often, and unfortunately, not good enough to be simply a good photographer anymore So I think there is some real sense to stepping back and taking a hard look at what services are being sought after and try to align with some of those. But that’s just one approach. For me, I started out as a still photographer. That was sort of my one thing, and I felt I did it well. But now, in part because of the extreme oversaturation of the market, I’ve repositioned myself. And now in addition to photography, I offer blog writing services, photo editing, and website design services. But this is also part of a long-term goal toward location independence as I move forward in my career.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
There is so much to see and experience in and within a short drive of Denver. First things first, I’d start with a tour of the cities art attractions, including places like The Clyfford Still Museum and The Denver Art Museum, along with a tour of the galleries and murals within the RiNo Arts District. We’d stop in at some of my favorite food halls, including Avanti Food and Beverage to watch the sunset and grab drinks. At some point in the week, we’d also have to visit other iconic tourist attractions such as Union Station, crossing through Commons Park along the South Platte River, and Highland Bridge over to Little Man Ice Cream. I’d suggest a stroll through the historic (and somewhat creepy) Cheesman Park and the surrounding historic neighborhood and homes, at the very least so I could show them what a cemetery-turned-park looks like and the strange stories behind its transformation over a hundred years ago. A stop at the Denver Botanical Gardens nearby, depending on the time of year, would also be high on my list. I’d go out of my way to make a stop at Kochi Cafe (formerly Steep) as they have THE BEST tea lattes I’ve ever had. Toasted coconut oolong, you’re already calling my name again. But visiting Denver also has a lot to do with what you can go see and experience within a short drive of the city itself. For me, a trip to Denver wouldn’t be complete without visiting Red Rocks Amphitheater in the morning, hiking a trail at Roxborough State Park, and even a second hike (not that same day) up Rattlesnake Gulch Trail at Eldorado Canyon. Not only do you get a heart-pumping workout with an amazing view, but the trail leads up to the Crags Hotel Ruins, and an overlook of the Continental Divide. Bonus!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
It’s difficult to narrow down any one person who influenced me directly as I’ve had so many mentors, supporters, and fellow creatives who have contributed to my creative development over the years. With this in mind, I’ll give a major shoutout to all artists, creators, storytellers across the globe, including the unknown, emerging, and established, who give back to their communities by sharing their work, fighting for diversity and inclusion, and inspiring the next generation of creative talent along the way.
Photographs by Elaine Skylar Neal / Travels and Curiosities