#LivingWellFridays: David Ford
#LivingWellFridays: David Ford
David A. Ford of David Alexander, Inc., spends the majority of his time traveling around the city of Chicago and across the country using his camera as his guide. David’s videos and photographs often reveal an unvarnished and honest vision of the world and his uncanny ability to capture these striking images has made him stand out in the world of lifestyle imagery. Despite the gritty themes displayed in his body of work, David’s infectious joy and easygoing personality make him one of the most approachable people I’ve ever met. It is easy to see David’s story as one of overnight success, but—as most success stories are—his is full of struggle, perseverance, and an unwavering determination to bring a dream to fruition.
Hello, David! You are the very first #LivingWellFriday feature we are doing here at Caramel Coated Wellness, so congratulations! The minute we decided to add this to our blog, I knew you were someone I wanted to reach out to and speak with. We’ve known each other for many, many years and your story has always inspired me. #LivingWellFridays are about exposing people to the type of wellness that goes beyond food. You can eat as healthy as you want but if you are not truly living your God-given purpose, you are not living a life well-lived.
Thank you, thank you.
So, how did you get into photography/videography in the first place? Do you remember the first time you picked up a camera and said, “This feels good?”
I got into photography by doing videography. I had a feeling of instant gratification from photography that I didn’t get from the filmmaking process, which includes hours of work behind the scenes.
I really started doing videos with a childhood friend when we lived in Bronzeville (a neighborhood in Chicago) in 2010. We started by just recording each other. His brother would record songs and we would record them and perform some minor edits with iMovie. It was nothing good at all (laughs) but it was where I started. Back then everyone was trying to rap and needed videos. Chicago was a huge cultural influence for me and being surrounded by creative people like that really got me on the path. I never had any musical talent so the videos were the way that I was able to be around and stay in the mix.
When did you decide that this was your dream?
I decided in 2012. A lot of things happened that year. That was when my girlfriend, Shonnie, and I started to get really close. That was also when I started to get serious with the Illinois Media School (formerly known as the Illinois Center for Broadcasting). I graduated from the Film and Video Production program in 2012. When I was a student I would find myself walking to the school to check out the equipment. I would wake up really early to get there before everyone else, just to work. I started to realize that I was doing that every day. That year I really wanted videography and photography to stop being a hobby. I wasn’t sure how, but I was just tired of the way I was living.
I didn’t really find my direction until the end of the program. I started to really tap into the school’s resources. After you graduate, the school had a program where you can come back and work with the equipment for up to six months. Again, I was there every day.
The school was close to Jones College Preparatory School, which was full of young people trying to be artists. These students would ask me to shoot and work on their videos. I would be working at the school so often, people would come there and ask the receptionist at the front desk, “Where’s Dave?” They would explain that they were there to see David who does the video editing. It was shortly after that the school banned me from using their services (laughs).
Once I stopped having access to all of that equipment my older brother, Michael helped me get my MacBook. He paid for half of it and I paid the rest. I knew I had to start making some money because now I had to make a return on the investments people were making in me. That’s what really inspired me to make this into a lifestyle.
Prior to that point, everything I was doing was free.
If you had to give me one sentence, how would you describe life before that moment?
Depressing. One word for you (laughs). I was just really lost, you know?
Once you made the decision to pursue this full-time, how difficult was it for you to bring it to life?
I always tell my friends who are trying to do something like this; following your dream sits on the thin line between it being possible and very, very, very difficult. It’s right there. At least that’s how it felt for me. My name, my past, not having a lot of credibility, and just feeling like everything was against me. I lived my life trying to make something on the brink of being impossible, possible.
How long did it take?
It took me one year.
I worked at Panera Bread for a total of six months. After that, I worked at the SkyDeck at the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower for another six months. Almost all of the money I was making was going into the equipment, software, insurance so I could rent more equipment, etc. Once I reached the point where I had everything I needed to start working, I stopped going to my job at the SkyDeck. I called them and told them I was not coming back.
That was also the first after having my daughter so we had to split all the money different ways. When I did my taxes at the end of that year, I found I had made about $8,000 that year. So yeah, anything is possible (laughs).
What would you consider the lowest point you reached on your journey?
The beginning. Definitely the beginning.
That’s when I first quit my job. I had my last check for $300 and a newborn baby. I had no savings—nothing.
The worst part was the crazy financial stress of not having any money. Two months in, and I was still making like $100-200 a month. That lasted for a while. One day, someone came to me with $650 for a video and I never charged less than that again.
When I think about it, it wasn’t really about money. It was more about the stress of wanting to create something with all this outside life-related stress weighing on me all the time.
Money was just the thing that made it easier. It was a means to an end. I can live off of my passion and I can focus on JUST that. It took me about two and half months.
I remember reading an article somewhere that defined the levels of entrepreneurial success. One of the very first levels was the “Ramen Stage of Success,” where you can live your dream while surviving only on ramen. What do you think about that?
I was there until like a year ago (laughs). But seriously, you have to be able to live. Not live well necessarily, but live. Creating something for yourself takes everything you have. It’s hard to do when you have other things going on. Once you get to that ramen stage, life still may suck but you can at least focus on your craft.
Looking back, what would you tell someone just starting out on their own dream-driven journey?
I would tell them that you have to stay consistent, network, and travel. You need to meet people who are in the struggle with you and those who you aspire to be.
You also have to have fun. If you’re living your passion, at the end of the day make sure you are having fun. If you start to get too serious your craft will become another stressor instead of an outlet. You can’t take life too seriously.
You can want all this money and stuff, but it can’t be the driving point. Your craft truly has to be your passion.
I’ve watched so many TEDTalks that emphasize the notion that once you’ve reached a particular peak, the next thing to do is find another peak. What’s your next peak?
I feel like in order to get to the Ramen Stage of Success, I marketed myself as a service. People hired me to take photographs or create video content, and I did it.
The next thing I’m working on is truly becoming an artist. And to me, that is creating things that are almost an entity on their own, separate from you and your skill set. For example, people nominated for Oscars or Golden Globes are being recognized for their art on its own.
I’ve done commercials, videos, all things in a “service” mindset. The next peak for me is directing my own film; something separate from you or me, something outside of the supply and demand world—a standalone piece. For my photography peak, it may be getting into apparel or blogging, where I’m creating content for myself; just for the work itself.
Thank you so much for being a part of this conversation. Living boldly is not easy, but it is so worth it.
Thanks, O. I really appreciate it. I wasn’t on this journey on my own. There are people around me now who were around five years ago. It’s paying off now because we’re all making it together. That is the real inspiration.
We’ve all been in a dark moment. It’s not easy to just start, but you have to.
Follow David Ford’s work on Instagram at @davidalexanderstudio or visit his website at www.frshprspctvstyle.com.