Like a lot of photographers of his generation, Seattle native Rob Casey has seen his career trajectory altered by outside forces on more than one occasion. Rather than a straight line, or even a smooth curve, Rob’s career graphs more like a staircase in an old house with a couple of creaky stairs and one rotten one you could fall through if you weren’t careful. But perseverance and a sheer love of photography have brought him back full-time, and even helped him combine several passions in to a single career. One thing’s for sure, if Rob ever felt discouraged or frustrated as a photographer, talking with him now leaves the impression that those days are behind him and Rob’s back with a vengeance.
After growing up in Seattle then majoring in fine art at Washington State University, Rob moved back to Seattle in 1990 and started assisting, like many new photographers do. As part of his early experience, Rob also worked as a grip in the film and t.v. industry, and credits that early experience with helping him refine his lighting techniques and his personal and professional vision. About this time, using both 2-1/4 and 4x5 formats, Rob began experimenting with making photos of small plastic figurines, called miniatures, and was on the upslope-side of the popularity of that perspective-bending genre of photography.
In 1998, Rob gambled on a move to Los Angeles and within a week had been accepted for a show with the Jan Kesner Gallery exhibiting alongside some of the masters of 20th century photography. His success as a fine art photographer included shows at the gallery, a sale of one of his prints to Elton John, and financial success selling his miniatures images as stock. During this “golden age” of stock photography in the late 1990’s, just 44 of Rob’s miniature images listed through Getty were generating as much as $10,000 in licensing per month. On solid financial and professional footing, Rob decided to move back to his home city and continue his career in Seattle, not foreseeing the industry and economic disruption that was to come.
Dot.com bubble, September 11, and high-quality dSLR cameras are not three things you typically hear in a single sentence – unless you’re describing the three legged catastrophe for the professional photo industry in the early 2000’s. Like many pro photographers trained in film and benefitting from a much higher technical barrier to entry than currently exists, Rob’s career suffered a huge setback in the early 2000’s. The economy struggled, digital photos (and photographers) proliferated at an exponential rate, and online image search and delivery drove the supply of photography through the roof, and rates, especially for stock images, in to the basement. Back in Seattle, Rob put together a client list that included local magazines, editorial travel assignments, and portraiture including notable local author, Sherman Alexie. But his career advancement had definitely taken a pause – kind of like waiting on that creaky fifth step, trying to decide if you’re continuing on up, or heading back down.
Meanwhile back in 1999 when Rob had returned to Seattle from LA, he had taken up sea kayaking as a way to explore his native Northwest outdoors. Sea kayaking turned to surf and whitewater kayaking, and soon to the then-new sport of stand-up paddleboarding (SUP). Seeing an opportunity to explore a new passion and share his love of Northwest waters with others, Rob opened a SUP business in 2010 called Salmon Bay Paddle. Once again on the upslope-side of what would become a popular outdoor success, Rob’s business flourished. Rob became a nationally-recognized leader in the young sport, he co-founded the national trade association for SUP instructors, PSUPA, and he authored the first instructional book on the sport for Mountaineers Books, a publisher of outdoor instructional and guidebooks. Once again, Rob had followed his passion and successfully created a niche for himself, but for a time his photography had taken a backseat to his paddling business.
Now the owner of a more mature business, Rob’s decided that it’s time to get back, once again, to his first love of photography. With a more seasoned perspective and a successful business under his belt, Rob is working on new projects and on getting his name back out in the photo world again. He admits that he hasn’t shot much new work since before he opened the paddle business in 2010, so he gives himself daily assignments to keep the interest level going and to generate new opportunities to connect with folks via marketing channels that include Instagram @robcaseyphoto and other social media. Rob has also discovered that the miniatures genre with which he had so much early success is experiencing a bit of a revival after being oversaturated, so he’s exploring that segment again. And of course, he’s incorporating his second love of paddling and the outdoors and having success with outdoor lifestyle and paddlesports photography in a market that barely existed when he first graduated from school more than 25 years ago.
When asked what advice he might share with earlier-career photographers given his unique perspective as an experienced photographer who’s nevertheless building his photo career again, Rob doesn’t hesitate: “Perseverance!” he says. “Also,” he continues, “be willing to shoot something nobody else is shooting. Watch Instagram, see what’s trendy, then shoot something different.” Asked what influences him now in this new incarnation of photography, he also seems pretty direct, “The photojournalists who were shooting big-time editorial portrait covers in the late 90’s – they had to make great images, get the cover shot, with no crew and sometimes in just ten or fifteen minutes.” Rob says that’s taught him to learn to simplify, to do more with less, to not get hung up on gear. “My camera’s chipped, my idea of a Steadicam is to not shake the camera . . . get your eye down and the concepts down first, THEN worry about the gear.”
Regardless of the trajectory of his career, Rob’s passion for photography has never faltered. After a successful start, a pause, and a switching of tacks, Rob’s now taking the given chance to re-invent that part of his business and he’s walking back up the staircase. He’s doing so with an eye born of business success and influenced by a love of the outdoors that’s matured as he has. Asked about his dream job, Rob pauses then answers, “I’m not really a car guy, but I’ve always wanted to shoot cars outdoors, choose a great location, use my local outdoor knowledge to showcase a great local Northwest landscape. That’d be a dream job.” No matter where it takes him next, it’s clear that Rob Casey is thinking big again, and he’s back in business.
See more of Rob’s paddlesports, adventure, and conceptual miniatures photography work on his website www.robcasey.net.