On March 27th, Indira Cesarine returned to Columbia to share her experience as an entrepreneur in media and the arts with our students. Over an intimate dinner and discussion, Indira shared her personal journey from her triple concentration at Columbia to 15 years working as a photographer to founding her own magazine, and now opening an art gallery. She shared several important tips for students looking to succeed in media and the arts.
Never box yourself into what career you “should” have
Although Indira began working as a photographer for modeling agencies while in college, she never originally imagined becoming a photographer. It seemed like an “unrealistic” option. Why go to Columbia just to become a photographer? However, she found herself more and more drawn to the field. After graduating, she took the leap and moved to London to pursue a career in photography. She said it was a necessary but hard choice.
Eventually you need to decide between doing what other people in your life want or following your own goals and dreams.
EVEN IN CREATIVE FIELDS, STRATEGIC THINKING AND PROFESSIONALISM SETS YOU APART
Indira states that some of the skills that have made her most successful have been ones she developed in college. Specifically, Indira references the importance of understanding workflow and strategic planning in the creative industries. Indira looks for hires that show attention to detail, punctuality, and great people skills just as much as experience in the field.
You will need to hustle
Indira has worked as a photographer in locations including Paris, London, and Milan. However, when she first moved to London, she had to work her way up. She started by going to a pay phone and calling different magazines to introduce herself as a New York photographer and see if they were interested in working with her. A lot of them said no, but five said yes, and that led to more jobs through referral.
It takes FINANCIAL AND TIME INVESTMENTS
Indira stated that in the arts, it’s not unusual to work free or low-paid jobs for the first five years after graduation. In this time you are building your experience and connections.
“If you’re making money before five years, you’re doing a great job.”
However, those connections become vital as you progress in your career. Indira credits the relationships she built as a photographer for some of her success when she founded her magazine, Untitled.
Take initiative to build new skills
While working as a photographer, Indira realized that she didn’t want to just shoot photos, she also had something to say. When she was 23, she took initiative to ask the magazine she was working for if she could also write the stories. She ended up writing an article about Molly Ringwald and became her magazine’s editor-at-large.
DO NOT FEAR FAILURE; LEARN FROM IT.
Indira shared that she had most of her success reaching out to agents who represent different professionals or industries. She stressed that even if you meet with someone who doesn’t have a job for you, they may still give you great advice. Even if the meeting goes poorly, you will have learned more and will be better prepared for next time.
Get hands-on experience
Indira strongly supported getting hands-on experience. She stated that one of the best things you can do out of college is to work for a couple of organizations that you connect with and believe in to learn the industry. She thinks it is essential to learn the obstacles and challenges in the industry before striking out on your own. While having an online presence is important, Indira also emphasized that you need to be producing a product in order to have something to promote. She reminded students that as an artist, you are your own brand, so it’s essential to build a strong product.
Never undervalue face-to-face connections
In the art world, Indira stressed the importance of meeting people in real life. She stated that every day she will get between 10-100 emails, some of which she won’t be able to open. Instead, Indira recommended figuring out ways to meet your influencers in real life, either at events they host, art galleries, or networking events. She said the people she’s met in person who take the time to research her work and introduce themselves are the ones who really stand out. She also reminded students not to underestimate the value of a mailed letter.
How do you balance and build a career in different fields?
When asked how she balances her different roles, Indira made a point to state that she came to each role in different stages.
“I worked for 15 years as a photographer and then founded my own magazine. Then I had the magazine for a couple years before opening the art gallery.”
She stated that this gave her enough time to establish herself in each endeavor. Currently, she stresses the importance of having a really good team or order to make sure things get done. Additionally, she utilizing time management techniques such as prioritizing different businesses on different days of the week and ensuring that all the necessary things from the day before are done before looking at emails that have come in. Finally, Indira emphasized the importance of always making time for self-care and good times with friends and family.
If you’re looking to break into the field
- Research: Research people you admire to figure out what their path has been and gain insight into their strategy and style
- Hone in: Determine what excites you and what you love. Use your research to focus in on one aspect of the field you’re interested in.
- Set goals: Figure out how your passion connects with your skills and background and how you want to make your mark in the industry.