A strong community and invested mentors are crucial ingredients for sustainable growth and success. I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with two Canon Canada FUTURES alum, Eli Meadow Ramraj and Gessy Robin Shumbusho, about the importance of community in their careers. The deadline for Canon Canada's FUTURES Year Two incubator program is fast approaching. If you need that boost you can only get from a committed mentor and supportive community, don't hesitate, don't be nervous, apply.
Success in this industry is hard fought. Photography can be pretty cutthroat at certain levels. A lot of successful creators aren't all that interested in sitting down and sharing what they've learned. Unless, of course, you sign up for one of those aspirational "you can be a photographer too" courses.
As I've noted before, I'm very impressed by the level of commitment that Canon Canada has shown the creator community. Interested in an insider's point of view, I reached out to two of FUTURES' newest alum to hear their stories.
Nothing to Lose, Everything to Gain
Both Ramraj and Shumbusho knew they were creatives, but they both admit to having had only a tenuous grasp of the knowledge required to take the next step in their careers. Ramraj was working through an undergrad degree in Cinema Theory and Philosophy while also interning at a production house. Ramraj was considering a professional path in directing, but wasn't quite sure how to shift gears from student films to commercial work and features. Shumbusho grew up with a very creative father who encouraged an interest in music. Growing up in Kigali, Rwanda, however, made Shumbusho feel that arts didn't make sense economically. Shumbusho felt it made more sense to find a career making a stable income. Shumbusho alluded to the idea that the arts might have even felt a little trite in a community still learning to deal with the trauma of the Rwandan Genocide. Still, drawn to creating, he never stopped taking photos and fell in love with the ideals of documentary photography and film. Told by many that he had an eye, Shumbusho wanted to find a way into imaging, but wasn't sure how to negotiate a career in the arts.
Similarly, both Shumbusho and Ramraj spent a lot of time following along anonymously with YouTube in an attempt to build their craft. Ramraj was nearing the end of his internship and seeking a community of creatives, distinct from his academic community at school. Shumbusho was studying journalism, but kept finding himself drawn to the image. When the FUTURES materials crossed his feed, Shumbusho realized that the instructors and mentors were the people who were working on the projects he dreamed about. While reviewing the application requirements, Ramraj realized that he met the criteria as a passionate young storyteller. Knowing that the program would speak to others like it spoke to him, it dawned on him that he wanted to be among those people.
Stretch For It
Both Shumbusho and Ramraj asked me to pass on the same advice: take a shot and apply. Why not? What do you have to lose? As Shumbusho put it, stretch yourself a little and you might just find a community of others that also gave it their all. Surround yourself with the type of success you want to achieve; surround yourself with the type of people you want to be.
The Best Parts of FUTURES Year One: Community
Both Ramraj and Shumbusho noted that the best part of FUTURES Year One was meeting everyone in person at the Banff retreat. As they explained why they enjoyed Banff so much, almost in unison, they agreed that it all started at the airport as they gathered to fly out. For the FUTURES attendees, it seemed like this was the very moment that they realized they had found a community of people like them, excited to learn about creating.
Sure, both Shumbusho and Ramraj listed their favorite workshops, explained how certain workshops have changed their entire approach to projects. But, it was the community of both mentors and attendees that they'll carry with them. Ramraj and Shumbusho both noted how the mentors would sit, lunch untouched in front of them, answering questions off schedule, how there were no questions that were out of bounds, that it was these informal mentoring moments full of unGoogleable questions that have changed their lives.
As Ramraj put it, the relationships that he built at FUTURES have transcended the classmate and teacher relationships typical of workshops. He's made connections and built lasting relationships.
For Shumbusho, seeing the mentors work with such a wide variety of creators in a variety of genres helped him to understand and implement solutions in different ways. Shumbusho was able to attend FUTURES and take away a community of diverse mentors and fellow learners that will help him grow for a lifetime.
Canon's efforts to organize this kind of knowledge exchange and to facilitate the creation of this type of community are staggering. Sure, you could argue that Canon is trying to raise all boats, which would mean more camera sales at some point in the future, but that's a REALLY long game. I'd prefer to to see Canon's efforts as those of a corporation that is so proud of their goods that they genuinely want people to use them better, to use them to build community and create.
Shumbusho plans on working towards directing a new film and is working hard on a new photography series that he'd like to show in a Toronto or Montreal area gallery.
Ramraj is starting work on his feature film, The Only Bar on King Street. Ramraj is also working on developing his skills as a candid portrait photographer. His photo of Shumbusho is being used by Canon Canada as part of their FUTURES Year Two promo. I suppose this makes Shumbusho a model as well.
Before closing here, not only has Canon shared mentorship with Shumbusho and Ramraj, but the entire experience has encouraged Shumbusho and Ramraj to offer help to anyone looking to apply to Canon Canada's FUTURES incubator. So, if you have any burning questions, feel free to reach out.
All images provided by Ramraj and Shumbusho. Lead image by Shumbusho (of Ramraj at Canon Canada's Banff Retreat)