On this episode of What Makes You Click, Kelvin welcomes fashion, commercial, and celebrity photographer, James Anthony. James talks about the power in being fully invested in pursuing opportunities and passions, how to effectively network and confidently pitch your talent, and how he moved through low points in his life to speak his dreams into existence. He also shares the three attributes that have empowered him to become the successful entrepreneur and artist he is today.
James has been chasing the hustle ever since he was a kid, dancing on the NYC subway for dollars and coins. He describes his love for theater and track, along with how his mother’s life and profession as a mortician has deeply impacted his outlook on life, surprisingly in the most positive of ways.
“Put everything you have into the things you love to do and you’ll reap those rewards.” - James Anthony
James then speaks on how his education in mass communications and film production fostered a safe space for experimenting with photography and how he made money and gained traction in the photography industry after moving to Atlanta post-college.
Tune in to learn James’ biggest photography inspirations, the origin story of his award-winning short film, Crossroads, and the next big project he’s working on.
“You can’t run from what you’re meant to do.” - James Anthony
About the Guest:
While living in Atlanta, James Anthony cultivated his photography skills shooting fashion spreads and cover shoots for magazines. His photographs are "clean" and alluring, which has led to his growing success in the photography and fashion/entertainment world.
His works have been showcased in publications domestically as well internationally. James Anthony can usually be found traveling across the world shooting beautiful scenic locations, models, celebrities and campaigns.
James Anthony is currently based in Los Angeles and travels everywhere in between for work.
Connect with James Anthony:
Visit his website: www.jamesanthonyphotos.com
Follow him on Instagram: www.instagram.com/iamjamesanthony
Connect with What Makes You Click:
Visit our website: www.whatmakesyouclick.com
Follow us on Instagram: www.instagram.com/whatmakesyouclickpodcast
Connect with us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/whatmakesyouclick
People + Resources Mentioned:
Jerris Madison: www.jerrismadison.com
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho: www.goodreads.com/book/show/18144590-the-alchemist
[00:00:00-00:00:53] - Episode Introduction
[00:00:53-00:02:40] - Guest Introduction
[00:02:40-00:08:33] - The Origins of James Anthony
[00:08:33-00:11:05] - James Anthony The Performer
[00:11:05-00:13:57] - Savannah State University
[00:13:57-00:18:25] - Getting into Photography
[00:18:25-00:25:52] - A Struggling Artist
[00:25:52-00:32:50] - The Power of Networking
[00:32:50-00:40:49] - Photography Influence
[00:40:49-00:46:37] - Low Points in Doing A New Thing
[00:46:37-00:53:07] - What Is Next for James Anthony
[00:53:07-00:54:19] - Show Outro | Podcast Resources and Information
What Makes You with Click James Anthony
Kelvin Bulluck: Hello and welcome to another episode of What Makes You Click, I am your host Kelvin Bulluck.
On today's episode, we have a guest that left me feeling super inspired by the end of our conversation. I feel like after you hear it, you are going to feel the same way. He is an amazing fashion commercial and celebrity photographer, but he likes to call those celebrities familiar faces. He will get into that a little bit later, in the episode.
Without further ado, let us take a listen to hear what makes Mr. James Anthony click!
[Intro Music Playing]
Kelvin Bulluck: James Anthony, hey man, I am glad to finally have you on the show.
James Anthony: I appreciate you having me on the show. During the pandemic, we are missing a lot of engagement, so anytime it can be a one-on-one type of interaction, I am always welcome to that. Thanks for having me.
Kelvin Bulluck: Well said! I think we are all feeling that disconnect. I know some people are getting that whole pandemic fatigue and their people are starting to go back out and, the numbers are getting crazier. I know for me and my family, we have been staying in, so anytime I can get some one-on-one interactions, and especially talk about a subject that I absolutely love. I am all about it.
To start off, I became aware of your work, it had to be a couple of years ago, I believe I was on Instagram and I came across your James Shoots and Draws series. I looked at it at first and I was a little jealous. I am not going to lie, I was like, darn I wish I were creative like that. I can shoot some stuff now do not get me wrong, but when it comes to the artistic side and melding the two together, I was just like mad props to that brother.
As I started to look even further into you, I noticed that you have done quite a bit of work here in the DMV. I am in the DC area, in upper Marlboro, but I have been working as a photographer… and say what?
James Anthony: I used to live in Upper Marlboro.
Kelvin Bulluck: PG County in the house. That is what is up! Yeah, I came across the work, absolutely loved it. I love the messaging in your work behind just, black beauty and black positivity, all of that I stand for. I like to incorporate that into my work. Just wanted to acknowledge you for that.
The Origins of James Anthony
One thing that I really love to do on this show in the very beginning is really get the origins of a creative. I did notice that you grew up in New a York City, so I wanted to take it back to young James and even a little bit before, how did your parents or family end up in New York? Has that always been the case, or did they migrate there from another place?
James Anthony: Like most black people, we migrated from the South at some point, so the origin of my family begins in South Carolina, a couple of generations before my mother. My great grandparents who made the migration to New York, New York state, and then New a York city became home.
I was born in LaGuardia hospital in Queens, so all I knew was New York. Shortly after that, my mother, I remember her pulling me through Brooklyn and getting on subways and me dancing on the subway for money. It was just that thing as far as being just an outgoing, creative kid. People used to always say, he is so good, let me give him a couple of change. I always say that I have always been a hustler. I feel like it is something ingrained in me.
We spent time in New York and then at some point my grandmother ended up moving to Maryland and my mother said, I want to afford my child a bit better environment to grow up in. We moved to Maryland just because she wanted me to have a different background, a different setting other than New York.
I remember when I first moved to Maryland, one thing I remembered is that this stark contrast from New York to Maryland was, I never heard anybody beeped their horn. To me, that was just so mind blowing, I was like, even is so nice here. I have never heard a horn beep that quickly changed, but I just remembered that was my first impression, it is so peaceful and quiet here.
One of the first places we moved was Landover. After Landover was Upper Marlboro Kettering Largo area, Greenbelt then Lanham, and I then left and went to Georgia, Savannah State University. I attended school on a track and field scholarship, and the rest is history.
Kelvin Bulluck: Yeah, it sounds like your mother played a pivotal role in your youth. What kind of work was she into as she was raising you?
James Anthony: My mother has been a mortician since I was six years old. I grew up inviting her for career day and telling people she was a Funeral Director. I still get people to this day that I have not seen since elementary school, does your mom still work with dead bodies? [Laughter] Yes, she does.
The first time seeing a dead body; I was six years old. I grew up with people asking me, did we live in a funeral home, was my life like My Girl, Macaulay Culkin and I am like no.
I will say my comfortability or my comfort with death is it is solely due to her profession. I have seen people die in front of me. I have helped her, her job I would go to on the weekends, so I am comfortable with death. I do not shy away from the thought of death just because, it is a conversation, and it is inevitable. It is not a weird thing to me.
People used to always ask me; would you ever consider entering a profession in mortuary? The answer is no.
Kelvin Bulluck: I think that is everything that you have just said that right there is beautiful because it gives me a clearer sense of who you are as a creative. When I look at your Instagram feed, for example, I see a man that is living life to the fullest, living it in gratitude.
I feel like growing up with that experience, seeing life and death helps you appreciate life even more. Understand that this thing is not infinite it is going to have an end and we got to do what we can while we are here.
James Anthony: I literally think you just unlocked something because I never considered that. When I take a step back in and look at it, I am hundred percent agree with, the thought of death, it does not scare me. It is something that I do not want to happen prematurely because you will miss those relationships, but it does not scare me.
I remember at a young age, my mom always told me I want to be cremated, we had these conversations. When you think about it is one of those things that people always say, James you are crazy. I am yes! I am an adrenaline junkie. I have been skydiving twice, I am considering getting my license now. That means I must jump another twenty times, but there's things that I love doing to live life to the fullest because I know it is not guaranteed.
My mother became fascinated with death because she was a sickly child, and they said, if you do survive, you probably will not have children. The fact that she beat all odds and had me, it is one of those things where you are growing up, you had constant subconscious reminders that, we all are going to end up in this box, so what you do with everything in between point A and Z is up to you.
For me, I had never wanted to live with regret and my mother she has known what she has wanted to do since she was a child. My aunt has known what she wanted to do since he was a child, she is an Orthopedic surgeon. I have always known what I wanted to do since I was a child, it has never changed. It was to be a creative in some aspect.
James Anthony The Performer
Kelvin Bulluck: Perfect! That is a good segue into as a child, you said for instance, you were performing on the subway and doing whatever. I did see, in some of my research that you really love acting and theater.
At what point as a child, did you realize, this is something that I feel the younger to do, and how did you pursue it?
James Anthony: Since acting was the first thing I was ever really engulfed in; I was enrolled into a little…. I forgot the name of the acting school. It was a school of acting school in New York, but it was something that I have always been involved in school plays. I was on the improv team in high school. I was in the Wiz in middle school.
Kelvin Bulluck: Wait, which role did you play in the Wiz? I got to know!
James Anthony: Scarecrow. [Laughter]
Kelvin Bulluck: Okay!
James Anthony: The crazy thing is, when you take roles like that there are songs you do not forget. There are still songs to this day I can recite. Sweet Charity in high school. I remember in high school, I ran track and field, so I was an athlete, so on my mind, I was like, all right I got to get into school. Luckily, I attended a school where your track team, all our sports were stacked as far as varsity and all that, so while I was in school, my junior and my senior year, we were the fastest high school in the nation.
It was one of those things like, all right my friends they are going to the Olympics getting scholarships……my grades were good, but they were not like full ride good. I thought, I need to make sure I run my butt around his track, but I was battling with what I thought was the obligation to secure, a scholarship, what my passion was entertaining and the arts.
I remember my junior year, it was one of the most fulfilling times in my life because toward the end of my junior year….it was the end of an indoor season, I won at the state acting festival, I had won an excellence in acting award; while simultaneously the next week I became a state champion in a four by eight hundred, relay.
It was just like the two things that I had loved at that time I was being awarded and it was just a testament, put everything you have into the things that you love to do, and you will reap those rewards. That is something that I have held on to ever since then.
Savannah State University
Kelvin Bulluck: Oh, that is nice! At that point then, how did you decide to go to Savannah State University?
James Anthony: During high school, I spent four years of my life working with BET on Teen Summit as on-screen talent one of the co-hosts. I was also a character on a radio soap opera, where I played a 16-year-old child who had contracted HIV from having unprotected sex. It was a teen soap opera to put a spotlight on drugs and sex and, abstinence and the importance of that.
I did those two things while in high school, and I remember my senior year again, I went to one of the best sciences and tech schools in the nation, Eleanor Roosevelt in Greenbelt, Maryland. I took the SAT four times. The second time I got my highest score, but it just was not what I needed it to be. I ended up getting my administrative Mr. Taylor, shout out if you ever see this, but he spoke with Savannah State, the head coach, Ted Whitaker, and got me into Savannah State on track scholarships.
I just remember, never have even hearing of Savannah State, it was presented to me as a school. All my friends are going to all these predominantly white institutions and I am like, HBCU? Savannah, Georgia? When I get down there, my parents say, you go down to Savannah, Georgia….and if y’all have been to Savannah, Charleston, or New Orleans, you see those trees with the Spanish Moss hanging down and think of oppression and slavery. I thought, where are y'all dropping me off? My mom was like love you! I am thinking, this is real life.
I remember my first year I hated it. I hated it because it was a culture shock. I am from the North, and my school was predominantly black by like maybe fifty-one percent, but everything else was everything in between. It was just a culture shock from going North to South and then going from diverse to black. It was not just black, it was Southern black, that is a different black. I am thinking, what am I doing here?
Then I crossed the fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha my sophomore year, and I fell in love with photography. I fell in love with the school. I fell in love with everything about it. When I crossed the fraternity, it was that which pulled me out of the excitement of you form a brotherhood, that is the main reason. But when I picked up photography down there and maybe look at Savannah differently, it made me find the beauty where once I saw nothing but dread and ugliness. The love of photography kept me in Savannah State.
Getting into Photography
Kelvin Bulluck: A couple of quick things, one you hit on those Spanish Moss trees. My wife is from Charleston and I have spent some time in Savannah as well, and I was not into photography the very first time that I went to Savannah, and I have not been back since, but I think the next time I go, I want to shoot some type of editorial down there involving, all those elements that really make that part of the South beautiful.
The second thing, you went to Savannah and I saw that your major was Mass Communications. Why that major? Did that major play a role in you picking up a camera for the first time or was that not linked? Was it a fluke that you picked up a camera?
James Anthony: No. I will say the middle school I went to had majors; the high school I went to had majors. In middle, my major was Communications. My major in high school was Communications and focusing on theater, just because I was in theater and improv.
While in high school, I focused on theater, but I was in front of the camera, on teen summit. I was on the radio on the soap opera, although we are acting over air, but it was just a communications umbrella. When I got to college, I did not want to deter from what I had already been investing in. I said, all right I will be a Communications major focusing on Radio and Television Production, and I had a minor in Theater. It was just a continuation of everything, all the seeds that have planted over the years and something that I was most passionate about, and I had the most experience in.
Me picking up a camera, I was the one in high school when we would go on your track and field trips, I would always have my video camera out then recording and documenting. I still have all the footage that I have just got digitized through a company I found on Instagram. Picking up a camera was nothing new to me in college, it is just that photography and taking a serious dive into that lane, was new.
I became known as the photographer on campus, having people come over in a dorm and shooting them, throwing up a sheet as a backdrop, or taking them around campus all around, downtown Savannah using outdoors as the backdrop.
I think my senior year someone says, you should do an internship. Vibe magazine in New York City was doing an internship in 2006, so, I threw everything in my truck, my Toyota Four Runner at the time, and I drove from Savannah, Georgia to New York City just for the interview.
Once I got up there to New York and I am in a suit. When you think internship for a publication like Vibe, which is Hip Hop, I think, but in a suit, because it is so casual, it is urban. I showed up in my good old Alpha Phi Alpha fashion, and I showed up in a suit, tie and they are like, okay!
Once we got into conversation, she found out that I drove up just for an interview, she said, you got it. You show that much dedication just for an interview, that is unpaid, you got it.
Luckily, my family is from New York, so my grandfather had a spot in Brooklyn, and I stayed with him for that semester while I did that internship. Then, that final semester, January 2007, I went back down to Savannah State to graduate. I graduated in May 2007, and then from there I moved to Atlanta, Georgia, just because during that time I thought, I was always introduced to Atlanta from my schoolmates. I thought all right, this Atlanta seems cool. I fell in love with Atlanta specifically, because whenever I went, I would see so many affluent black people. They were not drug dealers, they had nice cars and nice homes.
When I lived in Maryland, we lived in PG County. During that time, it was listed as the most affluent black neighborhood in the nation. Number one. When I got to Atlanta, I moved to DeKalb County. When I was in DeKalb County, Dekalb County was then the number one affluent black neighborhood in America. I thought, this feels familiar and its motivation enough for me to stay here and make some traction. DeKalb County is where James Anthony ended up in 2007.
A Struggling Artist
Kelvin Bulluck: You just said a whole lot. I just want to go back first and put a pin in the importance of a small detail that you mentioned, but it ended up being a major thing. That dedication and that willingness to pack up your truck and drive all the way up to New York. I found that when I was younger, I would do things like that to show I am invested in this thing, whatever the thing was. I think that goes a long way and it is a small thing, but it ends up being a huge thing, when you look at the results that it gets. I talk to people all the time especially like the youth that are coming up now and try to stress that point.
I just wanted to go back and just acknowledge you for doing that because I think again, that speaks to your character, it speaks to your drive and it ultimately speaks to why you are where you are now.
Anybody who is listening, show that dedication and in any way that you can.
You are in Atlanta, DeKalb County, you have graduated with this degree in Mass Communications. What was the job market like out there? What did you find yourself doing once you moved? [Laughter] Exactly, he is making the sad face right now, the frown face. What was that like? What did you find yourself doing to make money once you move to the Dekalb County?
James Anthony: I cannot even express to you how frustrating that time was. Until that point, I had done everything that I was brought up to do. Get good grades, do well in anything that attach your name to. Go to high school, graduate, go to college, get a degree, get a good job. I did everything I was supposed to do, but around that time, we are in a recession and I am like, are you sick? I went to school, got a degree and I cannot get a job?
During that time, I think Atlanta was number two unemployment rate. I think Detroit was number one. During that time, I was like, are you serious? I did everything, so, I remember I was trying, I think maybe I can be a teacher there. I could go and study to be a teacher…. and even before that because while I was in college making money I worked at Applebee's. Immediately after I graduated college, when I moved to Atlanta picked up a job at Applebee's just to start paying Sallie Mae back, because she was like, where is my money? I think, let me go get a job at Applebee's.
From there, I got a job at Comcast in a call center and worked there for a year and I would go around and show my book. The book of work that I did back in college and people are like, this is dope. You got some talent, what are you doing here? I am laughing, like we are all here making money now.
Kelvin Bulluck: Hold on one second. I am sorry because you said you were showing your book around. What did that work consist of in that book, at that point?
James Anthony: That book consisted of all the work that I had done in college, which, in context, it was still within about a year and a half, so, it was relatively new. But it was not me just showing up to work, like here is my book. It was based off conversations we would have, and people would say, oh what do you do? What are your interests? Then I would express, I have experienced as a photographer. Oh, let me see somebody's work. Then I bring my book to work and then it gets passed around and I am like, this is good. Of course, now looking back, I am like…
Kelvin Bulluck: I cannot believe I am showing this to people, right?
James Anthony: Yeah. It was like, look at these doodles, but what did stick out to me is everyone saying this is good, you should be doing something else. I was taking mental notes of those conversations, and then shortly after that, I left Comcast because I ended up becoming a Certified Personal Trainer. During that time, it was cool because, it gave me freedom to only work an hour and a half a day for four days out the week.
I would work at 6:00 AM to 6:45AM and then 6:00 PM to 6:45 PM, Monday through Thursday and then I had the week, and the money was stupid. The recession got bad where these housewives had to say, I need to pay my bills rather than paying for the luxury of a personal trainer, with a bootcamp.
Once the signees died down, I had to go back to work at another call center. I started working at Progress Energy in Atlanta, Georgia. I was there for about a year, passing around my book, people saying, why are you here? You should be doing something else, taking mental notes, then starting to that is when that resentment, ball started to snowball and I am like, I want relief.
The moment where everything changed was, when you have a job that you do not really care about, you do not really care about it. It was times were, you may show up a little late, but the thing is, my manager loved me. She always showed love, so she gave me the courtesy.
It was happening once I went to New York for a photo shoot just for the weekend, and I was supposed to be back at work on Monday. I remember this was Sunday I am in New York and I think it was on a companion bag or a buddy pass, and I remember it was Sunday evening and I was like, wow, I do not want to rush back to Atlanta just to go back to work to a job I hate.
I thought you know what, I am going to stay one more day, and I am going to leave tomorrow, Monday. Me knowing I probably got one more strike left, so I was like if they love me, do not keep me. I did it knowing that this may be the last straw, but that is how unhappy I was.
I leave New York Monday, get to Atlanta on Tuesday, go to work, hey, James! Meanwhile, they were not calling the James back then because it is not my government first name, but they were like, Hey Jay. I thought, Hey, what is up? I am like, Hey, do not get so happy, this might be my last day.
I sit down at my desk about forty-five minutes, I get an email. Hey, can you come to the office? I am like, hello, here we go. I go to that room, they are like, yeah, we love everything you have done., but we are just going to part ways. I say, thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. I was not going to go out there throwing stuff around, do not burn bridges, so that was the last day.
I walked out, I walked back to my desk at my things, like I will see all around. I do not think I saw any of those people again, but through social media, I get them commenting on my stuff that like, it is so amazing to see where you are right now.
Those are fulfilling moments, rewarding moments, but I told myself as I walked out that building, I said, Anthony James Johnson, you better grind your ass off like no one else has. No one is going to fight for you or put you on a soapbox like yourself.
From that moment on, I tried to be at every event, every social event, passing out business cards and just making sure I was in every room, like here you go, until people started saying, I have seen this card before.
I felt like that is when the traction started happening, where I would reach out to smaller publications and try to shoot and just, the snowball effect, so you get a word at the tip of everyone’s mouth.
The Power of Networking
Kelvin Bulluck: Yeah! You keep hitting on these nuggets that are just crucial. I believe I even read in I think it might have been on like Voyage ATL you had talked about and I am paraphrasing, but basically the gist of what you had said was networking became like your favorite pass time. It was what you were doing any time that you could, everywhere that u went.
I think a lot of people, they struggle with this whole idea of networking, because in any profession that you are in, it really is all about the relationships that you build with people, but I think a lot of people go in to…. I like to call it relationship building because sometimes people think networking and they are thinking, let me go sell myself repeatedly.
It sounds like even with what you were doing, yeah you were passing out business cards, but I think you were also showing people the value that you could bring. I think a lot of people miss that when it comes to network and they are like, okay, what can these people do for me, but ultimately, it is about what you can do for the other people that you are meeting and being of extreme value to those people.
I guess, how were you conveying that message that, I am James, this is what I do, and this is how I can help you. What were some of the techniques and strategies that you were using to build that network?
James Anthony: Let me ask you this. What was your major or your interest in college?
Kelvin Bulluck: I got my Undergrad degree was in Psychology with a minor in Public Communications.
James Anthony: Okay! You picked up photography when?
Kelvin Bulluck: That was back in 2010, somebody got me a camera as a gift and I messed around and started taking pictures, and here I am now.
James Anthony: Yeah. So, you are an artist, but even on this aspect of you even having this podcast, you found a way to mesh your skillsets. I kept getting glimpses when I was at these places of where my life could be and I was like, I just cannot let that be my life.
I feel like Mass Communications major, me being comfortable in the theater aspect and the improv aspect, it allowed me also to be comfortable speaking with people that I had never met, but also letting them know that I had a gift or a skillset that could benefit them, or we could mutually collaborate on something together.
I think that is where the addiction to clubhouse comes in because it is like a networking on steroids. The reason why I feel like clubhouse resonates with a lot of people is because you can hear the passion and the conviction and people's voices. Unlike Instagram or Twitter, where it is just, maybe one hundred and forty words or characters, one hundred and sixty, whatever it is now, or just photos.
When you are on clubhouse or on a forum like this, a platform like this, when you can speak to somebody and it, the people listening to this right now, they can hear the passion in someone's voice, it resonates with people. If you are having a brief conversation and you may drop a nugget, unbeknownst to you that you are dropping it, but it may resonate with someone and it may have a takeaway, but now they also have a visual reminder of that business card. This is that guy with that conversation. I always made sure that my business cards had an image that I had taken just in case, not of me, but of my work, just as the reminders. For me, it was finessing a conversation or leaving your presence on people.
I always tell people like; how would you get here? I cannot say it was just talent because it is not just talent. If you want to say no it is not just talent or a skill, then you can say that, but being a people person being comfortable in your skin, because it is on clubhouse, there is other creatives that ask questions like how did you get this, or how did you get that? I say you must be comfortable advertising yourself.
I think I might have said this too, but I am the type of person where if I back when outside was normal when they had rideshared, when it was an Uber pool, I am the type of person, if I am in the backseat and you hop in, Hey, what do you do? I am going to ask you, what do you do? Where is you from data conference?
I cannot count how many times now where I will post something on Instagram and I will get a message saying, Hey, this is Karen from…. we met in Uber when you were coming back from Haiti three years ago. I just wanted to say, I love this work that you have been putting out.
Now when I am in LA, I will book an Uber or Lyft ride from my home to the airport when I am about to leave town. By the end of the ride, the Lyft driver and I were following each other on social media, just because of the conversation was so engaging and thought provoking.
You must know the power of networking and just being a people connector. I think it is extremely important to have. Quote unquote, the gift of gab.
Kelvin Bulluck: It is like they say closed mouth, do not get fed. I have even been guilty because, I call it an ambivert where I am by nature an introvert, but when I am in public, I can be an extrovert. When I am on set, I can be an extrovert to play that role, to get everybody in the mind space and to control that energy that I want.
I find myself on those, I call them my downtime when I am out and about. I will be guilty of not speaking when I know that I should and I am like, darn I think I just missed an opportunity.
For anybody listening, listen to what my man is saying right now, speak up, speak up. Even if you do not feel like it speaks up because you never know who you are in the room with and how you can benefit them.
James Anthony: What you just said that moment of darn, I wish I had known. I have had too many of those moments, to let another one pass me by. I have had those moments, even when I was at Vibe. You think about how you would do things differently with all the things that you have experienced and the majority that you have now. Of course, everything happened the way it was supposed to where you are like, man, if I had one more shot, I would finesse that. I am one of those people I do not allow myself to say, I wish I would have. I am always like, nope, you may never get this opportunity again. Let us go ahead and make this happen right now. I am a firm believer in that.
Kelvin Bulluck: You just touched on Vibe again, and I meant to ask you earlier, but was there anybody…. I believe from what I read you were in the photo department, during that internship at Vibe, right? Where there any mentors that you were able to obtain or at least people that you looked up to, whether it be a photographer or a photo editor, or anybody in that space that kind of helped guide you a little bit, or at least show you what was possible?
James Anthony: I can say many mentors during that time, but previously when I was in college and I have said this before and we have talked about it, but Taurus Love out of Memphis, Tennessee, he now lives in New York City. I think it was, Myspace back then or Facebook, he was a photographer that would have these photos and he would do them in his apartment. This was around the time where that is what I was accustomed to shooting in my dorm room, so I looked up to what he could create just within his accommodation.
Taurus Love and Joris Madison were two photographers that I had looked up to during my college days. Then once I got to Vibe being in the photo department and seeing photographers from all over the country, sending their portfolios to be considered for the next cover photographer, that was inspiring. It was the community of photographers before me that were my motivation to say, I want to do this.
I felt like it was a perfect merger, all the way up until that point, I had a fascination with the performing arts as far as theater and the entertainment industry, so me interning at Vibe, it was a derivative of that. The music industry and it was photography and that aspect. I thought this is like the perfect thing, let me shoot entertainers, which is what I am most familiar with.
Working at BET, and on teen summit, I was working side by side with entertainers in the music industry. That aspect of then the theater aspect, and now the interest in photography, I thought, we can tie all this in together.
To also tie everything in, in college, I made the decision to put acting on a shelf, because at that time, I had been told too many times you are the Jack of all trades. I thought, that is dope. That means I can do a lot of dope things. Then I found out what that final statement was, so I thought what is that saying?
I took heed and I took a note from Jamie Fox's book where I took a note from, it was a meaningful thing to me, Jamie. I wanted to work with him in some capacity, because I took several notes from Jamie Fox that have helped me in my career. He does not know this, but it was one of those…… my government name is Anthony James Johnson. AJ Johnson is what even called me in high school and college, AJ, but the only thing is as an actor, there were already two AJ Johnsons. There was a comedian AJ Johnson from House Party and Baby Boy. I could not use AJ Johnson, but I did not want to make up a name like Jamie Fox. I think Jamie's real name was like Eric Bishop or something, but the reason he did that, it was to get his name in the door.
I was opposed to me making up a completely different name, I will take my middle name and make a first, and just invert it and I will just anything creative will be James Anthony. James Anthony was what I was going to be as a thespian, but then when I put acting on his shelf, I said, anything creative will be James Anthony now.
As a photographer, I became James Anthony, and I almost forgot where I was going, but I just remember the tokens from Jamie. The name switch, which was a talker from Jamie. Then putting all the other skills on a shelf was a note from Jamie.
He had started in the music industry. It did not pop off like that. He did not get the traction he wanted, so, he said let me focus on comedy and theater. Once he did that, he blew up. Of course, it took time, but he blew up. Then once he became a celebrated thespian, he then said, I do music and I do this well, let me show you what I do. Then he wins the Grammys. I thought, this is the blueprint right here, so I said, let me focus on one thing, photography. That is what I did for the first, ten to twelve years of my career.
In college I was an extra in the movie "Radio" with Cuba Gooding Jr. and Alfre Woodard. I was an extra and some other TV shows in Atlanta, but it was still the focus of making a name for myself as a photographer.
Ten or so years go by I will say fifteen, and it gets to that point where the industry starts to shift as far as there being more platforms for content, with Netflix and Hulu and all these Amazon prime. You are starting to see a lot more black faces.
I will admit in college, I was a little discouraged because I felt like, all right, I am getting over a certain age people is not going to be checking for this, they want you to have already been established in the industry. I thought, I will chill.
Once you start seeing all these platforms and you start seeing your Issa Ray's and your Donald Glover's, who is multifaceted, you think, there is a possibility for something to happen. Then I started changing my mindset, I said, if I ever want to jump back into acting, I should produce the project where I can do that.
Hence, that is when the writing and the thought process for my short film began with a co-writer I went to high school with.
Kelvin Bulluck: Crossroads, right? That is the name of the short film?
James Anthony: Yes! Crossroads was completed February this year 2020, submitted it to the film festivals, won excellence in African American feature. I won two best actor awards from two different film festivals.
Kelvin Bulluck: You as the actor, you acted in it and you got an award for acting. Wow. Wow!
James Anthony: Listen to me, it took me back to high school, winning that excellence in acting. I felt like the correlation between the two is like, God is trying to tell you something and you cannot run from what you are meant to do. Although your journey may not look like the traditional journey, but if you find a way to maneuver through it, you can connect the dots.
During this time, I had read the alchemists and anything you put out into the universe will be yours. You just must work toward it, so, I thought, I want this too badly.
This is during going up and down on some high notes and then some depression, some deep daywork moments, because you are pursuing a dream that you had no guidance in. You are pursuing the journey of entrepreneurship that you had never been taught about, so you are going against the grain.
I remember I quit my job. I never told my mother because I was an adult. I was like, why do you need that negative…. At that point, mind you anything, co-signing what I was doing was negative. It was like, if you are going to give me your advice and say, you need to work, that is negative to me. I do not need to hear that. I do not need anyone else beating me up because I was already doing that already. I just knew I would rather be depressed working for myself rather than depressed working for someone else. I was willing to bite that bullet and get my knees all bloody. That was me taking a note from Jamie Fox.
Low Points in Doing A New Thing
Kelvin Bulluck: Man, you are giving me goosebumps right now. I am not even lying, you said, I am going to try it.
I am almost out of time with you, but I am going to touch on a couple of things that you just said because, or unpack a couple of things, because I feel like it is necessary for one shout out to Paulo Coelho for writing The Alchemist, because that is one of my all-time favorite books and every time, I am on a flight to LA, I listened to The Alchemist just to get my mind right for the things that I am trying to do while I am out there.
Everything that you said, even regarding starting from the point where you were like, I do not like what I am doing at work. I have done the things that everybody has told me to do that resonated with me as well.
I think growing up in black families our parents want us to have more than what they did. They want us to have the opportunities that they did not and for them that the old school way of doing that was going to get the education, going to get the good job working for fifty years and then retiring and then doing what you want to do.
We all know now that you can do it that way if that is what you want to do, but you do not have to. I understand the notion that our parents can hit us with that negative sometime because they want us to stick to that script. Once you tune that out and start listening to the things that are resonating with you, that is when the magic starts to happen.
I feel like some of the things that you even said about the highs and the lows and being able to work through those that drive, and passion will come from knowing this is what I am supposed to be doing, or at least, this is what I am supposed to be doing right now.
I guess I am curious about those low points for you. What were some of those lows like and what kind of mechanisms or tools did you use to push yourself forward, even when things were not going your way?
James Anthony: The lows were low they were low as you can get. I am talking about contemplation lows where you are thinking about what am I doing? Am I doing the right thing? Then second guessing should I stop? Going through these thoughts, it was not as quick as this conversation, of course, but it might have been weeks or months where it is every day to stop. Keep going, but you have gone too far. What does this mean? Like how do you see your life? The struggle for me was because my whole life, all I ever saw was just me creating my whole life. That is all I ever saw.
When Eddie Murphy was on an interview with Arsenio Hall, he was like, if we stopped having a backup plan, you will poor everything into your number one plan. For me, being a creative was the number one plan being an actor was really the number one plan. If it were not an actor, I was content with just having a profession, doing something where I would be a creative. As I got deeper into photography, I realized that acting bug was like, you are really wanting to do this. I needed to create an opportunity where I can still do that, and that is what I did.
There were two bouts with depression because, things might be going well, and then, year or two may go later and then you are down another, downhill.
There were a daywork homeless, daywork evicted, what do I do daywork because you are not confiding in and your is, everything was bottled up? Eviction came from after me leaving the job, and not having that sole source of income. It is a blessing that I was able to crash on my frat brothers couch for almost a year.
A lot of people do not have that support, what kept me sane is, when you hear the stories of your Steve Harvey's your Tyler Perry's your Kevin Hart's it is Tiffany Haddish everybody said, I was homeless. I would look at them like, I am willing to risk everything, to be happy, doing what I love. Do what you love, and the money will come. Those are the things that I kept in my head now when I look up and I see where I am, I am like, bruh, I am just so happy that I bet on myself because I have been able to travel the world. I have been able to meet lifetime idols, as far as your Madonna’s and your Ushers’, people, you grew up knowing, and you are Jamie Foxes and you are Michelle Obama has been in these spaces, but it was all because I said I wanted to do something that I love.
Every person that I have met has been a result of me betting on myself. Some of my most amazing experiences I look in, in your home and this photo is printed large blowups of my trips to Kenya on Safari being hired as a travel photographer. You have been afforded some amazing opportunities. The Alchemist, the world will conspire to give you all that you want. you just got to work toward it and figure out the blueprint on how to get there. It is something that I probably say subconsciously every single day.
Kelvin Bulluck: I could go on for another hour talking to you about everything. I feel like I did not even really scratch the surface like I wanted to, but you have dropped so many great pieces of advice. Even listening to you, I am thinking about things that I can even be doing right now to continue pressing forward.
Of course, I think this pandemic has slowed us all down in certain ways, but it has also forced us to be creative in other ways, which is even how this podcast was born.
What Is Next for James Anthony
I guess the last question that I had for you is what is next? I see that you have done the short film, so I am assuming that somewhere down the line, you want to do a full-length feature joint. What is going on in that realm?
James Anthony: Right now, with the second thing I started picking up as a child was drawing. I have always drawn my tattoos on my back, I drew them. I have been having fun with social media, with the hashtag James Shoots and Draws. It is self-explanatory, it is just like James, I shoot in your draw. It is a merger of the two. It is not anything that we have not seen before, but you just found a way to make it…
I am currently in the process of writing a script for an Oscar winning animated, short film. I say that because throughout this journey, we become confident from the successes that we achieve. I am so confident in saying what I just said is because I see it clearly you cannot tell me any differently.
A year ago, before we even started production on a short film, I had a conversation with Bethel, my co-writer and friend from high school. I said, Bethel, I foresee…. and it was not even wishful thinking. It was like I know that the story is so good that I foresee us winning awards for this project and me being on a panel and looking over at you on this panel and saying, I want to thank my homie from high school, and my co-writer for being with me from conception to actualization and production to completion. I want to thank you! She said, James dope, like that just makes me feel so good that you feel that way. And I said, I really do.
A year later who could afford seeing this pandemic fallen upon us, but a year later right now looking at best actor award from the Bronze Lens Film Festival out of Atlanta. One of those I had to give a thank you speech and record it and send it to him. I said, bro, if I did not say this out loud, like if this did not happen, if I did not speak this into existence. All the wins that I have had over the past decade and a half have really taught me to speak confidently and the things that you want to attract.
The network that I have been able to form through photography, I have been able to form genuine relationships with A-list actors and producers and directors who, became colleagues and friends on the side of photography. Now me venturing into directing it is, like I am working with Grey Goose on my third commercial coming up, just because a relationship that I had fostered with Jay Ellis from Insecure. I was shooting him for the Billboard Music Awards, which then led me to working with the American Music Awards because I saw what we did, and they commissioned me for James Shoots and draws. Then I worked with the Emmy's with Regina King, who is a legend in the industry?
For me to work with these people…. wanted to be an actor and I am now being sought out to conceptualize creative ways for these A-list actors to show up on a red carpet because I presented to the world that I can do multiple things.
Now, I am talking to Conversations with Regina and saying, I know my short film won some awards. She's Oh really? I want to see this. I am talking to Jason Milo short-term once more. He was, I brought, I wanted to see this, so when Grey Goose hit him up and said, we want to shoot some content. He said not even seeing my work just based off the reputation that I have as a photographer, Jay said, I have the person I want to direct this James Anthony, because of that, I directed the project with him. Two weeks later, Grey Goose was taking me back up, they are like, Hey, we want to do one with Yvonne Orji. Would you be available? I just dropped that commercial today and I am like, this is all off the strength of me betting on myself.
You want to find a way to get me to cry, going to church, yeah it resonates with people, but when I have a good conversation about their journey, I instantly become emotional because it has been my Bible. You want to talk about laws of attraction, I could get emotional and cry, just diving into the real meaning in what The Alchemist means to me.
I told my wife this too, because she was just like, how do you know everything is going to be okay? I said, because I have been grinding my whole life, it is all I know how to do. If nothing else, it is like consistency being persistent and discipline. Those are three attributes that I obtain, and I have them. I know how to be consistent.
I thought, like being an athlete helped me to endure, I ran the middle distance and cross country. I understood, like when I first started running track, I wanted to be a sprinter. I quickly learned that I was not fast enough to compete with the fastest of the fast, but I had endurance.
My coach said, you know what? We are going to make you a four-hundred-meter hurdler. I was winning awards, winning placement four by eight-meter relay we are state champions. I learned then that not about the sprint it is about the marathon. For me as an athlete, I have applied everything I have learned as a track and field athlete to the journey of entrepreneurship. Everything.
Kelvin Bulluck: That is the perfect place to put the cap on it and to shut it down and to drop the mic because you, the man, James man, you are the man.
I feel like I want to keep seeing you when I want to keep seeing you just do all the things that your heart's desire, because you are the epitome of black excellence, for real. I am not even like gassing you up here in your story. All I just got somebody else that I am on I am going to be looking at. It is a mirror my own path after a little bit more, because like I said you are doing all the right things and you are getting the results.
But again, thank you for coming on the show. Thank you for sharing your wisdom. Thank you for putting this content out in the world and sharing the world through your own perspective o just keep doing what you are doing, bro.
James Anthony: I appreciate you and be blessed man!I am looking forward to seeing where your trajectory is in the next ten years as well. Blessings. Thank you.
Show Outro | Podcast Resources and Information
Kelvin Bulluck: All right! That is the show, and I do not know about you guys, but I am ready to get out here and make some stuff happen. James was dropping mad knowledge and experience, and even some tips that could really help propel my own business. If you got something out of it, feel free to take it.
If you did get something out of it, feel free to share your takeaways in the comment section on the post, on your Instagram feed, which is located at, What Makes You Click podcast or on your Facebook feed, which is found under What Makes You Click.
As always feel free to share this with some of your photography, friends, and anybody else that you think would find value in the information that is being shared, because I think it is just always a good thing to hear other creative entrepreneurs out there making things happen. It really is a source of inspiration for me, at least. I feel like if you are listening this far, it is probably inspiring to you as well.
Feel free to share that with anybody that u think would find value in it. Until next time, we will see you later.
[Outro Music Playing]