All Xero Gravity episodes
Hosted by Elizabeth Ü
Female pleasure is still largely a taboo topic in most societies, which is exactly why Lydia Daniller knew she needed to use her voice as an activist and storyteller to speak up. Driven to educate, inform and destigmatize, Lydia launched into a truly ambitious project: a sexual pleasure research website called OMGYES.
This kind of honest radicalism isn’t new to Lydia – from early on in life she’s been crafting the unexpected through her love of poetry, photography and videography.
“It takes a lot of bravery in general to do anything big and bold and new,” Lydia tells Elizabeth. “Trust in that thing that you want to do… Of course, you're going to doubt it, and of course you're going to be insecure at times.”
Listen in as Lydia talks about making time for the things that are really important to you, and why sometimes the best move might just be to step back from something you started. Xero Gravity #81 – Get ready for a feel-good episode!
Host: Elizabeth Ü [EU]
Guest: Lydia Daniller [LD]
EU: Women's sexual pleasure, not often a topic you hear about in an entrepreneurial context, but hey, this is the new Xero Gravity, and we're on a mission to reveal all the different areas in life where one can succeed or fail in business. Lydia Daniller’s a photographer, videographer, and co-founder of a sexual pleasure research website called "OMGYes." And when I suggested this topic to our creative director, Alice, that's exactly what she said… and why the taboo, anyway?
Lydia and I had a lot of fun recording this podcast, and we worked really hard to keep our language nice and professional for you. One of the things that really stood out from this conversation is that it takes just as much guts to walk away from something you started as it does to start it in the first place. Anyway, we cover a lot of interesting territory in this show, so I'll let you hear it for yourself.
LD: I have so much respect for the women who share their stories about pleasure with us. It's so courageous, and this project wouldn't be what it is without their honesty and candour. OMGYES came together through the hard work of so many people, but first and foremost, the women who trusted us with their stories are just incredible to me. I think it takes a lot of courage to share intimate details about pleasure. There are so few places where these conversations happen in the public realm. I just have the utmost respect for the women who shared their stories with us.
EU: Tell us what kind of creative encouragement you grew up with. Did you have photographer role models, or were your parents really encouraging in your artistic-
LD: My parents were very encouraging, and always pushed me to explore all of my various creative curiosities, so I took piano lessons and I wanted to take a drawing class in college, and they're like, "Go for it." In high school, I had a teacher who turned me on to poetry and then was really into the open-mic scene in Los Angeles. They would let me go, Tuesday night, Cobalt Café.
EU: So fun.
LD: Yeah, and photography as well. My first camera was my dad's old Nikkormat, which is an old Nikon, and he was happy to lend it to me. I did end up losing it, but-
EU: Oh, whoops.
LD: Shit happens. Yeah, they were a huge support and encouragement.
EU: Were you actually performing at the open mics?
LD: Yes, I was.
EU: Your own poetry?
EU: Spoken word, verse?
LD: I didn't read it with the spoken word inclination. That's always rubbed me a little bit the wrong way, but I loved, I love currently poetry. It was great to have that platform and the rush of being in front of a crowd was also terrifying but kind of cool.
EU: How early did you know you wanted to pursue your photography inclinations as a vocation?
LD: Well, my first experience with photo was in high school. There was a black and white photo lab, and I loved it. It was totally fun, and then, I continued in college printing my own work and sort of dabbling, but it wasn't until entering a photo contest my last year at school that I got an honourable mention for, which gave me an extra push of encouragement to think about pursuing photography a bit more deeply, because up until then, I had always juggled lots of different arts.
I was drawn to music and poetry and photography and drawing, but then that little bump sort of helped me think it was okay to just focus on photo for awhile, and I dropped the other things. That's when I realised, you know what, this is super fun, and perhaps I can make a living doing it. Why don't I just do this for awhile?
EU: That's totally worked out for you.
LD: Yeah, that was back my senior year in 2001, and so then, I started working full time as a photographer in 2004.
EU: What did you study in University?
LD: Comparative literature.
EU: Which, obviously, lends itself very well to photography.
LD: It kind of does. Yeah. Comparative literature's all about storytelling and character studies. That's something that I'm really drawn to in photography. For me, it's not a huge gap, although one is more literary and one is more visual.
EU: The whole I've been fascinated as Alice and I have been working on the new iteration of the podcast to really see how important narrative is in all the different ways that can come into play, so tell us a little bit about how narrative plays a role in your photography.
LD: Right, well I do think it lends itself even more so in video work, which is something I'm currently diving into deeper. In photography, I've always been drawn to images that pique your curiosity about what story is being told, what's happening, but kind of a question mark. If I can do that in an image, like a subtle question of what's happening here, then I generally think it's a successful image.
I guess maybe almost mystery writing, although I don't read a lot of mysteries. There's the cliché that a photograph is ... what is it? A good photo tells ... No, shit.
EU: Photo's worth a-
LD: A thousand words or something.
EU: What is it? I can't remember it either. A photo is worth a thousand words. An image is worth a thousand words?
LD: Is that it? I don't know.
EU: I don't know.
LD: Back up. Can you help us?
EU: I think a picture's worth a thousand words. We have to look it up…. A picture is worth a thousand words.
LD: Is that it?
EU: It's kind of funny having us sitting here being completely inept.
LD: Picture's worth a thousand words. I like to have photos that are evocative of, I don't know, what the hell's going on? If a photo can do that, then I'm happy.
EU: Can you describe some of the clients that you have, or the different types of projects you work on as a freelance photographer? What's your favourite?
LD: What's my favourite? A combo of creating a striking image that is truly unique to that person and also the time and place of where we took that image, so I really like to incorporate the landscape or the environment of where we are into the portrait. I think that there's conversation that happens between where you are and who you are, so if I can play with that, that's really rewarding. Then, also, if-
EU: What's an example of that?
LD: That can happen in a portrait shoot where we run around the city and find fun things. Perhaps there's a big mural behind the person of an ice cream pop and it's coming out of their head. That's one example, or just recently I was doing a wedding in the redwoods, and I got down really low, and you could see the forest stuff, and you can see the light streaming through the redwoods and the love between the couple was just tingling, kind of trembling with all the leaves. It was just a magical thing.
EU: Here you are, freelancing photographer working on all these projects, and how on earth did you go from that scenario to then co-founding... I wanted to call it a technology startup, but that's not quite accurate. First of all, how would you characterise this startup, and then tell us how you ended up being involved in this.
LD: Pleasure education we could call it.
EU: Pleasure education with technology.
LD: Exploration of women's pleasure. Yeah, with video and an interactive platform is one way you could talk about it. Well, college friend and I were talking about women's pleasure as you do, you know? We were both just talking about how silly it is that in this day and age there's still this taboo around this essential part of life and how ridiculous that is and how because we don't talk about it, so much misinformation flourishes.
I was really jazzed about that, just as a woman and as a storyteller, and also as an activist. I just think it's so important that people feel good in their bodies and that pleasure is like healthy normal thing we explore.
EU: You mentioned you were an activist. Is this something you had been actively... I mean, what was your role in advocating a better understanding or better communication around this topic or other topics in the past?
LD: Well, it's funny. I actually was just sorting through some old documents and zines from college and high school and poetry from that time. I realised I had submitted a poem to a zine called "Yo Nizene" back in college. It was like a manifesto of blood during your ‘mensies’ and was an ode to blood when a woman is menstruating. I hadn't remembered that at all, and I started to think about that through line, like wow, back in college, I was sort of thinking about a healthy relationship to women's bodies and that's just kind of something that I've always thought about. This pleasure project is really a natural continuation.
I hadn't really connected the dots before.
EU: Yeah, it's so interesting that both of these things, these celebrations of whether it's the blood or women's pleasure in general, it's like a rebellion against this general societal view that this is a terrible thing, it's horrible. You're bleeding. Ugh. Even we have these birth control methods now that prevent you from bleeding for a number of months if not indefinitely. That's seen as this advancement in science. I'm like, "Wait a minute, there's actually reasons for this." Maybe-
LD: Right, it's kind of strange when you think about that, yeah.
EU: Yeah, I love that sort of college rebellious act, this submission to Yo Nizine has then come forward in an invisible way for you to co-founding this start up, which is called "Oh my God. Yes."
LD: Oh, my God. Yes. Yeah, we are an exploration of pleasure in all its facets, and we started with women's pleasure, and the first season is actually focused on external touching techniques. Then, future seasons will look at different aspects of pleasure, like oral sex and penetration and toys and things like that.
EU: When you say it's an exploration of, how does that actually land in terms of somebody who's the target audience for this app or program?
LD: Yeah, so it's a website, and well, you know, pleasure is really unique to everybody, yet there are certain overarching themes that can be applicable to the vast majority of people, so while what I like is really different than perhaps what you like, there may be certain things that are consistent, so we look at all of those things.
It's an exploration because perhaps you try something that you see on this website and it's not really your thing. That's okay. The important thing is to have an open mind and to think about pleasure as something that is always evolving and something that you can continually explore and discover. When you have that mindset, then the world really is your oyster when it comes to pleasure. There's so many things out there that can make that part so someone's life more exciting and engaging.
EU: What are you hoping the ultimate impact of Oh my God. Yes will be, either on the people that are using it or finding it and learning more about whether it's how to experience more pleasure themselves or how to create more pleasure in their relationships, even-
EU: Yeah. I can see this having a wider impact on society as a whole in terms of really eradicating this taboo and making it more of an open conversation.
LD: Yeah. Well, our goal is for people to have basically more pleasure in their relationships with partners and with themselves and for people to stay curious about that part of their life. People get into ruts. It happens, but there are ways that you can push yourself out of a rut. We hope this is one place that can help spark that curiosity and we also hope that there's more actual research behind these types of things, because for a long time, and even now, people get a little uncomfortable around the topic because of this taboo. Big companies are afraid to go there and look at it because there's just a taboo around it.
We want to help lift the veil and just make it more normal to look at and talk about.
EU: Who did you imagine your target audience was? Who was going to be finding this website or paying for its subscription based model, right?
LD: Right now, it's set up. It's like a one time fee, and then you have access to season one. In the future, when we have other seasons, it'll be another fee for those seasons. Basically, anyone and everyone who's over 18-
EU: That's critical for the lawyers, right?
LD: -who is interested and curious about pleasure. As I mentioned before, we started with women's pleasure because we felt there's a little more taboo around that, but in the future, we're going to explore partner pleasure and perhaps even touch upon men's pleasure as well down the road.
EU: Have you had the experience? I don't know how much interaction you actually have with the customers or is it just a financial transaction, but I can imagine there's a lot of people who don't even know to look for something like this. It's so unique in the marketplace.
LD: Yeah, it is quite unique, and we've been lucky to have people find us through word of mouth and also through some PR, some articles that have come out. Really, it's about spreading the word, and hopefully people use it and find it fun and useful and then they'll also tell their friends or perhaps their partners.
EU: In addition to, I know, having a large role behind the scenes in terms of getting those PR stories out the door and communicating the value of what you're providing, you're also serving as the photographer.
LD: Because it was a startup environment, everyone did many different things. I was part producer, organising all the shoots, part director, kind of running the shoots, asking questions, interviewer, cinematographer, doing some of the camera work, although we had people much more experienced than me really being the main camera people.
EU: Was this all video?
LD: This was video.
EU: Which was new for you.
LD: Yeah, that was new for me. Then, some still photography because we needed imagery for the website, but a lot of the website imagery we also were able to pull from the video footage. What else? Office cheerleader. I would order snacks for the office. Interior designer, all sorts of things.
EU: One of the things that obviously you had to do with the participants in the project is make sure they're comfortable on the set. I was thinking a lot about how this is relevant to any number of small business applications, not just an intimate video shoot, but there are always times when you're going to need to help make your clients more comfortable, or your vendors, or your investors. I'd love to hear some of your tips for helping people feel more comfortable in any context.
LD: Sure. Something I learned with photography spilled over into OMGYES.
EU: That's Oh, my God, Yes.
LD: Yeah, OM God. Sorry, Oh, my God. Yes. Humour is one way to connect with people and to loosen inhibitions and just make people feel comfortable quickly. I can be a little bit of a joker.
LD: Not all of my jokes are funny.
EU: I can relate.
LD: One of my favourite jokes just to share, feel free to steal it. When I'm arranging a portrait at a wedding or something and there's a group, doesn't work so well with little kids, but with older people, I'll say, "Okay, now pretend I just said something really funny." Usually that does work. They're like, "You're a dork."
EU: That's funny.
LD: Yeah, so humour is one way. Also, curiosity about that person, who are they, where are they from, what's their story? If you can ask some questions that show that you're actually curious about who they are, then that usually is a way to connect with people. What else? You offered me snacks when I got here. I think offering a snack is good.
EU: How can you go wrong with potato chips and coconut water?
EU: In terms of your own comfort level as you got more and more involved with this startup, what happened with your relationship with your freelance photography business and the relationship with the people that you were involved in this company with?
LD: As much as I could, I wanted to try to maintain my photography career while doing this startup. For most of the time, I could do that, because photography is flexible, and I could arrange shoots on days when we weren't busy at the startup and vice versa. There were times when it was very challenging, and it was hard. Mostly when we were in full production mode for OMGYes and also when we launched. Then, press interest would come, we'd have to just respond to them immediately, but outside of those times, it was a juggling act, so I just was clear with myself that keeping my photo business alive was important.
In committing to this new project, I was reluctant to sign on for a full five days a week. I built in flexibility so that I would do three or four days a week and those days would be flexible, like when I did them. That really helped.
EU: That actually worked? I know a lot of people that are involved in startups, it doesn't matter how much time they've committed to. It's like suddenly they're doing this in the bathroom or in their beds at night. It just bleeds into all aspects of their life, but you were able to keep healthy boundaries there?
LD: Again, there were times when it was startup all the time, and a shoot is often a 14 hour day, right, because you have to set up, you have to do it, you have to breakdown, and then there's no time for anything else. If you're doing back to back shoots or if it's just a busy time period, yeah, photo completely fell by the wayside. Definitely it was a dialling down of photo, but I didn't want to turn it off, because I had spent many years building it up, and it's just such a joy that I knew that if I was committing to a different routine 100% and ignoring photo, I just wasn't going to be happy.
I knew myself well enough in the beginning that that was something I was going to need, and in setting up the structure of the company, that worked, because we were starting from scratch, so I was just able to have support on the days when I wasn't there, and other people filling in at times when I couldn't be there, so that was great that it worked.
EU: Yeah, I wanted to ask you what were some of the best things about working with friends?
LD: Well, that shared humour and experience of all those years, we’re college buddies, so Rob Perkins and I were the co-founders. We were able to have a lot of fun on set and also when things got difficult, we could talk like friends. I think that's something if you're going to start a company with friends, I think that's one of the benefits is that you can have that kind of understanding and open communication. It's also one of the things that you should really try to keep doing even when the going gets tough, have regular check-ins and be sure that you're not afraid to be a little confrontational when it's necessary, because inevitably, things are going to come up, and you can really rely on your friendship to help get through those harder times.
EU: It's interesting to me, because a lot of the things that you had described as far as helping make people comfortable are also relevant to just communication 101, or good communication 101, actually being curious about the other people's experience, so I imagine that also came into play when you were working out the tough times with your partner.
LD: Yeah. Well, also, I mean, being a startup, we all did everything, so one of the roles I played at certain points, not the whole time, but was unofficial HR. I would have check-ins with everybody in the company, and I think, again, when you're starting something from scratch, there's not really a handbook or playbook for how you're supposed to do something, so in some ways, you rely on just your gut instincts. In other ways, you should read the hell out of the internet and just figure it out as you go. HR was one of those things, but yeah. I think frequent check-ins and communication and creating an environment where people feel heard, and they feel enabled to speak up when something isn't working well is really important.
It creates more cohesion on the team.
EU: What were some of the things that people brought up?
LD: Well, with creating the technology that we created, there were a lot of stops and starts. We were creating something completely new. We had to overhaul our process for how we did that many times. We'd go down one direction and it just wouldn't work, so we'd have to scratch all of that and then try again.
EU: Maybe you can back up a little bit and describe the ultimate experience you were hoping that your customers would have with this technology.
LD: Okay, sure. With Oh my God. Yes, there is an interactive tutorial component, which you can do either with your mouse on your computer or with a touch screen or the touch part of your phone. Basically, after you explore a technique around pleasure through a video, there's a documentary style video where a woman shares from her own experience what feels good, with season one, then you have a chance to try that technique on your touch screen. You can use your imagination. We're focused on women's pleasure, but with that technology, it basically can sense where your finger is and what you're doing and the speed and the location of what you're doing. If you are going down the wrong street and really you need to be focusing on the cul-de-sac, then her voice will come and guide you towards what she wants and vice versa.
If you're doing something right, then her voice will guide you saying, "Yep, that's great. Keep going."
EU: “Oh my God. Yes.”
LD: Exactly. To create that specificity and to have it so that the reactions times felt real and not alien and that the tone was right and that it even knew what the hell you were doing, you know, was a lot of research and development and a lot of going down different directions. There was a lot of frustration and a lot of what the hell is happening? Why is it taking so long? This is so hard. Can we even do this?
EU: That sounds exactly like real life.
LD: For some, yes. I think we've all been in those relationships, like what the hell is happening, what are you doing?
EU: Why is it taking so long?
LD: Even with yourself when you're figuring yourself out. I remember perhaps without revealing too much, what the hell am I doing? Is this even working? Why am I taking so long?
EU: What was it like to be focusing so intensely on pleasure for work?
LD: There are hilarious moments when you realise that you're just talking about, I don't know, things that probably very few other work offices talk about, right? We have all sorts of funny names for things.
EU: Like what?
LD: Like vajayjay. That was normal. Then, it went down to vajay. Then, it went down to jayge. There was just this shorthand of different ways of talking about vulva and vagina and even that distinction, for us, that was a lively discussion, because technically, the whole area is called the vulva, but a lot of people don't know that, and they just shorthand refer to the whole area as vag or vagina, but in fact, the vagina's just like the hole, you know?
If a participant wanted to say vagina but in fact they were referring to another part, would we correct them? No, we decided we would not correct them, because everyone has their own language around it.
EU: You still have to make sure the camera is focusing on the right part.
LD: Exactly. Yes.
EU: The director's like, "Back out to the vag."
LD: Back it up, back it up. Zoom in.
EU: In terms of your personal life, I can imagine if I were staring at intimate anatomy all day long, it might cease to be exciting.
LD: That is quite interesting. There were people on the team whose sole job was to look at vulva really close up, to make the texture basically smooth and cohesive, because with the technology, we were able to create the illusion of skin moving, right, like when you touch things move. To do that, we had to ... I don't even really understand what these people were doing, the magic they were doing, but they had to kind of combine frames and remove the special touching device that we had used to actually move the skin so that it looked realistic.
They'd be spending hours on Photoshop and other programmes removing these things and smoothing the skin. Anyway, for them, it just became more like an abstract landscape painting with valleys and troughs and mountains and plateaus, kind of like a Georgia O'Keeffe.
EU: That's exactly what I was picturing.
LD: Even more zoomed in, right, pixels, I think they were kind of able to tune it out. Yeah, it definitely affected my sex life at times. Sometimes, I'd be just so exhausted, but not so much because of the topic, more just long days, startup life. Yeah, there were times when the topic at work was intense that the last thing I wanted to do was come home and have sex. Rather, I'd just cuddle and watch a movie, and for sure my girlfriend was very patient and understanding. I thank her for that.
Then, other times, you'd hear something kind of titillating, or something I'd never thought to do, and I'd want to try it. It was a mixed bag personally for me with regard to my own sex life.
EU: It sounds like the whole startup life in general was a mixed bag, so explain a little bit how you transitioned out of this startup role.
LD: Mixed bag is perhaps too negative a term. It was actually a huge learning experience. Overall good. I really learned a lot about video and about working on a team and about how multi-faceted pleasure is. It's so vast, and that is really exciting. Personally, I really enjoy being a bit of a butterfly when it comes to creative projects. Living in California maybe someone would say, "Oh, you're like a flaky Californian, you like to flit about." No, I just actually really like to have my hands in many different things all at once. That's something that I love about photography is that I pop into these different worlds, to these really intimate moments of other people's lives. Then, I pop out and I do it again.
A project like OMGYEs is a very deep look at something, and also to make a website and to create the community around it and to go bring it to the world, because now we're in different countries and different languages, it's a laser point kind of dedication. I enjoyed starting it and seeing it through the beginning phases, but I think kind of bringing it to the next level and going global is just another skill set that I, at this point, don't really want to cultivate. I want to go back to creative flirtation and bopping around different projects.
EU: Right, and well obviously there's an opportunity cost to be so intensely focused on one thing. What were the projects you missed the most?
LD: Well, OMGYes was a passion project, and I think an important project when it comes to women's pleasure. What I missed most were more personal projects of my own whimsy. What I mean by that are just like a project that I'm working on currently is about my family and my parents and starting with my mum, who's a fascinating person and interesting character, so that's a project that's quite personally relevant, but it doesn't, at this point in time, have large scale world ramifications to lift pleasure to a higher status. That said, I think that any project that is incredibly personal has the potential to be moving for other people.
That is something I'm working on currently that was a little bit tricky to make time for when I was doing this other thing.
EU: Were there moments where you were just thinking, "Wait, this thing, it's never going to happen unless I close the door on this other project and focus back on this more diverse-"
LD: Yeah, well, I mean, I guess with this family project that I started describing, my parents are getting older, and that is truly what is motivating me doing this now. Without being morbid or afraid of their imminent passing, that's a motivator, so just felt like, "Okay, time just keeps moving forward."
EU: Is there a scare?
LD: My dad had some health stuff. My mum had some health stuff. They're great now, but yeah, little things. It's just scary when you realise how close we all are to that potential. Yeah, that was a little kick to the pants of like, "Okay, do this."
EU: Do it before time runs out. Yeah, no, I mean that's a really good point. You never know, and just like in the same way you never knew what would have happened. You were going to do this startup no matter what. This clearly was something that was really important to you, and like any of us, there are so many things that are demanding our attention at any time. One other thing that often comes up in our conversations with creative people is the question around whether or not you ever work for free, so I'd love to hear some of your stories about how you handle that or how you handle pricing for that matter.
LD: Yeah, sure. I differ with some photographer friends around this. I think everyone has to figure out what they feel comfortable with. For me, if the project is interesting and I have the energy and the time, then I'm happy to do some projects for free. I can't make a living if I do too many things for free, so you have to figure out the balance. Yeah, if it's interesting, if I like the people, if it's a way for me to grow creatively, then I'm up for doing things for free.
In my own experience, often times, the projects that I'm most curious about, free or not, are the ones that lead to bigger jobs in the future or just some kind of reward. Yeah, I found that projects that I've done for free have often led to other things that are exciting and great. Here's one example.
I had seen a beautiful renaissance painting with this golden light, and they call it Rembrandt lighting, art history 101. I wanted to try to explore the studio a little bit more and brush up on some of the studio skills. A good friend of mine, great photographer, Sophie Spinnelle, she was like, "You can use my studio, and I'll help you and show you some lighting." Thank you, Sophie. I pitched a writer that I greatly admire, and also a friend, Michele [ea, who used to live in San Francisco. Now she lives in L.A. I said, "Hey, I'd love to get you in the studio and just practise some stuff with you and perhaps if you need a new photo, you can use it.
I wanted to work with Michelle because I had worked with her before and I knew that she was fun and game to try things out. Also, she has these curly ringlets which match this painting I had in my mind. She was just a good model for what I wanted to do. We created that shot, and at the time, she was working on, I don't remember which book it was, but it was a book that had doves and pigeons in it, so I went to the thrift store. Then I went to an antique store, and I found this ceramic pigeon dove thing and we ended up putting it on her head, and it looked like it was just floating magically by itself.
She ended up using that photo a bunch for her own press. Then, we did another shot, completely different scene, not the renaissance idea, but she had brought really cool clothes, and she had this amazing colourful jumper. I had a fun makeup artist who was just into exploring together and doing something totally crazy. We changed the background and she ended up jumping and so her hair went out, but it's weird, because it's so frozen in time, the jump, that you can't really tell it's going up from the velocity or whatever.
Anyway, we got a super fun image that was very alive. End of the shoot, I ended up giving her five different things I really liked. She ended up using some of those shots for her own stuff, and then her book publisher caught wind of one of the images and ended up being the cover for her book How to Grow Up.
LD: I ended up getting the image licenced by the publisher, but more importantly, it was just such a great round about way to encourage me to do my own creative work and how that can come back to you down the road in ways that you just never would have imagined.
EU: I want to talk a little bit more about these misconceptions in creative careers or creative vocations. There's... Alice asked this amazing question, it's no secret there's these obvious taboos when it comes to women's pleasure or sexuality in general, but I feel like there's a lot of taboos or unspoken things that are just plain wrong when it comes to people that want to build a living out of their creative passions. Is there something you feel is just this rampant misperception that you want to set the record straight on as far as your experience in your career so far?
LD: I would say that there's no one way to be successful and to create a creative career for yourself. There's lots of different ways to do that. The most important thing is to, I think it's a combo, of actually try different things out and see what you like while at the same time pay close attention to what you really enjoy and what jives for you and to try to focus on that, while at the same time maintaining a healthy, creative thing that you do that's not necessarily for your career if that makes sense.
I don't know. Those are lots of different balls to have in the air, but for me, I can just speak from my own experience, I really wanted to be able to stand on my own two feet and make a living with photography right off the bat. I was nervous about entering a field that I wasn't sure I can make a living in, so I really was quick to focus on wedding photography and different types of portraiture that I knew could pay the bills.
EU: Is that something that you had internalised because of messages you were hearing from outside? How did you even get the sense that, "Gosh, it's going to be hard to make a living as a photographer or if I'm going to make a living, I'm going to have to do weddings."
LD: No, that was something I internalised, like okay, you're picking a route that's not as stable as, let's say, being a teacher or joining a company and having the safety net of the company. Perhaps I got it from my parents. I don't know, my parents were also very encouraging, so not necessarily, but yeah, I just knew it wasn't a set route that I could definitely count on, so for me, I gravitated towards the types of photography that one, I knew I was pretty good at, but also that I thought I could make a living doing. That has boded well for me. I really enjoy wedding photography, and I love portraiture, but I had to spend so much time focusing on those things that I think I let some personal whimsy projects fall to the back burner.
If you forget about them, then the back burner just turns itself off a little bit. Wind comes, and boom, it's not heating anymore. I would encourage people to truly try to maintain their creative projects while pursuing the money making jobs. There's no recipe for how you do that. I think you do need to schedule it in. You need to make a commitment to yourself that is as important as making the commitment to the client.
That can be hard if someone's waiting on their images to be edited or you're only going to get the cheque when the work is done. In those ways, I think being disciplined is really important. That's something that I've learned how to be over time.
EU: It takes a lot of bravery to get so ensconced in a project that you've invested so much of your personal time and energy in and then decide to walk away from it. Describe how it felt when you were thinking about okay, I'm either going to keep going, or I'm not.
LD: Well, I would say it takes a lot of bravery in general to do anything big and bold and new. That would be my advice for anyone thinking about making a change is to trust in that thing that you want to do and to really work hard to have the trust in yourself and in the idea outweigh the doubt and the insecurity. Of course you're gonna to doubt it, and of course you're gonna be insecure at times.
EU: Did you have those feelings?
LD: Oh, all the time. Sure. Even now, of course. For sure. Normal. Part of being alive and part of being in an artistic pursuit, but you have to work hard and surround yourself with cheerleaders and with people that believe in you and with supportive people and people that inspire you, because you have to have that belief to kind of buoy yourself in the tough times. For sure, with Oh my God. Yes, there were times when it was really scary and overwhelmingly nerve wracking, like how are we going to get this done? Are we going to run out of money? Is this going to work? Is the thing going to freeze and the whole website go down?
So many fears like that, but you have to just really trust in yourself and hope for the best. I think that's the same thing with any creative idea. You really have to try to trust in yourself, recognise that it's normal to have doubts, go through that cycle of doubting, but then get back on the horse and just power through.
EU: One of the things that's so fascinating about this creative work, and I imagine you worked on a contract basis, it's one thing to measure value in the dollars you get paid per hour if you're a salaried employee or something like that. I mean, especially in some of the things you're talking about, it's clear that the value is not measured in terms of the dollars that come with that contract. I mean, there are so many other things, so how are you measuring the return on the investment for some of these non-measurable things?
LD: That's a good question. For me, I really love connecting with people, and I love witnessing beautiful moments. I love creating interesting, beautiful imagery, so I'm stoked after a shoot if I feel like I've gotten to know the people better and i've created imagery that I'm proud of. If there's money attached to that, even better, but it actually feels just as good if it's just a great shoot.
That's how I value different engagements. Was I able to create something interesting? Did I connect with the people? If I can say yes to those two things, then usually I'm happy with how the shoot went.
EU: There's such a stigma around failure or quitting, and I can imagine that was one of the things you struggled with when you were deciding to shift back into your freelance business.
LD: I definitely struggled with letting this baby walk on its little toddler legs. There is a potent metaphor in birthing something and all of the sweat and effort that goes into that. Then, feeling attached to it and wanting to cradle it and nurture it and hold it. Definitely it was a tricky choice to make to kind of step away and retool and focus more on my personal creative projects. At the same time, I could see that it was a great time to leave, because it had launched, and it was walking on its own. There was a natural pause of: it's out in the world, and we can just see what it does.
It wasn't as intense, like production mode daily grind that really needed a full team. In some ways, I was sure to time it such that I felt like it was a good time for it to do its own thing and kind of move forward.
EU: Do you consider yourself an entrepreneur?
LD: You know, that word makes me feel a little uncomfortable, just because I think it's so loosely thrown about, and it's, I don't know, it feels pretentious or something. I'd say I'm, I don't know, a person just following my curiosity.
EU: You've obviously made the business side of things work, and that's something that Alice and I talk a lot about is do creative people also have to be business people, or do creative folks have to be entrepreneurs to be able to turn their passion into their vocation?
LD: Well, I think entrepreneur often means someone who starts something and has an idea and a vision that they push out into the world in a way that is perhaps new to the world. In that way, that resonates in some ways. I like to start things, same with reading books. I start a lot of them, and I don't finish all of them. Perhaps that aspect of entrepreneurship resonates, because I think I'm maybe more of a starter than be with the project for 10 years.
EU: You are so humble in your answer. I mean, here you started this whole movement around elevating the conversation of women. I don't want to say the same thing again. I keep saying it that way, but I mean, you started this whole new movement around changing people's perspectives and eradicating the taboo around women's pleasure, and you're like, "Oh no. I don't know. Just doing my creative projects.”
LD: All right, well then, let's figure out an answer that's right.
EU: No, the answer's perfect. Your answer was perfect. I'm so in awe of what you're doing, and you're just like, "Oh yeah. Just knocked off this amazingly innovative technological technique for allowing people to learn something new that they might not otherwise feel comfortable talking about." This is huge.
LD: One thing that I think is important to acknowledge, and perhaps this is why I feel a little uncomfortable with the name entrepreneur is that truly the project happened because of the whole team around it. Everyone was so important. When we talk about entrepreneurs, or people who start things, or co-founders, often it's just the two names at the top of the company. In fact, there's the whole team behind it, and those people don't get shout-outs. If a whole team can be an entrepreneur, then I feel more comfortable with that because of this crazy technology and intimate stories. The whole production team was so essential in making it happen. Everyone in the office, and people who would just pop in as consultants. All of those people were important too.
I think if we could somehow change the language to not just acknowledge the people who were there from the very beginning but the whole team and who really makes something come forth, it's like the team behind you.
EU: This is what makes you such an amazing leader, I think, more than an entrepreneur, is that you are giving credit where credit is due to everybody who was involved in the project. To go back to the story you were telling about working with Michelle Tee, it's not just I showed up with this great idea for lighting. You're like, "She showed up with her crazy costume and her amazing ringlets." There's everyone that your friend who had donated time in the studio that day. There's all the people that make something happen, and I think you're right. A lot of entrepreneurs want to take all the credit for themselves, but the ones who are really successful, whether it's financially or in meeting their own personal goals, are giving credit where credit is due.
I think that is, again, testament to your leadership skill.
LD: Aw, shucks.
EU: Thanks so much for joining us on the show today, Lydia. This has been a really great conversation.
LD: It's my pleasure. Thank you so much.
EU: That was Lydia Daniller, photographer, videographer, and co-founder of Oh my God. Yes. I'm Elizabeth U, producer and host of Xero Gravity. Alice Brine is creative director, and Jesse Walker was the wizard who recorded this conversation in Xero's San Francisco office. Thanks also to Megan Wright, technical producer, as well as Daniel Marr and Jonny McNee, our technical editors. If you've got questions, comments, or suggestions for the show, you can find me on Twitter @smallbizwithliz. Thanks for subscribing to Xero Gravity via iTunes or SoundCloud, and we'll see you next time.