Student Profile: Joe Gongaware

Sophomore Joe Gongaware is paving his road to success by starting his own business to follow his passion.

As the majority of high school students work thankless, minimum wage jobs in order to make a little extra spending money, sophomore Joe Gongaware is following his passion and making some cash while doing it.

“I went on a family vacation when I was 12 I believe and when I was there I started taking pictures with my phone camera,” Gongaware said.
While he never thought of himself as an artist, photography has become more than a creative outlet for him, it’s a passion.

“It [photography] really gives me a chance to be artistic,” he said. “I can’t pick up a paintbrush or a marker and draw, I have to hone this craft of taking the picture and editing the picture. It’s just extremely relaxing to me, getting to plug in my headphones and editing 300 pictures on my laptop.”

Gongaware has explored many avenues of photography, ranging from film, portraiture, sports and landscape.

“Definitely editorial and portrait photography right now [is my favorite],” he said. “Landscapes are always fun but I’ve never been real good at them. Nature is always good and sports [photography] was the first thing I did and then after that I kind of got away from that because it’s not as creative.”

As both a student athlete and photographer, he has found sports photography to have many challenging elements to it and respects those who pursue it as a career.

“Famous sports photographers like Steph Chambers, they have such [a] talent because you have to capture motion, you can’t make it,” he said. “When you’re a sports photographer you have to capture that emotion the split second [it happens].”

While he still enjoys taking pictures at games and matches, each type of photography presents new and exciting components he enjoys working with.

“Sports photography is fun to a point,” he said. “What I like about portrait photography, for the most part, is I’m in complete control of what’s happening.”

Gongaware is also able to make a little money off of his photography and as a high schooler pursuing a passion that can be really exciting, but that’s not why he does it.

One of Gongaware’s photos posted on his photography instagram from working with Millers. Photo coutesy: Joe Gongaware

“The money is a plus,” he said. “I do a lot of free jobs just because I love doing it and I love getting the experience for it. It’s not always about the money. It took awhile for me to realize I’m good enough to get paid to do this.”

However, experience, improvement and sheer enjoyment come first.

“The main goal with making a profit off of [your] passion shouldn’t be to make money, especially as a kid,” he said. “Don’t put money in front of doing what you love.”

Gongaware also finds himself continually inspired by travelling and big cities.

“Traveling is a big part because it lets me see new things and of course a lot of my inspiration comes from other people,” he said. “Travel photography and street photography include portraiture and include landscapes [and] street photography. It sort of takes every type of photography and condenses it. Really, you can’t define street photography. Just seeing new things and hearing new languages inspires me to get out and shoot more.”

He has even had the chance to meet one of his role models.

“I actually met a photographer in New York,” he said.  “His name is Louis Mendes and he’s a really famous street photographer. I look at his work and it’s just crazy.”

While at first nervous to approach him, Gongaware was thankful for the experience.

“I wasn’t going to talk to him because he had a student with him but I took a picture and he saw me take the picture,” he explained. “Then he called me over and I was like, ‘Oh god.’ We talked for a solid 20 minutes; his student was just chilling in the corner, he was so cool.”

Gongaware has learned the majority of what he knows now from Youtube and is a fan of Mango Street, a photography channel with over 700,000 subscribers.

“They do editorial street photography they’re really awesome,” he said.

He also continues to get experience in the field through doing work in the community and seeking out opportunities from local businesses. Currently, Gongaware is working with the formal dress store Millers in order to grow his fashion portfolio.

“I knew if I do want to pursue photography when I get out of high school I’m going to have to go into fashion,” he said. “That’s what I want to do [and] that’s where the money is for the most part in portraiture, other than like school pictures.”

Gongaware also focuses on his business taking senior pictures and growing his website, acknowledging social media is half the battle.

“At least from my personal experience, PR and reaching out to people is, I think, 70% through social media [and] through online,” he said. “It’s so important to advertise nowadays because there’s so many photographers [whose] social media presence is such a big deal because that’s how people see your work.”

It’s no secret that social media plays an important role in expanding his business.

“I definitely would like to see the business grow,” he said. “I like taking people that aren’t models and taking pictures of them, seeing the expressions on peoples’ face when they get their [senior] pictures is priceless.”

Despite his hard work, it begs the question, is he taken seriously as a high schooler striving for professional goals?

“If I’m at a sporting event with a press pass, you have these photographers that have been doing it for 30 years, they’ve been through film, they’ve been through digital,” he said. “People look at a kid with a good camera-but not a camera they’ve seen other photographers use-and they’re like, ‘That kid doesn’t know what he’s doing.’ When I do portraiture and I’m in my element, I’ve got my reflectors everywhere and my camera, I think people take me a lot more seriously when I’m in control of the environment versus when I’m not controlling the environment.”

Being a student also presents a challenge in terms of managing his time between photography, school work and extracurricular activities.

“If I was just in school, I’d be okay [balancing photography and school], but because I have the sports, I don’t get home until 6:30 every day so it really is a balance,” he said.

To Gongaware, having an “eye” for photography means always thinking in terms of what makes a good photo.

“When you can go out into an uncontrolled environment and take pictures, seeing the composition of a picture before you take it is having an eye [for photography],” he said. “You have a sense of the environment and a sense of the emotion you want to capture before you take the picture.”

His work and practice with film photography helps him practice this skill.

“I think it really helps me with my composition because every shot is money,” he said. “Film is like $12 a roll nowadays. I really stop and think more about the pictures.”

Due to the expensive equipment needed, he does yardwork and gets help from his family to buy cameras, lenses and everything in between.

“I can see my work benefiting me more than just in the sense of getting a job,” he said. “I get to control when I work, how long I work, how much money I make. Seeing a dream come true, it’s awesome.”

While Gongaware doesn’t need any more of an introduction, and his work speaks for itself, senior Philip Fyock had only good things to say about the senior picture experience.

“He picked good spots and everything and made it quick and easy,” Fyock said. “He told me what to do, basically walked me all the way through it.”

Gongaware’s passion was apparent to him throughout the session.

“He was in awe with some of the pictures and the spots we went to,” Fyock said.

Fyock chose Gongaware to support his fellow teammate and was pleased with everything his business had to offer.

“He’s my friend and I wanted to give him business,” Fyock said. “They were cheaper prices, too, than anybody else.”

The experience was easy and professional and the final pictures turned out great.

“He sets it all up and gets all your pictures for you afterwards,” he said. “He’s fun to be with, just a cool guy.”

Fyock sees a future in photography for Gongaware and believes he has a career in it.

“I know he has opportunities to go places and I feel like he’s good enough to go places so I feel like he could take it somewhere,” he said.

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