Member Interview: Justin Cook / by Megan Jones

ONE OF THE GREATEST THINGS ABOUT MERCURY STUDIO IS ITS MEMBERS. 
THEREFORE, WE'LL BE SHARING BRIEF MEMBER INTERVIEWS SO YOU CAN GET TO KNOW THEM, TOO.

Justin Cook Profile.jpeg

HOW DID YOU COME TO JOIN MERCURY?

I joined Mercury in the fall of 2014. At the time, I was a contract photographer and working part time at the INDY Week here in Durham as staff photographer. I’ve worked at newspapers most of my adult life, and love the newsroom - there’s a kinship there unlike most offices. But I wanted to find that type of connection with people beyond the ink-stained wretches of journalism.

I visited all the coworking spaces in Durham and was impressed by them all. But Mercury stood out. The first time I walked through the orange door, I saw possibility, and that is where I like to live.

In one building, folks were painting and repackaging mortgages; they were sewing and helping people with their taxes; they were making music and non-profiting. There were photographers and poets; web wizards and good listeners. Best of all, they were working together, supporting each other and being thoughtful about their place in the community. I watched regular folks be incredibly vulnerable with each other during the monthly member brunches, which more closely resemble group-therapy sessions served with donuts and grapefruit.

Mercury seemed to offer the camaraderie I was looking for without the office politics. There’s no hype, no expectations, no angel investors -- just the better angels of our nature. It’s imperfect and full of potential. I could breathe here. I could make a mess. I found my band of pirates.

I left the INDY Week in March 2015 to focus solely on my business and documentary work. It was a tough decision. 2015 was the best year of my life; my community was in bloom and work was steady. Things took a turn this past fall when some sudden and traumatic things happened in my personal life. Mercury became my sanctuary. I’m not sure what I would have done without the people here.

Mercury is also run by women. We need more things run by women, and men need to support those things.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE APP, WEBSITE, OR TIP FOR WORK RIGHT NOW AND WHY IS IT HELPFUL?

Also, tips:

Tip #1: Omit needless words. (The Elements of Style - Strunk and White, Rule #17).

Tip #2: If you are having trouble prioritizing your day, imagine that today is actually tomorrow, and reflect: “Gosh, what do I wish I had done yesterday?” Then do those 2-3 things first. Everything else is secondary.

Tip #3: If you do not already, go see a counselor. You need counseling. Trust me.

Tip #4: Simplicity is sophisticated.

Do we need any more apps? But I love this website, and their description says it all: http://psychologyforphotographers.com/

“Psychology for Photographers explores how psychology fits into the everyday workings of creative businesses. Even though a business is just an exchange of value between people, everything seems to depend on psychology:  How people make decisions, interact with one another, look at websites, select what to click on, and talk to their friends.  Understanding principles that help shape that behavior makes for an infinitely happier and less frustrating business experience.  Even just a few fundamentals will save you time, agonizing, guesswork, and money.”

WHAT ARE YOU LISTENING TO OR READING NOW THAT IT IS INSPIRING YOU?

I could ramble on about the photographers I love and their books ( LaToya Ruby Frazier, Erika Larsen, Sam Abel, Larry Fink!), but honestly, other creative people outside that medium inspire me the most. I constantly re-read Kurt Cobain’s Journals. I love his creative process. His mind was a storm, and some really visceral, amazing things came out of it.

Bill Watterson, creator of Calvin and Hobbes, is my all-time hero. His last book, which came out a year ago, contains a great interview. There’s a lot to learn from him, and not just from his amazing art and storytelling, but in how to maintain the integrity of your work. In his 30’s, at his creative peak, he quit making the greatest comic of all time. He claims that he had said all he wanted to say. He hit his mark, and stopped because he didn’t want to shoot past it. He fought against licensing his characters on products, in movies, etc, so today Calvin and Hobbes exist in only one medium. Hell, their voices only exist in our imagination. The lesson: purity of product creates an unbreakable timelessness. Don’t lose control of your work, and don’t dilute it with runaway ambition.

That said, I have one of his quotes on the wall in my office so it’s always in my line of sight:

Selling out is more of a matter of buying in.
Sell out, and you’re really just buying into someone else’s values.
— Bill Watterson

WHAT’S A NEW SKILL THAT YOU’D LIKE TO LEARN?

Teleportation.

Wait, here’s a cool app: BAM   ← Magic is my favorite setting.