I learned what it really means to fight for success last week. I met Jaleel King a year or two ago and I was immediately drawn to his passion. Jaleel is one of those people you should hope to meet one day. He is an outstanding photographer that has battled to overcome his circumstances time and time again. I hope to show you a small piece of who he is in this article. Hopefully, his story will change your perspective on life, like it did mine. Jaleel was recently invited to do his first Photo Walk at the PhotoPlus Expo in NYC. I was there covering the show for B&H Photo and I had the privilege of being able to document the Photo Walk and speak to Jaleel for a bit.
Getting To Know Jaleel King
This video was put together a few years ago by Mike Allebach. Watch it to hear about how Jaleel overcame being shot at the age of 8. It will give you a little back story on his life.
As you can imagine, Jaleel had a lot of overcoming to do after the tragic incident happened to him. I had a chance to sit down with Jaleel after PhotoPlus to ask him a few questions. I wanted to know what has given him his fight to keep pressing forward.
After high school, Jaleel decided to go to college for computers because he thought the photography industry was too saturated. He assumed he would have better luck going the computer route. He still loved photography and would continue to shoot, though. After receiving his Associates Degree in a computer-related field, Jaleel went back to school to learn video. He received his Associates Degree in a video-related field as well. About a year after graduating, Jaleel got a job with MTV for the week through a friend. He saved the money he made from that job to buy his first “real” DSLR camera which happened to be a Canon 30D. He now shoots with a Canon 1D Mark IV, a Fuji X-T1, and a Sony RX100 as well as a few film cameras, too. Jaleel is also sponsored by Profoto.
An Hour And A Half With Jaleel
During our chat, Jaleel reflected on the fact that being disabled makes it a lot more difficult to be a creative. He mentioned that we all get dealt crappy hands, but it’s how you respond to those circumstances that defines you. He said, “You can either use it as your battle cry, or you can dwell on it and let it keep you down.” He emphasized that it’s all about your perspective. In addition, building your portfolio takes a lot of time and energy as well as money. He told me stories of how he would drop off his film from a shoot and have to wait 2-3 weeks to save up enough money to be able to afford to pick it up. The struggle of an artist is real! But Jaleel takes it all in stride. He admitted he has bad days just like everyone else. He said, “I could sit at home and play Xbox all day and no one would say shit to me.” That really hit me. He really could sit at home and no one would blame him because of what he has been through. It would be easy for him to do so. However, that is not Jaleel. Jaleel is a warrior and warriors never back down from a battle.
Jaleel mentioned how it can be funny how the roundabout way of getting from point A to point B, can often be the best way. He said there were people he needed to meet to position him to be where he is today. So often we can lean towards the fastest route during our journey through life. But often times, we miss out on the experiences along the way. Jaleel mentioned how it’s those experiences that defined him and he wouldn’t be the same person without them. He knew if he was going to do Photography as a career full time, there was no way he was going to “half ass” it. He keeps his goals high so he always has something to reach for.
A Few Questions For Jaleel
Me: Jaleel, you have been through so much and yet you keep fighting. What keeps you fighting?
(The mood of the conversation changed and Jaleel turned his head away and silence ensued. It was a few seconds before he responded but his response hit me hard.)
Jaleel: My mom. She made a decision early on that she wasn’t going to let my disability keep me down. She fought for me every step of the way. She pushed me even when I didn’t want to do things. We all have decisions to make regardless of disability, but I wanted to make a difference and she knew I could.
Me: Do you think people are more likely to help you out because of your disability when it comes to the photography industry?
Jaleel: I honestly don’t know. I’m sure there are some that are, but at the end of the day I still have to show up. I still have to produce great images. People can only open the door for you. You still have to walk through it. I don’t need a pity party from anyone. Don’t sugar coat things, I can take it. I want people to be real with me so I can continue to get better.
Me: How do you define success when it applies to your life directly?
Jaleel: Success to me is being happy and doing what I love. None of the other stuff really matters.
Me: What do you want to be remembered for? What do you want your legacy to be?
Jaleel: I want to be remembered for never giving up regardless of the hand I was dealt.
Me: Moving forward, what is your plan?
Jaleel: If the ride is over tomorrow, it’s been a great ride! I love the journey. I love teaching and hope to continue to do more of it.
The Photo Walk
Being able to document Jaleel’s first photo walk was a really cool experience. It’s one thing to see someone’s work. It’s another thing to see them create it. Jaleel led his group around instructing them on things like perspective, composition, pushing themselves to see beyond what’s in front of them, exposure, etc. His passion for his craft, as well as helping people, was extremely evident. It was great to see him in his element! I can’t wait to see whats next for him!
Getting to know Jaleel is something I highly recommend you do if given the chance. Jaleel is different than most in the industry. While at PhotoPlus, I ran into a lot of ego; photographers that were really only there so people would buy more of their products rather than there out of passion for the craft. I get it, people need to make money. But at the end of the day, pride comes before the fall.
I really believe our industry suffers because someone “makes it” and then never reaches back to those still learning. Whatever happened to paying it forward? No ones gets to a place of success on their own. We all have people that help us along the way. People we can lean on. Jaleel gets it though. Jaleel is humble and has all the right motives. I hope Jaleel’s story inspires you in your career in photography, but also in your every day life. This industry needs more people like Jaleel.
To see more of Jaleel’s work, check out his website here. Below you can see a few images Jaleel has taken over the years.
Thank you to B&H Photo for making this trip to PhotoPlus Expo 2015 possible!
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