By Riley Manning
AMORY – In a time where many just-graduated college seniors struggle to find career employment, Amory-born photographer Blake McCollum has hewn a path all his own.
The 24-year-old runs his Amory photography business single-handedly, keeping his website up-to-date, arranging shoots with an array of clients, coming up with picture ideas, editing the photos and managing his money.
McCollum’s journey started in high school at an Amory High School football game.
“I was sitting on the sidelines at the game when a photographer from the newspaper had to use the bathroom,” he said. “He asked me to hold the camera and snap a picture if anything exciting happened. Sure enough, the next play happened right in front of me and the picture I took ended up in the paper.”
Though he had always had a basic “point-and-shoot” camera, that incident was the first time the idea of taking pictures professionally occurred to him.
“I snapped the picture and thought ‘you can make a living doing this?’” he said.
In his spare time, he got comfortable with taking pictures, usually of the surrounding Mississippi landscape.
“I feel like every photographer starts out shooting random stuff – fields, barns, old cars – things like that,” he said.
He picked up another gig photographing a local motocross rider and worked with a local photographer shooting portraits and weddings. Learning to photograph people changed everything, he said.
After graduating AHS, McCollum enrolled at Itawamba Community College, still planning on going into the medical profession. Two semesters into the course work, he knew he hated it, and he wasn’t the only one who noticed.
“My adviser called me into her office before a new semester, handed me a schedule and said ‘you’re an art major now,’” he said.
He was worried about what his mother would think.
“Any parent who hears her child is dropping out of a medical track to do art is going to be concerned,” he said, “But she has always supported me. When you are an only child to a single mother you have to support each other, because there is no one else.”
McCollum advanced to Mississippi State University as a photography major.
Heavily using Facebook and Twitter, McCollum built a name for himself for his bright, eye-catching style. At the same time, his professors pushed him out of his artistic comfort zone and he started enjoying their challenges.
“Getting out of my comfort zone is my mantra now,” he said, “Without those professors, I would have no fine art skills, no access to deeper meaning in my work.”
One thing is apparent about McCollum: He loves his work, if you can call it that. He prefers to call it “fun,” and believes that success follows passion.
“If you do your own thing, everything else will follow,” he said, “But especially for artists, you have to have the drive to be 100 percent gung-ho about what you’re doing.”