On Creative Entrepreneurship, Self-Learning, and Becoming a Photographer with Armin Tehrani
This episode features Armin Tehrani, a photographer, art director, and entrepreneur. We cover topics such as navigating creativity and business, how he went about becoming a professional photographer, what motives him, the importance of giving and receiving honest feedback, and much more.
Armin Tehrani is a creative professional from Vancouver, Canada, currently based in Copenhagen. He’s exceptionally multifaceted but focuses mainly on art direction and photography, as well as visual production.
"Push yourself to learn something new each day."
He has owned several companies in the past, including a clothing store, a greeting card company, as well as a women’s line called Priory. He currently produces content for Norse Projects and has done so for other Canadian and Danish brands, as well.
- Introduction [00:00]
- Episode Introduction [00:51]
- Starting As a Creative Entrepreneur [02:09]
- How to Become a Professional Photographer Today [09:34]
- Short Episode Break – Support the Podcast [16:06]
- Armin’s Work Routines [16:49]
- How to Give and Receive Creative Feedback [18:31]
- Challenges of Being a Creative Professional Today [20:26]
- How to Find Motivation in Difficult Times [22:07]
- How to Be a Better Creative Professional [23:26]
- Episode Outro [24:54]
Armin: “You need to make a name for yourself and make people believe that you’re the best or you’re good enough for it. A lot of people might get a little bit intimidated by that, but I think that’s also just part of the skill set that is required to kind of make it.”
This is the Creative Voyage Podcast, a long form interview show with the mission to help creative professionals to level up. I’m your host Mario Depicolzuane. I’m a creative professional myself active in the fields of graphic design, art direction, and creative consulting. In this podcast, I present in depth interviews with some of the world’s most inspiring creative professionals revealing the stories that shape their lives and careers, plus actionable strategies to help you take your mindset and skills to the next level. I invite you to join me on this journey.
Mario: In this episode, I talk to Armin Tehrani, a photographer, art director, and an entrepreneur. Armin Tehrani is a creative professional from Vancouver, Canada, currently based in Copenhagen. He’s exceptionally multifaceted but focuses mainly on art direction and photography as well as visual production. He has owned several companies in the past including a clothing store, a Korean card company, as well as a woman’s line called Priory. He currently produces content for Norse Projects and has done so for other Canadian and Danish brands as well.
Also, Armin is my dear friend, which whom I often hang out, but also consult, brainstorm, and occasionally collaborate. This conversation was an excellent opportunity to pick his brain about some of those things in a slightly more formal setting.
In this episode, we’re going to listen to the highlights of the conversation I had with Armin in Copenhagen during the 3daysofdesign in May 2019 it was recorded in front of a live audience at The Audo, a hybrid space facilitating and celebrating human interaction, connection, and artistic expression. In our conversation, we cover topics such as navigating creativity in business, how he went about becoming a professional photographer, what motivates him, the importance of giving and receiving honest feedback, and much more.
Fresh out of university, Armin got involved with the Board of Trade Company, a concept boutique that existed for five years with two locations in Vancouver. He was brought on six months after its creation to help with expansion and the opening of a second store. They had many high accolades including being featured in Monocle, Wall Street Journal and Flare magazine. That project culminated with Armin becoming a partner at Priory, a woman’s line that it sold worldwide. And at a similar time, he also found a greeting card company Lost Boy, which has products sold in over 30 stores across the USA, Canada, and England. From the very start, Armin’s creative journey has been rooted in initiating, learning by doing, and has said a strong sense of business, which I all find essential, so I started in my conversation with him discussing his creative and entrepreneurial beginnings.
Armin: I have immigrant parents. With that, they always want you to be doing things that are safe, being a doctor, being a lawyer, stuff like that. And I always thought, oh, I’ll be a doctor, that’s where the biology degree comes in. I’ll be a lawyer, that’s where my sociology degree comes in. At the end of the day, I don’t think I’m smart enough to do any of those things, but I always love being creative. I used to draw a lot. I used to love working with music, taught myself how to play the piano and I loved expressing myself, for sure. And I think eventually, it just kind of came to a point where my parents understood that and they had fully supported me after I graduated, and that kind of led me to where I am now. Every time I took up something new like photography or even design, they always supported me and I always was showing them that I could do it without any formal training.
Mario: And then how did you come to Priory, the clothing line?
Armin: Priory was basically probably my biggest project I’ve ever been a part of. After the store, my business partner and I, we wanted another outlet. Wholesale business was good and we were working with another designer actually, and the brand needs to be called Priory of 10. But eventually, she left, so we started our own brand called Priory and eventually, we just kind of made a 20 piece collection, and it ended up being in some of the biggest boutiques in North America and it kind of just snowballed from there.
Armin: It was based on a lot of our own personalities and just kind of went from there. I think a lot of it is, I mean I would say that my business partner, Eunice Quan, my old business partner, I guess, we were never considered to be professors, merely just professionals. We can’t teach you a design but we could probably tell you based on experience how to design something. I mean I can’t sketch nor do I know the programs that well, but they asked me to create a dress, a summer dress or something like that, I could find the inspiration for it and I can probably curate it in a way that is based off our own personality. I don’t think anything creatively you do is based off of formal training. You can probably do whatever you want as long as you have the determination and the ability to kind of explore the different facets of the creative world and kind of combined them into your own amalgamation of what you want to create.
Mario: And what was your role within Priory?
Armin: I was doing design, I was doing the business stuff, I was doing photography, but I was also packing away orders and I did everything. It was a 360 approach. I mean, when you start small and there’s only two of you, and now there’s about four or five in the company, you just do everything.
Mario: And then, I mean you said actually, a lot of let’s say your education and how you approach things is and was like learning by doing, which entails a lot of trial and error and mistakes. I assume even more mistakes in the early days. So, I’m curious, when you look back, is there something in particular that you kind of wished you knew or you could advise yourself at that time?
Armin: I would never want to make the same mistake twice. And I think we did that a lot. We kept thinking like, “Oh, well, let’s try this for this season,” and it fails. And you know what? Let’s do a little bit differently and I think it would be nicer if we did have a little bit more outside experience. Now, with all my work at Norse Projects, I feel like now that I’ve learned from a different company, that if I was to do it over again, I could definitely apply what I learned now to back then, but at the same time, I can apply to what I’m doing now from my old experience. I mean I don’t really have regrets in that say, but I think if I could start from scratch and have the knowledge, I would definitely try to be more organized for sure. And definitely, a lot of it is research and experimentation, and I think a lot of people undervalue that. They just kind of want to get to it, where I mean you’re bound to fail I would say more than 10, 20 times before you get it right.
Mario: Be ready for that.
Armin: Yeah, exactly, and be patient also. For us, luckily for our first season, we kind of hit the mark. But with our store, we didn’t really hit the mark until maybe halfway down the line. And, I mean at that point, it was like, well, do we really want to keep doing this? Is this really what we want to do? And eventually, we did make the decision after our lease was up to not renew and just more focused on the clothing line.
Mario: So I’m curious about your third project in a business, which is a greeting card company. Could you talk a bit about that?
Armin: It’s kind of hard to talk about with my girlfriend sitting in the crowd, but I guess you could say back in the day I was a bit of a hopeless romantic and I had all these heart ideas I would write to my former. Anyways, it was kind of like the way I express things? And yeah, so eventually, I just turned those all into greeting cards. And I learned how to do graphic design by myself, for example, just watching YouTube videos and testing out reading books and watching other people do it. And yeah, so eventually, I mean we ended up selling to about over 35 stores in Canada, the US, and that was a really great time. I learned a lot about just the greeting card business. It’s so different than clothing. I did that for about four years and I think I’m, I don’t want to say I moved past it, but I’ve definitely taken ahold on it, just since my move to Copenhagen, of course.
Armin: But after all of that, it was great to have this different area of expertise. I could comfortably say that now if I want to start another greeting card company, I could do it and it would be 10 times more efficient because I would really know how to execute it. But, maybe I wouldn’t be as creative, because I’m not hungry for it right now, but back then I was, which is why there’s 10,000 greeting cards sitting in my parents’ bedroom right now.
Mario: What I find interesting about all these projects you have done is that they also have, it’s like a business behind it because often with creatives, especially if it’s a side project or something that they’re starting themselves, it’s often just a thing on a side, which it’s rarely profitable. Even though individual wants to make it profitable, there’s a struggle to do that. So, I’m curious how come you can have that, I guess, skills or intention to kind of make that happen in a creative but then also as a business?
Armin: I was in my mid-20s. I mean, we see all your friends have these kind of “real jobs”, working in finance or doing real estate, whatever, it’s just those things are a lot more concrete. And I think you kind of have to decide up to a point where, hey, is this just my passion or is this a passion that I really need to survive off of? And that’s what it was like for me. I couldn’t just design clothes just because it was fun. And, it is fun, but you kind of need to also approach it in a way where, okay, is this just fun or are people going to like this, and are people going to pay money for it? And not even just pay money, like this isn’t low-quality things. These were pieces that were over 300, 400 USD.
Armin: With that, the entrepreneurship behind it, that’s still creative. Being entrepreneurial is very creative. I think just finding strategies, you’re also networking. It’s kind of like what is to be as a designer, you’re always trying to meet people and get inspired. And that’s how it was like behind the entrepreneur side of the businesses.
In recent years, Armin has been doing a lot of photography. As his friend, I had the pleasure of seeing him rapidly develop the photography skills, his output, and also making the pursuit financially viable. I’ve asked Armin how he went about doing that, both from a creative and financial standpoint.
Armin: I would say that I was actually quite sustainable within seeing myself within a year and a half. And, yes, I did have a lot of experience doing art directing, so I knew what a good photo looked like. But when I was learning that, there’s three things that I remember that really pushed me to become a better photographer, and not even just better, I think also just market myself more. Because I don’t think I’m the most skilled person, but I think I can get more work just based on how I present myself. So, for me, I think first, collaborating is such a big deal because your brain alone does not have enough power to just create a great idea by itself. I mean it might, but you can harness way more with just meeting with three or four other people getting perspective and maybe even starting a discourse for your own brain on how to change your mindset and your perspective on things.
Armin: And I found out when I was collaborating, I was asking so many people if they want to shoot together, or if they want to meet for a cup of coffee, or whatever, and you can learn from them and they can learn from you and eventually, you can create something exponentially larger than what you initially thought of. So that was the first thing. The second thing was, and this is a very concrete tip, is YouTube videos. I learned so much off Google and YouTube, and the information is out there and it’s free, well, a lot of it is free at least. And you can learn so much by just going online and writing, “How do I take a photo, how do I design a t-shirt, or whatever?” And, it’s really good to take advantage of that and I think you should never underestimate it because these are things that they would teach in school. I mean, I know, maybe you’ve even told me that, you go into graphic design school, you probably could have done without it if anything to a point.
Mario: Yeah. My education wasn’t that good actually. And most of it was doing it by yourself, like researching through books and tutorials.
Armin: It’s not even just the YouTube videos, just self-learning and just pushing yourself to learn something new each day. Another thing is to maybe try different creative paths. I feel like I’ve dabbled in so many such as music, photography, art direction, and styling and design. And it’s kind of kept my brain sharp because I might apply the way I do design into how I do photography, for example. Each of those skills has a different method. And if you want to push boundaries, it’d be cool to, I think of, for example, I have a friend who when he was designing clothing, he would think of it and how he would design a car. And to me, that really like kind of changed my mind how to do things because, yeah, it’s kind of similar output but the processes might be way different, and they might actually either enhance her kind of change the way you might make clothing, for example. So always expanding your range is a good thing as well.
Mario: So let’s talk a bit more about photography because that’s also one of the most recent creative pursuits that you took on. And I know by knowing you that you are really passionate about it and really trying to develop yourself as a photographer on a daily basis. So I’m curious, how do you approach photography? Because I mean there’s so much photography and everybody’s taking photos, and it’s a very, in that way, a very democratized field. Let’s say, what’s for you makes a good photograph?
Armin: Well, first of all, that’s a very broad question and I think it’s totally subjective. We all have our own set of eyes and beauty is obviously subjective. So with photography, I think it has a lot to do with your own interests and how you want to show people how you see the world. I know sometimes I want to be a fashion photographer, but then sometimes I want to be a travel photographer, so for me, a good photo, might be capturing a moment or it might be showcasing a product. It really depends and it really switches. To be honest, I’m still trying to figure out what kind of style is my personal taste. But as long as you just keep shooting and keep practicing, and just trying to get even just technically better, I think photography is honestly one of the most accessible forms of creativity that you can get.
Mario: And let’s go kind of technical because that’s also always interesting. So what’s your current set up or what are your actual like tools which you use for photography?
Armin: Well, I have a Nikon D850 for digital and I use multiple lenses. I have zoom lens, a 24 to 70 zoom lens, I have a 15 millimeter, I have a 105 Macro. I think it was the kind of the basic three lenses that you need. Lately, though, I’ve been trying to shoot more on medium format film. I have a Contax 645. It’s probably one of the greatest medium format film cameras to exist. And I think it depends on the project, but I do prefer working with film just because it’s a little bit more of a natural feel and it’s a lot of guesswork, but that takes precision and practice to become really good at it. I think sometimes with digital, I mean you’re just pressing buttons all day and eventually, you might get the shot, but with the film, you really have to focus on technical aspects such as exposure, aperture, and shutter speed, and measuring light. Technically speaking, I think film is definitely the more challenging one and also the more preferable one because I think the results are more in tune with what I’m trying to capture in the moment.
Armin: I’m inspired by hundreds of photographers, and artists, and designers. I don’t know, no one in my family has been very, worked in traditionally creative industries. So I didn’t really have that upbringing of being inspired in that sense. But I think just along the way of just working in fashion and design, I’ve just met so many different people and I’ve worked with so many different people that kind of inspired the way I like to take photos, I guess. For example, when I used to have my photoshoots with my old company, with Priory, and we would work with such amazing photographers, and one photographer, Ian Lanterman, we worked with him a lot. He’s very talented and I learned so much from him from a technical standpoint. But then, we also had a very talented stylist. Her name is Patricia Lagmay, and she’s the head stylist at Everlane.
Armin: And, I mean, I didn’t really think styling was like a thing. I thought that if you had style, you just could be a stylist. But, I think I just learned so much from her even, it kind of affected the way I do photos, with just learning about pay attention to detail, the things I might not see before that. So I think I get really inspired by people who can see things that I don’t and I try to apply that into my own work as well.
Hey friends. You’re listening to the Creative Voyage podcast. We’re in the middle of this episode, so it’s time for a short break. If you like this podcast, I’m confident you’re going to enjoy the Creative Voyage Monthly Edit, a newsletter for which every month I ask a different creative professional to curate 10 brief recommendations of cool things to inform and inspire including books, articles, products, portfolios, podcasts, and more, and deliver it exclusively to your inbox. It’s a newsletter curated by creatives for creatives. To sign up, visit creative.voyage/newsletter. Thanks, everyone. Let’s get back to the show.
Alongside his full-time job at Norse Projects, Armin passionately works on his photography, which I can testify to since we often meet-up to work together. He also seems to find the time to research and learn new skills. So I’ve asked him to talk about his current work routines.
Armin: I work nine to five at Norse Projects and I handle all the visual production along with the conceptualization, art direction for all the marketing campaigns. And that has already just, obviously, it’s a full-time job in itself and occupies a lot of my brain, but I think it’s great. I work with a lot of really talented people and they push me to be better and that is also just a great learning experience being there. I think I can apply what I learned there just to what I do outside of work as well. Outside of that, I think when I get home, usually, I always like to see what I’m doing next, whether it be doing a new shoot, or doing some creative consulting, or something like that. I do a lot of research.
Armin: I like to see what other people are doing and also I just like to hone my skills a bit with the graphic design. For example, I mean I’ve been trying to become better, so I might watch a few videos or read a few books when I get home. Most of my books are actually educational. It might be about design, or it might be photography, it might be about something like branding, for example, or just even my marketing.
Armin: It’s always good to know those kind of things, so I think just keeping your brain sharp and also trying to be interested in what you’re trying to learn because if you’re trying to learn something that is not interesting, then it’s just going to fall out of your brain eventually. I tried to learn digital marketing and took a three-month course, and I don’t remember anything about it. I don’t even know what SEO stands for anymore. I’m just kidding. And also just working with other people is very nice as well. I know you and I always have our weekly after-work work sessions, where we kind of bounce ideas off of each other, but it’s in a very casual setting where it just kind of comes naturally.
I believe giving and receiving feedback is one of the crucial skills every creative professional should master. As the author, Ryan Holiday, in his article, The First Draft of Anything is Shit, reminds us, “getting feedback requires humility. It demands that you subordinate your thoughts about your project and your love for it and entertain the idea that someone else might have a valuable thing or two to add. Nobody creates flawless first drafts and nobody creates better second drafts without the intervention of someone else, nobody, not even you.” I wanted to hear how Armin navigates that topic.
Armin: I think I’m quite honest when giving feedback. It also depends on the level I might know someone, as well. But I think with receiving feedback, you should never be too sensitive about how others might see your work because they actually might be wrong. Also, they’re just trying to help you. I know you’ve actually given me very harsh feedback on my graphic design stuff and I may have been a little bit upset.
Armin: But, just a quick side story, I at one time made my own business cards and I printed 200 of them, and I showed it to Mario, and Mario literally told me, “These are so bad, why did you get these printed?” And I was like, “Well, I made 200 of these.” He’s like, “Yeah, just don’t use these.” And I was kind of upset for a day, but then eventually, I mean he was right, and I just used them as bookmarks now. Just as a little side story.
Armin: But, I mean I took it and now I really understand what you meant by that because, yeah, they were a little bit sloppy and they were just kind of didn’t really have a nice story behind them, and the paper quality could have been. It was a very new facet for me to get into and it was nice to get like something from another professional who actually works extensively within that range. But you said, so like the beginning, you were a bit like then when you have some time to process it, how do you like go about it? Yeah. You have to kind of teach yourself to not have such an ego. And I mean nobody’s perfect, of course, and there’s always something to learn.
At this point in our conversation, I’ve asked Armin to share what he thinks are the main challenges of being a creative professional working today, both on an industry level and for him personally.
Armin: I think the creative industry is definitely growing so the competition is growing as well. And I think nowadays, you see that half of it is skill and the other half of I it might just marketing, like marketing yourself. I always think that I know such talented, talented photographers who may not get the jobs that they’re qualified for, but that’s only because they’re not putting the effort into put themselves out there. Maybe they don’t want to. And I think it’s come to a point where whether you do design, photography, art direction, styling, anything like that, anything creative, even music, you need to make a name for yourself and make people believe that you’re the best or you’re a good enough for it. And I think a lot of people might get a little bit intimidated by that. But I think that’s also just part of the skill set is it required to kind of make it in the industry.
Mario: It can be often underestimated, and it actually is becoming increasingly a part of the job. And then, kind of following that thread, what are some of your personal professional challenges currently?
Armin: Well, right now at my current job at Norse, this is the first time I’ve actually ever worked for someone. I mean I used to work at the Gap when I was 16 but that was pretty much. It’s very challenging to not have the final say sometimes. But also, I think it’s been so, so great to learn and take advice from other people and maybe accept sometimes you don’t have the best opinion in a certain project or maybe things do need to be tweaked. And in that way, it shouldn’t stop you or discourage you. It should just push you further into doing your best next time.
Even if our career is on track, that doesn’t free us from making mistakes or simply having those hard days. Still, as professionals, despite that, we often have to execute on our promises. I was curious to hear how Armin finds motivation in those difficult times.
Armin: I think with me, I mean there’s times when I get in a rut where I get overwhelmed. And some of that, just take breaks. I mean I’ve rejected so many jobs just because I feel like I need to have my own mental space in my head. But at the end of the day, I just know that being creative is something that makes me happy.
Armin: And no matter what I’m doing, I mean, it doesn’t have to be just photography, as long as I’m expressing myself in the way I wanted to live, that’s what motivates me. Because I know 30 years down the line, I don’t want to be working at Norse. By the way, I don’t mean this as a disrespect, but working as an accountant or something ... My mom was an accountant and she loves it. She honestly loves it. I ask her, I’m like, “Mom, how could you love this, this looks so boring?” But she’s like, “No, this is the funest thing ever.” And I’m actually kind of jealous sometimes because I mean she’s just been kind of secure her whole life. But for me, it’s a little scary, just if as a freelancer, just if a job stop, it’s very scary. So just pushing yourself and knowing that if it makes you happy, you should always just keep going.
We’ve come to the last topic I’ve discussed with Armin. As with previous guests, I’ve asked him to highlight three parting pieces of advice based on what he learned so far.
Armin: Well, I think I mentioned a lot of these earlier, but just to kind of narrow it down, I think collaboration and networking are very important. You need to expand the range people know because you never know when you might need a stylist, or art director, or photographer, or a designer. And you never know that these people might do it for you for a better price than others. And sometimes money is an issue, right? So you kind of need to be good at getting favors in sometimes. And also with collaboration, you’re just getting different perspectives is just so valuable in order to form something new.
Armin: And second, like I said, self-learning and kind of treating it half like a job and half as an education because there’s always something new to learn. Even if you’re the most experienced photographer in the world, there’s always something that you could learn, and it might not be even photography related, it might be related to food for example. It’s just something very abstract that you never thought of. Always trying to push the boundary by doing your research and trying to find new methods of creating.
Armin: Third, just being able to just manage your time and dedicate certain hours of the day to practice or even just going outside and getting inspired, going for a walk and trying to think what to do next. Always try to have something on the go just to keep your brain active, as well.
Hey, friends, that’s it for this episode. I hope you find it useful. And if you like this podcast, tell a friend. I want to thank Armin for coming onto the show during the live special recording of the podcast at The Audo in Copenhagen. Armin is a dear and talented friend and I’m grateful for his stories and insights he shared with me. Links to Armin’s work as well as to some other things mentioned during the conversation can be found in the show notes at creative.voyage/podcast. You can follow @creative.voyage on Instagram, join The Monthly Edit newsletter, and if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe. Take care.
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