I visited Los Angeles for the first time in January of 2009 and I moved here in February 2009. The sole reason I was able to move to Los Angeles at that time was because it was the first place I was able to find a well paying job somewhat related to the industry I was attempting to break into. It had a lot to do with the economy at the time. The housing market crashed, Wall Street came to a dead stop and hiring in New York City came to a standstill.
I came to LA to visit a friend of mine, and I instantly fell in love with the city. It was nothing like New York. It was SO BIG. There was so much space to move around! There were mountains to hike on IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CITY! It was WARM in January!
I started applying to jobs in Los Angeles. The job I ended up landing was a photo editing position for a company I had known because of my internships in New York the prior year. It was with a celebrity photo agency. That's basically a nice way of saying "paparazzi photo house."
I was honestly the perfect fit for this job at the time. I was young and loved reading gossip blogs like TMZ and Perez Hilton-- I was sucked in by the Britney Incident of 2007. Plus, I had already made connections at publications in New York, so editing and marketing paparazzi photos felt like it was going to be the easiest and most fun job in the world.
And it was, in the beginning.
The office was in a 3-story loft in one of the trendiest areas of LA: Larchmont Village. I worked in an office of 5 other women-- all attractive and in their 20s. I know, this sounds like a bad romantic comedy already. It was great.
I instantly clicked with these girls. They not only were pretty but were all hilariously funny and sweet. I laughed all day. We watched Oprah every day until that went off the air and then we watched Ellen every day. We rarely left the office so we would eat our meals together and talk about everything. Our bosses were hardly ever there. These girls became my family.
My only job was to read gossip magazines and blogs, straighten and color correct photos, and create stories to go along with caption-less pictures of celebrities.
I learned about the Daily Mail and ate up gossip about British socialites with names of fruit and fairies. I learned how to edit photos in bulk and how to pitch an exclusive story. I learned that publicists alerted paps when their client would go shopping or to lunch with a new "date." I learned the way publicity worked in Hollywood. I learned how to get free clothes by deciphering the stitching on a butt or the cut of a purse and pitch those photos to the designers' PR agency.
I learned that I could never turn my phone off because someone important might die and I will have to drop everything I'm doing to scroll through our archive and combine all their photos in a gallery to send off to publications and monetize off their death.
I learned how desperate people were to make money on all sides of the business.
I learned how people other than the paps make money off these photos. Like the mom who tipped us about her underaged daughters on the beach in bikinis. Or the boyfriend who brought one of our paps on the vacation with him and his actress girlfriend so he could make money off of the photos.
But I think the biggest thing I learned while I worked there was how important it is to stand up for yourself.
You see, I worked for a man who had been in the business since the 70s. He was a force, to put it lightly. He was intriguing to talk to and had lengthy, grandiose insider stories about celebrities so famous both you and your grandma know who they are. He had a booming voice in an accent so thick I often couldn't understand what he was saying. He also had the worst temper I had ever seen.
For years I put up with verbal abuse. But it was tolerable verbal abuse because I only had to see him a handful of times a week for less than an hour. When he came in happy he would bring treats, like donuts or small gifts.
One time after a particularly bad episode he bought me a Venus fly trap, which was an interesting apology gift to receive to say the least. Not only did I have to figure out how to keep the thing alive but the f*cking thing had teeth.
He'd fire us if we talked back, or defended ourselves, or if there was a decline of bikini photos that week. He'd fire us if we left anything where it wasn't supposed to be. He'd fire us if the towels weren't washed (not our job) or if we forgot to bring in a plant (also not our job).
He'd hire us back immediately, of course, and hoped we had "learned our lesson."
He'd tell me my pants were fitting too tight and would leave diet pills on my desk.
He once threatened to fire me because I refused to write an obituary for someone who wasn't dead yet.
He once fired me for leaving a loaf of bread in the kitchen because I had an "attitude" when I told him it was leftover from my sandwich at lunch and I planned on bringing it home that night.
His abuse became so bad that I'd often come home in tears and my boyfriend wanted to teach him his own lesson (which I appreciated but wouldn't allow).
Honestly, working in that industry was a lot like that Venus Fly Trap. It was an oddly alluring yet horribly dangerous industry to be a part of. One of our paps died while on the job. We all became accustomed to hateful words being thrown at us by both our boss and the public. I even received a death threat once.
It finally all came to an end when the company collapsed and had to be sold to a major stock agency. I was let go and soon afterwards began to work for Oh Joy!
The people I worked with are all still connected to each other because we all experienced a form of Stockholm Syndrome by working there. We all are successful and doing different things, several of us are wedding photographers (and can you blame us? When you go through all that you just want to go to a job where everyone is happy!).
It took me a while to gain my confidence back after my experience there. The most important thing I learned was that it's important to stand up for yourself. I could've left, but the steady pay blinded me from keeping myself sane.
I learned that no matter how hopeless it seems, you can always change the situation you're in. It just takes some help and support to make it happen. Nothing is worth being unhappy or putting up with abuse of any kind.