Turning 10: Chris Gampat Gets Candid About Running The Phoblographer

The Phoblographer is turning 10! Party! Well, actually, a conversation with our EIC, Chris Gampat – even if I had to twist his arm to talk to me!

“Let me get this right. You‘re asking to interview me on my own site?” Phoblographer Editor in Chief and Founder Chris Gampat asks. “That’s right. And with the site turning 10 later this year, now’s the best time to do it” I tell him. Chris once said to me “Dan, I trust you with interviews and would like to give you as much creative license as possible.” Famous last words, as just when The Phoblographer is about to turn 10, I want to interview him! So like the annoying kid who got a voice recorder for Christmas, I relentlessly corner him until he has no escape – encouraging him to answer my questions.

It has been a great 10 years: a story full of emotion and inspiration. It’s a story I’ve only been a part of for a short period of time, but one I’ve loved every single page of so far. So, whilst Chris may have been hesitant to speak with me, I’m super stoked he did. With that, let’s take a look at the wonderful world of being an editor, business owner and pretty much everything else in between…

DG: So, 10 years old – how does that feel?

CG: In my current over caffeinated state that I’m writing this in, I’m metaphorically shrugging my shoulders and saying “meh.” But if I said that to anyone else in the industry they’d be shocked and perhaps slap me silly. Yes, it’s a big deal. Yes, it’s a lot and yes it’s been a positively insane journey getting here that has resulted in grey hairs in my beard and hair loss as well as obesity, which I’ve fought in the past year at 32 years old. But I’ve honestly just programmed my mind to not be too thrilled about our victories and perhaps as a result dehumanized myself.

I was chatting with my friend Annika the other night about travel. It’s cool that I get to travel for work; but it ends up being more stress honestly. I’ve had to program my mind to not be uber excited about trips because otherwise, it shines through in my coverage. Instead, I need to remain mild mannered so we can be ethical.

To give you more insight into this, I’ve always told myself that I’ll cry tears of happiness later and that I haven’t earned it yet. Those points are:

  • When I could quit my absolutely terrible day job and stop being surrounded by toxicity
  • When I could pay people at ethical rates
  • When I could rebuild my staff
  • When I could get better partnership companies to work with in terms of ad agencies, search engine algorithmic work, etc
  • When we turn 10.

“For anyone that believes that ad blockers are doing them any good, I genuinely just think that they’re slapping journalists in the face because they refuse to ensure that they’re getting paid.”

And honestly, the next big thing isn’t really about stability. I think that stability should ultimately be found in outdoing others. We’re already told often that we’re a better site than FStoppers and SLRLounge; then compared to DIYPhotography and Petapixel we’re told that we have more variety and that we don’t try to copycat. My goal is to in some ways be able to focus entirely on growth. I’ve reformatted my days to work on both editorial and business with a more focused mind. But I think that if I ultimately have less input in editorial, the site will have a fresher face as long as I still provide leadership. I need to use my business skills better but I’m sometimes just pulled in directions and to doing tasks that require my attention otherwise. La Noir Image was my experiment with that until I folded it.

I guess that’s a longer answer to your otherwise very short question…

DG: Share with us some defining moments during the 10 years that made you think “This is actually working, people are digging what we do”.

CG: I think the biggest one was ultimately when I quit my day job. I never said this publicly, but the straw that broke the camel’s back at B&H Photo was when they refused to compensate me fully for travel when Hurricane Sandy broke the L train. It was this on top of an email from higher ups via a company memo that said “We are B&H Photo. We can turn on a dime.”

No; we absolutely fckng couldn’t.

Other ones include when I was able to double our Facebook following in a month from 100,000 to 200,000. That was a huge success for us. But shortly afterwards Facebook started screwing over publishers. I think we’ve all seen how well that has done for them with what’s ultimately happening now with courts in both Europe and America.

“Every day is pretty much a blur”.

A very quiet and personal one for me was being able to leave an old advertising company that seriously screwed us over. We were advertising partners ultimately with Petapixel and I feel that the company just tried to sell ad banners and give us the residual end of it because they didn’t understand how to sell us and our strengths. So for a really long time, we got the short end of the stick. As an owner, it put me in a dark place and I looked for other partners; but I couldn’t find one until David Schloss introduced me to Madavor Media. Madavor was a big part of our surge in the past two years and now with DUMBO media I’m more hopeful.

Honestly, I’ve learned this business as I’ve gone on. And part of it is fighting frustrations with what I know we can do and I know we’re capable of but the problem is ultimately my ethics. I don’t want to screw people over and I want to ensure that everyone is paid fairly. For anyone that believes that ad blockers are doing them any good, I genuinely just think that they’re slapping journalists in the face because they refuse to ensure that they’re getting paid. It’s essentially theft if you really boil it down.

“…that’s not to say that it’s been awful. My life is dope”.

Perhaps unlike many others who want to cash out and leave their businesses ASAP, I believe in long term sustainability. Otherwise, you’re just leaving a metaphorical mess of bloody bodies in your wake.

DG: Talk to us about the biggest challenges that you’re faced with managing The Phoblographer?

CG: I wish I could devote more time to the business side to grow us even faster and while doing it in a more ethical way than syndicating everything from Reddit or republishing everything that someone sends us.

But a lot of people honestly don’t know everything I do:

  • I handle a lot of the bigger features and reviews personally
  • I write thought pieces
  • I manage staff across multiple time zones in Manila, Bulgaria, London, NYC, and California. From NYC, that means that I need to sometimes make myself available for someone that is 12 hours ahead of NYC, then 6 hours, then about an hour or two behind.
  • I manage coordination with a number of other services. Our search engine is rendered out of Tel Aviv, our mobile website is rendered out of Barcelona, and our ad agency is here in NYC and California.
  • I need to find time to do reviews
  • I need to find time to keep myself actually creative so that I can be fueled to write
  • I need to think about innovations
  • I need to deal with emails
  • I need to deal with calls
  • I need to take meetings
  • I do all the development of sponsored content
  • I ensure that everyone gets paid within 24 hours of invoicing
  • I need to go to networking events
  • I need to go to press trips
  • I need to go to shows
  • I need to meet with photographers

This is probably just a small part honestly. Every day is pretty much a blur.

DG: You’ve spoken very openly about your motivation to start The Phoblographer. Frustrations with your past career and a difficult relationship with your mother being the fuel for inspiration. Today, 10 years on, what’s your motivation?

CG: In some ways, I still take pride in the fact that I can mentally tell my mother off even though she’s dead now. She was an awful person that caused a lot of trouble in NYC’s Real Estate and was incredibly mentally abusive. I’ve learned how to take negativity and channel it into creativity and that’s been my catalyst. It’s weird because I sometimes find myself being content and not uncomfortable. When I’m comfortable I get lazy and that’s not good for innovation.

My biggest motivation these days is with education in regards to the industry. I want people to know that we do things very ethically vs a lot of other publications. As much as someone might want to troll us, they’re not seeing a lot of what happens behind the scenes. I think that bloggers, YouTubers, influencers and even other publications need to take note. We’re clean. We’ve got a very clean record. If we were a floor, you could eat breakfast, lunch and dinner off of us.

“…they wanted to buy us out for $30,000 in our second or third year. I laughed in their face.”

What I ultimately envision Phoblographer as is an even more encompassing website. There was one point in the technology world where tech pubs said that they’d review anything with a chip in it. We could technically go that route and review anything with a camera in it. But I’m not sure that’s viable. We also need to keep reminding people that there is an artsy side and to create not capture.

I’ve got a lot of mixed feelings on all this, but these are just some of my motivations.

DG: It has been 10 successful years of gear, photography culture, psychology and art. Looking forward, is it a case of “if it’s not broken don’t fix it” or does a part of you want to experiment with a new direction/ideas?

The site’s very first blog post

CG: We can’t survive if we don’t experiment. But with all that I’ve said about sustainability, the bigger you become the tougher it is for you to move nimbly. So I want to ensure that we’re nimble, sustainable, growing, and valuable. I’ve turned down a ton of buyout offers. Barnes and Noble had this site called PIXLY or something like that years ago and they wanted to buy us out for $30,000 in our second or third year. I laughed in their face.

Would I ever sell the site? I’d consider it for the right price after taxes and fees are considered. What would I do after that? Maybe try to live the life that entrepreneurship has sort of robbed me of in my 20s and 30s. That’s not to say that it’s been awful. My life is dope.

DG: The Phoblographer has featured the work of a countless number of amazing photographers. Which ones over the years really stood out – leaving you thinking “wow this work is mind-blowing!”.

CG: In no particular order:

Brooke DiDonato
Gretchen Robinette
Every conceptual and double exposure photographer we’ve ever featured
Everyone in our Creating the Photograph series
Jaroslav Wieczorkiewicz
Manu Cabaneros
Tracie Maglosky

And that’s honestly about it. If you’re shocked that there are no street photographers on this list, don’t be. To be candid, everyone is producing work that all looks the same to the point where we can now predict whose work is going to do well with us for page views because people like looking at the same stuff over and over again.

DG: I’m sure you’ve had many but throughout these past 10 years, what has been your biggest lesson?

CG: Put your health first. I’ve almost died or been hospitalized at least five times.