Have you ever had one of those defining, fork in the road, flip a coin, change your life kind of moments? I’ve had a couple pop up in life and I think about the paths that each decision leads to all the time. When I was in my teens, I had applied for a volunteering program in Canada that would have taken me around the country for 9 months and been something totally unlike anything I’d ever done, I also applied for college roughly around the same time and as fate would have it my acceptance letters to both came on the same day. I chose college and that choice changed my life, it led to me a relationship, a job which led to more schooling and another job, a house and adulthood.
A few years ago, fairly early on into my photography journey I had a similar door present itself to me, that changed my life.
When I first started taking photos, I had no idea what I was doing and as a visual learner I knew that the only way I was going to learn how to be a better photographer was to take photos every day, but along with being a better tactical photographer I wanted to grow my creative vision as well and I found some groups on Flickr that were perfect for that. Each day, someone would choose a theme and you could submit a photo to that theme, it helped me a lot to narrow my ideas down and build on my creative voice. One day in January, six years ago today actually, the theme of the day was Coca-Cola, one of my favourite brands. As I lived in British Columbia, it was January, it was cold and my ideas were limited to using the huge depths of snow outside. I decided to plunk a few bottles of Coke in the snow and make my own take on an ad. I posted it, a few people commented that Coke should take notice, and that was it.
I’d long been a fan of Coca-Cola, for me the brand was always associated with the happiest memories of my childhood. We were treated to a glass of Coke at Christmas on our birthdays, on trips to the beach and road trips. For me, the advertising was always heartwarming, but it was the emotional connection that made me appreciate the company.
Fast forward to almost two years later and things suddenly moved toward that flip a coin moment I mentioned earlier. A fellow photographer at Coca-Cola had come across my image and had passed it along to the social media team who then asked if they could tweet out the image as a fan generated post. I was over the moon! At the time, photography was my hobby and this was one of the biggest things to have happen to me, I enthusiastically said yes and a few days later. I was tweeted.
I thought that was the peak of this story but how wrong I was. A few days later and I was offered a chance to moderate Coca-Cola’s online presence on Flickr.com. I spent more than a year creating a series of images based around the positive themes and words associated with the brand and encouraging other fans to post their own content online. It was not only a chance for me to work with one of the biggest brands in the world, but it was an opportunity for me to stretch my style into a brands vision as well.
At the end of this contract, I visited the headquarters of Coca-Cola. It was a bit like visiting Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. I was given tours, samples, gifts and a chance to sit in the chair of the CEO in the boardroom. But the most important part of my trip for me was meeting Wendy Clark, the company’s top Marketing executive. She gave me a chance to tell my story, what my connection to the brand was and why I was there. I told everything I could, nerves ticking away inside my legs and hands but I felt proud of just being able to talk about my photography journey. I left Atlanta feeling happy for the opportunity, assuming that was all I’d do with the company.
Fast Forward again and here is the life changing moment. A few months after that meeting I was back in Atlanta being offered the chance of a lifetime, the chance to not just change my life but offer me an entirely new lease on life. I was given the opportunity to join one Coca-Cola’s largest marketing projects in its history and one of the world’s largest world tours. I joined the 2014 FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour as the lead photographer and the voice of social media. My story of getting the job was a bit of a story in itself and I found myself giving interviews to Mashable, CBC, and other newspapers around the world.
This trip, visiting almost 85 countries over the course of 9 months was something I had no preparation for. I was taking photos of presidents, royalty, sports heroes. I was walking through the streets of countries I’d barely heard of searching for people playing football and taking more photos than I think I’d taken in the 4 years prior.
This journey changed my life. Not just because it allowed me to travel and gain experience in my work and to add the company to my client portfolio but it gave me the confidence to realize that art and photography was where my new life was. At the age of 29, as other people my age were buying homes, getting married and settling down, I had quit my job, ended a long-term relationship, and got rid of most of the belongings i owned. It was like walking through a door to a different home.
During that trip, I decided to move to another country, I saved up enough money to afford to start my business and for the first time in my life devote my time and energy into art. This job, the opportunity to work with two huge brands gave me many things but it was the confidence in myself that gave me the chance to pursue my passion.
Since the trip ended, my relationship with Coca-Cola has continued. I was brought to Brazil ahead of the FIFA World Cup to document and photograph a youth football initiative called Copa Coca-Cola, where over a hundred young players from around the world were brought together to celebrate their love of the game.
I’ve also been working exclusively with the World of Coca-Cola, helping to provide a library of images for their website and social channels.
Reflecting back to that tweet, posted 6 years ago, seems so far away but so fresh in my mind. I wanted to share this story to show you that achieving your goals is possible if you have the motivation, passion, belief and hard word to move yourself toward them. Sometimes all it takes is one photo to change your life.
What an awesome journey and story… You and your work is imensley inspiring and encouraging. I had a similar fate experiences, so I couldn’t agree with your sentiments more… Cheers to adventure and following your passions! 🙂
What a great story you have told us! Thanks for sharing your experience. I like to think that it’s great when your able to materialized ideas instead of keeping them in your head waiting to be forgotten! Thanks for the inspiration and carry on with your creativity…
Your photography is inspiring, because of its simplicity and the amount of talent and work that goes into each image.
Having found your work has set my sites higher, for you showed me what I didn’t know I was looking for.
Thank you Joel for dreaming, for creating and for persevering.
Thank you for sharing. A wonderfully inspiring story.
Thank you for sharing your story! What an inspiration. I love to take photos but I don’t have the confidence/talent that you have. Keep up your dream! Very proud of you 🙂
your story inspired me! thanks for sharing! I myself am an self taught amateur photographer and this story motivated me to make a bigger effort about being active
thanks, man <3
This is amazing. I am so glad it turned out this for you Joel.
Hey Joel! Truly inspiring. Love your work and vision. Love from India
Beautiful inspiring story!
[…] by Joel Robison who shared his story recently on his blog, today I want to take you back to where Story Art was […]
such an awesome journey – amazing how things happen.
wishing you all the best for 2016 & beyond, I hope life continues to contain good things for you.
I’m only 18 but CocaCola changed my life too, last June I was picked up by them for my photography and signed a year long contract with them. Now I am part of a project they call “CocaCola Louders” (http://musicexperience.cocacola.es/louders) where they give promotion and recognition to young talented people like me, but not just photographers, in totat there are 5 of us who are part of this campaign, there is a magician, a vlogger, a singer, an Intagramer…
CocaCola gave me the chance to travel to Madrid (it’s for CocaCola Spain) a couple of times to photograph a huge music festival where I had an incredible an unforgettable experience. Thanks to them I’ve meet some amazing people who have had a very big impact in my life too, so I know exactly how you feel about them.
All the work that I do for them is in the form of video that I upload on my YouTube channel and Instagram:
Thanks for sharing your story!
What a story!
As a marketer and creative for over 20 years… I’d find myself inspired by your work!
Instead of 9 months around the country, you got 9 months around the world. Love it!
Have followed Joel from his first photos and was captivated by his originality. I’ m glad to see how he has been able to incorporate that talent into his personal growth.Keep up the good work and continue publishing. The world needs it.
Thank you for sharing your story Joel, and thank you for sharing your inspiration. I’m really enjoying the wonder weeks project – it’s really making me appreciate and prioritize the act of creating. We all have it in us, we just have to decide to let it out.