Fashiontonian of the Month: Walter Grio, Fashion Photographer
Each month we will showcase a Washingtonian who works in a fashion related industry. By doing this we hope to show off the great talent we have in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.
Our November “Fashiontonian of the Month” is Walter Grio, Fashion Photographer and founder of Shoot for Change.
Walter with his family during a Shoot for Change event at BoConcept Tysons Galleria.
What sparked your interest in photography?
I was actually very interested in videography and my brother-in-law and I even started a small company where we would edit videos. We both took Final Cut Pro classes and I was hired to video a wedding in Philadelphia. I’ve always been interested in composition and video. But when I was assigned to my first international project in Calgary, I decided to pick up an entry level SLR, a Nikon D50 camera to capture the scenery. Some of my first photos were from Banff National Park with Lake Louise and Moraine Lake in addition to the “World Cup” of rodeo that’s called the Calgary Stampede.
When did you decide that photography was something you wanted to pursue as a career?
Officially, I work as a project manager for a software company (Oracle). However, the moment I realized that I truly enjoyed photography was right after a photoshoot in Stockholm, Sweden. I was assigned there for an Oracle project and one night while being out with friends, a makeup artist asked me if I could help her with her portfolio. I knew nothing about makeup or fashion, but I wasn’t about to turn down an opportunity to photograph three Swedish models. After that day, I had about a thousand photographs and right there and then as I was looking at the photos, I knew that photography was something for me.
What kind of photography do you specialize in?
I don’t know if I really specialize in anything, but I do enjoy working with people and fashion photography is all about that. It never ceases to amaze me how much time, effort, creativity, and teamwork are required to make a good fashion photograph. It is never just about the makeup, the model, the hair, the dress, or the photographer. It takes a whole team. Regardless if you’re shooting a runway show or a fashion editorial, there is so much that goes on that’s not necessarily obvious in a photograph. I always say that when you have a good team around you, as a photographer, all you’re doing is pushing a button. I’m joking of course, but there is some truth to that.
I’ve also started photographing a lot of families and children. It’s a challenge working with children, but somehow, there’s a completely different sense of reward when you capture a great photo of a child. I compare it to the two-minute warning in football and you have no timeouts. You’re on hurry up offense and you just have to go no-huddle. You’re pretty much the model in that regards because you can’t tell the kids what to do most of the time. So you have to be the one moving around and thinking on the fly.
Are you a native of Washington, DC?
No, I was born in the Philippines and we moved to Dallas when I was 10. Go Cowboys. Before moving to Arlington, VA two years ago, I lived in San Francisco, Rockville, Seattle, and Nürnberg, Germany.
What makes Washington, DC a unique city?
Washington, DC is the “nonprofit capital” of the world. I don’t know of any other place where you can find so many nonprofit organizations. With that, there are hardly any events that doesn’t benefit a nonprofit organization. And there are definitely no shortages of these types of events. I think it’s great, but at the same time, it makes it more difficult to attend or host a unique event that captures people’s attention and money.
What are some misconceptions people have about the Washington, DC fashion industry?
I’ve had this discussion so many times and my opinions have definitely changed from one to another. First of all, I think there is a plethora of talent in the area. There’s no doubt about that.
But I don’t think there is a fashion industry in Washington, DC. It doesn’t mean that there can’t be. There are definitely people interested in fashion and are fashionable. Fashion shows have also become a trend in raising money for nonprofit organizations. But until more money is poured back to the people that make up the fashion industry such as designers, makeup artists, stylists, models, hair stylists, and photographers, then there will never be a fashion industry in this town. For the most part, I think the general consensus is that some sort of cultural shift is happening – more people are open, more people are interested, and more people are willing to take part in fashion. But if there’s little money flowing back into the different artists, then this “shift” is not going to be sustainable. Eventually, the most talented people in town will leave and go somewhere else.
I also think that with the nature of this town revolving around government, fashion in that context will be conservative. I haven’t been here long enough to see the trend from previous years, but there is definitely a sign when stores like AllSaints, Rag and Bone, and Tory Burch are opening up stores in the area. If they’re still here three years from now, then Washington, DC might be on to something.
Do you have any advice for someone trying to pursue a career in photography?
Take pictures. Lots of them. Ask questions. Lots of them. Then take more pictures. And don’t worry about your equipment. It’s not about the camera. Case in point: how is it that with all the technology, equipment, lighting, and even weather forecasting tools that are available to everyone, NOBODY has come close to doing what Ansel Adams has done.
Tell us about Shoot for Change.
Basically, instead of taking money for a photo assignment, I ask the customer to donate the money directly to a charity of their choice. In the first three years, Shoot for Change raised a total of $8,000. But since I moved to Washington, DC two years ago, Shoot for Change customers have donated over $80,000 to various nonprofit organizations. Part of that jump was because of the decrease in my travel schedule and I could take on more photography clients, but I know that living in Washington, DC played a major part. With Washington, DC being the “nonprofit capital” of the world, the Shoot for Change idea fits perfectly in this town. I get very excited about raising that number and seeing how high it could go.
How did the idea for Project Inspiration come about?
In short, I wanted to celebrate and acknowledge the work of different nonprofit leaders in our community. I also wanted to find out what inspires them to do what they do and what inspires them to keep doing it. They deal with so many things and unlike my job, when something goes wrong for them, it might mean someone could lose their home, their health, or worse, their hope for living. I was also fortunate enough to find people who were interested in this project and if it wasn’t for the talented group of people that were involved this couldn’t have happened.
This one-night-only photo exhibit is scheduled on November 16th at L2 Lounge, from 7pm to 10pm. The exhibit features 15 leaders of nonprofit organizations who were styled in “Old Hollywood Glamour”. The theme is also “Old Hollywood Glamour”, so I can’t wait to see what people will do with that theme.
Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?
After my freshman year in college, I was kicked out of Texas A&M University because of my grades. I had to move back with my parents in Dallas, go to a local community college, and prove with my grades that I was more serious. I made it back and graduated in time from the same school that kicked me out. In the first three years after graduating college, I was laid off three times. I moved to three different states and ended up in Seattle living with my sister and her husband. I was 26 years old with no job and dealing with incredible financial debt. After several months of unemployment, the only job I could find was a job that paid me half of what I was paid at my previous company. I accepted and I stayed there for three years until someone called and asked if I was interested to work for their company. I actually wasn’t even looking for another job and I wasn’t sure about taking the offer because it meant 100% travel and leaving the local life I was enjoying in Seattle.
I eventually accepted the offer because of the increase in salary and they said I would be going to Sweden. I ended up being assigned to a client in Orlando and making cross country trips from Seattle every weekend. After that, I was assigned in Canton, OH, during the fabulous winter months. I seriously considered moving back to my old job.
A few months later, I was assigned to a project in Calgary and that’s when I decided to buy a camera. I heard beautiful things about Banff National Park and wanted a decent camera with me. Eventually, I made it to Stockholm, Sweden in the fall of 2006. At this time, I had practically no personal expenses because I was traveling 100% and I moved everything in storage. I got rid of my car and my debt was nonexistent. As I’m sitting there in my room at the Sheraton Hotel in Stockholm, a friend back in Seattle emailed me about a photoshoot. She saw the photos I took of the Swedish models and she told me to name my price. I thought about it and that’s when Shoot for Change was born. I typed it, debated it, and the more I thought about it, the more I knew that this was something I wanted to do. Maybe it would have been a different story had I been sitting in a hotel room in Canton, Ohio.
Despite all the challenges I’ve been through, I am very fortunate to have my family there to support me. I feel blessed to have them in my life and I would never be where I am today if it wasn’t for them. I am grateful for all the places I’ve seen, the opportunities, and for all the people that I’ve met. For me, Shoot for Change is more than just about photography. It is about giving thanks.
Photo with Teresa Stark at the Sheraton Hotel in Frankfurt, Germany.
Photo at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week A/W 2011 in New York -Monique Lhuillier.
Photo with Nina Heckt and Theresa Plankenhorn at the Altstadt Hotel in Vienna, Austria. Hair and Makeup by Tanja Erhart.
All images courtesy of Walter Grio.