In anticipation of the launch of my new book, Forever Employable, I’ll be sharing a series of interviews and stories from people from all different professions who have created a platform for themselves to make them forever employable. In this episode, I speak with Mathieu Bitton, celebrity photographer and grammy-nominated designer.
Doors opening other doors: How a lifelong Prince fan got a gig with Quentin Tarantino
Instagram is one of my guilty pleasures. It’s the one social media outlet where I can curate a feed of only the images I want to see without any broader obligation or purpose. One of my longest follows has been @candytman, or as he’s known in real life, Mathieu Bitton. I was immediately struck by the ridiculous roster of celebrities Mathieu was capturing and, of course, with the beauty of his photos. I quickly noticed that Mathieu was doing much more than just taking photos so I decided to reach out and understand how he’s built his forever employable career.
As you’ll see in our interview below, while Mathieu exhibits most of the qualities of being forever employable including self confidence, continuous learning and reinvention there’s an underlying theme to his success: perseverance.
At age 19, working as a young graphic designer without much of a portfolio, Mathieu decided he would create the portfolio he wanted to have. Mixing his talent for design with his love for music and black culture he created album covers for Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Prince among others. He used this portfolio to get job interviews in New York City and when challenged he confessed that the portfolio was aspirational. This drive and motivation landed him his first design gig.
Going to school before and after work, he learned new skills that he then applied at work. His work was getting attention in the fashion world and soon enough a few job offers came in that required him to move to the West Coast. Not wanting to leave NYC and school, Mathieu again channeled his perseverance and offered to do the work remote and freelance. This helped establish his credentials as a talented brand designer and opened up more and more doors in the fashion world.
Despite his success, Mathieu was determined to find his way to the world of music, his true love. He had begun to accumulate a significant and rare collection of memorabilia, posters and artifacts from black pop culture and music of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. He wanted to share his collection in a book but got wind that Quentin Tarantino, fresh off the success of Pulp Fiction, was also planning a similar book. Realizing he would be outshined no matter how great his book was, he reached to Tarantino’s production company to see if he could work on it together. They hung up on him. He called back. Another hang up. Persistent, daily calls eventually bore fruit and Mathieu found himself collaborating with Tarantino on this book.
As his design work in the music industry diversified, Mathieu found himself now creating many of the photographs he was using in his graphic design work. Working with lifelong friend Lenny Kravitz led to photography and art direction gigs with Prince, and most recently Dave Chappelle.
Every door he managed to open for himself has opened 2 or 3 new doors. Every new opportunity was a way to share his talent and his work. The interesting challenge he’s facing now is that all live touring is suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic. This means celebrity photography is not paying the bills at the moment. Instead Mathieu is reinventing himself as a consultant and teacher. He shared with me in the interview how important it is to build your community and share your best work. It’s this work that will open up the next door for you. Instagram is a natural channel for him given the visual nature of his work. It’s an obvious way for him to grow his network and following.
What I love about this story is Mathieu’s dedication to do the work he wanted to do. Not only did jobs end up finding him but they were the jobs he had always aspired to. This type of perseverance is an underlying foundation of recognized experts and is what makes them forever employable.