1. Photo by Robert Bredvad

Erin Wahed on Connecting and Creating

ADC Member Erin Wahed is not a graphic designer, or an art director, or a copywriter. But she’s building a career that fulfills her creative impulse and makes her an integral part of work she admires. She’s proof of an idea that we see evidence of all the time, but might still be unwilling to admit: you don’t always have to make things to be creative.

Erin came to New York to study photography as an undergraduate at NYU. But after a year of classes and soul searching, she says she came to a conclusion about the shape her creative career would take. “I realized that I didn’t have the personality to be a full-time photographer, to want to do it for a living, but I knew I wanted to continue studying it. I wanted to train my eye and I knew I’d somehow be on the business side of the art world.”

Just what was the personality trait required to be a full-time creative artist that Erin felt she was lacking? “I didn’t have that drive to wake up and create, and if you want to be a working photographer, you need to wake up and want to create. I wasn’t a person that carried my camera around all the time. I was the person who needed a project. But a lot of the projects I had done were driven by a teacher telling us we needed to create a project and then I’d create the project; I needed that backhanded motivation.”

“I enjoyed learning why I liked something and why I didn’t like something — that was the best part of it.”

So she started to think outside of the path that she had always thought she would follow. But being a student of photography and involved in the process of others’ creation was still important to the new plan. “I knew I did love photography and I loved people’s vision. And I loved sitting in critiques; I found that really interesting. I enjoyed learning why I liked something and why I didn’t like something — that was the best part of it. Just learning how to critique. Learning different styles, learning people, and the psychology behind their work.”

Erin put this experience to use as a photographer’s assistant and then worked as a Photo Producer at Management Artists, and a Project Manager at Pentagram under partners Eddie Opara and Natasha Jen, before realizing that she wanted to be involved in more than just the logistics of a project. “I thought at that point that the creative outlet I needed actually had to be getting your hands dirty and making things. But I soon realized it’s not that. It’s a mental creative thing.”

“To me, networking is not humane. It’s very business-like. Connecting, on the other hand…there’s thought that goes into that, it’s creative process.”

She soon found that “mental creative thing” as a rep at a small company called, straightforwardly, Representation. As a talent rep working out of their chic offices in SoHo, she uses her innate abilities as a connector to bring the right directors to the right projects, and feels creatively satisfied knowing that she’s the facilitator of awesome work. Erin spends most of her time interacting with people and is constantly tapping into a mental Rolodex of connections that can offer their unique skills and passions to whatever she’s putting together that day. But her approach isn’t necessarily your typical “networking” strategy; you’re more likely to see her grabbing coffee with someone she just met than browsing LinkedIn for opportunities.

“To me, networking is not humane. It’s very business-like. Connecting, on the other hand…there’s thought that goes into that, it’s creative process. There’s always a reason why I connect two people. Especially when I do connecting emails, there’s always an explanation on what they do and why they should collaborate.”

Half of that process is naturally a part of Erin’s personality, and half is something she actively works to cultivate by maintaining a steady flow of side projects, such as her jewelry line Bande des Quatres which she works on in collaboration her mother, world-renowned Canadian goldsmith Janis Kerman. That endeavor led her to gather lots of talented photographers, makeup artists, and stylists on promotional projects for the brand that she now keeps in touch with for professional assignments and even recommendations to her network.

“Networking can be very ‘wham, bam, thank you, Ma’am,’” she muses. “I think it just really comes down to how you do it. There’s a difference between being a connector in a specific domain to being a connector in your way of life.”