Creative Steele enjoys being non-’starving’ artist
Trenton Steele says he has always known he wanted to live a creative lifestyle, exploring photography and other outlets.
But he also says he has never romanticized being a “starving artist” – in part because his parents, Jeanette and DeWayne Steele of DeKalb – always made it clear to him that supporting himself financially should be a top priority.
“They have always encouraged me in my interests,” the 27-year-old recalled. “But they also made it clear to me that it was important to be able to support myself. Let’s be honest, insurance is important. Money to pay your bills and hopefully have some money left over is important.”
Steele has spent his late teens and early 20s exploring ways to do both, balancing work as a photographer with work as an instrumentation and controls technician. The field of instrumentation was something he became interested in while working as an intern at Mississippi Power. He also went to East Mississippi Community College and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to learn more about the field, earning an associate’s degree.
Steele said he never viewed his parents’ focus on having a skill beyond photography as being unsupportive.
“They are the reason I ever to begin with,” he said. “My dad used to take a lot of pictures when he was in his 20s. My mom always took pictures at family gatherings and I had a film camera when I was about 9 that printed out pictures with an M&Ms border. I loved that camera and I was always taking pictures with it. It’s funny, but that camera gave me my start.”
Steele went well beyond his M&M camera in high school when he was involved with the Junior Engineering Technology Society at Kemper County High School. As part of that program, he was the camera operator for the morning announcements, which included video. He also took pictures with a still camera, snapping pictures of his classmates to share school-wide.
Steele worked as an instrumentation and controls technician full-time, while sidelining in photography, from 2012 to 2018. After a plant shutdown and resulting layoffs, he decided to leave and take some time working primarily as a freelance photographer.
He has shot photos for a number of private clients, as well as for several of The Meridian Star’s award-winning affiliated magazines. He also has shot a number of weddings, including some out of state.
“Weddings are a lot of pressure,” he said with a laugh, adding that it is important to make expectations clear up front.
He said he sticks with photography in part because he enjoys fueling his creative side. He also says that he thinks there is something particularly special about photos.
“There is something almost magical about photos,” he said. “I think it’s the simple fact that you can look at a picture and you can remember anything and everything from that one moment. It captures a moment in time like nothing else can.”
Steele said that he is not heavy into photography gear.
“You don’t have to have a ton of equipment to be good at photography,” he said. “Sometimes, people think having the most expensive camera will make a big difference. But really, what they need to do is practice – to get out there and take a lot of photos and learn from that experience. Mostly, I will use whatever I can put my hands on.”
This week, Steele is in the middle of a big transition, moving to the Atlanta area. He will be taking on a new job at Georgia Power, returning to work as an instrumentation and controls technician. He also is excited to continue pursuing his photography career in a bigger market.
“I have always felt like something of a city boy,” he said. “Of course, I know I will always miss home and will have to come back often. There are a lot of people here that I love and need to see, especially my family. But I am looking forward to being in a new area that is creative and has a lot of other creative people.”
Steele hope to start skateboarding more in Atlanta, and collaborating with other artists on projects.
He also is looking forward to going old school more, experimenting with film photography instead of digital.
“I’ve been doing more with film lately and it has humbled me,” he said. “Everything I thought I knew about photography has changed. You have to understand the importance of shutter speed and aperture in a different way. Film gives you a deeper understanding of how the camera works and why. It takes things to a different level.”
Steele said that he thinks his financially cautious approach to the creative lifestyle works for him and suggested that younger creatives consider it, too.
“If you are going to take risks, still be smart about it,” he said. “Be sure you are financially stable. I am not saying you can’t just focus on your creativity but it’s going to be hard and then when you have those financial worries, it’s hard to be as creative because your mind isn’t on what you are doing. There’s no need to make it harder than it has to be.”
He said he thinks work-life balance should be a key consideration for everyone.
“Try to find an employer who cares about you and where you can make enough money to support your dreams,” he said. “As long as I can continue to keep that balance, I am going to be fine.”