Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Michael Belk: Profile of an Award-Winning Christian Photographer

By his own account, Michael Belk has lived a Code 45 Usb Error blessed life. As a worldly fashion photographer, he has been one of the best. His work has appeared in Vogue, Elle, GQ and Vanity Fair. And his clients have been a constellation unto themselves: Nautica, J.Crew, Polo and Christian Dior - to namedrop a few. But that’s just a portion of what he has accomplished in his life time.

Combining his gift for photography with a natural sales sense, he’s created advertising campaigns for many well-known names in the clothing industry. For 30-plus years, he has been the man behind the camera, the creative director and the account executive - a one-stop shop for fashion advertising.

“It has been intense,” he says, “but it has been a whole lot of fun... not Download Msvcp120 Dll as much about work as it has been about playing at something I love - traveling the world and working with many of the great models and crews in our industry." Not bad for a self-taught photographer who never picked-up a camera until he was 20. Born in Orlando and growing up in Ocala, Michael had a different life envisioned for himself when photography snagged his soul. “Working in retail clothing in high school and college, I was interested in the clothing industry and had no clue about photography.”

But somewhere around his 20th birthday, he and his brother hired a photographer friend to photograph them as a gift for their mother. Michael had definite ideas and directed the “on location” photo shoot. “I was fascinated with the whole process. I bought a 35mm camera and began shooting pictures of just about everything.”

Every life has definitive milestones. One of Michael’s came with only one semester remaining in college, when he heard about an opening for a sales position with Gant Shirtmakers. Gant was the clothing phenomena of the ’60s and this would be a job for a seasoned veteran, not a 22-year-old novice. Yet, Michael arranged an interview and somehow convinced Gant to take a chance on him. A few weeks later, he was traveling as a sales executive. But, he notes, “I always had my camera on the front seat next to me.”

Three years later, while attending a Gant sales meeting, Michael was unimpressed with the advertising agency presentation. “I just didn’t feel that the agency understood who we were.” Back home in Florida, he photographed a friend wearing Gant samples and created images he felt portrayed the look Gant needed. Then, he took the images to New York and presented them to Gant’s management and design staff. They loved the look, moved their account to a new agency and created a new campaign titled, “The Gant Attitude.”

Having his “style” validated, Michael began photographing his entire sample line, using his friends as models. In a makeshift darkroom, he created a book of 8 x 10 photographs to use as a visual aid when presenting the line to retail clients. “The response to this presentation was so strong, I began exploring the idea of creating these ’look books’ for other companies for their salesmen.” His business plan showed so much promise that he resigned from Gant and headed for New York in August 1976.

It was nip and tuck for the first year until he landed an account whose order exceeded the average order by seven times. As his business and his reputation grew, Michael was asked if he could create printed brochures in addition to the “look books.” Eventually, this led to creating advertising campaigns. “I would start a company out on ’look books’ and end up being their ad agency.”

In 1989, he moved his company to Atlanta for the unexpected next milestone. “We were about a $2 million company, doing great work for several small accounts.” Russell Athletic, an industry giant, purchased one of those accounts. The executives at Russell liked the work Michael produced for others and asked him to “pitch” the advertising for one of their larger divisions. He won the account, and Michael Belk & Company’s business jumped 400 percent. “We were cooking! Print campaigns, television commercials and, along with a string of other accounts, I didn’t feel Atiumdva Dll at home if not on an airplane or in a hotel.”

At 42, his life had great excitement, huge success, but very little substance. “Outwardly, my life was full. Inside, I was running on empty.” Physically and emotionally, he ran out of steam. “You can red-line your engine only so many times and mine had flamed out.” Michael found himself in a very dark place. “I kept thinking that I could get myself out of this abyss, but it just wasn’t happening.” Lying awake one night, completely unsure of his fate, Michael had a visitor.

“You think back over these things and wonder if they really happened, but I distinctly remember the absolute presence of God in my room. He asked me if I wanted to keep doing things my way or maybe try them His way. I knew that I couldn’t get out of this on my own, and realized that it was time to try His way.” From that moment, Michael says, his life began to change. “It was still a difficult time. God had no intention of fixing it all at once.” Over the next months (and years), incredible people came into his life, Michael says, all bringing information that would reshape his life into “the one God had intended for me all along.”

In 1993, he decided to take a break. He closed his business, remaining a consultant on two accounts, began building his English-style country home on 80 acres in North Georgia and started working on an idea for a book. “I had this idea for creating a book that could be used as a marketing tool for a large company.” He began writing and calling for appointments with industry giants. Finally, Reebok, Kodak and Champion Sportswear agreed to see him. “Reebok liked the concept, Kodak was indifferent and, to my overwhelming surprise, Champion agreed to back the idea.” Champion, as part of Sara Lee, would be an Olympic sponsor that year and saw great potential in Michael’s book, which would be exclusive to them. The book, “Beyond the Sport, The Victory Within,” told inspirational stories of America’s Winter Olympians, featuring greats such as Peggy Fleming, Scott Hamilton and Eric Heiden. Michael not only created the photographs, he wrote it as well. Twenty-five thousand copies were sold.

Yet, if he thought the publication of the book had overwhelmed him, it was nothing compared to being reunited with his college-sweetheart that same The Truth About Mortgages year. “It had to be divine intervention,” he said. “She was 400 miles away and I had not seen her in over 21 years.” When they met in Pensacola, Florida in April, it was love at second sight. They knew at once what their future held and they were married five months later. “Since Cheryl and I married, both of us have grown exponentially in our Recover Deleted Recycle Bin relationship with the Lord. He is the center of our lives and the One who has blessed us so. "

Michael and Cheryl spent a year building their North Georgia home. But, after four years of living in a remote area, they sold the farm and returned to their beloved North Florida. Her two children, who Michael considers as his own, are grown and married, and Michael loves being the grandfather of four little boys.

These days, although Michael’s life has taken a much more contemplative turn, his schedule is just as hectic as usual, having spent the past one and a half years creating Journeys With the Messiah. “Although Journeys is in its infancy, I plan for it to occupy much of the coming years. There are so many directions it can go.” He looks back on his life as an incredible journey - one full of lessons learned.

Henry Longman is an expert on Christian art prints and other Christian framed arts. He has written numerous articles surrounding the subject photography throughout the years.

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