Californian photographer, Eileen Gittins is charismatic, idea-rich, but above all, she is a serious business woman. And when her passion for photography led to a desire to make a good book out of her photos, her disappointment in the end result inspired the creation of Blurb. Her company, founded in 2005, is exciting photographers all around because Blurb offers them the chance to finally make their own, personalized, high quality, photo book. Having expanded into England, France, and now Germany, Eileen explains how the company got started and where the company is headed.
What is your background in photography and how did it lead you to found Blurb?
I really got interested in photography from an early age. As a child, my dad gave me a Kodak Retina 35mm camera when I was 11 years old. He sent me off to visit family in London for four months and none of them were photographers, so I had to figure out things like aperture and shutter speeds by myself. That is when I spent all my pocket money on film. I would send snapshots and letters back to the States and my dad, who was a very good photographer, would critique them.
This interest picked up again at university, after which I went on to a Multi-media Studies program at San Francisco University. The whole notion of Multi-media was coming into vogue and I was very interested in still imagery as well as video and audio.
Then, I studied journalism and photography in college. After graduating, I needed a job and so I pursued Kodak for a year, thinking that was where I really wanted to work. The allure was not only working in the photography industry, but also I heard that employees got free film, paper and darkroom chemistry. I thought that was better than rent money! This was in the early 1980s, and there was a recession going on in the United States, so Kodak didn’t have any job to give me, but when an opening came up a year later, I jumped at it.
I started out in Sales and did a little studio work. It was a great and long association; I worked for Kodak for over seven years. I met all kinds of interesting people. This period, though, was in the early transition from film to digital. I became one of the early evangelists for the new digital technology. I got so enamored with the digital that I wanted to get more involved in image management.
So I ended up leaving Kodak in the early 90s, and went to work for a software company in Seattle. They were doing work database software, but it was my transition out of photography into the software startup world. I joined them as a VP of business development, where I would go out and build relationships with companies. It was my first chance to really run a group.
In the mid 90s, the Internet arrived. I ended up meeting with some venture capitalist firms, which lead to my first true start-up where I was a CEO. After the crash, none of us made any money, and very few people did.
I sold that company, did another, and sold that one too. And I found myself, in 2003, with much more time and I started photographing again. I wanted to assign myself a project, because I tend to work on longer-term projects. I chose to photograph entrepreneurs, who really built the web. I had previously worked with a lot of these people. They all agreed to participate and before long I had 40 environmental portraits of people. It was a combination of medium format Hasselblad and digital work. I had images and stories, so it became a photo essay. I wanted to share this content with the group and I thought about making a website, but I realized that it’s very hard to gift a website.
Read the complete interview here.