Ask Mj Younkers at any given time this past semester for his to-do list and he would have rattled off for you the classes he needed to attend, the projects he had to work on, the pictures he had to edit, the homework that he needed to finish, the movies he was going to watch and the below 8 hours of sleep he got the night before.
I really don’t understand how he fits everything in, but he somehow manages and even agreed to do this interview with me for the blog in the midst of the craziness! I am so grateful to be able to showcase the brilliant talent that is MJ Younkers and can’t wait to what he does next. Check out what he has to say about growing up and his love for photography!
Age: 22, Current Location: Azusa, CA
What has been most surprising/unexpected about being in your 20s?
I think the most surprising thing about being in my 20s is realizing that it’s kind of real life now and you’re no longer kind of given grace. It’s kind of like you’re an adult now. You need to step up and be responsible for the things that you want to do or the things you want to seek out. You have to take initiative and do those things.
What’s being the best thing about being in your 20s?
The best thing about being in my 20s is getting to be an adult and actually making my own decisions and having the freedom to do so.
What do you wish someone told you about being in your 20s?
I wish someone would have told me before I turned 20 how difficult it is to keep track of your finances and just to be more responsible with saving and spending.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned in your 20s?
The biggest thing I’ve learned in my 20s has been that people will tell you one thing and then do another. It’s very frustrating but you kind of have to learn to be professional about that and say, “Alright, you know what? That’s fine.” And move on.
What advice would you give to your teenage self?
I would tell my teenage self to kind of chill out and not be so worried about what the future holds. God provides so much just every day and getting to relax in that and be more calm about what the future might hold would have definitely helped me in my teen years.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received about life is from my dad. He told me, pertaining to going to college, “Go and major in something that you’re gonna love for the rest of your life. Don’t go do something that you think, ‘Oh, it’ll gonna make me money’ or whatever.” He just said, “Go with what you love and stick with that and work at it every day and you’ll get better and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
How would you describe where you’re at now as a 20-odd versus how you’re were as a kid or a teenager? How have you changed?
I’m a lot more independent now than I was as a kid. I think that I can–well, I can–make my own decisions now and logically think through decisions that are trying or difficult, and arrive at a conclusion that I act on and think, “Yeah, this is the right decision to make” now.
First Job? Current job?
Growing up, I was responsible for mowing the lawn every single weekend but my first real job was I worked at a golf course as a caddy in eighth grade. I got minimal pay and very little respect and that was hard, but it taught me a lot. Currently, I’m kind of self-employed as photographer and videographer and I sell my production services through my own media production company.
Where do you see yourself by 30?
Gosh… I have no idea. And I think that having that kind of no idea mindset really helps me in that I can kind of choose whatever I want to do and if my career ends up being something different than what I’ve planned or expected it to be, then that’s okay and I’ll move on with that in mind.
What are some things that have inspired/are inspiring you?
I’m really inspired by both the expressionism and realism painting movements. They really are inspiring in terms of composition and lighting. As a cinematographer I feel that learning from the old classics and just masterpiece paintings, I learn a lot about what an image should look like and I use that to kind of decide how to frame up shots.
Do you have a life motto or quote you try to live your life by?
Kind of the phrase that has been pivotal in the last couple months has been “Why not?” And that kind of speaks to the idea of not limiting yourself and just being like, “You know what, why not? Let’s go and do this. Let’s go and find something interesting to do and do it.”
You mentioned earlier that you do both still photography and video photography. Can you talk a little bit about kind of what inspired you to get into it and how you feel about them separately?
Sure. When I was in my Sophomore year of high school, I started teaching myself photography. I took an art class and I took a drawing class and started learning about composition and balance and framing and just the classical rules of art. I wanted to take a film photography class but I never was able to because I found that my classes didn’t really allow for that to fit in. So I just kind of learned through friends and teaching myself online. Then my senior year, I bought my first DSLR and went out and just went crazy and took pictures of everything and there were like three that were good. But learning to kind of slog through the hundreds of pictures I took and finding out which ones were good, why they worked and then learning from that and moving on, that was really pivotal.
Now I have multiple cameras. I’ve learned 35 millimeter film and learned how to develop film and do the chemical darkroom processes and that’s been really great for my photography as an art form.
As far as cinematography goes, I kind of picked up on the beauty of a moving image in my senior year of high school as well and that sort of inspired me to become a cinematographer and a film major.
Who makes up your support system and/or do you feel like that part of your life is lacking?
Man, I honestly have been so blessed to transfer to a new school and to make the friends that I’ve had. I feel that my roommates… I room with four other guys. There are five of us total in a four person apartment so we have a great time. They are always there for me, more than happy to sit down and watch and movie or struggling through my explaining some, like, French New Wave movement in film or cinema. They’re always validating and that’s been a huge blessing.
Something you can’t live without
Well, definitely cannot live without my camera. It goes with me everywhere. I feel like, if I didn’t have my camera, there’d be times I would really miss it. But that’s interesting because I’ve learned to– there was a quote I read recently and it was about, as a photographer, there will definitely be times where you wish, “Man, I just wish I had my camera with me right now” and the important thing is to remember that in those instances where you don’t have a camera, instead of saying, “Oh, I wish I had this with me. I would love to take this so other people can see it,” relish that moment and enjoy it and live in that moment and say, “Okay, this is something that only I get to see right now” and drink it in. It’s beautiful and it has been created just for you to see so enjoy it.
One fun fact about you
I did improv theater all through high school and tried out on a whim freshmen year. If that’s not improv, I don’t know what is, so…
For the sake of the [interview], my favorite emoji is the lightning bolt.
Taylor Swift used the four words “happy, free, confused and lonely” to describe being in your early 20s. What are four words that you would use to describe where you’re at?
Independent, Inspired, Limitless Creativity (I know that’s two words) and Friendship… getting to know people is awesome and getting to understand what makes them work is even better.
That is the question… I just graduated from APU. I’m heading to Hawaii for the next 8 months. Returning in Spring [to LA] for my Masters in Cinematography.
Photography credits: Cassondra Barnes and MJ Younkers