I started following Rebecca Plotnick on Instagram around the same time I moved to Chicago in 2015. Her photos of Paris were beautiful and had a dreamy quality to them, and suffering through that first Chicago winter they made me wonder if I should have moved away from Rome, which has perfect weather and is similar to Paris in its grand buildings and relaxed lifestyle. Then, I realized Rebecca lived in Chicago too. Not only did we share a name, we shared a love for similar cities across the world. It took us awhile for our schedules to align (the problem with having friends who love to travel as much you do), but once we finally met we had so much to talk about. Fast forward a year, and I’m even more in love with Chicago than Rome, and so happy to have Rebecca as a great friend, dance class partner, and coffee shop coworker in the city. She’s an amazing photographer, an inspiring entrepreneur, and now the founder of a site I can’t get enough of––Everyday Parisian. Read on for her photography and business tips, the best thing to do in Paris, and items she never travels without.
How did you first become interested in photography?
I always had some sort of desire to learn about it, then when I was in high school it was offered as a class. I wanted to figure out how to take it from camera to film, film to developing. And once I figured out that process I was hooked.
Have you always had an interest in France?
It happened around the same time. In school we had to pick a language, and I picked French in 7th grade. The minute we started learning about French culture I really took to it and knew I wanted to travel there.
When did you first visit France?
It was just shy of my 21st birthday. It was Valentine’s Day weekend and I had bronchitis. My mom said there’s no way you’re going, and I said you’re not stopping me. I took train from Florence [where she was studying abroad] to Paris, and had such a bad fever that I woke up and thought I had been mugged. I was literally outside the entire trip, and it was freezing. I sat on top of a double decker bus and was just mesmerized with the city. I fell in love with it from the first minute.
How did your love of photography and France come together in your career?
I did photography all through high school, but I never knew you could make a living through it. It still kind of boggles my mind that I can do this. I went to college, got a regular job, studied a regular major and everything. When I studied abroad in Florence I got my first digital camera. I brought that and my regular camera and shot while I was there for fun. I never thought could do anything with it as far as a job. I got laid off in 2008 [Rebecca studied apparel merchandising and was working in sales for a shoe company], and right around that time I was dabbling in website stuff to sell photography as side hustle. I still didn’t think it could be anything. When I got laid off though, I thought I might as well take chance. I took unemployment and airline miles and went to paris for ten days, and that’s how it started.
And from then to now?
I started an Etsy shop shortly after, in January 2009. That was my learning year. I had no idea what I was doing. I shot a bunch of stuff around Chicago, the farmer’s market, things that caught my interest, but nothing was selling. It was an adjustment to figure out pricing and what people wanted. I realized one photo from 2003 of the Musee d’Orsay was consistently getting the most hits. I was like, ok this is what people want. So that’s why I went back to Paris, but I had no idea it would end up being all Paris and nothing else.
Now, I can support myself. It’s so scary still. Every entrepreneur has that feeling I think. I nannied in 2009 and 2010 to have extra cash. That went away in 2011 and I’ve been doing only the business ever since. That first year was really scary. With every business you have good months and bad months and cash flow isn’t always even, so figuring out how to put money in reserve and not spend it all when you get a big check can be challenging.
What was the most challenging thing about starting a business?
Getting over the fear. Fear stops a lot of people, from a lot of things in life. Know that it’s probably not going to end the way you want, and is going to be harder than you think. My business started slow and steady, but you want it to be big and fast. You need to have faith it will grow.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your photography business?
As much as selling at art shows can be challenging, I love meeting customers in person. At my first show I literally stood outside and just wanted one person to buy something. And I hugged that person, because I was so happy they found joy in my work. [At this point in the interview Rebecca started crying, overcome with happiness and gratitude, and it was very sweet]. It was validating that they took it home and actually paid me money for something I enjoyed doing. I still hug pretty much everyone that buys my stuff. It continues to be validating and makes me happy that I can bring them joy at home, or inspire them to take trips, or take risks, or do something like what I did. My Etsy store is almost at 5000 sales, which is so crazy to me. That’s just 5000 people that I want to hug!
What are some tips you would give new photographers?
Practice! I’m self-taught. And I’m still learning to this day, always. Put your camera on manual, put your iPhone down. Experiment with lenses and close-ups. My photography teacher in high school told us to observe everything at different angles, and that changed my perspective. Stand on a chair and shoot from above, move closer, squat down, or lie on the floor. Experiment with lighting to figure out what works best for you. Everyone has their own style. Everyone can look at same thing, and everyone will have a different perspective.
Tell me more about your newest venture, Everyday Parisian.
I returned to the US from Paris reluctantly, and once back here I realized a lot of my lifestyle habits were still French. The way I ate, shopped, and dressed. Everyone had been asking for a website of my life and background, so I thought I might as well share it and teach the Parisian lifestyle and let those wanderlust type people enjoy the Parisian lifestyle wherever they are.
What exactly is the Parisian lifestyle?
I think it’s more refined and simple and laidback. One of the biggest things for me is that I grocery shop every day. I buy what I need for that day, and nothing more. It’s fresh and clean. I go to the farmer’s market all time, and it’s just part of my weekly schedule. In France, people stop at the market every day, they don’t stock up for an entire week at a grocery store.
What is your favorite city in world?
Paris. But I also have a love affair with Italy. It was my first love, and I wouldn’t have been able to move to Paris if I didn’t have the background of studying abroad. When I first moved to Italy for study abroad I told my roommates I was never leaving the house alone. They had to walk me. I had no idea where I was! I was so direction impaired. I walked to and from school with my roommate. The minute I figured out how to walk home though, I ditched her so fast. Coming home became long, leisurely walks, which is now my thing–discovering cities by what catches my eye.
If I was visiting Paris tomorrow, what would you tell me to do?
Get lost. If you go there for a short amount of time and it’s your first visit, you’re going to want to see everything and you should. I did that when I was 20. But once that’s out of the way, it’s more about living the Parisian lifestyle, not the tourist life. Pick a spot and go there and walk left, walk right, cross the Seine, and completely get lost. You’ll be fine. Explore and don’t always go to where everyone tells you is the hip and trendy spot. Sometimes the best spots are where no one speaks english, filled with locals. You’ll be able to tell.
Sit and people watch. I never watch TV when I’m there, because there is no reason to ever be engrossed in any lifestyle but my own. The Parisian sidewalks are way better than any television show I can imagine. There’s so much history and it’s so vibrant. It’s really fun to sit and take it in.
Taste the food, taste the culture. Try different wines. Try different foods. I didn’t think I liked French food before moving to Paris. On my first visit, I had Chinese food and burgers. I will fully admit had nothing French except a crepe. Since then, I eat escargot, foie gras, everything. And everything tastes better over there.
Chicagoans can find Rebecca each year at the Wells Street Art Festival, One of a Kind Chicago in the Merchandise Mart, and the West Loop Art Festival, as well as other shows here and there. Don’t forget to check out her new site, Everyday Parisian, and follow her photography on her website, Etsy shop, and Instagram.
In Her Carry On
These items are always in Rebecca’s travel bag, no matter where she’s going. Funnily enough, I have and also love both of these bags. And she totally sold me on the eye mask. She swears she never sleeps without it, and every time I see her she looks so well rested!