Unlike many others, CJ Wolfe had steady employment during the pandemic. But his job as a financial adviser wasn’t his passion.
So he quit his reliable gig to focus on being a creator of storytelling content for his own media work, and for others’, too. Even his boss questioned the leap of faith.
“My manager told me that there’s no money in photography, but he didn’t know my vision,” said Wolfe, 25. “He just didn’t get it.”
He called his dream an “immortal vision,” which became the inspiration for his business, Immortal Vision Studio.
The vision was born while Wolfe, a Philly native with ties across the city, was attending Gwynedd Mercy University, where he majored in communications and played basketball. He was looking for ways to make money when a friend lent him a camera for about six months. He started taking shots of friends and photographing hip-hop concerts and other small events, gratis, but eventually started making a little money here and there.
One day in 2018, while scrolling through social media, Wolfe noticed a post about a football workout at Simon Gratz High School that would feature NFL players and Division I athletes. Despite having no experience shooting at such a large outdoor event, he contacted the organizer and offered to photograph the day’s activities for free.
To prepare for it, “I was on YouTube hours and hours,” Wolfe said. “It was new to me, shooting on the field. I had never been in an environment like that, but this is where I made my turning point.”
One of the celebrity participants that day was Will Parks, a Germantown High graduate who started three games for the Eagles last season after four-plus seasons with Denver and who is now with Kansas City. The two developed a quick rapport and their relationship deepened as Parks began hiring Wolfe to shoot photos at his family and community events.
“I was just looking for a guy that could put my content out, because I didn’t want to be the football player who everyone knows from just playing football,” said Parks, 26.
Wolfe eagerly took advantage of every opportunity that Parks presented, juggling the photo jobs with his schoolwork as he headed toward his 2019 graduation from Gwynedd Mercy; sometimes, he’d have to leave shoots early to prepare for and take his final exams.
After graduation, Wolfe was hired by Northwestern Mutual in sales as a financial adviser. But by the summer of 2020, he was also working heavily on Parks’ Instagram account -- and loving it more than his day job. All the while, the relationship between Parks and Wolfe was growing stronger as Parks saw Wolfe’s work ethic.
“It’s rare that you run into a person who graduated from college, same skin color as me, with the mindset he has,” Parks said. “[Wolfe’s mindset] is second to none. I think he’s me in his career.”
For Wolfe, that career, he knew, would never be in banking. It would be in creating visual and media content that excited, informed, and connected people. And he knew he wanted to open his own studio to support it. He soon quit his sales job at Northwest Mutual and took a less demanding one at TD Bank so he could continue saving to open his own place while focusing on his dream. (He left that job in March.)
Last December, the dream became real when Wolfe opened Immortal Vision Studio in a converted Kensington warehouse that is also home to other small businesses and startups. Wolfe both works there and rents the site to photographers needing space to shoot their work, and to event planners needing a site to hold intimate gatherings. The studio has seven employees, including three interns, ranging in age from 20 to 28.
The best part? Wolfe is partnering with Parks’ company -- Parks Place Adventures LLC, a community outreach organization -- to offer Philadelphia youths fun summer courses at the studio in photography, video editing, and graphic design. Wolfe’s time in finance won’t be wasted, either: He plans to teach some basic financial literacy courses to campers, too.
For Wolfe, it feels like all the pieces of his full, authentic self are coming together.
Growing up in an urban community, he said, he felt basketball -- which he certainly likes well enough -- was the only outlet he had to gain acceptance among his peers. But in truth, he’s always been more of a tech guy.
“I was a genius with computers, but I never had the place where I could express that or felt comfortable to do so,” Wolfe said.
At Immortal Vision, he hopes to create a place where other young people like him -- creators and immortal visionaries -- can connect and grow among like-minded peers.
“When I’m creating this stuff, money isn’t the main thing,” Wolfe said. “I want to provide resources for [young] creators who don’t have an outlet to go to.”