Long-Time Long Beach Photographer Shoots For Greatness
Tromaine Ellis, known as The LBC Photographer, has overcome a checkered past and is now running his own successful and rapidly-growing photography business.
He grew up with many of Long Beach's premiere hip-hop artists while he was a regular at V.I.P. Records in the 90s. Now he works out of the new V.I.P. CREATE Space Business Incubator where he is growing his business at a rate that matches his energy and ambitions.
As a Long Beach Poly graduate in 1990, Tromaine was a classmate of NFL superstar Willie McGinest and actress Cameron Diaz. Tromaine remembers riding in a city bus to Bancroft Junior High, pounding out beats for a young rapper named Calvin Broadus.
Broadus, better known as Snoop Dogg, went on to become one of the most famous hip-hop stars ever, putting central Long Beach and V.I.P. Records on the map.
Ellis, a people person and natural networker, became friends with all the prominent figures in that rich era of Long Beach music.
"The early '90s were the years of hip-hop in Long Beach," said Ellis. "We went out and interviewed lots of local artists at clubs."
He was able to gain rapport with many major artists that way. "The 'star-struck' thing never really got to me. I liked to talk to the artists behind the scenes," Ellis said.
Ellis's road has had its peaks and valleys: On probation after a sentence for selling drugs in the mid-'90s, he joined the Navy and worked as a photographer. Later, he served time at the Jamestown Fire Camp in Modesto.
Such experiences could have hardened a negative world view. "You can get harder, being incarcerated, but I became softer," he said. "I understand that being harder won't get you anything."
Back on his feet and back in Long Beach, he returned to photographing community events for free, like the Martin Luther King Day Parade and the Michelle Obama Library dedication, giving back to his city and getting his "LBC Photographer" repute back.
Since then he’s been successful in getting more gigs and has even been called by several Long Beach City Councilmembers to photograph more community events.
"For years, I knew them, but they didn't know me," said Ellis. "Now, they know me."
The City later encouraged him to apply for a community-sponsored micro-loan to help him build his photography business. Thanks to a $5,000 interest-free loan from the KIVA Long Beach program, the City was able to assist Ellis to get closer to realizing his business and artistic dreams.
"With the KIVA loan I was able to obtain four new lenses, a computer, two monitors, a white seamless backdrop, a hard case, a Gary Fong light diffuser, a continuous light projector, extra batteries, even new business cards," said Ellis.
"Tromaine and other entrepreneurs like him really are the key focus of the KIVA program," said Eric Romero, Project Manager at the Long Beach Office of Economic Development. “We really feel that in order to have a strong, successful economy where small businesses make up a large part of that, we need to ensure that all folks have access to capital and opportunity for the resources that will allow them to succeed and grow.”
Long Beach is a KIVA city (Los Angeles and Oakland are among other local KIVA towns) as a result of the Long Beach City Council's “Blueprint for Economic Development.” Through this blueprint, the Office of Economic Development was charged with fulfilling a 10-year vision for small business assistance, economic inclusion and increased access to capital. The San Francisco-based KIVA platform was a great fit for this vision.
When the V.I.P. Records organization heard about the KIVA program, they approached the Office of Economic Development, and Tromaine Ellis was the first person they suggested for a loan. With V.I.P. serving as his trustee, Ellis was interviewed by a KIVA staffer and applied for the loan online.
Once selected, Ellis was required to secure several contributions from friends, relatives, and associates during a 15-day private lending period. After that was done, Tromaine's borrower's profile became public world-wide. Donations came in from all parts of the globe.
The Office of Economic Development works with a partner, L.A. L.I.S.C. (Local Initiatives Support Corporation) which provides a real-time matching fund to the KIVA capital.
"Tromaine is all about Long Beach and wants to grow his business in Long Beach, so we were committed 100% to helping him," said Eric.
In addition to growing his business, Ellis is keenly interested in helping local kids, and he wants to start his own children's photography program."We might have another Ansel Adams on our hands," said Ellis. "Kids imagine all day. If you harness something like that, you've got a genius."