Laura Morton Recounts Mingling with the Dreamers of Silicon Valley


Guests of the Startup and Tech Mixer mingle at the bar during the event, which was held at the W Hotel in San Francisco, Calif., on Friday, May 30, 2014. Laura Morton

SILICON VALLEY - Generally I pride myself on being able to become a fly on the wall when I’m working, but while photographing a tech industry networking event recently things changed. This large and boisterous affair took over several floors of a downtown hotel and was filled with energetic start-up entrepreneurs. As I made my way around the event that evening, guests continually approached me, asking if I was a journalist. More often than not, they launched into a passionate pitch about their start-up before I could explain my own photographic project. The cameras around my shoulders had marked me as a possible journalist, turning me into someone deemed useful to talk to. It was an incredibly odd feeling.   

My project Wild West Tech explores the tech industry culture and the way it’s changing San Francisco. Exorbitant fortunes are being made seemingly overnight, income inequality is growing at a rapid pace and the rising cost of living is pushing many long-term residents out. All these issues are, without a doubt, important, but what drew me to this project was a group that is often overlooked by the media.

Young people from around the country and beyond are flocking to San Francisco with dreams of building a successful start-up. They’re cramming into apartments together, living in modern day communes and renting desks in co-working spaces. They work seemingly around the clock on their businesses. Most of these people are not wealthy and many are working on shoestring budgets while searching for funding. A few of them will succeed, become wealthy or build a project that does truly change the world, but most of them will fail.

Silicon Valley is famous for having a positive attitude in all circumstances. People will tell you they’re doing great, even if they’re struggling, which is one of the reasons I feel this group of entrepreneurs has often been misunderstood. 

As the night wore on and several drinks were consumed, some cracks started appearing. One woman pulled me aside and asked me to sit down after which she immediately and breathlessly pitched her start-up with tears in her eyes. I could see the disappointment cross her face when I explained that I wasn’t working for a tech publication. She, like many of the people I talked to that night, was desperately hoping to make the magical and lucky connections needed for her company. 

Another subject I was photographing recently compared my Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund grant, which enabled me to take the time to get this project off the ground, to an entrepreneur completing a round of seed funding. His comment struck me that photographers and start-up entrepreneurs aren’t all that different from each other. We’re all just trying to find a little funding and a little help to make projects we’re passionate about a reality.

Laura Morton, 2014 Emergency Fund Grantee

Simone Salvo