So here's the short version: After some twenty-odd years working in public affairs and communications I am making a career pivot in 2017 to professional photography.
That's the plan... and it scares the living shit out of me.
Believe me when I say this change isn't borne out of some existential, mid-life crisis or an impetuous decision to do something more fulfilling with my life. The fact of the matter is that, since relocating to Northern Virginia in July 2013 I've been unable to secure regular, full-time work in my chosen field.
I have the experience, the credentials and the recommendations... 'it,' just hasn't happened.
I could sit here and offer up a lengthy narrative as to how the job search has gone but that's a rabbit hole I'd sooner not go down again; suffice it to say it's been brutal and an experience I wouldn't wish on anyone.
Time for a change
I've always been interested in photography but never given great thought to pursuing it professionally. As a child I remember playing in the darkroom of my dad's office where, as Art Director for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY, he worked with a team of seasoned professionals including photographer Nancie Battaglia to produce compelling images from the Games. I was fascinated by the red light, how the chemicals would transform a piece of paper into a photo, hung up to dry by clothespins in the dark... I remember how he always seemed to have his camera with him, a (now) classic Pentax MG that was heavy, solid and serious in my hands... I also remember my first camera, a Kodak Disc which, after some tinkering to the negative, was able to produce double exposures that I thought were creative.
It wasn't until I arrived at Harvard University that my interest evolved into something more passionate. As an employee in the Office of Public Affairs and Communications HPAC) I worked alongside a group of talented, professional photographers who worked to tell the story of the University and its people. I was always impressed with what they were able to produce and took time to talk with them about their work, method and approach.
At some point I worked up the courage to ask if I might borrow some of the Office gear, camera and lens combinations that my monthly paycheck wouldn't come close to paying for if I broke them. To my surprise, then Director of Photography, Justin Ide said yes. With little more than a few primers about f-stops and ISO's from the likes of staff photographers Rose Lincoln, Kris Snibbe and Jon Chase I started to photograph intercollegiate sports and more. It was a steep learning curve but thanks to their guidance, constructive criticism and support my photograph improved, to the point where I was contributing some adjunct work to the Harvard University Gazette and other publications.
But more than simply informing me on the mechanics of camera operation and use, my co-workers and others helped me to understand how photographs could be used to tell a story or convey a message. They also taught me a lot about professionalism in the field, something I also received a passive education in through my work on the media relations team in HPAC. Over the years I was charged with press credentialing and media management for a number of major campus events that saw me frequently interact with any number of working photographers including members of the Boston Press Photographers Association (BPPA). When I wasn't listening to their concerns and/or working to accommodate their needs I made an effort to watch how they worked... how they carried on as professionals.
But can I cut it as a professional?
Since relocating to the Washington, DC-area in July of 2013 I have worked to expanded the scope (and hopefully quality) of my photography. I have photographed protests on Capitol Hill; captured Ospreys fishing in Dyke Marsh; played around with astrophotography in the Finger Lakes... and I have be hired by a number of clients to provide everything from corporate headshots to coverage of book signings.
I'm confident I can do the work and I'm not a rank amateur, but again: the idea of doing photography on a professional basis is scary. Finding success - however it may be defined - is going to take hard work, patience, humility and drive. I'm going to have to hustle, create my own work and hope to get noticed. To that end I'm in the process of networking with a number of professionals I respect; I recently joined the National Press Photographers Association and am reaching out to a number of agencies about potential freelance opportunities tied to the upcoming Presidential Inauguration and Women's March on Washington.
It's time for a new chapter, it's time to develop a different perspective and I invite you along the journey with me.