A simple kids book, a classic written by Dr. Seuss was a graduation gift from my parents.
The man behind the cat, had it right...
Now that I am 46 years young, I look back and see how my life developed and became what it is today. Choices I made that influenced events years later.
I have lived in 5 states, traveled across the country 7 times, visited 39 states and been to 6 countries. In my head, that is not enough.
I crave more.
On my mom’s side I have two uncles and one aunt. Each had 2-3 kids. (There were 6 of us that grew up around the same time, all within a 10 year age period). Every holiday after dinner, we would all gather in a 6x10 kitchen, with an oversized table that took up the entire room. Grandpa would set up the movie projector on one end of the table, the lights would go out and the fun began for us. We saw our parents as kids, our grandparents much younger than we ever knew them. Hours upon hours of noiseless family history.
My grandfather was an avid movie maker and picture taker. Not only did he have boxes of reels, some miles long, they had drawers full of old photos, shoe boxes that allowed me to look at our family history. I would and could spend hours going through all the photos.
In the 50’s-60s, most people worked for companies for decades. My grandfather worked for Frigidaire which at the time was owned by GM and based in Dayton, Ohio. My grandmother worked at the local high school in the cafeteria. They would take the two weeks vacation he earned and drive across country to see family and friends. Traveling up towards Chicago and then head out west to Montana and Wyoming where the rest of the family lived.
They visited landmarks like “Old Faithful”, family in Montana, Chicago, Wyoming, riding horses and exploring new locations. My grandmother is the planner, she wanted to learn about the areas they visited and would plan stops along the way.
These trips not only inspired him to develop multiple hobbies and passions, but these experiences eventually filtered down to their grand-kids.
My grandfather loved working with his hands, he built dollhouses, worked on cars, painted and whittled and was a geology hobbyist, a photographer (with his own darkroom), a filmmaker (silent family films with a giant bright-like-the-sun hot-light attached), a graphic designer (creating Christmas cards every year from photos he had taken), and he was an archeologist, (using his metal detector to find hidden treasures buried in the ground or at beaches.). He was a musician, (harmonica, wooden flutes and drumming on anything he hands ended up on), he was a Military man, spending a few years in California on duty and meeting my grandmother in the process.
It wasn’t until years later during his funeral that I realized my creative desire to be a photographer was cultivated by my grandfather. His influence on our family was astounding. Of the grand-kids we have a photographer, stockbroker, archeologist, musician, a military man, business manager, teacher, equestrian groomer, and automotive restorer & mechanic. We are all part of who this man was.
In 1984 I took my first trip across country with my grandparents, their truck & pop-up camper. I FEEL in love. I spent the majority of the trip in the bed of the truck. My grandfather, placed a sleeping bag, pillows and I had my books, sketchbook and car games to play.
I learned how to navigate with a map, determining how long it would take to get to our next stop. We visited Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Craters of the Moon, Scotts Bluff, The Corn Palace, The Mormon Church in Salt Lake City & The St. Louis Arch. I spent hours staring out the window, amazed by the amount of a world that existed.
During my eventful trip we blew a tire in Iowa. Popped two tires of the pop-up camper because of another idiot driver. Locked the keys in the truck while we were at the top of Scott’s Bluff, NE. Spent an hour driving around Douglas, WY, looking for a Jackalope statue. (A mythical creature with the body of a rabbit and antlers like a deer) NOT real, but man did my grandfather try and convince me it was! When my grandfather finally conceded to “asking” for help, we discovered a drunk driver had destroyed it.
It was a trip that would influence me in a way I did not know or even understand...I was 12.
My aunt graduated college and I remember being envious of her travels, she and like my grandparents began to travel the world and explore new and unknown places, I craved the photos. Internet didn’t exist. If you wanted to learn about a place, you had to go to the library. At 12, I picked up my first camera; a Kodak 125 Instamatic. I still have it and it STILL works. Film however - non-existent.
Not sure if I was ahead of everyone else at my age but I knew at 12 I wanted to a be photographer. I day-dreamed of owning a gorgeous studio loft in Manhattan or cabin in the rockies. Each dream held a special place in my heart. I wanted the city life, but craved the wild. I dreamt of travelling across the world to document events and places I’ve never seen.
As I became older my passions became what was intended. I choose a career path that not only I had a love for; it would also allow me to travel to new and exciting places. I attended a school that had some flexibility in class schedules and allowed me to immediately take the art classes I needed to hone my skill. I spent the next 4 ½ years learning everything I could about studio work, equipment needed and $ needed to build my life as a photographer.
If I had ONE wish...one “do-over” I would have taken a business class while in school and I truly feel that it should be a requirement for every college kid. I was taught how to take photos, how to develop and create stunning prints. Never learned marketing, sales, or how to operate your own business. I was a fish without the water to survive.
I knew how to swim, but didn’t know how to find the water.
Needing to work, pay bills and survive, I worked as a waitress. Summers allowed me to pick up more work. My junior year, I took on 4 jobs during that summer, one of them as a photo assistant for a local senior photographer.
I had the determination, but I was a woman in an industry that was largely male-dominated; it was intimidating. This wasn’t a skill set taught in college. I had to learn to be more brave, stand-up for myself when needed and take chances when no one else would.
My first “gig” - freelancer work, came from The Akron Beacon Journal, I worked part-time/weekends (fluff assignments). It was a true learning experience. I had a few assignments, but I was limited due to my class scheduling. I then freelanced for the Massillon Independent.
After college I dug my heels in to look for work. I was hitting closed door after closed door. More experience was needed, I wasn’t local. I was too young. Mentally I was exhausted. After hearing a story from a friend about her current life; I decided to become a nanny. It was a chance to explore a new area without having to worry about rent, bills etc. (other than college debt or credit cards). I only looked at families near New York. I knew what I wanted. Finally had a match and moved to Short Hills, NJ. It was 20 mins via train to the city.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE New York City.
During my time off, I spent it walking around the city. I walked from The World Trade Center to the MET (walked roughly 7 miles). I had NO idea. I just walked. I was so exhausted by the time I sat on the steps at the MET, I took a cab back to the P.A.T.H. train. Never again...however, I truly did SEE New York. Not just the “spots” but NY. I quickly learned the subway system, cabs and train schedules so I could explore more.
As this chapter of my life was ending, I began to search for work...anything in the city. I was offered a teaching job, but the pay could not afford the cost of living. I reluctantly moved back to Ohio.
The world of searching for work was changing, internet, AOL, “being online” was new. In 1993, the internet as we know it went more mainstream. Upon my return, I began to look for work using the internet. My dad told me I was doing it wrong; told me I needed to make calls and show up the way he used to, aka “pound the pavement”. He didn’t and couldn’t believe I could find an actual job online.
Portfolios became CD’s, instead of a stack of organized clips of work carried in a portfolio case (which I still have). I created a CD, that automatically played a slide show that displayed my work. I sent multiple letters and CDs to photo editors all over the US based on jobs found online.
A photo editor at a small town in northern Idaho, contacted me; while I couldn’t be there in person to interview, I was given an assignment; purchase slide film, and photograph events and things going on in my area. This meant research and understanding that a large part of my job would be to “find” art. Find stories to tell with photographs. I sent the roll as requested, undeveloped. A few weeks later he called and offered me the job.
I would spend the next 2 years in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, covering local news events and local stories. It is a small town. The population at the time was smaller than my college campus. It was a culture shock, but I adapted.
While attending my brother’s wedding in Ohio, I decided to stop by the local paper on whim and drop off a CD and resume. The photo editor interviewed me on the spot. I went back to Idaho and 4 weeks later I moved back to Ohio.
My college education was based solely on film photography, lighting, technique, equipment was about to change. When I began working for the Repository in 1999, I was handed a Nikon FM2 and Nikon F3HP, along with VERY heavy glass. The paper had the digital Kodak DC40 which was used during the Indians World Series Game in 1997. We didn't change fully to digital until 2002-2003 and we each had 2 cameras and glass (Nikon D1 , D1H, D2 or D2H series).
Digital was an entirely new beast and I don’t recommend learning on the fly, which we did. We actually attended classes from ONPA (Ohio National Photographer Association) just so we could learn how to make people not look blue in photos. The color was bad, quality horrendous BUT... the ease in which we could shoot, download, edit and send to the copy desk was astounding. We didn’t need to wait 30 mins for the film processor, then dry the film, examine the negs, scan into the computer and edit.
It allowed spot news to make into the paper before it when to press. Who knew, it would grow so quickly and tech would advance as fast as it did. Keeping up became a challenge.
I miss the journalistic world, not sure if I could even step back into that industry. However the one appreciation I had for covering the news, I understood and knew what was going on in the world. Every day was different. Every photo was something new.
My photojournalistic life has many stories. Know that this life, was not easy. I experienced not just the happy events, but the ones that are tragic. I've seen death and tragedy more than your average person, it was never something you want to cover, but is the news. When it impacts your community, your job was to be there.
I loved the work. I covered some heart warming, you-just-want-to-melt-into-a-puddle stories that makes up for the bad. You got both; the Yin & Yang of life. I however desired travel, creative freedom and in 2004 there was a shift in the news industry, that told me if I didn't leave on my terms, I was probably out the door anyway.
I was ready for a change, I had a connection at the LA Times, but 3 months after moving to California they went on a hiring freeze as did much of the nations newspapers. Newspapers began to close. Entire departments were closed. (Chicago Sun-Times). Multiple papers were sold, closed and consolidated. Printing presses closed and newspapers began to share the cost.
Social media, digital news..killed the newspaper industry faster than they could keep up with the tech. If you weren't online, you didn't survive.
The death of an era = Myspace (2003), Facebook (2004), Twitter (2006).
There were many artists & photographers, I admired who influenced me to find my style and vision over the years; Eddie Adams, Margaret Bourke-White, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dorothea Lange, Ansel Adams were a few. However, my aunt was the stepping stone to a realization that I could be a photographer.
Now more than 20 years later, I am going to pursue what my heart is telling me I should do.
God, I know it won’t be easy. I know I will have moments of doubt, but I am 100% certain that the good, benefits and adventures will far outweigh the bad.
I've stayed in LA for more than 14 years. It has been an amazing home, but...I'm ready. So VERY ready to explore once again, travel down roads I have no idea what they lead to, meet interesting people along the way and as Dr. Seuss says...
"It's opener, out there, in the wide, open air."