Forty or so years ago I had aspirations to be a photo-journalist. Back then magazines such as Look, Life and National Geographic were the ultimate goal for a news and documentary photographer and I dreamed of the day when my photos would grace their pages. It was a noble profession which had its risks and rewards. I was young, passionate and up for it.
I lived and breathed photography day and night for years. My camera was with me everywhere I went and nothing and no-one was safe or sacred. There were times that it was legitimate and times when I was an intruder. Kind of like an early version of paparazzi. During all this time I honed my craft. Learning techniques, technology and studying the work of those who I looked upon as the masters – Robert Capa, Margaret Bourke-White, Matthew Brady, Yousuf Karsh and Ansel Adams.
Not once did I get paid for these pictures. I almost sold some photos of a wreck on the highway. When the night news editor of the paper found out that no one had died in the crash he turned them down. “Sorry kid, accidents happen all the time but if someone is killed – that’s news!”. Later on I found out this is called, “if it bleeds, it leads!”. At least I got to hang around the newsroom with him. We listened to the police scanner and got excited when it sounded like there was some action out on the mean streets of the city. Nothing much ever came out of this to further my career but I kept on taking pictures.
My photographer friends at the time went to college to enhance their photography skills. College was expensive and a formal education in the art of light and shadow was out of my reach. Instead, I just kept taking pictures. A buddy of mine was getting involved with formal portraiture and wedding photography and one day asked me to come along as a helper. Of course I didn’t get paid but as a business venture I thought it had potential so I worked at learning some of the wedding photog’s techniques that were popular at the time, upgraded my equipment and went to work.
At this point I became a professional photographer. Not because of the style of pictures I took, not because of the equipment I owned, not because of the skill I applied to the creation of the images and certainly not just because I joined the Professional Photographers of Canada. It was because I got paid money to take pictures. I was average at wedding photography. Probably because my heart and soul wasn’t into it. Don’t get me wrong my photo’s were as good as any other wedding hack out there and I always delivered as promised. But how excited could I get over ‘peek-a-bouquet’ or ‘contemplative bride reflection in a mirror’ or ‘bride and groom on foot bridge’ poses when what I really wanted to be was a photo journalist capturing the gamut of human emotions in the real world. But at least I was a ‘pro’. I had my fill of wedding photography, sold all of my equipment and moved onto other things. Photo-journalism wasn’t one of those other things.
So what’s the point of all of this? If you’re young, follow your dream and don’t get sidetracked. You might never get a second chance. Oh and there is more to being a pro than just doing it for money.