See that photo of me above? That was me four years ago–freshly into of the early stage of my photography career.
Most people that know me will say that I shoot various things: weddings, models, anything requiring a complicated lighting setup, street, and more. I had my paparazzi stage when I got out of college and I’ve also been an events shooter. But if you had to ask me how I got my start in photography, you’d probably never guess how it happened or why it happened. And if you look at my entire career and gauge where I am now, you’ll see a tremendous difference in not only the creative self expression, but in the entire thought process as well. If you asked the 18 year old me where I would be in life in my late 20’s, I would’ve told you that I’d be a mid-level editor at a major magazine or newspaper. And that younger self wouldn’t ever have expected to be telling the story of how he caught the photo bug.
And like most things, it’s partially a love story.
Let’s take a step back into time at probably the year 2005. At that point in life, I was 18 and finally was able to afford a cell phone with a camera built in–because back in the day those things were not cheap at all. It was my first digital camera–if you could call it that. I took pictures of everything and shared them on my Facebook: food, the places I went, the fun moments, etc. Back then, you needed to manually connect your phone to a computer via a USB port and send them over. It was way before Instagram, and later on when I started the Phoblographer, I was offered book deals on mobile photography but stupidly turned them all down.
My family was too poor to get a digital camera and my mom had never been the most tech savvy person due to growing up in a third world country, so back then we shot with film. I used my mom’s old Olympus OM-77 and some random Keytone point and shoots that we had around the house. They were fun, and I always had them around me.
In my early college years, I started going through a lot. My new best friend and I fought for control over the organization that we started together which effectively ended our friendship–and honestly crushed me. At the same time, I let the punk rock musician in me slowly start to die out due to the fact that I could never stick with a band for more than a year. Mix into that loads of college politics and an unhealthy breakup plus work and being on the Executive Board of three on-campus organizations and I was secretly one extremely depressed person.
It was a dark time, and not the most emotionally healthy one for me either. There was a giant void in my life and I needed to fill it with more than just competitive Counter Strike games late into the night and workout routines.
Though I’d been shooting for years on film and knowing almost nothing about what I was doing with the camera, I decided to finally get super serious about it, so I took a Photojournalism course. And that’s where I met Pulitzer Winner for New York Newsday John C Williams. With that, I bought my first digital camera: an HP point and shoot.
“These are terrible,” that’s what he told me week after week. “What’s wrong with you man? Stop flirting with the girls and start getting a hold of yourself.”
And he was damned right–but what John probably doesn’t know is that he unlocked something really powerful in me: tenacious anger.
So week after week I’d fail at impressing him until photojournalism became an obsession. I had to do better–and there was no alternative. Eventually, I impressed him and got an A in the course. But the crowning moment of Photojournalism 1 was when in the last week of the class I came up to him and showed him a check with Conde Naste’s name on it. A photo that he said was terrible was one that I sold to Wired.
“Goes to show what I know,” he said with a smile. “You’ve done some amazing work and man, have you changed.”
Then Photojournalism 2 came–the more advanced class where at least 9/10ths of the class never gets an A. That’s when I stepped my game up even more and learned all the intricacies of manual mode, composition, content, and editing. The angry tenacity continued and I got an A in the class.
Photojournalism literally saved me and filled a giant void in my life: it got my mind off of a breakup, it helped me evolve my creativity, and it allowed me to express myself.
The next summer, I was interning at PCMagazine, then Geek.com, and then Magnum Photos. The rest is a giant blur that moved faster than the shortest flash duration.
And now that I’ve finished writing this story, if I didn’t develop that tenacity then this site wouldn’t be here today.
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