I never wanted to be a photographer. The thought never crossed my mind. Sure, we had a few cameras around the house growing up, but I grew up relatively poor so our cameras were nothing more than your standard Polaroid instant film camera. Oh and we had the disposable ones, too! I didn’t come from a long line of great photographers or pick it up at an early age. I probably didn’t use a digital camera for anything until around 2005. I got into photography purely by chance. Once I discovered it, my life changed forever. Here’s my story.
After a brief stint in “real” college studying business administration, I dropped out for a year. I decided that if I were to go back I would do something creative. I eventually enrolled at Full Sail University where I majored in Film. During the second month of the program, we had a basic photography course. We learned how to use film, load various cameras, and develop prints in the darkroom. The thing that resonated the most with me was the film we watched during the last week of the course. It was War Photographer, a documentary of the life and work of war photographer James Nachtwey. I’ve always admired people with a borderline unhealthy obsession with their craft and Nachtwey was amazing. His dedication to such a horrific subject matter and the way he could remain poised in the most extreme conditions just blew me away. My interest in photography was piqued.
At the time I was working as a video editor to help pay the bills while I was in school. I didn’t have much experience with editing, but the ad said there would be training to bring me up to speed. At first everything seemed good, but it turned out the guy I worked for was a total jerk. I mean a meathead through and through who was rude, loud, and sometimes even a bit racist. I put up with it because he was paying me decent money but I could remember going home angry each day after dealing with the guy. So one day, it seemed like nothing I could do was right or good enough for him. He yelled at me, called me all sorts of names, and threatened to replace me. Mind you, I never received the training he mentioned in the ad and had only been there a month. So I said enough is enough and quit. He left to run an errand and I left shortly afterward. I made up in my mind that day that I would never work for anyone again (within reason of course) and I would start my own company. Screw that guy!
My girlfriend picked me up and we went to the mall to get lunch. While we were there I stopped at Ritz Camera just to look around. The guy there showed me a few cameras, mostly point and shoots. Then he handed me my first DSLR. It was the Canon Digital Rebel XT. I was impressed with the form factor and it just felt so much more serious than any other camera I’d handled in the past. Ritz was running a no-interest financing special and the salesman was pretty convincing. I jumped at the offer and that day I brought home my very first DSLR (you could say it was my first camera).
Now that I finally owned a camera I had to figure out how to use the darn thing. So over the next year I began my decent into madness. I was a man possessed. The thought of that douche of a boss I had and the desire to have my own company drove me each day to learn the craft. My girlfriend would drop me off at Barnes & Noble and I would sit there on the floor for hours learning everything I could about photography. I would listen to podcasts non-stop in the car on my way to school. I would sneak and read discussion posts on Flickr during class seminars. I would skip lunch with my friends to take shots of random things around campus. I was immersed. I was driven. I was…happy. I’d finally found something that I truly loved, a real passion. Fast forward seven years later and now I work as a photographer in New York City.
Life’s funny like that, you just never know which path you’ll end up on sometimes. It hasn’t all been a pleasurable experience mind you. I had to sacrifice a lot and lose a lot. I’ve lost love, money, and time. There have been times where I absolutely hate photography, even resent it sometimes. But I always come back. It’s a tumultuous relationship but it’s one of the true constants in my life, which I appreciate. It’s like water, it has the power to drown you, crush you even. But on the other hand, it can be healing and therapeutic when you need it most.
No, I never wanted to be a photographer. Yet here I am. Thankful.
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