I was going to post the "Camera of the Year" post after Peter's essay, but then I got an email from a friend who said, "So now that you've posted the second of the Peter Turnley posts, you plan to follow up with one about the Camera of the Year for 2009? How much more crass can you possibly be?"
Followed by a smiley face. But still.
So I'm going to hold that off a little longer. In the meantime, an ironic counterpoint to Peter's essay: Eolake alerted me to the fact that the BJoP linked to a Wall Street Journal list of the best and worst jobs, and, on the list, "photojournalist" placed 189th out of 200. That's right: only 11 jobs are worse than "photojournalist."
Did Peter's life really sound all that bad to you?
Of course, not every photojournalist is Peter Turnley.
One of the factors they considered was "stress"—I'm sure with low stress being considered desirable. (The top job according to the WSJ is "actuary," and one of Eolake's commenters mentioned the old joke about that: "An actuary is somebody who used to be an accountant but couldn't stand all the excitement.") Imagine somebody popping into your office every few days and firing a few rounds off at random, and you'll get an idea of some of the stresses of being a photojournalist. So, yeah, there's that.
On the other hand, I don't know how the Wall Street Journal came up with some of its numbers. As I said on Eolake's blog, how is $69,000 considered "top level salary" for an actor? What job is that—putting on tights and a jerkin while passing out "ale" at Medieval Village, addressing everybody as "milord" and "milady"? Being the fake interviewer on infomercials about colon purging elixirs? The top actor this year (she's a she, which used to be called an actress, but now that appears to be optional) is a woman called Sandra Bullock. To show you just how up with the times I am, I have not only never seen Sandra Bullock in a single movie, but I have never even heard of any of her movies—I looked them all up on imdb.com. But despite that, I'm going to climb out on a limb and guess that she earned more than $69,000 last year.
And, obviously, in calling something a "good job," the WSJ isn't taking into account how easy or difficult it actually is to find work in those fields. It ranks "historian" as #5—but there's an old joke about that too: "The only jobs out there for old historians is training young ones." Medical Records Technician comes in at #20, but I've known people who worked in medical records, and I'd rather have people shooting at me. (A lot of medical records technicians probably have degrees in history.)
A different study I read a number of years ago used somewhat different criteria, and came up with a different list of the best and worst jobs. According to that, the best job of all was playing left field for a non-contending (U.S.) baseball team. Their reasoning:
- The skills required for the job are very rare.
- The left fielder doesn't have much to do, because most hitters are righties and it's hard to pull the ball. (I.e., hit it to left field.)
- You only have to work half the year.
- When you do have to work, it only lasts a couple of hours. True, you have to train; into every life a little rain must fall.
- You get to be outside. But you get to come in when it rains for real.
- It's very high status. (This study considered status; "actuary" wouldn't have gotten many points on that scale, and "photojournalist" would probably have moved up quite a few notches.)
- The payscale is through the roof.
- If the team isn't contending, your mistakes won't cost your team much, so presumably your stress level is on the low side.
The people who have the two best jobs in the world in my opinion are Vanna White and Dan Castellaneta. Vanna started out turning over the letters on a word-game show called "Wheel of Fortune." For years on the show, she didn't even talk. She just walked back and forth and flipped letters. And then they made her job easier. They went to electronic screens, so technically she's not needed at all any more, but by that time people liked watching her (she is still easy on the eyes, being one of those humans who apparently do not age; she was born seven days before I was, but unfortunately I do not have a portrait of myself in the attic which shows me growing older) so now she just touches the letters, and they change.
Actually, what Vanna does for a living is clap. She claps after everything that happens. An average of 720 times per show (I looked it up, and no, I do not want the job of whoever had to count). She doesn't reveal her salary, but NEWSWEEK reported that she earns three to five million dollars a year "from all her endeavors." I should endeavor to have such endeavors.
And Dan Castellaneta? He's the voice of Homer Simpson on the animated cartoon show "The Simpsons." He gets paid millions too...for talking. Granted, he's very, very good at doing voices, but still...that is one great job! I'd pay just t0 be able to do the Homer voice.
It's really all in the way you look at it, though. The worst job I ever had was when I briefly worked as a check-out clerk in the Express Lane at a grocery store way back in the '70s, in between exhausting stints of college. It was unrelenting, but I was so bored an eighth of my original brain cells died from atrophy. Fortunately, I only had to do the job for three weeks, until the store's regular Express Lane clerk, by the infinite grace of our dear merciful God, returned from vacation. Her name was Jean, and she considered her job ideal. She got a good wage (with time and a half on Sundays), she didn't have to do any thinking (she actually said that to me, in so many words), and she got to visit with customers, many of whom she considered friends. She loved it. She'd been doing it for thirty years. I'd hang myself with a rope.
The worst job I can imagine: sandwich man. I feel a deep pity whenever I see one of those guys. If you think about it, a sandwich man is only slightly more valuable to society than a post. A post is stronger and doesn't ever need a rest; but it cannot move, whereas a sandwich man can amble back and forth—presumably morosely, as he sinks ever deeper into a black swamp of despond. Museum guards are probably just as bored, but at least they get to look at art.
But last summer, I spoke to a kid who was walking up and down in front of our local pizza shop with two big signs hung on his shoulders. I probably said something meant to be comforting, but he ended up telling me that he thought it was just the best job. "I get to be outside all the time," he gushed, "and I don't have to actually do anything, and I get paid, and I get free pizza, too!" This last he said in a tone of voice like it was just too much for him to contain, it made him so happy. He had the world by the tail, that kid.
So it's all in how you look at it. As Paul McCann says, "Find a job you like doing and you'll never have to work."
I'll bet to some people, even being a photojournalist isn't half bad.
Featured Comment by Kirk Tuck: "Hmmm. If I could do any job I would take a time machine back to 1985 and be an advertising photographer. Great pay, technical expertise and experience required, medium to low stress. Regular stream of work. Worst job? Advertising photographer in 2009. Stress from not working. Upside? Lots of free time. And I mean 'free' time. Aspiration? I want to be the guy who sweeps up the small denomination bills that fall on the floor at Goldman Sachs."
Featured Comment by K Brown: "I was a security guard at the art gallery in Victoria, and I can say without question, the sandwich board guy has it much better. In the museum, nothing ever changes...for months at a time. You learn to truly hate those artists you see day after day after day. Ah, the life of the sandwich board guy, how I envy him."
Featured Comment by Marty S: "I had a summer job as an art museum security guard for two consecutive summers during college and I thought it was a great job. Fortunately, it was a small museum, and often wasn't very busy. It was the former home of a wealthy art collecting couple converted into a museum after their death. They had an extensive library of art books (including several photography books) and I spent a fair amount of time just reading. Between reading many of the books and talking to the director and assistant director, I learned a fair amount about art. Definitely more interesting than wearing a sandwich board."
Featured Comment by Fmacgregor: "I feel I should jump to the defence of the actuary—I spent many a (relatively) happy summer working in an actuarial department. As far as I could tell no one, at all, understood what the actuaries did, but their word was law, and even the loudest, brashest city boys listened to them and did what they were told. It may not be glamourous, but people listened to, and respected, you. And if you had a masters degree, then your business card could have "MAFIA" at the end of it, which I think should count for something.
"How do you know you're talking to an extroverted actuary? He stares at your shoes when he talks to you...."
Featured Comment by Jim Hart: "Mike, I've had a job where I was paid to be shot at (flying right seat in OV1 Mohawks with the U.S. Army in Vietnam). It ranks as the best and worst job I've ever had. Trust me, you'd rather work in the medical record field. My most confusing job was when I was self employed; I'd only pay me what I'm worth, and I won't work for that."
Featured Comment by Carl Dahlke: "I had a job that really put me off of commercial meat for years. I was working at a ham factory, where the hams would be dropped on the floor, kicked around, and used as footballs in the continuing ham football game before they were shrink wrapped. Once the boss came around and asked the workers to not use the hams as sports equipment for a couple of days because he had found out that a meat inspector would be coming around.
"I think the worst work is grindingly hard physical labor which I have only done a few times for short stretches (think carrying a 100 pound sack of potatoes about 15 feet from a loading dock to a potato bagging machine every 20 seconds for 8 hours). There is nothing left of you to live life if the work is physically hard enough.
"The best job is being part of an exciting enterprise that is doing something bigger than just making money. I worked as a database designer for a company that was sequencing the human genome and for a few years I was racing to work every day to put in 10 to 12 hours. I was helping to make scientific history happen in the company of many very smart people. Just about any job is just going to be a job after that kind of excitement."