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Wednesday, 27 May 2020

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Happy accident and being useless at my chosen profession contributed to my photographic journey getting off to a good start.

I was taken on as a trainee cartographer at the ministry of Defence in London. After a couple of years, the powers that be decided that something had to be done with the world’s most useless cartographer.

Pre Thatcher-Britain was a kinder, gentler sort of place and I was not “let go”, but a job in the Map Store in the central London MOD HQ was found for me. The job just involved digging out maps of places the military were interested in.

When a map could not be found, I would be dispatched to a large map shop which happened to be near the Photographers Gallery. I would always stop there and browse the exhibitions and visit the book shop. It was free to see the shows back then. At an early stage of my interest in photography I was exposed to the cutting edge of photography in the UK.

After a couple of years ambition got in the way and I went into the world of Structural Engineering, where with day release (a good system they had in the UK that does not exist anymore, in this short-term profit world), I eventually became a good Structural Engineer.

When for a question of women, I found myself in Italy at the age of 30, with no job lined up, I had a good portfolio of work and I got a poorly paid job as “official photographer” with our provincial theatre and a freelance gig with a local news magazine. I had a great time for a couple of years.

I think I was right to try the world of professional photography. It served to teach me that it had nothing to do with good photography, or the love of photography. In fact, it is a cut throat world, and you soon discover that a lot of the people that get to have exhibitions and stuff succeed because the know the right people and in Italy belong to the right Party.

Eventually I got back into the world of Engineering, but carried on with the theatre work for 10 years or so before I got photographically burnt out.

An Engineering job with lots of foreign travel got me interested in photography again after my break. I worked like hell to get the things I was supervising done before time, giving me usually a day or two to explore some foreign country.

I’m not sure anymore whether I am interested in photography, or if I use photography to explore the things, I am interested in. I have for sure had the opportunity to meet lots my Jazz heroes for example and lots of other interesting people along the way.

Photography has certainly broadened my horizons in life, so I guess I got my photographic journey right.

So the things you would do differently were decisions about methods and technical practices related to what you were doing.

The things you think you did right were decisions about what to do and how to live doing it.

I hope to do that well!

Yesterday’s post got me thinking that yes, I could have done a lot of things differently. But then I thought, maybe I shouldn’t have. And this your today’s post exactly confirms it. If I had done things differently, I would be in a different situation now and would probably be a different person. I wasted some money that I could have saved. But looking at it now, if I hadn’t bought the film Hasselblad when I did, and the M6, I would have probably ended up with a digital Hasselblad and M9 today, instead of a better, more suitable ‘for me’ camera, at a small fraction of the cost. I did almost all the things you mentioned above, except choose photography as a job. It gave me a lot of freedom and I think it was the right decision. For me. Lucky me.

I took up photography as a teenager. After I left school I considered to apply for a photography MFA degree course ("Diplom Fotodesigner"). As my courage left me, I enrolled for biology instead - a subject which I liked at school. To be honest, I don't regret this decision! This study course taught me an approach to make sense of the world around me which, I think, influenced and improved my photography. Namely, keen observation of your subjects and constant reflection about how to relate all these observations to each other. Obviously, I can't tell whether the MFA would have taught me the same - but the scientific education contributed to the person I am now, and my photographic work is part of me.

Best, Thomas

Mike, you were (and are) the lucky one. Thanks for sharing your luck with us.

This makes me very happy that you had many fulfilling experiences in your life. It is inspiring that you were so dedicated and focused. I hope things are well for you now.

This,is why I come back here.
Thank You.

I think that what I did right in my life and my photography have been based upon something that I only realized looking back at it. I won't bore everyone with the details, but last July I retired from a 40 year career in medicine most of which was spent as a Cardiologist a career I never intended for myself, performing procedures that had not been invented when I started. Both in my career and in my life there was no way to have predicted the opportunities and paths that appeared along the way which offered me choices I could not have imagined. A good general example is that when I was at University from 1970-74 there was no such thing as a desktop PC, or a "Mini" (think the size of a filing cabinet) computer. There was no internet, world wide web, or email besides primitive messaging for people with rare access to mainframe computers, which is the only kind of computer that existed. There were no cell phones or smart phone, much less wrist watch computers (something we only saw in Dick Tracy cartoons). My first encounter with a flat screen TV was in a short story written by Ray Bradbury called "The Veldt" that he wrote in the early 50's and I read at age 12 in 1964. No digital cameras of course. Nonetheless, I took a year of computer programming in 1971 because the problem solving of using Fortran interested me (I had to punch my own cards and wait a day for the guy behind the glass booth to hand me a foot of bi-fold paper printout because I made one error in the code!). Later in my life the same curiosity lead me to become an IT consultant for heath care systems struggling with newly mandated electronic records, not to mention using PhotoShop which was invented by two of my Ann Arbor neighbors. My point is, you never know what life will present you with--technological change, who you fall in love with, where you will move to, who you sit next to on a plane, when you will lose your job and then miraculously, end up doing something you love much more! You have to keep you eyes, brain and heart open to what life puts in front of you and then have the courage to follow a new path where it leads you.

I once saw this saying on a slide during a presentation someone was giving about managing change in a stressed organization: "When one door closes another one opens. But, sometimes there's Hell in the hallway!".

RE:
"our seventh-grade trip to the Gettysburg battlefield"

If you can't find them, I have some from my Brownie Hawkeye (circa 1955) that you can have. Mostly cannons, I think. I have them here... somewhere close, I'm sure.

These two columns, back to back, are wonderful. Like you, some of my "what went right" experiences include starting early (shooting and developing B&W at the age of 16; looking at lots of good pictures (in my case, in the photobook section of our main libraries); and getting some encouragement from peers and knowledgeable elders) but there is one thing that I've ruminated about many times and it could go into either column: whether I should have "turned pro" when I had the chance.

When I was in my '20's (back in the 1980's) I had finished my undergrad Geography degree, was working in a map library, and I was shooting lots in my spare time (which I had lots of). I was hanging around the punk/new wave scene, taking portraits of club-goers in dark back alleys, and so on. And I started to seek out and talk to working pros and also enquired at the photo program at a vocational college. But in the end, I went back to grad school to become a Map Librarian.

Now, looking back 35 years later, I think that it would have been a hard slog as professional. The work that pays seems to have changed so drastically. My personal style has always been quirky so probably wouldn't have helped (but I don't really know that for sure). I'm at the young end of the baby boom so I would always seem to be competing against more experienced colleagues.

On the other hand, although I never became a "Map" librarian, I worked in interesting jobs that allowed me to travel lots and I always took my camera. Many times, as I drove from one small town to another during a work trip, I could stop and wander some interesting place with my camera, free to shoot whatever I fancied, not what someone told me to shoot (and yet I was paid for the trip!). I joined a few clubs and was able to exhibit in a few Salons so I could show my work that I was personally happy with. And now, as I get close to retirement I can still shoot whatever I want and I have a large archive that I'm trying to organize and decide what my first retirement projects will be.

Gee, I guess that sounds like that fact that I did not turn pro definitely falls into the "what I did right" category, doesn't it? But every once in a while I page through a book by someone from my generation and I think, "hmmm, I wonder if I could have been there and done that".

(And actually, the lone cannon, "ill composed" shot, is my favorite.)

24 "bases?"

One thing I did right was to undertake your prescription in the "Digital Variant" column of late 2015. Shoot daily, with the same camera and prime lens, and make a prints of the work. From Chicago, shooting daily, I quickly learned that I could not go to "picturesque" places like Lake Geneva, Starved Rock, Galena, or even the the shore of Lake Michigan. So, I started doing morning walks to a repertoire of coffeehouses. It changed the way that I shoot. I became more comfortable shooting people. In fact I actively wanted people in my photographs. And I learned to seek and appreciate good light.
This resulted in a November 2019 exhibit that I titled "I Took My Camera Out for Coffee".
Thanks Mike
P.S. With the pandemic and the closing of coffeehouses, I am still adrift trying to find new subject matter.

“... handle the work with white cotton gloves ...” . I see that so often on TV, people handling centuries old unique manuscripts wearing white gloves and usually talking to camera. No one seems to worry about the saliva spray as they breathe or talk. I wonder if this coronavirus pandemic will make them think again?

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