My Photographic History & Experience
A Master Photographer and Circkles Photography Owner:
How can I possibly squeeze over 30 years and a lifetime of experience into just a couple of paragraphs that today’s audience has to be able to read in 5 seconds or less? I can’t. In order for you, the viewer, to know how I became a Master Photographer, and to realize all of my ability in knowledge, skills, and experience, you have to know my history. So here it goes.
Since I was 6 years old, I was trying to capture what I saw in life with a pencil, sketch pad, and oil paint. I read books on art, took every art class in school, and became very accomplished by the time I was a teenager. My art teachers entered a few of my pieces in a local college competition because they believed they were that good. I even won a blue ribbon for one piece. I always knew I was destined to be an artist, and by the time I was old enough to understand what career choices were available to artists, I studied and perfected my skills as much as possible.
When I was 14 years old, my parents gave me my first camera for Christmas. It was a simple point-and-shoot 126 format popular at that time. No camera settings, no ability to change lenses, just aim and shoot. From that moment on, I was a photo junkie. I read photo magazines and books to learn as much as I could. No internet back then. My high school photography class was what sent me to the point of no return. Once I learned everything I needed to know in that class, and learned darkroom work, being able to record life in 5 seconds with just the click of a shutter was far superior to spending hours and days drawing or painting it. Soon my 126 camera wasn’t good enough and I pestered my parents for a 110, because they were all the rage back then for their compact size. You could stuff them in your pocket and take them anywhere. However, after having learned how much more was involved in photography from my photo class and a spectacular teacher named Mr. LeGrey, with all the different types of equipment, lenses, techniques, and now darkroom experience, there was no way a little point and shoot was going to satisfy my newly discovered way to capture life and freeze it for all eternity.
Our school library would let us check out 35mm SLR film cameras for a day. This was my first taste of going 35mm and doing my own thing. When I felt confident enough, I became the school photographer for the yearbook and school newspaper. At the age of 18, I saved up all of my babysitting money and drove for an hour to the closest camera store to purchase my first 35mm SLR, a Nikon FE, which I still have to this day. I was passed the point of no return.
I shot weddings and portraits for friends and family for free, building up my portfolio. However, in the small Northern Wisconsin town where I grew up, photographic jobs were scarce and there were not any photo labs for miles, so I had to send all of my film out to be developed, often taking 1-2 weeks before I could see the results. Realizing that staying in such a limited pool of photographic opportunities would squelch my photo career, I knew I would have to move to someplace bigger and better. When I was around 15-16 years of age, I wrote to National Geographic Magazine and asked them what I would need to become a photographer for them. I was certain I wanted to be a nature photographer. They were gracious enough to actually respond back with what my achievements would have to be to reach their level of photographic excellence. A college degree was in order, and a vast amount of experience, so I moved to a larger city to start college courses in photographic communications. I had to pay my own tuition, and what I really wanted was to attend the Chicago School of Art and Photography. This school is very expensive, and I was in need of a more full-time steady income if I ever hoped to attend. Plus, being on my own, there were bills to pay.
Photography has been the One Constant in my Life
Unfortunately, life happened. I met someone and got married, and thus my goal to work for National Geographic got sidetracked by real life. I never stopped taking photos or being a photographer though, I just put going to school for it on hold a bit. In a way, I am glad I did, because, during that time, I learned some invaluable real-world experience you just can’t get in any school. I worked for several local photo labs as a professional custom color printer, doing darkroom work for professional wedding photographers, real estate, nature, and architectural photographers. I learned a great deal from just observing their techniques in the real working world of photography and being able to talk to professionals over the checkout counter once a week – as required by my boss. Little did they know that I was picking their brains to later become their competition. I loved darkroom work, and was very good at it, quickly becoming the senior darkroom technician in the last lab I worked for. I was printing Cibachrome from slides as well as color prints from 120, 220, and 4×5 format cameras. I had darkroom work perfected by my mid-20s. Unfortunately, this also meant I was at the peak of my pay grade, and if I wanted to make more money, another alteration in my photo career was going to have to take place. I was also getting concerned about my long-term exposure to carcinogenic darkroom chemicals. I later found out my concern was valid when one of my colleagues developed lung cancer after working in a lab for 11 years.
Following my instincts, I got a job as a sales rep for a big city camera store and I loved it. Mostly because I had a terrific boss and employer who taught me a great deal about equipment. My employment allowed me to check out all the latest camera gear – and I had to know it inside out and backward in order to sell it to customers. Not a problem for me, since I was so interested in it anyway, it wasn’t much like work for me. The biggest perk being my employee discount on equipment which allowed me to start building up my camera gear. This particular store also decided that with the changing times, it was going to have to sell video and computer equipment to keep up with consumer demand. Thus, I also had to learn a great deal about video equipment and computers as part of my job. I sold the very first consumer-grade Apple computer when it first hit the market. Then, the Apple II, Apple IIGS, and later….the king of computers and the one that changed the world: the first Mac. We also sold IBM (PC) computers, but at this time, Apple was the new kid on the block and giving IBM a definite run for its money. The two companies were in fierce competition with each other for many years, and just trying to keep up with all the changes in computer technology in its infancy was a huge challenge I hated DOS, it was so slow and complete brain damage to try and work with. When the Mac came about, it completely changed the game for computers and software. And for me.
Once my husband and I had gotten our life somewhat in order and we were doing fairly well, I decided it was time to go back to school and finish what I had started with a degree in something. Much to my dismay and utter disappointment, this was about the same time that conventional film photography was being replaced with digital. Photo labs were going out of business right and left because there was no longer a need for them. The professional lab I was currently working for decided to close their doors as well. My world came crashing down around my ears. I never thought in a million years that photography would cease to exist. Become extinct like the dinosaurs. I had to make a life-altering decision in order to pay the bills.
I had some money saved up and my husband’s business was well underway, so I decided to go back to college with a slight change in plans. I would study graphic design and illustration instead of photography because the employment prospects for graphic artists were vastly more promising, and with my computer knowledge, it would be a smart move. While I did get a Bachelor’s degree in Illustration and graphic design that led to a career in advertising and publishing, I never gave up photography as a sideline gig: freelance work was my solution for years to my need for a creative outlet. By this time, I was enthralled with large-format photography: 8×10 studio work. I found my true love shooting product and doing portfolio pieces for interior designers and models. 8×10 format photography is the ultimate in creativity and quality. To this day, there is nothing to beat it. The only drawback being that the equipment is extremely heavy and nearly impossible to haul up and down mountains for nature photography and useless to capture wildlife with; two subjects I was still heavily involved with if for no other reason than to satisfy my personal likes and needs.
I was completely disappointed in the lack of quality of the first digital cameras to hit the market, and I refused to purchase one for at least 5 years after they had become popular. Eventually, it became inevitable that I would have to make yet another change to my photography desires to suit what was available. My first digital camera was garbage. At that time, the best they could do was 4 megapixels. It was horrible compared to the quality of sharpness and rich color I was used to getting out of film. I lost my desire to pursue it any further for many years until they finally started to improve the picture quality, then I decided I would give digital photography a serious try. This meant I was going to have to replace my lifetime collection of film SLRs with digital equipment and autofocus lenses. Learning how to shoot within digital’s limitations was also quite a challenge. The entire photographic industry had to adapt and learn new equipment and techniques all over again. Lucky for me, the computer has become one of a photographer’s most valuable tools today. When I look back now, it seems my entire life was destined to follow the exact path that it did. To lead me exactly where I needed to go. Even if I didn’t realize it then, I am so thankful for all the changes I was forced to make now, because they gave me a background and experience very few, if any, photographers have, which ultimately gives me quite an edge over most of my competition. My marketing and advertising history have become a huge resource for keeping me competitive and above the crowd with my target market.
My graphic design career in publishing and advertising also turned out to be a major disappointment and not at all what I expected to find. Once again, I was at the top of my game in graphic design, working for a newspaper designing ads and the layout for a weekly publication. Being on a weekly deadline was pretty stressful, but here is where I learned a great deal about myself, and thankfully, I’m the type of person who actually excels under pressure. I mastered deadlines and the newspaper and graphic design world, and once again, topped out on the pay scale for that profession. This was not the issue I had with my new graphics career however, it was the total lack of any creative freedom. You would think graphic design would be one of the most creative careers a person could choose, but the reality is, I was nothing more than a puppet on a string, a robot, putting someone else’s ideas into digital form. The people in the industry who had the least creative knowledge, like sales reps, were the ones designing the ads. Drawing them out on pieces of paper to have me turn them into a digital image. No creative input or expression was allowed in any of my graphic design jobs, and I quickly became burned out and washed up as my creative outlet was destroyed by multitasking, hyper-marketing techniques that had no interest whatsoever in creativity. They were all about the bottom line. One day when my publisher was fired by Corporate and replaced with a ruthless, cutthroat, hyena whose only purpose was to keep that almighty bottom line satisfied, myself and the rest of the management staff quit. Which was actually a blessing in disguise, because now I was in a position to work for myself and do things my way. I started my own graphic design and marketing business using my photography for all the images my clients needed and for an online magazine that I was the editor of. I had finally landed where I wanted to be. Then life happened… again.
I had the perfect life, the perfect career, the perfect house, and what I thought could have been a perfect marriage, but that was not 100% my doing. My husband turned out to be a raging narcissist who drove me into the ground mentally and physically and after 30 years of it, I finally realized how abusive the entire marriage had been and had to get out in order to save my own sanity. Literally. Thus, we come to the almost- current time in my life; the recreation of myself, my entire life, and my career, once again. After a brutal relationship and an even worse divorce, I’m happy to say, I have found myself, and my life, and landed where I want to be career-wise. Hopefully to stay.
One thing non-creatives don’t get about creatives is this…we have to be allowed to be creative. We cannot be stifled, bullied, or marketed into giving up our creative desires because they are really a need. We need to be creative. It is not a want, a wish, a desire, a folly. This is the way we are mentally built. And to deny ourselves of having any type of creative outlet is death to our very souls. What makes us who we are. Intellectuals will never understand that. They can’t. Because they aren’t…creative in the least. One of my professors once told me you cannot teach creativity; a person is either born with it or they are not. And this is absolutely true. Creatives have a different way of looking at the world around them and expressing it. When the latest curriculum fad was for all the grade schools to take art of any kind out of their curriculums, it felt like sudden death to all creativity. The professional world had deemed art and being creative as a worthless pursuit. So worthless that it wasn’t worth having in schools and teaching to children. The only fit professions to teach were now business oriented. Little did they realize, until about 5 years later, what a mistake that was. We “creatives” actually have a worthwhile use, and they, the business-minded world, cannot succeed without us. Why? Because they need us to provide artistic services such as graphic design and photography for advertising and marketing purposes. Something every business, no matter what it is, cannot survive without.
So, now we arrive at the present day. I am at a point in my life where I no longer have to work just to pay the bills, I can do whatever I want. And I’ve come to realize that what I want is the career in photography I was more or less denied in my early years. I’m going back to what I have always loved most in the world to do: fulfill and enrich my creative soul with the tools I have perfected for more than 30 years and the techniques I have mastered along the way. When I realized that photography is the only thing in my entire life I can do day in and day out and never grow tired of, bored with, or feel used and abused by the corporate world doing, it was a no-brainer. Photography has been the one and only constant in my life. And now, the world is my pallet, and the camera, my brush.