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My Photography Career — a short story

My photography career started with my sister’s trip to Russia. I was a supportive but jealous seventh grader. She was going to be a “student ambassador” representing the United States and traveling beyond the former “iron curtain.” That seemed really cool. I decided that when my chance came, I too would travel abroad.

After she returned with great fanfare from my parents and family we listened to her stories about the KGB escorting them around the Soviet Union and some boy nearly getting arrested, etc. Then the shocker that would years later, spawn my photographic career. After two weeks of waiting for anywhere from 20-30 rolls of film to be developed, we received the devastating news – not a single image had turned out. Not one.

No one could figure it out – not even my uncle who started Proex had an answer. She had used my dad’s “nice” camera – but maybe didn’t really know how to use it? Or something was wrong with it? Or the lens? No answer ever really came. She got some copies from friends on the trip, we all felt bad for her and didn’t bring it up.

Years after this debacle, I was living in Portland, OR attending Lewis & Clark College. It was the end of my sophomore year. The summer was ahead of me and beyond that, my junior year abroad. My father, potentially still affected by my sister’s blown photographic experience in Russia, bought me a brand new Canon EOS Elan and I was required to take a class. So that summer I learned how to use a camera, earned a very easy “A” and went to live in Germany.

During my year abroad, I was as much of a camera-toting tourist as a person could be — never putting it down. When I returned to the U.S. to finish college, my love affair with photography was well underway.

After graduation, I had many and at times very “unique” jobs in the photography field. My first (and worst job of my life) was as a glamour shots photographer. The hair and make-up girls sent through legions of very non-glamorous women from the farthest reaches of rural Oregon and Washington wrapped creatively in varying colors of shiny metallic fabric. I did learn how to pose people and communicate effectively what I wanted them to do – chin up, right shoulder down, etc.

Following that, I worked at a professional processing lab where I learned the significance of color correcting and tonal balancing in making professional quality prints. This has proven to be an invaluable skill that I use every day – seeing good color and knowing how to get it is something every photographer needs to thoroughly understand.

There were other important building-block jobs along the way — a contributing photo editor position at CitySearch, a five year photo and sales position that took me out and into people’s homes (which produced incredible stories on a daily basis) but by far, the greatest opportunity I had was not a job, but to be a member of Photoworks Northwest.

Photoworks NW was a photographers’ co-opt in Portland, OR created by Cherie Hiser, a well-respected local photographer who had deep roots in the world of photography. She had started the group as a life-project. She organized, built-out and leased a large warehouse space for photographers to come together, critique one another, display work, have an accessible darkroom, shared lights, hold workshops, host visiting artists etc.

As a novice 25-year-old photographer, I was very shy and quiet because I was clearly out of my league. (Although I did use the darkroom more than anyone else.) The other members were accomplished fine-art photographers, commercial shooters and in some cases experimental photographers creating amazing and awe-inspiring work. Exposure to that group continues to influence me especially because some of the members have gone on to become major contributors to the field of photography in the United States.

In 2003 I moved back to Minnesota with the plan of starting my own studio. The previous ten years had taught me much of what I needed to know and I needed to start photographing people the way I felt it should be done. For me this is being “real” with my subjects like the great photojournalists and street photographers — capturing expressions and moments that you can relate to but also to create beautiful images like the polished commercial shooters. Then throwing it all up in the air for some really creative shots that you just weren’t expecting – like the experimental artists that were so inspiring.

In a nutshell, this is the life that has formed me, has made me who I am and how I shoot. My path is still winding with new people and influences always coming along — for which I am humble and grateful. For me, photography knows no bounds, dares me to find them, is full of surprises and I love it.

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