In the beginning.
I have had an interest in art from the earliest I can remember. My best friend and I used to draw pictures for our favorite teacher when I was in grade school. In middle school I really enjoyed printmaking and lino-cuts. When I got to high-school I focused most of my creative energy in learning photography but still drew daily and kept sketchbooks. Pen and ink was my favorite medium at the time. I was blessed to have an incredible teacher for yearbook staff and I spent much of my free time in the darkroom learning and experimenting. I was not a diligent student when it came to core classes and I found memorizing new data to be boring. Throughout high school my focus was on art, band, music and athletic pursuits. Unfortunately, academic classes were not high on my interest list, I will get into why a bit later.
I started working at a local mom and pop drug store (which are now almost a thing of the past). The camera department was my area. While there was a lab service, the film was sent out for processing and printing. It was a great job for a high school kid who wanted to geek-out on all-things photography. I was only there for a year when an uncle of my best friend asked me if I wanted a job. He had just started a printing company and part of his initial business plan included black and white as well as color print and color slide processing. What an amazing opportunity that turned out to be. This man was key in my life for helping me to develop a love for fine art and graphic art. I processed hundreds of rolls of film, worked with ruby lith, high contrast BW sheet film, learned the silk-screening process, ran an offset press and learned binding as well. One of the best gifts he gave me was introducing me to gum bichromate and other non-silver, old school printing techniques like cyanotypes, van-dyke brown, salt, platinum/palladium and a host of other fine art printing techniques. I was learning about the graphic art and fine art world and figuring out the differences between fine art photography and photo-journalism. This was 1976, I was 16 and that job, that experience, directed the course of my life.
Graduating and Next steps
Graduating high school is a milestone in most people’s life. Mine was no exception, I was looking forward to starting the next adventure. I knew I wanted to be a photographer so I looked at photography schools. At that time Brooks Institute of photography was one of the top schools in the nation but it was out of my reach for a number of reasons, first being money. Even if I had the money it is likely that I would not have been accepted because of my very low gpa. Strong portfolio but poor grades. Listening to the advice of the school counselor who told me I would not be a photographer as I was certainly NOT college material, I looked for other venues. I was not willing to give up on my dream of being a photographer. One of the top photography educational systems that kept coming up in my research was the Naval School of Photography. I went and talked with the recruiter who obviously told me I needed to be a Boatswains mate, another words a deck seaman. Nothing wrong with a deck seaman but it didn’t line up with my goals at all. I continued to pester him about being a photographer, after several trips to see him he decided I wouldn’t go away. He finally told me I had to test first to see what I “qualified” for. The Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) was/is one of the ways they determine what jobs one might be suited for. While I don’t remember the exact score, I know the first time I took it that I bombed. I was barely eligible to even get in the Navy let alone to get a job I wanted. I was not willing to commit four to six years of my life doing something I had no interest in so I decided I would study and take the test again. I honestly had never really studied for anything before, I don’t remember taking home a single book in high-school that didn’t have something to do with art, music or athletics. I enlisted the help of my boss, the wise one. He showed me how to focus on studying for each part of the test and most importantly showed me how those areas were used in and relevant to art and photography. Navy, here I come. The ASVAB score came back in the top 10 percent so I could get the photographer job that I wanted. I had to wait nine months for a slot top open up but I was in. I learned several important lessons with this, primarily failure is a part of the process. You will fail, often. When you fail, fail forward. Don’t listen to some knuckle-head when they tell you that you can’t accomplish your goals. Enlist the help of a mentor who genuinely cares about your success and your dreams. These lessons would serve me well in the years to come. Next-up, how the military and those I met there changed my life.