A Photographer's Education

A Photographer's Education


It takes hard work to be a photographer. Here’s one story; what’s yours?

“Dropped out of high school aged 16, got my own apartment in Sparks,
Nevada, in parking lot behind hourly motel that hookers and crackheads

Applied to Parsons School of Design in NYC, but could not raise the funds to go.

Moved to Minneapolis with girlfriend whose lifelong absent mother had
resurfaced offering to make amends by sending her to college. Showed
portfolio of paintings to Minneapolis College Of Art And Design, only
to have portfolio reviewer close it in disgust, saying it was
misogynistic. Girlfriend’s mother reneged on college offer. Screwed.

Picked up first camera at the age of 22, as research tool to aid
paintings: a used Nikon FG with 50mm f1.8 and rubber lens hood. $250.
All my money.

Intrigued with the alchemy of photography, began photo education with
books. Taught myself Zone System with Ansel Adam’s “The Negative” and
“The Print”. Begged and borrowed time in other photographer’s darkrooms
to practice technique. Bought Minolta Digital Spot Meter F, brand new,
to perfect Zone System. $500. All my money again.

Got job in one-hour mini lab in Saint Paul to teach myself color
printing and get discount on film. Saved all my money and bought a
darkroom through mail order in NYC. Beseler 23CII with Dual Dichro
color head, and supporting trays, timers, easels, etc. $2500. More than
my car at the time.

Got job at Ritz Camera to learn different cameras and maintain film
discount. Began teaching myself color printing at home. First home
studio consisted of a raw basement space, lighting was cheap plastic
architect lamps from Target strapped to the ceiling supports. Backdrop
was a black army surplus tarp.

Got a job at West Photo, a pro camera store in Minneapolis, to teach
myself pro equipment and get a discount on high-end gear and darkroom
materials. Took advantage of the “Employees rent free on weekends”
policy and took out a studio full of gear each weekend to do test
shoots and learn what everything did. Owner, claiming overuse,
cancelled benefit. Bought my first “pro” cameras, a Nikon N90s and
Mamiya RZ67, used. Bought first studio strobes, an ancient Norman
P2000D set.

Got fired from West Photo for absenteeism, lateness, and bad attitude when they tried to make me wear a uniform and name tag.

Began custom printing for photographers in Minneapolis, BW and color.
Began assisting. Began shooting model agency portfolios every winter in
Miami. Began shooting small local advertising and design jobs in

Moved to New York. Assisted for “big” photographers. Shot small gigs
here and there, mostly editorial. Got my “break” when I was hired as
Seventeen Magazine’s staff photographer. Never assisted again.”

photo and text by Clayton Cubitt.

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  1. briancorll at 9:06 pm

    A Photographer’s Education – My Story Began painting at the age of 14. Desparately wanted to go to art school but got hoodwinked into going the liberal arts route. Applied to Vassar, got accepted with a full boat of financial aid in the first freshman class of men. Majored in art history with a “minor” (Vassar had no minors) in drama, special interest in scene design. Took what studio art classes existed at the time, all of them in my freshman year. Spent the next three years desparately wanting to leave Vassar. Made a good friend in the form of a Viet Nam veteran who was a film major. Rick took me along on shoots as his assistant, and loaned me his Nikon and Sekonic meter to get started with B&W film. Worked with a succession of borrowed cameras until 1982 when I picked up a Minolta SRT-201 (loved that camera, still have it, still works fine) and a few prime lenses. Read everything I could, both technique and history of photography: Adams, Evans, Stieglitz, Atget, Smith, WeeGee, you name ’em, I learned about them. Began doing my own darkroom work and created a huge pile of fiber-based prints (ah…those 6-hour washouts starting at 3 AM, with a 6-pack on ice). After several years and several cameras put photography aside until my wife bought me a digital P+S. Went through several of those and then bought Canon SLR equipment. Now using 540D and L-series lenses, will soon have the 1Ds Mark III. I do nature photography, rarely people, preferring botanical subjects, animals, and landscapes to people. I don’t need photos of people. I see them every day ! Oh, yes, I’m painting again too. The camera for realism, paint for the love of paint.

  2. Brian Faini at 10:33 pm

    I am still waiting the day I can say. “Never assisted again.” Rachel, Thanks for filling voids in my day by finding some rather interesting items regarding the world of photography. Went to art school at 17. Drawing, painting, sculpture, design… This continued for two years. During the first year I got my hands on a Minolta XE-7 with 50mm f1.4 and 2xtele from a thrift store for $35. Started teaching myself everything I could and weaseling my way into situations and places to further my knowledge. Now it is what I eat, sleep and breath. Years later I am a staff photog with a small daily paper. Each day is spent attempting prevent it from sucking the life out of me. I took the job because it paid me to do what I love. Galleries weren’t cutting it and here in the South they are few and far between. The only reason I get up in the morning. To capture something. Maybe someone else will care for it… If that happens it will only make my day better.

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