I am a photographer, have been my entire life. That may be an overstatement, but roaming the Ellwood City Public Library at age ten searching for something new to read, stumbling upon the photography books on the shelves was not overstated; Photography was what I needed to discover that day.
As a teenager, I continued to make both art and music. Still, photography offered me a perfect balance of technology with the camera and what I could capture with that little light grabbing machine.
“Photography is for rich people,” my father would tell me. He was a working-class steelworker, high school educated but never a book guy. Later I realized he had an innate sense to visualize entire mechanical processes in his mind’s eye, essentially seeing a process like an x-ray. I don’t think he ever understood his gift. But that visual balance he passed to me. And his passion for tools and processes. Photography is the perfect expression for a young boy who loves tools, techniques and learning how things work. My curiosity has served me well in my pursuit of photography.
My parents insisted that they would not buy me a 35mm camera; they did buy me for my 11th birthday a Kodak 110 Instamatic, not precisely what I was hoping for as a future photographer.
I wanted to make pictures like W. Eugene Smith, not family photos at my sisters’ birthday party. I guess I was entrepreneurial at the outset. Even before this time, I sold gardening seeds, magazines, and rocks even before the pet rock craze. I had a paper route for the News Tribune – still have the road slag in my knee when I had a tumble with my heavy newspaper delivery bag.
Those dollars and cents allowed me to enter the Caputo’s Department store to buy my first camera. One hundred fifty dollars might buy you a Minolta 202 with a 50 mm 1.8 lens, but it won’t buy much 35mm film even in 1979, let alone the processing. Although a bit skeptical, my father encouraged me to do my first professional assignment, the grand opening of the new Big Beaver Municipal building; my father was vice president of the council.
Off I went with my camera and some black and white film to document the new building and celebrate it. I still remember these men and women looking to me as professional photographers to make them and their buildings look good. I even recall the new carpet smell that day.
It was the beginning of many assignments to offset the film I needed to learn photography. My father was impressed with my commitment, offered to buy me an enlarger, and build a darkroom in the basement off from our laundry room.
Making money and making photographs is a complicated formula for a simple equation for me. I couldn’t have one without the other. Forty years later, I am still working on that equalizing that equation. However, the ever-changing world values these two factors differently. In the year 2020, I am evaluating my “new next thing” to see how I can keep my simple equation in balance.