Like a lot of people on this site, I've been a photographer pretty much my whole life. When I was a kid, my dad was an amateur, and had a couple of small home darkrooms. I was always messing around with hand me down cameras, and I learned how to process and print when I was pretty young. By the time I got to my teens--I was interested in being a journalist--I got a night job at a local paper ( the largest paper in the state actually, so it wasn't a small paper).
I worked first as a copy carrier, then by the time I was in high school, I had begun working the weekends as a stringer for the photo dept. I eventually had a locker, assigned cameras and everything. I did the newspaper thing for a total of about 6 years off & on. I joined the NPPA when I was 17 and have been in ever since.
I studied photojournalism actually--but somehow along the way, I found myself working in labs, working as an assistant, etc. I tried my hand with freelance work. Living in Chapel Hill, around the time of the second wave of college music coming out of NC (mid 80s)...well, I wound up shooting a lot of the music scene stuff and somehow got into doing album packaging and promo work as well. But it was always very much like working from the trunk of my car or out of my domke bag more or less....makeshift studios and the like--very hard for me to make a living doing it. I shot probably almost 20 albums in that time period, and got a couple of big breaks--did a couple of jobs for rolling stone & spin for example, and got in with a label that was eventually bought by Atlantic--but I never had a formal studio, and it was just not happening for me. My biggest client of sorts--signed to a major, major label--and switched all the shooting out to LA actually, and so I lost that as well...mainly because of a lack of a formal studio. I never thought that their later photos were actually any better or worse than what I did, it was very much the same--only their budgets were like 100 times what mine was. So--I was always looking for work, and working other crap jobs to pay the bills as well (I became a stat camera operator & did prepress).
One day I was in a camera store, and a wedding photographer I knew bumped into me and told me about hearing of a job working as lab tech in a museum printing b/w....I interviewed and got the job. I worked part time at first--and this was great, because I made enough to live actually, but then I had the rest of the week off and could pursue my music stuff. Eventually I started working full time, and then another staff position opened as a shooter (in addition to two others at the time)--so I applied for that--got it. When I interviewed for the position--I was actually up against a couple of really qualified candidates. In the end, I think what did it for me was one of the requirements was to operate this new process camera they had gotten...and since I had worked in prepress just to make ends meet....well, I got lucky.
So--it's now at about 14 years for me. A lot has changed in the outside world--those newspaper jobs have drastically changed. I've had a quite a few friends lose their jobs due to digital--either in labs or as shooters--they either couldn't make the transition, or they wouldn't. My world has been slowly going through the same changes, but I'm still shooting film, and making prints. I'm still shooting the same stuff the press does, often times right alongside them. Which is why I'm still in the NPPA.
My goal is to work my 25 yrs and then retire. I don't think I'll be able to make it without going totally digital at some point though, but that's just life. I have always been a photographer, and just about every job I've ever had has been in the business. I'd be at a loss to figure out what else I could do to be honest, so I consider myself lucky to have found a stable part of the profession to work in. I get good benefits, and I'm vested as well. When I retire, I'll have a pension, and if I make my time--I'll be relatively young. I'm hoping at least Ilford will still be around, so I can catch up on my printing in my own darkroom.....