This is a great thread. It is amazing how many different paths people take to get them to their station. I’ve really been enjoying all the stories and feel like jumping in. Do I do the edited version? Or do I simply go with the Cliff’s Notes? Hmmm… Where to begin…
I had a Great Grandfather who owned one of the early portrait photography studios in Detroit. I’m not sure how early, but I have found a page in a city directory from the 1890’s with his studio address. Anyway, from this my Dad and his brothers had intense and varied interests in photography as well as all the gear to go with. Photography was just part of the family to me. One of my earlier memories was of this huge and fascinating contraption in my Uncle’s basement… a 4x5 enlarger. Needless to say it all stuck.
By age 12, I was mixing my own chemicals, processing my film and contact printing. (Still have the box). When finally in high school I was offered photography as an elective, I jumped at it. School paper and yearbook were next, then weekly newspapers when I got a driver’s license. I was like Les... there were literally thousands of little prints and tearsheets everywhere. (Unfortunately, I still have many of them as well!)
From there it was to college and the BFA, but not before dropping out for a stint in New York as an assistant. I had met a great photographer whom I had admired that had been brought to America from Ireland by none other than Richard Avedon in the early 60’s to assist. That was at a Fred Picker workshop in 1981. We hit it off and he invited me to come to NY and assist and print for him. I was gone in a second! New York offered a wonderful substitute for school and I learned more that year about photography and the business of it than any other period of my life. New York wasn’t for me though and I returned here to Michigan, finished school and built my own corporate/editorial business doing magazine and annual report work for the next 20 or so years. Oh yes… and A LOT of rock and roll work. How could I forget all that mess!
Like many of you, my personal work was what I was most interested in. I had been lucky enough in my high school years to have nearby one of the oldest photography galleries in the country… The Halsted Gallery. It gave me an appreciation of the greats and made me believe there was more to photography than the usual. I visited often and THAT is what I truly wanted to do. All the commercial work has been done with the idea it would fund my personal aspirations of being a “gallery” photographer. That was harder than I thought as it turns out. It is extremely hard to do both, but I kept the dream alive until finally getting the guts to take my work to Halsted. I was told they “didn’t handle local photographers” and that all my years as a commercial photographer meant nothing in the “fine art” world. I kept at it though and they finally took me on a temporary basis. Later that year, in New York, they sold the first print. It all got better from there and thankfully, has grown and expanded ever since. So far I have been very fortunate in being able to make the change to my more personal work, though I still do the occasional commercial job for old clients. Always hard to close the door on good money after struggling for so long! To this day it is hard for me to turn down a job.
Thanks for bearing with me if you made it this far! Sorry to be so long winded, but it was a good mind exercise to figure out just how I got here.
Keep up the stories!