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Photography is a tough business. It's tough to make a living doing what you love in any case and photography as a business is no exception. Photography as a business in Hawaii is even tougher, especially for those of us without the personality & skill set to work in the largest segment of the photographic industry here in the islands... the wedding industry.
At the very start of my career as a photographer, I decided I wanted to see my work published in magazines. Weddings weren't my cup of tea so I chose the commercial route. I should also mention here that at that time, I had absolutely no experience, no equipment, no money, and barely knew how to load film (yes, I'm old... we used film back in those days) into a camera. I was 30 years old at the time. I had a couple of careers previously, working in both the mental health business and the music industry along with a whole bushel load of other McJobs that kept me fed and sheltered. I was unfulfilled to say the least.
It was just a short years after moving to Maui, mainly to be able to surf year round, that I met a guy who was to become my teacher & mentor. He was THE GUY when it came to local advertising photographers here on the island. His work was quite creative and seen everywhere. I had always admired the work of photographers, had always thought photography appeared to be a great way to make a living but for some reason, had never attempted to dabble with it myself. Anyway, I became...em, er, uh... friends with this guy for lack of a better word to describe our relationship which was quite complicated and seldom truly friendly. After getting to know him and having the opportunity to see him work, I remember thinking to myself "I could do this".
I also remember my wife breaking down in tears the day I brought home a used Canon A-1 bought from a sidewalk sale at the camera shop across from the restaurant where I was working at the time. The restaurant was about a week away from closing. I purchaed the camera for something like $90, came home and proudly announced that I was going to be a photographer. Of course, she thought (and rightly so based on experience) that I was off on another wild tangent that would loose my interest after a few months.
I love that old camera. I started shooting anything in sight. I also asked THE GUY if I could help him around his studio in exchange for some guidance. This was my first job as an assistant. I swept floors, set up lights, loaded film holders, kept wine glasses filled, anything to be around when the shooting action was taking place.
A few months later, I got up the nerve to show THE GUY some of my experiments with the camera and ask him for some direction and critique. This was the defining moment in my career. THE GUY looked at my first couple of pages of slides, quickly dropped them on the studio floor and slowly, dramatically began to grind his heel into the slides saying "hopeless... you're hopeless.." That was it! My first reaction was... "I'll show this guy..." . I set a goal for myself that very day. I had three years to learn, develop a body of work, a portfolio and some clients and be some sort of competition to THE GUY or move on. My entire career, it seems, was based on revenge. Not exactly a business model I would recommend to others contemplating photographic careers, but, hey... in the end it worked for me.
More than twenty years have now passed. THE GUY is no longer with us and I miss him. Photography has been a very rewarding as well as constantly challenging career. I can think of nothing I'd rather be doing. The camera has granted me access to places I would have never ventured otherwise, it has opened doors that would have otherwise remained shut and it has given my financial and spiritual sustenance over the years.