While editing and doing some archiving, I found a disc of old images from my time working for the community newspaper in San Antonio. How humbling to see how I started off and what images I shot as a student and budding photographer.
I shot the Mexican dancers at a community event on the West Side of town. I remember being in love with this shot because of her loving reaction to her partner. She’s so happy. I photographed this event for the San Antonio Express News community newspaper, The Sun. Each district of town had their own edition so there was always something different to shoot.
So many times, I’ve seen how digital has changed the field of photography. Even more importantly, how cheap credit has allowed many people to purchase pro equipment and how digital has allowed the average flickr type to create amazing bodies of work. Now students and prosumers can compete with full-time professionals. I know I’ve talked about the old Nikon gear and manual focus lenses but I can’t stress how it was such a different time. There was no Photoshop, no Lightroom, no computers! Darkroom, stop bath, fixer. A steel can and reels. A red light bulb. It was so long ago and technologically speaking, it was truly the dark ages of modern photography.
What may have taken several hours to create can now be produced in seconds. I remember shooting an event like football or a late night press conference. I’d have to leave half way through to get back to a darkroom, develop film, print from the negative and make a 10 pm deadline. Now I’m shooting boxing matches and transmitting images in between rounds. I’m talking seconds to get an image from a digital camera into a laptop, process the raw file, caption it, and ftp’ed to a client. Seconds! And technology will eventually allow streaming images to be sent directly to an editor thousands of miles away as the photos are being shot. I mean they do that now with TV live feed so surely they will find away to get images on line immediately.
Whats more interesting is seeing how my professional career in Hawaii has evolved. How my views have changed…from portraits to street work. How I’ve visually grown. I constantly read art books. Study old paintings. Visually stimulate my senses so I can “see” when I put the camera to my eye. And its working. My timing is different, my angles are changing. My views are evolving. I try to look at images as paintings. I try to think of how a painter or sculptor would see a face or scene. My actions seems so far away from what I used to shoot.
The family above had parts of their home catch fire in San Antonio due to faulty wiring in a junction box. The family holds the box which caused the problem. (I think thats what happend!) The Sun Community Newspaper, 1997.
These images seem so long ago but when I view them, I can clearly see how I naturally had a vision but it wasn’t developed. It was raw, unexpected, and unreliable. I was just a kid with a few cameras and pocket full of film. Sure, I was in my 20s. I though I knew more than I did but couldn’t prove it. I knew I wasn’t good enough to get a staff job at the Dallas Morning News or the LA Times but I though if they gave me a chance, I could do it. The Express News gave me that chance but it was shooting for their community newspaper. It was really bad work on my end but in many ways, I think it was some of the best stuff around. I shot so many images of real life that it made me realize what life was about.
Lilly Tejeda is the mother of Frank Tejeda, a local politician who had high hopes but sadly died of cancer a some time after this picture was taken. His death was a loss to the Hispanic community as he might have gone to much higher positions. I remember going to her humble house on the South Side of San Antonio and asking her if we could take the photo of her and her son’s pictures. How much they looked like. Funny, this image still makes me sad. She held a brave face but she knew her loss.
How far I’ve come from the 90s to the 2010s. How arrogant I was to think I new so much but in reality I knew nothing. The base was there but the experience was not. So many kids and prosumers I’ve encountered over the years here in Hawaii and elsewhere seem to think because they have a digital camera, have a few images published here and there, they are equal or better than me or anyone who has shot for years. Maybe they are. If I had top digital cameras and technology back on my side in the 90’s, maybe I would have been just as good. But what they lack is experience. They don’t have any experience shooting high school plays, community dances, kid’s swim meets, or a local strawberry fair. I regularly would drive an hour or so out to the the middle of nowhere to shoot a portrait of man who raised a prized steer. All for about $25! There is lots to really say about starting from the bottom. It humbles you and makes you realize you don’t really know what the hell you are doing.
I shot an event for Reuters a few weeks ago and worked next to the Honolulu Star Advertiser’s senior photographer Craig Kojima. He’s in his 50’s or so but walks around like he’s a nobody. No attitude, no beef, no nothing. He wears those ridiculously stupid shoes that you can put your toes in…you know the ones! Ugh! He’s such a great guy and he knows how to shoot. After looking at his take the next day in the paper, I realized that experience trumped anything I did that day. He shot unbelievable images that I failed to see. And why was that? Experience. I called him a few days later and told him so. He laughed in that soft, fatherly way and denied he was any better. Yet he clearly has 20 plus years on me. Experience counts. Not workshops, or degrees, or attitude. Experience makes up for anything some stupid classroom can teach.
Would I go back and shoot the community newspapers again? As Sarah P would say, “you betcha!” In a Texas heart beat. Those were the best days of my learning photography years. From there, it just got more complicated, harder, and more depressing. Moving to New York essentially took all the romance out of what I though photography was. At the community newspaper, I was in a dream world. I thought this last Sun’s assignment would get me into the doors of National Geographic. I really did. And who’s to say it wasn’t going to happen? A youngster can dream, no?
So when George Lee comes knocking on your door to shoot a Pulse assignment, you might want to reconsider his offer. You just never know…