Conversations around photography
My name is David, and I’ll be your host here in a photo-oriented, community-building excursion, where we’ll be looking at different kinds of connections through the lens of photography.
I love taking photos, talking about photos, and looking at photos other people have taken. I’ll show you some of my photos here, and offer you opportunities to show yours off, too. I’ll also gladly share what I’ve gleaned about running a high-end portrait studio, something I’ve been doing for thirty years.
I’d known from very early on that I wanted to earn my living doing something I loved, and something that didn’t require wearing a tie or sitting at a desk. Photography filled the bill. It captivated me early, in childhood, and continues to hold my attention both as a way of making a living and as a part of other creative pursuits.
My childhood ambition involved traveling the world for National Geographic Magazine. I was also powerfully drawn to black and white portraiture. I started out processing my own pictures–that’s what photography was in the sixties–so my photography world was written largely in black and white.
The one thing I was sure that I did not want was to operate a retail (business-to-consumer) portrait studio, like the one in my home town.
Ideally, I wanted to become a writer/photographer. My vision for that was to hang out with interesting people, interview them, take compelling pictures of them in their own environments, and then write articles based on those interviews. Magazine-style profiles.
I did shoot assignments for magazines for about ten years, based in the Chicago area, and I enjoyed getting out, seeing new things, and meeting the people these magazines were writing about. I particularly liked going into manufacturing settings and seeing how things were made. I tried a lot of other ways of making money with my camera, too, everything from architectural interiors to actors’ headshots.
During this time I had a couple of opportunities to do the kind of writer/photographer profile work I’d aspired to. I published several artist’s profiles in a Chicago newspaper called Strong Coffee, and a half dozen or so for a photographer’s trade magazine called The Loupe. Those experiences really lit me up, but they were unpaid.
From the mid-eighties into the early nineties, more and more of my assignment work involved shooting for tech magazines like PC week, and coming up with visually interesting ways of photographing middle-aged white guys wearing neckties, sitting at (or holding) computers. All my work was on location, which was hard on my body and hard on my equipment.
In the early nineties, a number of things flowed together in ways I could not have planned. I found a little corner store to live in that also provided me with open space to try out studio lighting. I got a puppy, named him Zane!. I started inviting interesting people in so that I could practice black and white portraiture. I blew a disc in my lower back and had to take several months off of location work for surgery and rehab.
About that puppy. At the tail end of a magazine shoot in my corner store, I invited Zane! out onto my backdrop and shot a single roll of film of him with an old, twin-lens Rolleiflex. Marge Gibbs, our puppy class teacher, looked thoughtfully at an 8x10 I’d pulled from that session and said, simply, “you could make a lot of money doing this”. That got me thinking. I ran some ads.
I had long admired Marc Hauser’s black and white portraits, which first came to my attention when he did the photography for John Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album, so I chose Marc to interview for the Loupe. He talked very little about photography, and a lot about self-promotion.
Out of that interview, and an unexpected call from a local TV news producer who’d seen my ad and put me on the morning news, grew the idea to make me the dog guy.
I like a good counter-addage. We’ve all heard the admonition to not put all our eggs in one basket. One writer, writing about investing, offered this: Put all of your eggs in one basket, and watch that basket.
Making a clear decision to focus on one thing, to put all of my eggs in one basket, changed everything. Up to that moment, professionally, I had always felt that I was swimming against the current, working hard and not moving forward. When I made the decision put all my eggs in one basket, to commit to one thing and to stick to it, it was as if I turned around and started swimming with the river.
“I did not mean to become a “dog photographer.” Then one day, trudging against the undertow of a relationship's recent end, I met an eight-week-old border collie/cattle dog mix. I took him home, named him Zane!, and things began to shift. Important things. His presence in my life and my commitment to his care set the stage for a series of developments I could not have predicted.” (read: For Zane! full story)
I have been lucky enough now to have supported myself and a number of other people with my photography for four decades. It’s a love-fest if ever there was one. I’m repeatedly surprised at how much I continue to enjoy the work that pays my bills–photographing people with their pets–and at how often I turn to photography in my spare time as well.
A few years back I met a lovely young man named Ryan who, when I told him what I did for a living, told me that he “used to be a photographer”.
It was the first time I’d considered the possibility of a post-photographer future for myself. I’ve come to SubStack in part because at sixty five, I aspire to “used to be” a photographer, and I can see that happening soon.
I may never be done with photography, but in the not-too-distant future, I plan to relieve photography of the responsibility of feeding me and making my mortgage payments. But I have learned a lot along the way, and I’d love to be able to pass the torch, or maybe a handful of little torches, as I move into my next chapter. I’m here to mentor, if I may be so bold, and to learn as I write.