The Beginning.
+ I'm a Warwick, N.Y. - based photojournalist with 50 years of experience, most recently as Director of Photography at the Times Herald-Record and long-time writer and photographer of the 845LIFE column. Now retired.
+ Long ago and far away, I trained under LIFE Magazine photographer Bernard Hoffman and began my newspaper career in 1972, shooting 6-7 assignments a day, souping prints in a crappy darkroom while eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Yup, I'm a Boomer.
+ That was when newspapers were black-and-white and Tri-X film was king. The other press photographers were grumpy old men who smoked too much, hid bottles of rum in the darkroom and grudgingly gave up secrets. I listened, learned and tried not to inhale.
+ Since then my full-time job has been creating photographs for newspapers in seven states including one of the smallest in New Mexico and one of the largest in New York City. I've shot U.S. presidents, high school, college and pro sports, famous musicians, boring politicians, the rich and famous and the poor and not-so-famous. I much prefer the latter.
+ If it matters to you, my work has won hundreds of awards, has been published around the world and can be seen every week in the TH-R and every other month in Orange Magazine. I've published four coffee-table sized photography books with one more ready to drop.

The Middle.
+ Once I thought I knew everything about photography when I was 30... and 40... and 50... and it turns out I didn't and I still don't.  Which is probably why George Bernard Shaw once wrote “youth is wasted on the young or something to that effect.
+ Because with photography, knowledge is cumulative and software offers few shortcuts.  Photographers need to have great imaginations, need to be experts in natural and artificial lighting, need to know their own capabilities and limitations of their equipment and then need to nail the shot quickly and get the hell out. (Didn't Ringo sing It Don't Come Easy?)
+ Photojournalists also need a great sense of humor, a vibrant personality and need to know a little bit about a lot. Because at times the job requires melting away and at other times it requires keeping subjects engaged through the lost art of conversation. Software, you may have noticed, doesn't help with any of that stuff.
+ Every photographer has their own style, so when I transitioned from film to digital in 2001, I kept the plan that composition is much more important than color and I still shoot that way: High-contrast, bold images with strong lines just like in the black and white days.
+ Decades ago, Bernard Hoffman told me that Everybody thinks photography is about equipment - it's not. When you point a camera at someone it might as well be a gun - they freeze. Good photographers make the subject forget about that gun and bad photographers don't. It's about having a personality, not having equipment.

The End.
+ Great photographs smack you right in the face and change your perception of the world. They capture emotion and take you to places you've never been. Which is why selfies are so awful - they reveal nothing. There are people preening and playing pretend in front of their smartphones, essentially faking their own lives. Using tiny plastic lenses, I might add.

+ So, George Bernard Shaw was definitely correct, Bernard Hoffman was probably correct and Ringo? Well, he's Ringo and he gets to sing whatever the hell he wants to sing.
+ You see, cameras are just tools, like a hammer or a scalpel. Professional usage requires professional experience. I get it: Technology has turned everyone into a make-believe photographer these days. I suppose I should be flattered, but I'm not. Because when everyone is a photographer - then nobody is actually a photographer.
+ Here's the disconnect: I was shooting a violinist and when she saw my photos she said: Those are amazing, you must have a great camera and me, completely annoyed, replied You make fantastic music, so you must have a great violin.Of course, she was offended. These days everyone is offended by everything.
+ Moral of the story: There are so many pretend photographers scamming people that it's criminal - or it should be. Good cameras don't take photographs - photographers do. Photography has ceased to be art and has become a commodity: It's a race to the bottom with the winner being the cheapest. Such is the case with all the visual arts.

The Truth Hurts:

1) Personality and experience are far more important than passion and software.
2) It's not the camera, it's who is behind the camera. You're not hiring a fabricated piece of metal, silicon and plastic, you're hiring the gray matter four inches behind the viewfinder.
3) Watching online videos and then pretending to be educated is not cool - in any field. 
4) You will always know more next week than you know this week. Well, hopefully.
5) Freelance is just another word for unemployed and faking it until you make it is not a viable business plan.
6) The best compliment one photographer can give another is: "I wish I took that shot." 
7) The dollar sign goes in front of the number - $79, NOT 79$. (And, sorry, you don't get to make up your own grammar rules.)
8) The most misspelled words in the English language: judgment, flotation, flue and gray. The most overused word: Literally it's literally. The most confused words: epic and mythic.
9) No, I won't fix it in PhotoShop.
10) The future just ain't what it used to be.
Famous Quotes
and my wise-ass response...

+ “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” - Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Yeah, but this applies to every job including singers, lawyers, actors and doctors.    At first you suck at whatever it is you're attempting. That's OK, experience matters. It's why we have colleges, trade schools and interns.”
+ If your pictures aren’t good enough you’re not close enough.” - Robert Capa.
“Robert Capa was considered to be the world's greatest war photographer but he was killed in 1954 when he stepped on a land mine. (So, maybe he got too close?)   In reality, if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not experienced enough.” (And stay away from landmines.)
+ “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” - Ansel Adams.
“The most important thing a photographer carries is a brain.”
+ “When I have a camera in my hand, I know no fear.” - Alfred Eisenstaedt.
“My mentor, Bernard Hoffman, was dropped behind enemy lines in World War II and spent 8 weeks with Merrill's Marauder's on assignment for LIFE Magazine. Of the 500 men, only 35 emerged from the jungle to be rescued and later - decades later - Bernie said to me: 'There was no risk, I had my press card!” That was Bernie. 
+ “The eye should learn to listen before it looks.” - Robert Frank.
The image should be in your brain before it appears in your viewfinder.”
+ “The painter constructs, the photographer discloses.” - Susan Sontag.
Photography is not a crime, although many people think it is. But this is America and there are no laws against photography, only trespassing. Stay off private land and you can shoot anything you see, no matter what the bad-ass signs might say. That includes humans, bridges, prisons, houses and automobile license plates and you don't need signed consent forms for editorial usage, only commercial usage.
Of course, there are many legal, ethical and common sense caveats that come into play here - this is my favorite topic - so, if you're still interested, consult your lawyer. (A real lawyer, not an internet lawyer.) Just don't trespass and never allow anyone to erase or confiscate your cards, absent a court order, and you should be good. Now, what you actually DO with those images is a separate legal issue.”
+ Ever notice how everyone thinks they're a photographer - until they are forced to use manual mode.
“Right? But, really... the client doesn't care.”
+ “Never believe anything you see on the internet.” - Abraham Lincoln.
Did you know there were over 6,000 data breaches in 2019? The internet, which once offered such promise, was supposed to pull everyone together but instead did the opposite. That's because the good guys couldn't keep the bad guys out and social media is an absolute first-class, Grade-A, stink bomb of a disaster.”

+ “My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.” - Diane Arbus.
“Yeah, me too.”
+ “Photography is a love affair with life.” - Burk Uzzle.
“Great guy, funny name. Burk was the youngest staff photographer in the history of LIFE Magazine. He's the shooter who made Bobbi and Nick Ercoline, of Pine Bush, famous when he photographed them hugging under a blanket at Woodstock in '69. They're still together after all these years but Burk is retired. He's also correct: Go outside. Bring your camera. Worst case scenario? A bear kills you.”
+ “Don’t pack up your camera until you’ve left the location.” - Joe McNally.
“Joe was the last staff photographer in LIFE Magazine's history. He's a tremendous guy with an amazing memory and this is just rock-solid advice. (And I can't tell you how many times I've forgotten to follow it.”)
+ “Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” – Ansel Adams.
“That's from the greatest landscape photographer in history. Twelve. TWELVE!
+ “I believe in equality for everyone - except reporters and photographers.” - Mahatma Gandhi.
“Who knew Gandhi had a sense of humor?”
+ “The rich will always figure out a way to avoid paying taxes.” - Anonymous.
Ain't that the truth.”
+ “Today, everything is about taking a stand and nothing is about getting shit done.” - Anonymous.
“Americans are appallingly bigoted, ignorant and paranoid but also disarmingly polite and kind to strangers.” - Jason Woliner, in the New York Times.
+ “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” - Oscar Wilde.
But bad decisions make good stories.”
+ Don't go to the grave with life unused.” - Bobby Bowden.

+ + + + +
Copyright: John DeSanto, 1971-2021

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