Home: Climbing the ladder!

Just this week a college photography student asked me how I made it up the proverbial ladder in this business. Here is my response.

After graduating from college I really thought I was God’s gift to the photojournalism world. I sent my application letters off to all of the largest newspapers in the country. Of course, none responded. I then migrated down the food chain to medium sized papers and once again did not receive any responses to my application queries. Finally, I heard about a job for the Brooksville, FL, Sun-Journal, a tri-weekly paper of only a few thousand in circulation. I took the job for $125 a week.

This was the best thing that could have happened to me. Besides correcting my over-inflated ego, starting at the bottom was a wonderful teaching experience. I had to do everything. I came up with story ideas. I shot. I did all of the darkroom work. I wrote the captions. I even helped do the paste-up for the paper. (Some newcomers to photography might have to google words like darkroom and paste-up.) And of course the day was never done till my work areas were swept and cleaned.

After my stay at this paper, I began both lateral and upward moves to other papers: The Tampa Tribune, The Fort Myers News-Press, and finally the Louisville, KY, Courier-Journal. That last stop was the pinnacle of a perfect newspaper job. I mainly worked for the Sunday Magazine as a staff photographer.

At the Magazine we had the freedom and support to develop our own long-term projects. Whatever our interests were, we could pursue. At the time, adventure photography was coming of age and I attempted stories on mountain climbing, rock climbing, and caving. I also relished my time in the studio shooting food and fashion. It was a time of trying anything and everything. These were the years of my true education.

Then, one dark and ominous day (dramatic huh?), the Magazine staff was called into the conference room and given the devastating news that we were being shut down. The Magazine, the most read section of the newspaper, was being cancelled because it did not bring in enough ad revenue to justify its existence.

I called my wife with the awful news, but I did not get the response I was expecting. She said, “How exciting!” Ok, I was prepared for, “I’m so sorry”, or “What are we going to do now?” But “How exciting”…I was stunned. She went on to encourage that she was convinced that God would open new doors of opportunities.

And that is exactly what happened. We moved to Atlanta to continue and grow our then sideline business of shooting stock photos for Getty Images. This move was indeed a God orchestrated and inspired shift in our lives. Since 1994 we have earned about 90% of our income from shooting conceptual stock images for Getty, Workbook Stock, and Alamy. I say “we” because my wife, Vivian, and I work together on every image produced. I normally push the actual shutter, but every other aspect from concept to business organization is handled together.

But the passion for photojournalism has never diminished. We continue to do both assigned and self-assigned projects for both NGO’s (Non-governmental organizations) and faith-based aid groups all over the world. This is our passion.

8 thoughts

  1. Just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed your presentation at the SPS meeting this month. Your story is inspiring, both this essay and the visual presentations you showed us. I love your work.. especially the photojournalistic portraiture. I also loved hearing about the way you and your wife work together so closely to help and inspire each other. You’ve made me think about how I can improve my own shooting, even though I’m actually just a point and shoot photographer, and made me realize the value of working with others. Four eyes, two heads, four hands, and two hearts are definitely better than the sum of the parts. Thanks again! — Kathy

  2. Gary –
    This is a very inspiring story… I am at the bottom of the ladder right now and it’s encouraging to hear how GOD took you on the journey of a lifetime. Thanks for being so transparent.

  3. Kathy…thanks for the kind words. SPS was a great group to talk to.

    Gina…If you ever think you are at the top of the ladder, be prepared for a very long fall!

  4. Gary,
    Thanks so much for sharing this. Hearing Vivian’s response on that day makes me realize that our roles as a wife can change the way our husband respond’s to God in his time of need. Thank you so much for being so open and honest and for always pointing the way to our Savior! Love this story!

  5. Gary,

    I couldn’t help but chuckle as I read how Vivian reacted to your losing your job, because it reminded me of a time just after I married Nan. I had gone to work the Monday after returning from our brief weekend honeymoon only to be told that I no longer had a job. There I was, just married, to a woman who had two daughters, who had quit her job, and was looking to me to take care of her, and then,without any idea that it was going to happen, I had no job!

    In shock, but not in fear, I went to where my new wife and daughters were still packing the last of their belongings at the apartment that they were moving out of. Nan seemed surprised, but pleased to see me. I told her what had happened, and we both broke out in uncontrolled laughter. We were so sure that God had a plan, that it didn’t worry us in the least.

    I can’t say it was easy journey, but God indeed did have a wonderful plan.

    Thanks for your story!


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