How I Tried To Become A Photographer

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After graduating university studying Business Administration and Philosophy, I did the only logical thing I could think of; try to become a photographer.

The decision happened one beautiful morning when I woke up and looked out of the window and saw the wonderful colours of the blue sky, green grass, trees and flowers, and I dreamed to myself, “this is too beautiful to just look at and admire.  I must celebrate it, somehow record it, and make this experience a part of my life.” 

Since I couldn’t paint, draw, write poetry, compose music or sculpt, the only method I could think of was with a camera.  At that point, at whatever cost, I decided I would somehow become a photographer. 

As fate would have it, the very next day, my father came to visit me and gave me his old camera.  He said he didn’t need it anymore and would I like it. 

That’s how it happened. It’s the absolute truth.  But, what would be my plan or method to actually become a photographer?  I had absolutely no idea. 

Yet, another stroke of fate happened shortly thereafter.  My father invited me to accompany him to a meeting at the photo club of which he was a member.  A photographer by the name of Robert Crandall was the guest speaker that night, and his pictures literally would change my life.  I remarked to my father that the pictures from Mr. Crandall impressed me, and he said, “why don’t you call him to say that you liked his pictures?”

I took my father’s advice and called Mr. Crandall the next day and told him how much I enjoyed his pictures.  He was quite kind and invited me to visit his studio.  I said, “can I come over today?”  He replied, “sure!”

At that time, I was working at a very uninteresting job in New York City, within three kilometres of Mr. Crandall’s studio.  I lied to my boss and said I was sick, and took a bus to Crandall’s studio. 

Mr. Crandall gave me a tour of his studio and showed me how he did advertising photography, developed film and did retouching on the photos that he took.  It seemed as if I was in a dream…was this really happening? 

I knew this was a world that I needed to be in, a place where I wanted to spend the rest of my life.  Yes, it was a dream, but it existed right there on East 45th Street, New York City.

Without any thought or embarrassment, I said to Mr. Crandall, “I want to work here.  I don’t know much about photography, but I will do anything you want.  I don’t want any money, I just want to be here.”

Mr. Crandall looked at me, and I will never forget that moment or the amused look on his face when he said, “are you serious?”  I replied, feeling very embarrassed, “yes!”

He asked me when I could start working for him.  I said, “now.”  And I never went back to my old uninteresting job three kilometres away. 

My dream came true and I devoted every minute of my life to learning about everything at Robert Crandall’s studio.  I read photo magazines, spent every weekend hour taking pictures with the camera my father gave me, went to photo exhibits, went to museums and looked carefully at every painting I could see.  Sometimes I worked all night in Crandall’s darkroom developing my film and making prints. 

Mr. Crandall soon gave me a job of being one of his salesmen.  I was to call on New York advertising agencies and other prospective clients and show Mr. Crandall’s portfolio.  I was one of the five sales reps he had on his staff.  In between sales calls, I would watch Mr. Crandall prepare his shots, trying to understand how an 8 x 10 view camera worked, how and where to place lights and how to make the correct exposures.

After three years of religious devotion to my job, I became the #2 ranking sales rep. By that time I also had a basic understanding of how to take pictures, but I still had a lot to learn.  Besides Mr. Crandall, two of the other sales people were kind enough to help me; Monte Lask, the best salesman I have ever known, and Don Renner, a sales representative who was also a photographer. 

That’s how my dream became a reality.  And I still dream of becoming a better photographer. 

Along the way, little bits of photo-advice from photographers stay in my mind.  Crandall once said, “Larry, look at the light.”  I didn’t realize how important those words were until I started looking at the light, whether it be in the studio or at sunrise or at sunset or at any time of the day.  I look to see how the light creates shadow, detail and mood. 

Another photographer said, “all good images are composed of four elements; line, form, texture and colour, with one of the elements being dominant and the other three being sub-dominant. This creates an image that is easy to understand and creates an emotional response from a viewer.”  Wow, it’s true!

Another photographer taught me all about artificial light (studio lights and camera speedlights).  He said, “artificial light is merely an ‘artificial sun.’  If you understand sunlight, you will understand artificial light.” 

Today, at many of the photo seminars I present, a person will ask me how to make a good photograph.  My advice to them is, “look at art and follow your heart. Never become discouraged, never be ashamed to photograph something you feel attracted to, whether it be beautiful or ugly.”

Recently the tools of photography have changed and I am privileged to be a witness to the transition from film to digital.

Some traditionalists say that this new digital medium is not really photography.  Perhaps they are correct.  Digital photography is “the new media,” which transcends the limits of traditional photography, or better said, enlarges the possibilities of visual communication using a digital camera. 

Art is always in a state of change.  That’s the essence of the medium.  The evolution to digital capture is just one aspect of art history. 

By being able to remove unwanted objects from an almost perfect landscape, by being able to improve or modify the colour, by being able to adjust the horizon if it’s crooked, by being able to blend two or three images together…isn’t that being creative? 

Take the old masters like Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Renoir, Monet, to modernists like Kandinsky, Klee, Dali, Warhol, and the thousands of contemporary artists…don’t they have (or had) have the unlimited power to harness their imagination and render whatever their heart felt?  Don’t poets write whatever their heart feels?  Don’t musicians compose and play whatever their heart feels?  

Then why can’t digital photographers?

Change in art is inevitable and always ongoing.  When the caveman/woman discovered that it was possible scribe in stone with a flint hammer instead of painting with plant dyes, I’ll bet the art critics and traditionalists of that time criticized that as a “new medium.”

Creativity marches on and cannot be stopped, despite the critics. 

Now, the “new-media digital photo artists” can create, with camera and computer what their hearts feel, with the same freedom as the old masters and all the current artists, whether they be painters, sculptors, musicians, poets, etc.

Some people have asked me if I’m a traditional photographer or a new-media artist.  I answer, “how should I know?  I’m still dreaming.”

About the writer:  Larry Frank, dreamer with camera and a MacBook Pro computer, worked as a professional photographer in the USA and now Canada, Managed Nikon Professional Products for Nikon Canada and The Nikon School of Photography, instructed and presented seminars on portrait photography, travel photography, digital photography, law enforcement forensic identification photo techniques to over 130,000 pro and semi professional photographers.

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