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How I got started in photography can best be explained in a short story I wrote for an online media sports page entitled... How Varsity Views Changed My Life. “You start at 7 o’clock, so be here at 6:50, and if you have a car, don’t park it on the lot. That’s a privilege earned after three months of employment.” The voice is croaky and pushy. It's the kind of voice that didn’t wait for an answer. The kind of voice that didn’t allow for disagreement of any sort. I have never met the man in person, but I had been to the factory a few days earlier. The place looks like a prison populated by a bunch of musky middle-aged men who bicker all day about what America is or isn’t. Even after the interview and a walk-through of the plant, I’m still not exactly sure what they do there or what I’ll be doing. I think it has something to do with steel because when the machines were turned on the place became one gigantic metal carnival. If there was ever an amusement park for the melancholy, this was it. I assure the man that I would be there and thank him for hiring me. “Don’t be late,” he fired back before hanging up the phone. I vaguely remember, somewhere in the one-sided conversation, him mentioning he was my supervisor. God help me! To tell the truth, what I really wanted to do was pull a "Charles Bukowski". You know, maybe go down to Fleischmann's Liquor, pick up a pint, drink the damn thing right before work. That would definitely get me fired on the first day. That night I went to bed hoping my dreams would tell me something different. If I did have a dream, I don’t remember it. What I do remember is being jerked out of my slumber by the sound of my wife’s voice, “Charlie!” I rush to the bathroom where Maria is leaning over the bathtub. She’s pointing at a beetle bug that’s been smashed and is now lying dead on the floor. I’m really amazed by her pinpoint accuracy, able to smash the little vato with the tiny heel of her pumps. Our dog Nixon towers over the dead bug, wanting to lick it. That’s Nixon for you, always in somebody's business. It’s why we named her Nixon. “Look! Another one!” Maria cries, “I can’t live like this anymore.” A month earlier we had gutted the condo in order to make space for my photography studio. Now the bugs were starting to crawl up from the basement through the holes where the walls used to be. I budgeted for the entire project, but a wedding I was booked to videotape didn't happen. You always hear stories about either the bride or the groom not showing up for their own wedding, but neither the bride nor groom showed up for this one. So, those Blue Ridge hardwood floors from Home Depot were put on hold. That’s the kind of stuff that happens to me. After watching Maria cry in the bathtub, I knew that I wouldn’t be making that detour to Fleischmann’s. I would report for duty to a job that I knew would kill a piece of me each day. Here’s the stuff they never tell you in film school: You have to be able to be something else at the drop of a dime because the money is never consistent. You might have to be a car washer, a bike messenger, a pizza delivery driver, a vendor cart operator, a phone sex operator. It’s a dreadful list and I was at the end of it. So, yes, I would start work at the metal carnival and that would be the end of it. But something happened that changed everything. STEEL TOE BOOTS. I needed steel toe boots. They were a requirement for the new job. These boots are pretty expensive, money we didn’t have. Those boots were the reason I needed to answer just one last ad for a quick freelance job on Craigslist. Maria wasn’t too thrilled about me answering the ad and I couldn’t blame her. She's always been the biggest fan of my work; whether it was films, photos, or writing. She was always cheering me on. Always buying equipment. Always calling in favors for for me. Always allowing me the time to practice my craft. And then there was that one big thing she did. She agreed to take a second mortgage out on the condo to finance my film. She was always in my corner, but I could sense she was starting to lose faith in me. So, I answered the ad. Some company was offering $25 to shoot high school sports. I didn’t think much of it, and Maria thought even less of it. We had been around the block a few times to know that not everything on Craigslist is legit. But I answered anyway and sent them my portfolio. An hour later, somebody by the name of Teddy called. He was with a new company called Varsity Views. Three things right off the bat I remember clearly about him: Professional. Polite. And young. There were also two other guys, Peter and Tim. That's all I knew about them, their first names. Teddy offered me two scrimmage games to photograph at New Trier High School. I had no idea what a scrimmage game was, but I agreed. I showed up to the stadium and shot the two games, went home, uploaded the photos, and about an hour later, Teddy called and offered me more assignments at a higher rate of pay. I was like, "great." That Monday night the $50 popped up on our PayPal account. I couldn’t wait to show it to Maria. You hear a lot of stories about how you have to be careful on Craigslist, but Varsity Views just felt like the real deal. So, I did what any other starving artist would have done. I jumped online, went to the Varsity Views scheduling website, and took a bunch of game assignments. I even scheduled in games on the day that I was supposed to start my new job. I scheduled enough games to get paid $560. My thinking was, when next Monday rolled around, and if Varsity Views dropped $560 in my PayPal account, then they had to be the real deal. A real job. A real career. And maybe, just maybe, I didn’t have to report to work at the metal carnival. And I knew I had to keep all this to myself. It was one the craziest weeks of my life. Tuesday, Maria had killed another bug. Wednesday, Croaky Voice called to tell me that my results were in and I had passed the drug test. Thursday, Mom called and congratulated me on the new job. Shit! Friday, we bought the steel toe boots. I kept the receipt, guarded it like it was the Shroud of Turin. I stashed it in my prized possession, an unabridged dictionary I’ve had for years. I put it between two pages, right on top of the word spirit. Monday morning rolled around and nothing in PayPal from Varsity Views. Afternoon, still nothing. It wasn’t until early evening that I glimpsed the most beautiful three digit figure in the whole world. My spirits were at an all time high. That evening I came clean with Maria about everything, about my week of scheming, about my real intentions of trying to get out of the new job. She understood. She didn't agree, but she understood. When I showed her our PayPal account, and that magnificent figure of $560, her exact words were, “Of course you’re not going to that job. You’re going to get your ass online and schedule a bunch of games. You’re going to be the best goddamn photographer they've ever had.” I smiled big. She still has faith in me. Okay, the money helps. The next day, while I was supposed to start my new job at the metal carnival with Old Croaky Voice, I was actually out returning the steel toe boots to the store. When the store clerk told me the money had been put back on my card, I told him, “Oh, a lot more than that has been put on my card.” Based off his frown, I wanted to explain to him how my spirit had been put back, but some things are better left unsaid. That was over two years ago and after a million plus clicks of the shutter, I'm still rocking it with Varsity Views who turned out to be a career. A month after I shot my very first game for them, I got those Blue Ridge hardwood floors installed. That very night Maria and I sat on the floor and drank wine. Bug free. It was a big kick to watch Nixon sliding across the floors going after her toy. I played back the message that Old Croaky Voice had left me a few weeks earlier. His exact words, “You welshed on a job you little asshole!” For symbolic reasons, I like to listen to the message every now and then. I took another sip of wine and Maria and I both smile at each other. I can honestly say at that moment, I did feel like Charles Bukowski.
I absolutely love when a photo ignites unfiltered emotions of happiness and sadness within myself. And I also love the fact that my prized possession is a photo I haven't shot yet. It is between these two extremes of emotions and the unknown that I find photography to be a complete joy. If I can imagine it, I can capture it.
The lakefront is gorgeous at magic hour.See portfolio & book
|Average Family job star rating||4.9|
|Chicago Family photography jobs per day||170|
|Average length of Family photography job (hours)||2.0|
|Family Photos taken per hour in Chicago||849|