Another Job

I went to Catholic school. It was small in size, smaller in thinking but I was a wise guy, so for my sins, my parents sentenced me there. My public school brother took shop, made cool things,worked on cars; I marched through Gaul with Caesar and said the rosary. As a small school it gathered large characters from all over the county, some by choice, some by last choice, me…only choice. The teachers, a mix of nuns and laymen formed the base of education…mostly theirs. I learned some things from their school books, which I mostly forgot, but everything from its people whom I still remember.

One, a dynamic physical ed coach was influential on a lot of us, boys that is ( don’t get the wrong idea here!) .   It was his philosophy on life and achieving that talked  to me. I repeat it every time I fail and it gives me reason to continue. He gave it with your last name first, a typical Jersey thing at the time :

“…LaBatts,  ya godda pay the price…”

True words he gave us on one hand.  In the other hand however he carried a golf club that he used like a walking cane and caned the ones with a swat that didn’t walk the walk. He was a real ” driver”. I liked him deep down. He wasn’t parochial, he was a stand up guy straight talking guy. He was also ambitious.

When the northern region of the county built a new regional high school, he got the job as the head coach and when I moved onto a new larger newspaper, I got the job to shoot a feature spread on him. I had left one Perry White type editor behind to find another, but a better dressed one more interested in pleasing advertisers than reporting news. His constant concern was that I was charging him more than I charged his friend which amounted to nothing really, but he had to put on the show. It came with his territory.

” Get me some good stuff this time”…were always his encouraging words and insightful direction. ” What’s the assignment ” I asked. It helps to know that at times. They were featuring the new county school and part of it was their new star coach…the golfer and when I heard that, in my mind I shouted…” FOUR!!”

He had a winning football team and still a par swing no doubt..A few years had gone by since my high school but not enough not to recognize him from a distance as I approached him on the field.  He looked smaller for some reason, and very surprised to see me. I was glad to see him as well. He was still the same guy, a great colorful character and after spending a couple of hours photographing him in action, we walked back to his office for the feature shot.

A few more snaps clicked by, sitting on his desk, standing in the doorway etc when he asked ” Is that it? got it all? ”
” I think so..”  I said turning and stopping next to his  famous golf club leaning against the wall….” Hey ” I said with an innocent tone ” how bout you hold this club for one more shot??? ” ( a real pulitzer prize in the making.)  He stood up walking towards me… caught in the act  ” No ! ” Smiling I slinked away quickly and so did the shot …but I still liked him.

His shoot ran two pages. I never got that Pulitzer…but I’m still  “paying the price”.

This one’s for you Mr.Scrog




My First Photography Job

Many of us hold deeply that first photography assignment. It was the one that ignited your fire and started your dream. Mine was to be working for National Geographic…now a fantasy ( if it’s that) .
My first one happened when I walked into a county-wide weekly paper to see if they could use a stringer. I was much younger and a whole lot less experienced but a lot braver then. I put down my portfolio, a handful of B&Ws glued to black boards, my works in progress. The editor looked up at me and either liked my hutzpah or just felt sorry and took pity, and offered $20 an published image to string. Back then $ 20 seemed good  and  I  really wanted the break.
They had a staffer or two. One, the main one. carried a Speed Graphic so he could contact the large 4x5neg multiple times and pump out  “Handshake”  shots or “The Ribbon Cutting” event for the paper and its attendees. He had three names so his credit line took up a lot of space. Maybe that was clever on his part. He got the “choice” jobs, grand openings, town meetings, check donations.
The other photographer, a lady, part time got the cutesy shots…the dog wearing a raincoat on a bad weather day, the grandma who paints Easter eggs in her basement to raise funds for her society, the amazing baby who could sit up and happened to belong to the biggest advertiser the paper had..
The editor couldn’t have been cast any better if it had been from Disney itself. A robust, snarly, grumbling guy with a desk full of random sheets of papers and clippings, half full coffee cup and a totally full ashtray. He was always sitting sometimes leaning back and often leaning forward growling. Typical of Jersey , you were just a last name… ” hey Pace”.
Among the cast of characters, I stood there with my samples, my Nikon and two lenses in hand as he told me to come back in a day or two to see what he might have. I did.
My first assignment was to go up to a reservoir in northern New Jersey, ” Something’s going on, the Perry White styled editor growled, ” see if  you can get a shot.”
I was on my way , when the three named man smiled standing at the door, ”you’re wasting your time”, can’t do anything with that. he sneered. Of course not, I thought, who would buy contact prints of a reservoir? None the less, I went charging out like Jimmy Olsen from the Daily Planet…
When I got there to cover the reservoir event, a bulldozer had uncovered a overly large bone. Building had halted, no one was talking and nothing seemed to be happening. I left wondering how would I tell the editor that I just got a shot of a guy sitting on bulldozer. Worried that he would never use me again, the next day early I returned to find a staff from the Museum of Natural History along with some state officials on hand as they laid out an uncovered skeleton of a mastodon. I couldn’t believe it but was thankful I had a lot of film with me.
The only thing missing in their find was the head which they were furiously digging for, to the dismay of the builder. I couldn’t crank the Nikon any faster. At day’s end I raced back to my converted by night bathroom darkroom , enlarger on the bowl, trays in the tub, prints in the sink. Printing out my day’s coverage, I laid out my  prints on boards as a story  hoping the editor would like it. He did with a casual air. It ran 3 pages and I collected $200. To me it was a gift  from the universe that welcomed a young guy into what became my fever.
They never found that head…but I found mine, and every once in while when I lose it, I think back to this story.
What was your first job…what got you going?