I was photographing a family during a recent wedding event when a youngster asked, “What made you want to be a photographer?” He had endured a few too many family group poses; still, he was interested.
It caught me by surprise. It’s usually adults who ask kids, what do you want to be when you grow up?
So I stopped in my tracks and thought about the question.
“Well, at first, I thought I would be a teacher,” I said. It’s true. When I was younger, I figured I would probably teach English. Maybe to grade-schoolers. Maybe to older kids. I didn’t know.
But that idea always felt more like a default career. It was, I suppose, one of only a few careers I had any familiarity with. Sitting in classrooms every day, watching the teacher, it was the one thing I thought I understood.
But my heart was never in it. In fact, I remember many occasions wondering just how teachers did it, every day. How they had to act as if they weren’t nervous and have all the answers. And they had to deal with the rotten kids.
The thought of being a teacher was more of: “Sigh; I guess that’s what I’ll be.”
In the meanwhile, the things that really fired me up, like writing and photography, seemed more like a hobby. Perhaps because they came easily to me. The academic subjects took time and attention, so certainly, they had more value. Right?
But I had a great art teacher in high school who encouraged me.
Soon, I started being recognized as a good student photographer and won two very major awards, including the prestigious Kodak Medallion of Excellence and the State Fair’s top award, which garnered me a scholarship to a weeklong photography camp.
My folks also bought me a real Nikon camera, and I began exploring photography in earnest.
When I went to college at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, I delayed declaring my major. Thankfully, nobody pressured me. In fact, it’s possible that only I, alone, felt a teaching career was inevitable. But even before I had started attending, I had been hired by the campus marketing department as a photographer.