So in a strange twist yesterday I was able to tell not one, but two stories of my fabled college photography professor named Tim Fuller. Tim was an incredible individual whom while seemed overly harsh at the time of my schooling I now know was only doing what was in the best interest of photography. He was being honest with us in that we all needed a bit help knowing right from wrong in the world of photography. Ok maybe that was being kind and that some of us needed A LOT of help, but that’s all besides the point I suppose. Each of the students needed the push he gave though whether it was suggesting contrast, exposure, or by saying that he had never seen an uninteresting photo of Antelope Canyon until seeing the one he was presented with by one of my classmates. Sometimes the things he said were pretty harsh, as you should recognize by the Antelope Canyon example but they were in fact all things that people needed to hear which is what made him a great instructor. Honestly, I wish I had it in me to say some of the things that he did during our critiques. While I’ve mentioned Tim a few times in the past, it’s all I can do to keep his memory alive after the fatefull August 24th that took him from the world.
(Nikon D70s, 200ISO, Nikon 28-105F3.5-5.6@105mm. 1/60th@F22. 4 light setup, for the life of me I can’t find my shooting notes on the setup).
That was a frame that I shot for my Senior gallery show which was a piece that I did on food waste in the college residence halls. It was one of the first two senior projects ever shot digitally in the Purdue Photography program (which is also now sadly defunct). The other was shot by my good friend at the time, Chris Knuteson. Most projects were still shot on Color Transparency either as 35mm slides or as medium format which now looking back I feel like should be the medium of even more projects shot today. The files needed to be printed at 16×24 inches at a minimum which is why Tim didn’t feel as though digital was ready; although to be fair he didn’t feel as though 35mm slides were high enough resolution for this either. Being young and stupid I pushed for the files to be digital because hey wow new digital awesomeness electronicbeastmagic! Or something like that. I didn’t want to shoot medium format for these frames in the required refrigerator and as a punk kid I thought I knew better. Was I right? Probably not, but that’s all history now. As Cayde-6 out of Destiny says, “Everybody loves a bad plan when it works”. The file above started as a 6 megapixel file out of a Nikon D70s, which with a little bit of re-sampling in the computer it was definitely large enough to print 16×24. With today’s technology and know how this frame could easily be printed 20×30, but for technology 10 years ago it was pretty good. I’ll never forget that year, where I spent every penny of my financial aid to buy that Nikon D70s and I wanted to use it. For everything. For everything it got used too, since I spent so much darn money on it. Normal people use their financial aid for books, and bills. No, I bought a camera and then had to get a job to pay the rest.
(Nikon D70s, 1600ISO, Nikon 80-200F2.8@300mm. 1/160th@F2.8)
While I was at Purdue I had a choice. That choice was to either work for the now defunct Purdue Debris yearbook or the Purdue Newspaper. I took the path less traveled and decided I wanted to work at the yearbook although while it seems odd it was a very strategic decision. Working for the yearbook I got to shoot EVERYTHING. There wasn’t a large staff to fight over the assignments; it was mostly a who wants to go and who doesn’t have homework to do kind of deal. SO. I got to go everywhere as is illustrated by the photo of John Mellencamp up above, and while it wasn’t newspaper work, I firmly believe that my time spent working at the yearbook helped me land my job at the Indianapolis Star some time after graduating. It was an incredible learning experience in every way seeing and shooting all the things, if you will. Borrowing gear, shoot all the things, return the gear, borrow more, different gear and go again. It was all gear from a dying student entity too, so you can imagine how immaculate a shape it was all in. I’ll never forget shooting a Christmas Pageant and having all the elements slide right out the end of a Nikon 85mm F1.8D, like they were live savers sliding out of the packaging. I Digress. Between the almost full time job, the full class load and the photography stuff it’s amazing I even had any friends as it seemed like I was always needing to be somewhere, doing something. It’s funny as to where the biggest encouragements came from, or where failures existed. Something I tell my students is to embrace failure, and make mistakes. If you make mistakes you are learning and that’s something that Tim taught me too. I made a lot of mistakes back then. Who am I kidding, I make a lot of mistakes now; some of which even appear on purpose they are so big. Some things may seem like mistakes at the time, but in the future you’ll realize that they were the way things were just meant to be.
(Nikon D2x, 500ISO, Nikon 70-200F2.8VR@105mm, 1/250@F2.8)
The yearbook gave me some assignments, but I still needed to push to be a photographer after college which I got at my senior show where my professor gave me the final bit of encouragement I needed when he pulled me aside while hanging the show to shoot a dress rehearsal for a play elsewhere in the building. Of all the others hanging their work, he chose me. I’ll never know if it was because he saw something in me, or if I was just the most finished of the group when someone asked him but that was the moment I felt like I might have a shot at this for real. When I graduated though it was just like everybody said it would be; which is nothing like you expect. Photography was hard. Hard to do, hard to make money at and I was fresher than lobster off the coast of anywhere. I had to make money to live but I needed more than just the restaurant I was managing in my life; I needed some photography. #3 in the photo above was a photography major a class or two behind me named Emily who remembered that I shot several matches for the yearbook. After my senior show and my graduation she arranged for me to continue shooting the matches, which was fantastic because it gave me face time with other photographers, and it gave me actual photography to do on top of managing the restaurant even if in reality it was an unpaid gig and I was largely in over my head at such events. I realized I needed to up my game a bit, and I took every penny I owned at the time which included some old savings bonds from when I was born and I bought myself a Nikon D2x and a Nikon 70-200F2.8VR (which shot the photo above). My theory was that if I invested in myself, people would believe I was the right investment for them and their business. I thought I had made it into the big time despite having a camera that to my opinion while having twice the resolution didn’t have twice the quality of the D70s I had bought the year before. At the time if I had to go back and do it again, I’d have bought lenses instead of a body as I’ve learned now years later that you date your cameras, but marry your lenses. Regardless of any of these things from there on out the rest of the story is history. Here I am. The Nikon D70s and D2x are long gone (although both are still in use to my knowledge with the folks that got them from me), although I’m sure that Nikon F4s is in the bottom of a dumpster someplace which is too bad as it was a wonderful beast of a machine. I’ve got the gear I need to do my jobs now thanks to hours and hours and hours and hours of hard work, there is a Canon 5Ds sitting next to me with a unreleased Sigma 20mmF1.4 mounted to it. (unreleased at the time of this writing anyway). Most importantly I do nothing but Photography full time. No more restaurant and other than to eat or take photos I haven’t had to work in a restaurant in 10 years. I think of my old Professor Tim oddly frequently, and I just hope he isn’t turning over in his grave as to where his instruction or that little bit of encouragement at my senior show got me. I feel like I’ve been very lucky and hopefully I continue to make mistakes because that means I’m not only learning; but I’m still shooting. More Soon.