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This month I officially celebrate 10 years of being in the photography business.  It all started April 1999 with a trip to Santa Fe and the subsequent gallery show.  I owe most of my push into the business to the Glick family (proprietors of West Side Camera and Shoot Digital, NYC).  It’s been a long road and I think the true test will come in the next ten years.  As my photographic vision is increasingly honed, my understanding of the business and the world is expanding.  I understand now what sacrafices one must make to be a commercial photographer.  Catalog photographers have the steadiest work, but you’ll have to wait for a photographer to die before you wedge your way onto that turf.  News photographers have the most interesting experience, but that’s a dying craft.  Lifestyle can be wonderful, but the pay can vary as a lot of it can be editorial.

I’ve worked on all types of jobs.  Product to people.  Lifestyle, editorial and high fashion.  Celebrity and travel.  The most satisfying work I’ve ever done is travel.  It’s notoriously low-to-no paying work.  As anyone can imagine, it’s highly competitive and lots of people want to do it.  I’m fortunate in that I’ve been paid to travel the world.  The jobs are few and far between so I would hardly say I’ve cornered the market. The best aftermarket for my work is in the fine art world, and that’s an effort I have yet to seriously undertake.  I can imagine myself getting more involved with galleries once I leave New York City.  I can say that the number of photographers who have circumnavigated the globe multiple times by sea are a select few.  I consider myself lucky.

I guess after ten years I understand why I was drawn to this business.  At first there was the glam of fashion and celebrity.  I used to read industry magazines like PDN and American Photo, absorbing the photography they highlighted.  The business – what I’d call the real commercial business that imminates from NYC – has made that imagery laughable.  Who cares about that stuff?  There’s hardly a new idea touched on.  We’re selling the person or the product, but the soul has long since left the building.   I’ve found a soul when I shoot and it’s my soul interacting with a person or place in a country I’ve traveled to.  This gives my life meaning.  This gives my work meaning.  This expresses meaning to my audience.

For any budding photographer, my advice is to go into video.  It’s been a good life filled with varied experiences, but the next ten years are about finding myself in the ever-evolving industry.  First step, leaving NYC!  The apprenticeship is over and now it’s time to get serious.  The pinnacle – National Geographic.

The wait is over for me, but it’s more same-same but different for SF.  I got the notice that I was not accepted into the JET Program.  I thought everything was groovy but I guess not so gravy.  Interview went well (maybe that’s the sign).  I was always told that if someone is not interested in you in an interview it will seem easy. This is because of their presumptions about you on paper.  They’ve already written you off and don’t want to invest too much in the process.  I can analyze it all I want.  Maybe it’s age-ism.  Maybe it’s the 16 year old criminal record that for the first time actually bit me in the ass.  Who knows?  Who cares (I do)?  Sue Fan is still on their radar screen and we’ll have to wait longer just to find out.  Start planning another adventure in the meantime.  Onwards and upwards!!!

The great debate: To plan out a trip or wing it. Well, maybe it’s all about balance.

If our flight gets in late or leaves early, I want a place to stay. If it’s close to a holiday, spring break, anything that would make booking difficult, I want to plan ahead. Otherwise, I want to take a bus to some random small town and see what I find. If there’s an ashram, temple, homestay I’m interested in, I want to make sure I get there and find time to enjoy it, feel it, be in it. I think it’s important to read reviews, get suggestions, find some maps, get names of hostels. I want to know that I didn’t miss something absolutely worth seeing, while still avoiding tourist traps. When we got to Banos in Ecuador, there was a town evacuation because of a potentially erupting volcano. Normally I would pay no attention, but since it was on the BBC, we thought it would be a stupid way to go. So we took a bus, got lost, and found the Quilotoa Loop. Perfect.

We just took my parents to Puerto Rico. If you’re traveling with others, especially if they’re your parents, it’s best to plan a little bit. We had ideas of where we wanted to go, a general place to stay put for a couple days, and took each day as it came. There’s a lot this island has to offer. The Camuy Caves, Cabo Rojo lighthouse, the fishing village of Parguera (our home base), El Yunque National Park, Rincon beaches. It’s best to be flexible, get a good idea of how much time you’re willing to spend in a vehicle (my dad and I agree long bus rides are like cheap city/town/country tours), and see everything.

If you have a book, water, rain gear, flashlight, cash, a camera, a snack, maps, an LP or Fastcheck as a general guide, walking shoes, flip flops, a hat, something warm, something cool, and a notebook and pen, you’re all set.

Pick a destination. Grab a pack. Go exploring.