Howdy. I’ll start this off with a bit of advice I received from one of my great (and now deceased) all time heroes, Jonathan Waiter. Jonathan was a fashion photographer, and he was one of the only fashion photographers who acknowledged my existence not only as a VALIS (voice activated light stand, as Joe McNally calls his assistants) but as a human being. I have no idea why he did this. Maybe he saw something in this scruffy mid twenty something, still holding onto his dreams with bloodied, boney fingers tips, the death grasp of someone too stubborn to quit and to stupid to do anything else. I’ll never know, sadly.
For what ever reason, he answered my email, and one cold winter’s day in Brooklyn there I was, helping out with a shoot. When we broke for lunch we grabbed sandwiches along with the rest of the crew. We got to talking, and we bonded over our apparent mutual romantic entanglements with europeans (he’d been married, briefly, to one, while I was in the throes of a long distance relationship). At one point I asked, as one often does when eating sandwiches with a bonified hero of one’s own, how he went about becoming a photographer and if he had any tips.
I sat, waiting with bated breath, expecting to hear a long, eloquent speech about working your way up the ladder, of doing good work no matter how humble that work was, of being nice, of the need to sweat it out over back breaking grunt work to get your shot. Here’s what he said: “I went on exactly one assisting job and I fucking hated it. I was also terrible at it. Then I just said ‘screw it’ and started sending out my portfolio to magazines and publishers and editors. If you want to be a fucking fashion photographer, just go be a fucking fashion photographer. Don’t wait, or ‘work your way up the ladder’, just do it. There’s no secret. ”
This, for a bright eyed, painfully innocent and naive sort like me, was shocking. I thought there was some sort of karmic system worked out. I thought there was this whole track laid out, tough but fair, of points that got connected until boom, all your hard work paid off and you were where you wanted to be, roughly. It never occurred to me, as I am now painfully aware of, that life isn’t that fair or orderly, that assistants work their asses off for much longer than I ever did and never even come close to getting their shot. It never occurred to me either that you could jump the line, or that there wasn’t really even a line.
But of course there isn’t. Lines, systems, maps- These are all our modest attempts as a species to apply logic to our larger issues, a way for us to pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves that it’s all going to be ok, the universe is looking out for us because things make sense, and if they make sense than surely it will all work out for us, right?
Wrong. The universe doesn’t make sense. It is a cold, harsh, unfeeling thing that will crush you and your dreams without so much as a glint of recognition. This might sound harsh, I know, probably because it is, but it also means something else: FREEDOM. You have as much of a shot at getting what you want as everyone else does.
So, in conclusion, let me start this blog off with this: IF YOU WANT TO BE A PROGRAMMER, WORK YOUR ASS OFF, LEARN EVERYTHING YOU CAN AND JUST BE A PROGRAMMER.
Another one of my favorite quotes, this one from William Wordsworth:
To begin, begin.