I didn’t always want to be a photographer.
When I was seventeen, and realizing that I was going to be entering into the US Air Force, I took the ASVAB and passed with a high enough score that I qualified to train in any career the Air Force had available for non-commissioned enlistees. I’d always had an affinity for the arts, so imagine my surprise when I discover the US Air Force had graphic designers.
In the time leading up to my first visit to the Boston MEPS, I researched the graphic design career, and I grew more and more certain that was the career I wanted. Of course, I had my detractors along the way, most notoriously my recruiter. That guy wanted me to choose aircraft mechanic or security forces. My problem was, I had absolutely no interest in planes or their engines, and I wasn’t very fond of guns. I know that sounds weird for someone joining the US Air Force, an actually military service, but I knew exactly what I wanted.
So it comes time for me to make a final decision, and wouldn’t you know it, the graphic design career was a field that no longer existed in the US Air Force. At least, that’s what my recruiter told me.
You have got to be kidding me?
My recruiter pressed me again, trying to entice me with the bonuses offered with the jobs he was trying to push me into. I wasn’t interested in a bonus. Didn’t he understand that?
So, as I’m scrolling through the available careers, I come across “Base Still Photographer.” Meh, it’s not graphic design, but it looked like it was the closest career that I could get to what I actually wanted.
So I complete basic training, which wasn’t a big deal for me because I had been in Junior ROTC in high school and, prior to that, the Civil Air Patrol, which was like ROTC, but had nothing to do with a school. I had already basically been through Air Force BMT twice.
I get to my tech school at Ft. George Meade, right outside of Baltimore, Maryland. As I’m getting to know people, I come to learn something that really affected my opinion of recruiters: there were brand new graphic design troops. These were kids who had joined the US Air Force at least a few months after I do (one kid was close to a year after my enlistment, as I enlisted on the Delayed Enlistment Program).
I regretted, the moment I learned I had been lied to, the choice of becoming a photographer.
I didn’t try too hard when I was in tech school. In fact, I was so demoralized that I barely made it through. The recruiter’s lie didn’t seem to jive with the Air Force core value of “Integrity first.”
Fast forward to my arrival at my first duty station. I get thrown into the fire almost immediately. As I progressed through my on the job training, and I learned more and more about photography, I also developed this sense that photography was a boring job. Who takes photography seriously?
It wasn’t until I met this Airman by the name of Chris that I started seeing what photography could be. I mean, this boy was amazing at the art. He was pretty much a polymath, but when it came to photography in particular, he was a genius. He motivated me. Why? Because my quasi-adolescent arrogance couldn’t allow somebody I outranked to be better at my job than I was. Even with having lackluster motivation, I was the go-to photographer in my flight. With his arrival, he was a threat.
It was from that point that I began seeing what photography could be. It wasn’t just the monotony of shooting an awards ceremony, or the hurt of taking photos of a murder scene. It wasn’t the rage inspired by the photos you had to create at 3AM after responding to call about domestic violence. It wasn’t politics, marketing, propaganda, so on and so forth.
It was love. Photography could be love. It could be love for those things we find ugly, love for mundane things shot at angles from which you didn’t usually see them. It could be love for the look on people’s faces when you delivered on a promise of a photograph with which they wouldn’t be upset.
Devastating as it was, there could be love in the photographs of that murder scene. That love would be expressed by capturing everything that needed to be capture, so the victim could be vindicated in death by the justice my photographs helped deliver.
I became a photographer when I met Chris. Not just a career man just trying to do what I saw as ‘time’ in the military. Not just the go-to Airman every knew would get the job done even when he didn’t care about it. That day, I became an artist, and I’ve been in-love with photography ever since.