(The following is an open letter to publications or people I would like to work for. I have not yet sent it anywhere, but I hope to in the near future as I figure out the best way to approach following my dream of working in this field. As this is already an unconventional approach, I figured I would publish it here in hopes that one of you our there will see it and can help me on my way!)
To Whom it May Concern,
I am writing in hopes of finding a way to follow my passion of becoming a photojournalist and if nothing else maybe get some good advice on what steps to take next. I am a photographer and I have been taking pictures for the past 22 years as a hobby. I got my first camera at 9 years old and started taking photos of any and everything I could. The only thing that got in my way was growing up in fairly extreme poverty, where affording food and socks was a stretch, let alone film, so my growth in the art was slow. Despite that, I scraped together money for film and printing and kept taking pictures throughout my childhood. Then at 17, I stumbled into a camera store in Bend Oregon and fell in love with an Olympus OM1, walking out spending almost my entire summer’s salary to take it home with me. Over the years I took a few black and white photography classes, but for the most part have taught myself as I go along.
After high school, I unfortunately listened to too many people that told me not to go into photography and art, but instead get a degree in something more “practical”. So, I put down my camera and decided to go to college to study Environmental Studies and later go on to get a Master’s Degree in Leadership for Sustainability Education. After 8 years in school, and 4 study abroad programs later (I apparently was more attracted to adventure than sitting in a classroom) I quickly realized I was not meant to sit behind a desk and do only administrative work and may have made a mistake in my career choice.
This brings me to today. I have found myself in a place where I know what I want to do with my life, but I don’t know how to get there. I know that I want to combine my passion for environmental and social justice with my photography and I know I have the skills and motivation to make it happen. In lieu of knowing what to do, I have spent the last year doing any and everything I can to build my experience and abilities.
I got involved with a local media collective in Portland, OR and started taking photos at Occupy Portland events. I was granted a small amount of money by a supportive donor in order to essentially “volunteer” full time with the movement. During this time I was published in many activist publications and developed a solid following of people interested in my work. I often found myself standing next to photographers from the major news outlets in the region and doing the same quality of work as they were. During many of the events I documented, I worked with a team of people to do live, day-of coverage and learned to quickly shoot, edit and publish photography that was relevant and timely.
This past April I decided to travel to Korea and Japan for a three week trip to visit a friend and take a stab at travel photography (while I have traveled for many years of my life, I never really tried to make anything happen with the photos I took). I committed to either posting a photo, a photo essay, or a story each day I had internet access on my blog and see if it was something I liked and was successful with. It was only my first attempt in the medium, but within a few weeks, my blog was featured on WordPress.com’s Freshly Pressed and I quickly built a small following.
Over the past year I have also worked with a few music journals to take photos at concerts, I have shot promotional photos for a dance studio, done product photography, weddings, and started printing and selling my artwork. With each project I find myself more excited about where I can go and what I can do if given the opportunity.
I understand that becoming a photojournalist is not for everyone. I have no delusions of grandeur or false ideas of traveling the globe taking pictures of cute wildlife. I know that getting the right photos to tell a story can be exhausting, challenging, and requires a dedication unlike any other. But, I do know it’s what I want to do and I know I can do it.
The scope of my experience as a photographer may be limited, as it’s only been the last year that I have really taken my work seriously, although I know that my skills are solid and my motivation infinite. I have traveled throughout large parts of the world, have a strong understanding of environmental and social justice, and feel that photography can be one of the most important ways to tell stories and hopefully have an impact for the better. I know that I will continue to do this work on my own whether or not I am getting paid to do it, but I know that I will be able to do so much more if I have funding and an outlet for my work. The funding I received for my work with Occupy has now run out and I am faced with going back to working behind a desk to make money, while spending my free time doing photography instead of it being my life.
It seems to me that getting into photojournalism is unlike any other field as it is not just about skill, but about the ability to do the challenging work that is necessary and a deep passion for what you do. As someone who is self taught and has limited finances to purchase the best equipment, I am not sure what I need to do next to make my dream a reality, but I know I am ready to do whatever it takes.
In writing this letter I am hoping that I will be given an opportunity to work in this field. I would be happy to intern on an assignment in order to gain the specific skills of professional publications and show I am able to do this work. In viewing my work, please know that this is just the beginning of my creative abilities. I understand that my blog, website and published pieces are not representations of an extensive portfolio of polished professional work.
I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I would be happy to provide any additional information about myself and my work if it would help. I look forward from hearing back from you and hopefully having the opportunity to work for your publication!
(AKA The Perpetual Vagabond)