Food for the table and food for the soul

This is my parting shot. Maybe more like a gift.

I ran across this interview in burn. magazine, and it seems fitting as many of you are getting ready to embark on lives and careers.

The interview is a conversation between two of the best photographers in the business: David Alan Harvey and Joe McNally. The two reminisce a bit, so you can get an idea of what the journalism biz was like “back in the day.” Some of the conversation is photo-geek talk, but a lot of it is applicable to just about every occupation in the communications field.

Much of what they say still holds true and you would be wise to listen. These guys have made it. Take a few minutes to learn how and why:

Conversation with Joe McNally

Here are some of the highlighted themes, with a few thoughts of my own:

You gotta pay your dues. Instant fame and fortune come to very, very few, no matter how talented. Professionals like Harvey and McNally have reached a point in their careers where people come to them. They still have to do some marketing to get work, but they are highly sought out for their unique styles and professionalism. But it takes years to establish that kind of reputation in most any field of work.

Even with a Masters degree, McNally started out being a newsroom copy boy and then developing film and making prints for other photographers. He did it for three years and got fired! But he didn’t give up. Don’t look at doing grunt work and paying your dues as humiliating. It’s a necessary process to build both knowledge and character.

Be ready for surprising opportunities. After a couple of years making ends meet with freelance work, McNally’s next full time job was as a still photographer – for ABC television! It was an unexpected opportunity for a still photographer and McNally used the experience to learn skills that he is now sought out for as a photographer.

The opportunities for traditional media jobs are constantly shrinking. But new opportunities are opening up all the time. These days, you can work as a photographer for a radio network. Or as a video editor for a newspaper. Or you can write news stories for non-profit organizations who want to get the word out about their projects and campaigns. In today’s multimedia world, your opportunity can come from almost anywhere, so be thorough and creative in your job searches.

Learn from the best. McNally drops some serious names in this interview: Gordon Parks, Eddie Adams, Carl Mydans, Alfred Eisenstadt. He got to meet and learn from some of the giants in the business and looked at them as mentors.

Seek out people whose work you admire. Pick their brains. Understand their motivations. Emulate their professionalism. Finding mentors can be one of the most important things anyone can do for their careers.

Be broad-based and develop lots of skills. You have to. It’s your future. You might be better at some things – or one thing – than at others, but you still need a broad range of skills and knowledge in today’s world. Communication is more important than ever, and you need to learn how to use every communication tool at your disposal. Take advantage of every opportunity to learn something new.

Learn to use today’s tools better than the average person. These days, everybody has a camera and can shoot video and stills. But not everyone has a gift for timing and can capture an image – moving or still – at just the right moment in the midst of chaos. And not everyone knows how to compose images or use light in a creative way.  Says McNally:

“Look, light has every quality you associate with the written word or the verbal expression of speech. It can be angry, it can be soft, it can be harsh, slanting. I mean all those things…it has emotion and quality and character. And you have to look for it”.

Telling stories, regardless of what medium you choose to tell them with, comes from the mind and the heart, not from technology.

Do what you love. And the rest will follow. Yes, you gotta put food on the table and pay your bills, but success usually comes to those who have something unique to share with the world. As McNally says:

“You’ve got to do it, swallow hard, go make yourself some money, keep yourself alive, so then you can feed your soul.”

So go forth, you seniors, and figure out what you have – what you need – to share with the world. Be well and don’t forget to feed your souls.

And, as always, feel free to contact me about anything. Always.


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