You’ll Never be Any Good
‘You’ll never be any good at this’
Believe it or not, these words were spoken to me by my photography professor in college.
It was my softmore year & I was taking my first photography class of my collegiate career.
By this point, I’d already dedicated two years toward obtaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree. The Savannah College of Art & Design required students to finish all core classes before taking classes within your major.
With my core classes complete I was finally back in the darkroom, where I belonged.
Photography is a very expensive hobby
Before digital technology made film & processing costs irrelevant, I was spending thousands of dollars on film, paper and other basic needs. I was still shooting with my first film camera, a Minolta X-370 and the camera body hadn’t been serviced in years- if ever?!
Everything was manual. And I mean E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G!
Exposure was determined by an internal light meter which measured ‘middle gray’. Focusing, metering & changing out fixed lenses was just another part of the process.
As a college kid on a diet of ramen noodle, I didn’t have funds to purchase anything fancy. While I was envious of my classmates and their shiny new lenses, I pushed forward with what I had learning the hard way.
My instructor was Jaclyn Cori. It was early in her years of teaching but she was already known for ripping people apart. I recall her as impeccably dressed, petite woman with beautiful olive skin. Something about the way she carried herself made her intimidating.
I haven’t forgotten the sinking feeling I had when I met with her for my midterm review.
‘You’ll never be any good at this.’
She said coldly from across the room. She rose from behind her desk and floated across the room, closing the door behind me. She circled back and sat on the edge of her desk before inviting me in to take a seat.
I stumbled into the room dazed, like that of a frolicking deer shocked by the sudden burst of headlights.
She pulled out a stack of black and white contact sheets from a folder on her desk.
Contact sheets were essentially xerox copies of your film. We’d slide our film negatives into pockets on an 8.5×11 sheet made for preserving 35mm film. Then we’d create a positive print of the entire page- like a copier. This was how we were graded and helped us determine good vs. bad exposure.
‘Do you know what you are doing wrong?’
She asked as she handed over the contact sheets which I recognized as my own. I shrugged working hard to hold back tears, trying to find the words to speak.
It was true I was struggling with my exposure. My images lacked contrast. While I was writing down every exposure & corresponding frame (yeah, that’s how we did it before digital), somehow I was missing my mark every time?
I was frustrated and hoping for something, inspiration perhaps?
She continued, ‘I’m not exactly sure what you are doing? But these exposures are all muddy. It looks like you are consistently underexposing 1-2 stops? If you want true blacks, meter for middle gray and reduce two stops.’
(If you missed that, it was all photo gargon for: you are not exposing properly but mostly you suck at this.)
Try, try and try again.
I didn’t let this talk discourage me. In my next class, we ran tests on our camera’s and I discovered my light meter was off 2 stops! Pushing forward in spite of my own doubts, I built a website and launched my business my senior year.
When I originally built my website, I had nothing but time. It was my senior year and I was taking a computed class with Professor Tan. He was a Turkish man who spoke often about the conflict in his home country.
He was an inspiration. I always enjoyed his class even if we spent the day hearing about stories from his youth. He knew his stuff and I took advantage. While the other students were completing a final project on animation, I got his approval to build my first website and get it online.
After graduation in 2002, I’d already begun picking up jobs and slowly adding the new equipment I needed.
Jaclyn called me shortly after graduation.
She’d recently gotten engaged and stumbled across my website while searching for photographers. She remembered having me as a student but she didn’t remember the conversation in her office quite like I did.
She was impressed with my site and congratulated me on the work I was producing. I hung up the phone ready to charge forward again. It was just what I needed at the time in order to get me to the next level.
Until next time-