Many of us hold deeply that first job. It was the one that ignited your fire. I wanted to be working for National Geographic…still a prevailing dream ( if it’s that) . My first time out happened when I walked into a county-wide weekly paper to see if they could use a stringer. The editor looked up at me and what I had , offering $20 an published image. Back then $ 20 seemed good and I really wanted the break. They had a staffer or two, one who carried a Speed Graphic so he could contact the large neg multiple times and pump out “Handshake” shots or “The Ribbon Cutting” event for the paper and its attendees. He had three names so his credit line took up a lot of space . Maybe that was clever on his part. He got the “choice” jobs, grand openings, town meetings, check donations. The other one, a lady part time got the cutsy shots…the dog wearing a raincoat on a bad weather day, the grandma who paints Easter eggs in her basement to raise funds for her society. The editor couldn’t have been cast any better if it had been from Disney itself. A robust, snarly, grumbling guy with a desk full of random sheets of papers and clippings, half full coffee cup and a totally full ashtray. He was always sitting sometimes leaning back and often leaning forward growling. Typical of Jersey , you were just a last name… hey Pace.
Among the cast of characters, I stood there with my samples, my Nikon and two lenses in hand as he told me to come back in a day or two to see what he might have. I did.
My first assignment was to go up to a reservoir in northern New Jersey ” Something’s goin on see if you can get a shot.” The three name man smiled,”you’re wasting your time, can’t do anything with that.” of course not who would buy contact prints of a reservoir? None the less, I went charging out like Jimmy Olsen from the Daily Planet… when I got there, a bulldozer had uncovered a overly large bone. Building had halted, no one was talking and nothing seemed to be happening. I left wondering how would I tell the editor that I just got a shot of a guy sitting on bulldozer. So the next day early I returned to find a staff from the museum of Natural History along with some state officials on hand as they laid out the uncovered skeleton of a mastodon. The only thing missing was the head which they were furiously digging for to the dismay of the builder. I couldn’t crank the Nikon any faster. At day’s end I raced back to my converted by night darkroom , enlarger on the bowl, trays in the tub, prints in the sink. Printing out my day’s coverage, I laid out my prints on boards as a story hoping the editor would like it. It ran 3 pages and I collected $200. To me it was a gift from the universe that welcomed a young guy into what became my fever.
They never found the head…I found mine.