At 59 I’ve seen film photography succeeded by digital capture, and mainstream print media buffeted by an increasingly electronic marketplace (the disappearance of Life and Look are two examples). I probably picked up my enjoyment of pictures, and picture-making itself, from those weekly magazines. Later, when I had my first 35mm camera, they became resources for learning.
The photographers who shot for Life, especially, appeared to lead exciting and exotic lives—this was proven every week when their amazing stories were delivered to our mailbox. There was a liveliness about those pages, and an impact on readers, that won’t be duplicated.
Besides their memorable photographs, Life’s staffers would occasionally talk about how they worked and what they had to do to get them. Aside from technical matters, this was a great way to learn attitude.
I thought of that while waiting for a live-fire drill to begin last Saturday (the second session I’ve shot in a week). Standing on the fringe of a large group of firefighters and listening to the Training Officer explain the day’s schedule, I noticed the early morning fog moving deliciously around an old barn a hundred yards away, and along a short stretch of the Willamette River behind the property owner’s new house. In particular, I was attracted by a sprawling maple tree cloaked by the mists.
But my job (self-assigned) was to shoot fire pictures, not nature or scenery…and it was at that moment I remembered something Life’s Co Rentmeester said, that being a professional meant ignoring 90 per cent of the other photo opportunities that present themselves as you completed your assignment. And so, because they fell in that other ten per cent, I took time to shoot the barn, and the bonus cow, and invested a few minutes surveying the maple tree. The fog dispersed quickly after that, the drill started, and I got busy taking the pictures I’d come for.
Rentmeester, by the way, is still making wonderful photographs.