I’ve written numerous times about the unseen gifts that a long career in this industry can give you. Some of course are unwanted, like bad knees, bad back, financial insecurity, along with ongoing anxiety attacks stirred by deep feelings of inadequacy and uncertainty. Others are most welcome. Lifelong friends, interaction with supremely interesting subjects, adventures and physical challenge, and the ability to pack about 20 or so lifetimes into the arc of a single lifetime spent carrying a camera for a living.
One welcome gift recently accrued to me–induction as a fellow into the Royal Photographic Society. I was honored and humbled by this, but , best of all, it brought a small smile of remembrance to my face.
Long ago, as a student photographer at the Newhouse School of Journalism at Syracuse University, I jumped at the chance to be Professor Fred Demarest’s lab tech/grad student for a semester abroad, in London, England. I shot like mad on the streets of that great city, talked my way onto a fishing trawler bound for the North Sea, and quite absolutely stamped and sealed a decision I had already made–I was going to be a photographer.
Fred taught us wonderfully and encouraged us to make visits to the Royal Photographic Society, one of the oldest photo societies in the world. At the time they had an exhibit of W. Eugene Smith’s work at their small gallery. I was pulverized by the power of these prints. The Society represented then, as it does now, a gold standard in terms of photographic gravity and excellence. Fred encouraged all of us to apply for their beginner status membership, called licentiateship. Being, young and in a rush, of course I didn’t do it. Tony Golden, a terrific photographer and educator who succeeded Fred as chair of the SU photo program, is also a fellow of RPS. I should have listened to my professors all those years ago.
All these years later, I was invited to speak at the Winchester Photographic Society, another historically important group located in Winchester, UK, home of that famous cathedral. It was a very gracious and wonderful evening, orchestrated by photographer David McKibbin. He introduced me to folks at RPS, and, literally, 42 years after the notion went through my head, I applied, and was inducted as a fellow, which is their highest membership rank. They also published a profile in the RPS journal, the world’s oldest photo magazine, which was unexpected. Proud, to be sure, but honestly, just plain tickled. A bit for me, but also mostly for Fred and Tony, and the realization that a good teacher can say things to you, and offer guidance and wisdom that will literally reverberate for your whole life.
Many, many thanks to RPS, and to David Clark, who wrote the piece and was patient with my travel schedule. Thankful, and honored.
And they’re right, what they say on the cover. It still gives me a kick.