Saturday, January 3, 2009


"Dear Mom..." This was my first award-winning photograph.
Today is a day for me to celebrate. Today marks 24 years of living a dream. Today is my anniversary for becoming a professional photographer. It's been an interesting journey.

I was 24-years-old when the Las Vegas Sun newspaper was an afternoon daily. Boy did they have a job for me. My job was to photograph about 40 houses a day. The pictures would be reproduced one column wide and appear in the classified section. I did this job so well that it wasn't long before I was photographing cars too. All this for $100 a week!

When I wasn't shooting cars and houses, I was hanging out in the photo department. The staffers started taking me on assignments with them. I also went to title fights and would reload cameras and develop film for them. After ten months, I was given a staff position (but I still had to photograph houses, cars and other in-house advertising). During that year I won my first award. My wage more than doubled. (Continued after the slide presentation)

Here is an old collection of images from
my newspaper days.

Working for a newspaper can be like a religious calling. The hope and the goal is to make a difference in the lives of other people. (I think there was even a vow of poverty.)

During my time as a photographer, I believe that I've made a difference. I photographed Mikey, a baby who was born with AIDS. I spent weeks with Mikey and Diana, his adoptive mother, during a time when people felt that AIDS was "the gay man's disease." On top of winning an award, I feel that story helped to make people realize that AIDS is an issue that affects everyone.
"The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted,
and afflict the comfortable.”
~Joseph Pulitzer

There were other stories with a social conscience. Mark and Vera lived with Roy and his dog in Roy's car by the side of the road. While photographing them, Mark had a heart attack and wound up in the hospital. That story did well in the awards that year, but most importantly, Mark and Vera were given a place to live — and because of that story — the community donated more than $4000 to the newspaper to give to homeless charities. Oh, I almost forgot. I wrote the accompanying story.

Las Vegas is a great city for news and opportunity. During my ten years there, I got to hang out with people like Jerry Lewis, Chris Isaac, BB King, Lance Burton and I've been to the home of Sigfried and Roy. I'll never forget the day that I made Red Skelton (a long gone comedian) laugh. Or the day that comedian Louis Anderson told me he was going to be really big and said that I should call him because he would need some headshots. I thought he was full of BS and threw his card away. Two months later I sat on the couch with my son and watched "Life With Louie," as Saturday morning TV show starring Louie Anderson. [insert bad words here]

Have you ever seen a hotel blow up? It's cool. I was there when the Dunes Hotel was imploded. I'll never forget the sound — or how much dirt hung in the air.

Along the way we moved to Phoenix and for eleven years worked for another newspaper. I'd like to tell you about day I met "Jesus Christ" but that story is fairly complex and "Jesus" ended up in a mental health institute (where he came from in the first place).

I've been to the SuperBowl, the College World Series and have been on the road to photograph the Phoenix Suns during the NBA playoffs. I've been to Mexico to photograph poverty issues. I won a first-place writing award.

I almost forgot to mention that I've photographed six US Presidents (Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush). One day Al Gore walked up to me at the Sun and said, "Hi, I'm Al Gore. I'm running for President." Soon we had a crowd in the halway and someone mentioned his wife's efforts to sensor rock lyrics. He was a nice guy and as everyone chatted I thought "yeah, you're running for President, uh-huh." Several days later I photographed him at the Landmark Hotel and a couple of weeks after that he dropped from the race. Many years later he became the Vice President.

An assignment that sent me to the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas on New Year's Eve was interesting. After the game I wanted to go into Juarez to experience New Years from across the border. That was until someone asked, "How good are you at dodging falling bullets?" I went to Applebee's instead.

Working for a newspaper is a demanding job. You are always on the go, the pay is low, and sometimes your family takes a back seat. It's a great job when you are 24, but as I got older and had done so much (more than I've mentioned here), it was time to move on to greener pastures. So I decided to leave the news business and go back to school.

While in school, I would shoot an occasional assignment for someone. The longer I was in school, the more frequently the phone would ring. I dropped a research class twice along with a couple of others. After my fourth semester I quit school. My clients deserved my best and I didn't want to be distracted by Finals.

I started with just a single digital camera, a couple of lenses and some flashes. I worked out of my house. Business has been good and in order to get all of the lighting equipment out of the living room, we opened a small studio in Tempe. Today I have several cameras, some amazing lenses and, as I mentioned, a truckload of lights. In my office is high-speed internet, computers with six terabites of storage and gobs of RAM. I can, and have, sent images to other states and countries.

I'll never be able to turn my back on my photojournalistic roots. I believe that working for a newspaper is one of the greatest things a photographer can do. Not only has it given me a chance to make a difference, but it has forced me to become very good at doing all kinds of photography in all kinds of (sometimes adverse) circumstances and situations. I can confidently go into any situation and make a great picture.

Today I don't serve just one client as I did in the days of newspaper, I serve many. My work has been published in US News and World Report, Time, Money, Inc., and Fast Company. Over the summer I did some work that ended up in a magazine published by The Smithsonian. I can go anywhere and do anything. I'm only limited by, well, nothing really.

In 24 years, I've seen a lot of change. We use to carry a minimum of two cameras. One with color film and the other with color slide film. From there we moved to print film, scanners and PhotoShop. Today I shoot digital, but still carry two cameras.

This has been a great career, full of rewards and opportunities. I've come a long way since first shooting houses and cars. And I have further to go. I foresee taking pictures for another twenty years. The only difference is that I'm dropping that stupid vow of poverty.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on your long career, Tony. : ) -elizabeth tompkins (former picture editor)