In all of photography there is no finer moment than those milliseconds when your camera records an exciting new beginning: A first date, kid’s first day at school, first haircut, first birthday, first job, first week at boot camp.
Now walk with me into a warm, humid night in the spring of 1957. After a struggle to finish college by way of year-round classes, three part-time jobs, and trying to keep my little family afloat, finally, finally I was about to graduate.
To make a little money and also get a good grade in a magazine-writing class, I proposed a story to several magazines. When I tried to sell it to one of the McGraw-Hill publications, the editor wrote me to say that he didn’t think he could use the story. However, based on the quality of the writing in my letter, he would like to interview me for a job. New York City! America’s second-largest publishing company! Who, me?
The airline tickets arrived in the mail and forthwith I was winging my way north on an Eastern Airlines two-engine Lockheed Electra.
At the end of an exhausting day of interviews with six veteran editors, I drank two beers and enjoyed a leisurely supper at an Irish restaurant, then returned to my hotel room. Looking eastward out of my window, I could see the blinking, multicolored lights of Times Square, just one long block away.
At the sight of it, suddenly I became a man with a mission. I fumbled in my suitcase for the little Voightlander camera that I had bought ($15) from a fellow Marine four years earlier. Clutching the camera and a flimsy $5 tripod, I headed for Times Square.
Dodging a parade of taxicabs, I sprinted to a narrow median island at the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, screwed the camera onto the tripod, guessed at the exposure setting, turned the dial to “delayed shutter” and jumped into the photograph.
It was a bush-league thing to do but, hell, I was a bush-league kid trying for a job in a building twice the height of the tallest building in my home town. Little old me, I was standing at the very core of the Big Apple.
Miraculously, I got the job. Later I became McGraw-Hill Magazines’ Atlanta bureau chief, writing stories and shooting photographs in eight states for 40 magazines. In later years I would try my luck at documentary photography, fine art photography, humorous photography, and always — freelance magazine photography.
The moral of this story is: Learn how to use that shutter-delay function on your camera. Keep a lightweight tripod handy. Your gut feelings will tell you when it’s time to record the most memorable moments of your life, and the lives of the ones you love.