career : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

i have been doing this a long time now (over 25 years), and have been lucky enough to have had several successes, with one-man exhibitions, authored 3 books, worked for the library of congress doing LF recordation work, etc., and now face a major life change. i have always loved what i do, especially the LF architectural work that i have been doing for the past 15 years, and have a team of seven people who work for me. the upper level managers are encouraging me to become the new manager for my group, rather than being the principal photographer. managing would essentailly mean no more photography for me on the job, which i hate, but the team needs a manager, and i am the only one who can really do the job - they all want me to take it (of course it frees up the team-leader position for one of them to promote into, and we'd get to hire another new person). i am 50 years old, and the money doesnt mean anything to me at this point. i am torn between wanting to keep shooting, and wanting to help the team succeed and helping younger people have some of the opportunities i've had. i dont know how to make this decision. i would appreciate some thoughts from you folks on this.

-- jnorman (, February 19, 2002


You're in a tough spot. I'm also 50. Run a shop at a Gov't Test Range and esentially keep all the stuff running that a whole group of people used to do in better (Reagan) days. I put up with all the jobs I juggle around here, but it's the field work I love. If that was taken out of the mix I'd probably start looking for someone that had field work to get done. Motivating people to do badly and listening to them gripe about what I considered easy is not my idea of a promotion. All I can do is offer a heart felt "best of luck" to you.

-- Jim Galli (, February 19, 2002.

Life is too short, do what you truly enjoy doing. I can say this with authority as I`ve beaten a life threatening illness that one could not have predicted. About three years ago I broke a blood vessel in my spinal cord that left me completely paralyzed from the belly- button down. To shorten a long story, there was lots of hospital time, lots of re-hab time, and yes, I`ve lost at least three years of my life to this, plus the fifteen years that were invested in what I thought was a reasonable career. So, what am I doing now? All of the photography that I should have been doing all along, and trying not to waste a single moment that can be spent enjoying life. By the way, I`ve been walking for about a year and a half, astonishing many, many doctors and therapists. So, if it is shooting that makes you happy, that`s the thing you need to be doing. You just never know... Steve

-- Steve Clark (, February 19, 2002.

Do what you like to do. If you like managing, go for it, and managing can be fulfilling, but it is much different from doing. But if you don't like managing, don't do it.

If you don't know, see if they would let you try it as a temporary assignment, with the option to return to photo work if it isn't your cup of tea.

-- Charlie Strack (, February 19, 2002.

In these times of constant budget cuts, exhortations to "do more with less", endless droning about working smarter not harder (and then being directed to invent worthless "metrics" to manage things you can not do or control because of the staff and budget cuts), never- ending policy reversals with no real instructions or direction until the auditors hit town, etc etc etc - yeah I am a Gov worker too - I would think very carefully about whether I really wanted the aggravation of being a manager. Even if the money did matter to you, I doubt it would make much real difference. Let's just say if I had the years I would be gone like a bat out of Hell. Remember Petronius Arbiter's immortal words about reorganization.

-- Steve Gangi (, February 19, 2002.

jnorman: Boy did your question hit a nerve with me. I'm a little older than you, but your dilemma really touched a chord with me. After years as a Navy photo recon specialist for intelligence, I left the service and finished my college and did a year of grad school at the best photography school in the world. I cover the Olympics, Academy Awards, been in LIFE, NEWSWEEK, etc., and have a whole room full of awards from ad design groups and gold medals from advertising federations for photography and film. I owned and operated the second largest studio in my major city, and went on to become the chair of a major photography department of a large art institute.

My offering of my experience is only to establish my credentials, which also include the award of being named national photographer of the year, many years ago.

Having my ego totally satisfied, I learned in my later years, that the "give back" scenario was a good one for me.

I found great satisfaction in helping young, aspiring photographers with their development, and assisting them in not making the mistakes I did in my earlier years...and in helping the learn to "See"!

After leaving photography for fifteen years and estrablishing a distingushed career in another field, I opted for early retirement and have now returned to the world of photography....just for the fun of it and an occasional commercial job, which I have just signed a contract for...for the next three months.

Right now, I take great pleasure and satisfaction, in extending a hand up, some new friends...passionate about photography, and helping them climb the lader.'s kind of like extending my own career. Yeah, I have been in "Who's Who" for the last 11 years, but that is nothing, compared to the good feelings I have in my heart, for helping others climb the lader....and at the same time, passing on my own personal legacy. I and my life experience, live on, through others. I have always felt, passionately, that those of us who were lucky in our careers, have an obligation to..."Pass It On". I have re-entered the field of photography again, older, wiser, better, but now I can have the joy of doing it for fun...for me...and helping others climb the lader just like I did.

The decision is yours, but I hope will feel the joy I have realized in my pass it on. Just because you're a manager, dosen't mean you can't shoot. Relax, and good luck.

-- Richard Boulware (, February 19, 2002.

I have similar though chronologically opposite concerns. I'm 20, a junior in college, and as I get closer to graduating and the reality of actually having to manage my career gets more perplexing every day, there are things pulling me in fundamentally opposite directions. What I love to do and am best at is architecture and landscape, whereas what a lot of people other than myself seem to think that I should go right into still life/commercial to begin with. Granted, there seem to be greater employment opportunities, but if I already know I wouldn't be as happy doing that even if I could be earning more in the early stages, does that really make it a good choice? So maybe there isn't a huge parallel between my examples and the decision you're facing, but I'm hoping you can see what I'm trying to say.

I think what it all boils down to is this: in the long run, what option will give you the greatest overall satisfaction, all things considered? If what you gain from shooting will give you greater satisfaction in the long run than moving to a management position will, then continue doing what you do now. If not, then switch. Of course, it's never near as simple as that, not by a long shot, but at least in my personal philosophy, it's the long term that matters most. More and more I get the feeling that I should just go for what I really want to do right off the bat when I graduate in '04, even if it means working out of my parents' basement for the first year or two. In 20 years when you look back on this decision, will you wish you would have taken the other path? Sorry I can't give more actual, tangiable thoughts/ suggestion on this, but I guess my age means limited experience upon which to reflect and build. Good luck with your decision and let us know what you eventually decide.

-- David Munson (, February 19, 2002.

I'm in a different field, but have spent most of my career figuring out how to AVOID getting mired in management. Once I was promoted to management and I demoted myself the next day. No thank you. I dont think you've convinced me that management is something you really want.

I know people who have really made themselves really truly miserable by taking management jobs that werent really for them. Are you happy doing what you do? Dont let anyone above you pressure (I'm sorry...*encourage*) you to do anything you're not ready for.

-- Wayne (, February 19, 2002.

I have always worked in a team environment and have this ability to take whatever position I'm put in and turn it into something I enjoy. It is rarely in line with what the managers think I should be doing, but it ends up bettering the team as a whole b/c I end up distributing the tasks I don't want to do amongst those that would rather -- in effect elevating an entire team.

What I am saying is that perhaps there is a compromise. What if 2 or more of you co-manage? This elevates all that are involved and in theory also allows all of you time in the field. I don't know if the way government positions are set up if this sort of flexibility is possible, but thought I would throw it out there.

-- Jennifer Waak (, February 19, 2002.

I agree with the tenet that life should get easier as you get older. Interpret that however it may apply to you.

-- Andre Noble (, February 19, 2002.

Life is very short and unpredictable. I have purposfully short circuited my career in Orthopedic surgery at the age of 46 to be able to have half my time now for photography which is really the passion that I have had since childhood. You know in your heart what to do. Follow your passion. I suspect management is not it. My wife always reminds me of the following quote when thinking about "what to do":

Don't ask yourself what the world needs Ask yourself what makes you come alive And then go and do that Because what the world needs Is people who have come alive

Harold Thurman Whitman

Follow your passion; the rest is just "stuff"


-- Scott Jones (, February 20, 2002.

I think that this is a great opportunity for you to learn about yourself, no matter what you decide. I suggest that you clarify for yourself why you are in this job. Writing your thoughts down with pen and paper may help. Get into as many specifics as possible.

Following are some questions that I would suggest. Some of them may seem obvious, and those may be some of the most important. Are you in this particular job for the income? Because you get to photograph? Because of the people that you work with? Some combination of those? For different reasons? If it's a combination, which part is the most important?

And also:

If you could reengineer your job so that you would enjoy it more, how would you do it? Is there another job that you dream about having? If you could retire and do anything, what would you do?

As you answer the second set, throw "practicality" to the winds. Your answers might seem far-fetched ("If I could retire and do anything I would live on a tropical island, photograph architecture all day, and sip cool drinks when I got tired."), but they will help you realize the things that you enjoy.

When I had an important decision to make I considered questions like these, and they helped me very much. Once I answered them I was able to make very specific decisions about how to do the things that I wanted to do.

Good luck!

-- Matthew Runde (, February 20, 2002.

jnorman .......

While I don't disagree with the previous posts, I don't think they say enough. It's too easy to say "do what makes you happy" without knowing the intimate details that only you know.
So I'll play devil's advocate.
No one lives in a vacuum.
We all make decisions everyday that, although personal, affect many others in unexpected ways.
From your post, I get the impression that these people who are on your team are very supportive and (am I reading too much into this?) like you enough to want you at the helm. Their motives (other than the one you mentioned) may be varied, but they could be looking to you to secure the stability of the department, and the working environment. You are a known...and an experienced and trusted coworker. You know how to do it, and what is required to make the unit run smoothly. You have seen their side of the fence.
Coming from an industry background, I understand this situation and what can happen when an "outside" manager assumes a new position. Your life would be as miserable as others if it turned sour. Maybe more so, as you are the biggest threat to an ambitious and ruthless egocentric manager.

It is a tough decision to say the least. But ask yourself....just how much does the job, the team, the working environment and the 15 years you've invested mean to you? Would a management position reduce or otherwise affect your personal photography time?

Big decision.
I do not envy you (well, maybe a little!) ;)

-- Matt O. (, February 20, 2002.

Hi jnorman

You are the only one which can make the right desicion, because you know the hole situation, we don`t. The only thing to help you is this. Ask yourself is it the best for the whole group if you make it then make it, and I`m sure you find possibilitys also sometimes to be involved or shooting by yourself. And in your freetime you have all possibilitys for your one shooting.

Find the right decision for you, good luck!!

-- Armin Seeholzer (, February 20, 2002.

You have to go with your heart on this one. Think about the responsibilities, activities, etc., involved in the mgt. position and whether or not you are attracted to them. It sounds like part of that would be the fulfillment of helping others succeed. If they sound alluring, then consider going with the management position. I think it's going to be difficult to know whether you would enjoy management without actually giving it a try. You might be pleasently surprised.

If you don't like it, it sounds like you have enough stature in the organization that you could step back into your former position.

-- neil poulsen (, February 20, 2002.

Another vote for doing what your heart says. I learned along time ago to trust my initial convictions! Years ago I started second guessing myself and in the long run it caught up to me. Do what your heart says and be happy. I too want to keep shooting and probably would be happy otherwise but I am only 43 so anything can change. Good luck! Cheers

-- Scott Walton (, February 20, 2002.

From my experience, stepping into management becomes a major drain on the non-bureaucratic aspects of one's career. I don't know the specifics of your management structure, but I don know most anyone who has gone into management will agree that a majority of your time is meetings, taking heat for those your manage if they screw up, getting heat from above when you screw up, having to defend and justify budget concerns, enforce rules and regulations and become arbitrator on disputes. Plan on taking work (and worries) home if you don't already.

You probably know all this already, but I believe that management will not only eliminate your shooting on the job, but will probably eat up time that you may have available now away form work.

Where my career is presently I have had opportunities to go into management with substantial increase in pay. I see a lot of managers with nice cars and houses and all they do is bitch about how much they work. I would rather have less material goods and spend more time with my family and other interests. Like I said, the situation where you are may be totally different, but I would carefully check the depth of the pool before you dive in.

Also, if you have a team that works under you, why can't you help them along without being in management.

-- James Chinn (, February 20, 2002.

i would like to thank each of you for your thoughtful comments. between you, you have captured the essence of this problem and its possible solutions, and i really appreciate it. i know in the big picture this is a small problem, but it is my life and sometimes it is just hard to know which way to go. i am going to let this play out and see what happens - i will have to interview with a panel of upper managers, and at the end, instead of asking some lame-o question, i plan to ask them to describe to me the things about their jobs which they find gratifying. if any of them are able to mention some of the issues that i think are imnportant (some of the same things a few of you said), i may take the position. again, thanks so much for all your responses - you guys are pretty great!

-- jnorman (, February 20, 2002.

Hey jnorman, we've written to each other in the past. I do what you do (but for only 20 years). I'm 45. There is nothing that would ever get me to give up shooting unless it was literally taken away. Steve Clark's comments above are very poignant in that regard. One can feel very humbled and I've caught myself belly aching for no good reason. Cheers for his miraculous recovery! But life is too short and uncertain to give up on what you love, unless there is a compelling reason. Modern living is causing people to spend more and more time working for a living rather than living and working towards that end. If you can stomach the potential of coexisting with a new manager who might not do things the way it has always been done I'd stay where you are happy and turn the reins over. Or the compromise thing suggested later is good. If they will allow it co-manage with a trusted colleague and share the photography. Or better yet, I'll come out and share the photography with you! I was very impressed with your program when I saw a paper on bridge rehab at the Historic Roads conference in Morristown, NJ a little over a year ago. But if managing the program is something that you can live with in all honesty, and you can turn the creative end over without feeling like you have to micro manage it, and you can't disappoint your bosses, and you can find creative outlets elsewhere, go for it.

-- Rob Tucher (, February 20, 2002.

There is certainly a lot to consider. Number one is, will you still have the same job security you have now? Managers are disposable these days. I was struck by one statement you made about passing on what you know to the younger guys. I think that is extremely important in these days of instant and disposable everything. I have a feeling that it is important to you also. I honestly can't say if you can do a better job of passing your experience along as a co- worker or as a manager. If the current situation at work needs fixing, you will be in a much better position to fix things as a manager. You are right about losing the chance to shoot on a daily basis. I found out when I was a manager that I had my feet stuck under the desk all the time trying to solve problems that came from both above and below. It was a love-hate relationship job for me. Consider also future physical condition. Will you still want to lug equipment around 5-10 years from now? I think most photographers are most productive and innovative in their 50's, but take it from one who knows it gets more difficult from a physical standpoint as the years pile up. I realize this is a lot of rambling, and I will end it without giving advice. Good luck with whatever you decide. Let us know.



-- Doug Paramore (, February 20, 2002.

Lead and don't look back. jj

-- Joe Johnson (, February 21, 2002.

I think that managing and NOT shooting for business will make you more passionate about shooting your personal work. Many photogs that shoot for business everyday don't want to pick up the camera for their personal inspirations and this is sometimes where their best work is... Try it out and have a plan set up incase you still don't like it in 6 months...

-- Jason J (, February 28, 2002.

What did you do?

-- Matthew Runde (, May 08, 2002.

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