where it all began - another history lesson

me / c.1967 ~ Okinawa Prefecture, Japan

benjo*  ~ Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan

As promised in yesterday's entry, a true tale about how a photo contest help set me on a career as a photographer ...

I grew up with a very emphatic art bent. My medium was primarily pen / pencil illustration. By my high school years I was making a good deal of spare change doing Ed "Big Daddy" Roth-like illustrations - for friends and friends of friends - for use as school book covers, posters and the like. Some of my more "respectable" work was created for my high school literary magazine and the creation of workplace safety posters for a railway workers union.

It is very interesting to note that all of this art activity was conducted literally within sight of (if I walked to the top of the streeet on which I resided) the Big Yellow Box, aka: Kodak Corporate Headquarters. Strangely enough, at least to me, the idea of giving photography a whirl never once entered my mind nor was it suggested as an art pursuit. I never even visited the George Eastman House Museum which was within walking distance (albeit a mile or so) from my house.

In any event, after dropping out of school (for Architect studies) I was immediately drafted into the US Army - it was the height of the built up to the war in Vietnam. Long story short, after basic training I was, by pure dumb luck, sent to supply clerk training at the completion of which I was, again by pure dumb luck, assigned to be stationed in the Okinawa Prefecture in Japan. All of which meant no infantry, no Vietnam and my chances for coming out of military service alive were vastly improved.

Upon my arrival in Okinawa Prefecture, I was immediately stripped of my supply clerk status and became, because of my Architect studies, an Army draftsman. Consequently, I was assigned to a Headquarter company where I worked at my drafting table in an air-conditioned office.

Being in a Headquarter company also meant that I was effectively exempted from marching up and down the square and a lot of other military stuff. All of which meant that my Army life was pretty much like, with the exception of a morning formation, having a civilian 8-to-5 job. No work on weekends and lots of free time to spend off base inasmuch as we headquarter types had our off base passes permanently parked in our back pockets.

And that's where it all began. Lots of free time and in a very foreign country (Eastern culture wise), what's person to do? Well, in Japan, you buy a camera and start making pictures. Fyi, in the local market cameras were cheap. In an Army PX they were even cheaper. And as a bonus, I discovered that, in the rec center, there was a photo lab where I could process and print my film. So, starting with my very first roll of film, I was not only shooting film but processing and printing it as well.

ASIDE At about this time I returned home, got married, returned with my then wife to Okinawa Prefecture where we took up residence in an off-base Japanese-style apartment (like the ones pictured above). Needless to write, we immersed oursleves in the local culture. End of ASIDE

Fast forward a few months - and keep in mind that I had been making pictures for just a few months - I came across an announcement for a US Army world-wide photo contest. Long story short again, I entered pictures in 3 categories and, at the local level, won all 3. Moving on to the all-Japan level, I again won in all 3 categories. At the next level, all-Pacific, I won in 1 category and runner up in the other 2.

All of that describes my introduction to photography and my rather immediate success. However, the next big step in my path to a career in photography came when the headquarter command Information Office photographer was transferred out without a replacement. Being young and brash and well aware of the adage that you never get what you don't ask for, I raised my hand and said, "I'll do it." Based upon my then very recent photo contest success, they said, "OK." So, I was stripped of my draftsman status and given the status of an official US Army photographer - training? I don't need no stinkin' training.

And there you have it. Within 6-8 months of picking up a camera, I had my first "job" as a photographer. Within weeks of that my pictures and picture stories - all made with the venerable Graphflex Speed Graphic with a Kodak lens (ironically, were both were made in my hometown of Rochester) were appearing in the regional Army newspaper. A few of those photo stories were picked up by Army Times (the world-wide Army newspaper). All of that without a single hour of training or education in photography. Fyi, I eventually convinved them to get me a Nikon.

After that, the rest, as they say, is history.

benjo - the Japanese word for "toilet". A very apt word that the Japanese used to describe what the pictured tidal river became when the tide went out. At the time when I was in Okinawa Prefecture there was no sewer system as we know it. All waste drained into waterway such as the one pictured. When the tide went out, it was very odor-rific.