Humble Beginnings

Most started as bird watchers, I always loved that fact. The birds had the secret they all wanted, sought and required!

We’d driven past the brown and white sign along the highway a couple of times, but Huffman Prairie Field meant nothing to us. Then at the Monday night briefing for the next day’s B-25 flight to Wright-Patterson for the Doolittle reunion celebration, it was mentioned we’d be flying over the field the next morning. So now I was curious. Four days later we decided to explore where the signs were directing us. We drove through the gate, which at first seemed would stop our quest. Negotiating it we went down a country road that turned into a one way lane. We came up to one of those big signs indicating ‘You Are Here’ telling us we were at a dead end road with a gate. In fact, we didn’t see a thing nearby resembling a field or prairie. We had no choice but to continue down the one way road.

We made a turn in the road, which took us out of the trees to a big open field that looked like any other field. It was a gorgeous day with an armada of giant puffy clouds, sailing across the crystal blue sky. The green carpet of spring grasses raced to the horizon to greet the clouds. We just had to stop to make a click. We got out and then saw another sign stating ‘You Are Here.’ But this time the sign said more, telling us we were on the edge of Huffman Prairie Field, the world’s first aerodrome! But it’s more than that.

Off in the distance we saw a small tower and shed, so we headed there to check them out. It was important to me to reach this place, in the middle of nowhere Ohio that 99% of the world has never heard of. It is from this point over 100 years ago all of our lives would be changed. Huffman Prairie Field is where the Wright Bros made their first powered and sustained flights, proving the flight was not only possible, but also our future!

Flying over this field in the nose of the B-25J “Maid in the Shade” to honor the Doolittle Raiders was quite something, especially when the Wright Brothers thought flight would stop wars because it would connect societies by bringing them closer together. Touring the Wright-Patterson USAF Museum and then writing this on my commercial flight home I am blown away how flight continues in magical, marvelous ways and to think it all started with simple bird watching.

A common beginning

How did your photography begin? Mine started as a bird watcher at age 9 (but I never invented a means of flight!). Do you ever take time to reflect on that first moment, experience, magic, love or click? I sure do. I grew up in a family of shutter buggers who were always taking pictures. We would have big family parties that would culminate at the end of day by sitting in front of a large screen either inside or outside in the summer viewing images, reliving past memories and telling new stories. Not much of a stretch understanding where I got it from.

Well wanting to participate in the fun and of course the attention that comes from having your photo on the screen, I needed a camera. I collected and saved Blue Chip stamps until finally I could redeem them to get a Kodak Brownie Instamatic. I was 9. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I was using my dad’s Argus he’d carried through the wars, which evolved to using his Minolta SRT 101. That lasted me about a year until I’d saved up my money to buy the latest and greatest Minolta SRT 202 (since my dad and brother had lenses, seemed like the thing to do). The first pages of my book Captured pick up the story from there when one evening on a beach in So California I had found my two loves of my life, Sharon and photography.

I doubt many of us have really too different of a beginning in photography. Bird watching or people watching, car watching or sports, like the Wright brothers something sparks in all photographers the power of observation and then the desire to share what we see with others. But unlike the Wright brothers, we are fortunate enough to hopefully learn from others who came before us. I personally can’t imagine that first time zipping down a rickety wooden rail in a wood and cloth contraption about to be launched into the air and feeling, “Is this a smart thing to be doing?” Photography in the beginning can be just as scary, especially when you share your photography for the first time! Wait until the first time you start to teach!

I have a desire

I’ve had a couple of great teachers in my life who have greatly influenced me. My dad loved to teach and had a style of making folks think about the answer. He devoted a lot of his life to helping other teachers be better teachers though that wasn’t his occupation. The other was my high school photo teacher. Mr. Traub made his students go out with a camera and find answers for themselves, not handing us easy answers or those that would work for just the moment. Not until I was much older would I understand why he started the first weeks of the class studying the images of old masters (McNally & Maisel were part of our lessons, ha!), looking at light and thinking about composition before he ever put a twin eye monster in our hands.

I started in my sophomore year and by the end of that year, Mr. Traub had me helping the new students. That’s when I started to teach photography and yet, I wasn’t even a photographer myself. And I’ve never stopped.

What is it about photography that gets us up early, takes us out in the rain, at times traveling what seems like the end of the earth just to make a click? I wonder if it’s really any different than what those cave dwellers in Germany felt when they made crude paintings on the wall we can still see today. Did they pass on their knowledge of mixing paint and painting? I wonder.

One of the greatest attributes of NAPP and especially Photoshop World is this huge community that comes together to celebrate creativity in all its visual forms! Even better is the amazing group of people, on stage and off with the desire to share what they have learned so others can learn from their life experiences. I love watching “fans” when they see in person one of their heroes at PSW for the first time. Even though we are all just people, we are very fortunate that fans think so highly of us when at some point, we all had the same simple beginnings.

Unlike the Wright brothers, those on stage are not sharing a new invention but more often just a different way of thinking, approaching and communicating visually. At the same time entertaining and inspiring you to not only try this or that new technique or tool, but also to share your vision. Share through your photographs and share through your teaching others what you’ve learned.

I’ve never heard of any photographer being born with a silver camera. Each and every one of us has had to move ourselves down the path and at times, with the help of others a little further down that path. That’s how I see myself, just a little bit further down that path than some and because of the passion my teachers passed along to me, a responsibility to pass that on to others. And now that you’ve had your beginnings, it’s up to you to pass along what you’ve learned as well! Just think how we can change the world if everyone shared that same desire to help others?

What’s this ramble all about? For quite a while now, I’ve encouraged photographers to share their images, knowing that photography can change the world. Now I want to challenge you to share what you’ve learned with other photographers! And it doesn’t matter what your skill level is, you have something to teach everyone and that includes me. I always come away with at least one great lesson from someone at Photoshop World, someone willing to share an experience they have had that I have not. You don’t have to do a workshop to teach, it can be as simple as a five minute conversation with someone at a camera store counter (of course finding one of those these days is a challenge).

Photographers, every single one as far as I’m concerned are the luckiest folks on the planet! The experiences life has afforded us and that we can share are life-changing. And all you have to do is look at some of the great “projects” already in place like Help-Portrait and you can see the change we can affect on the world. The Wright Brothers while protecting some of their concepts of flight because of business nonetheless opened the doors to a world we enjoy over 100 years later. They taught by doing, leading and inspiring. I think we as a photographic community can do the same thing. Wouldn’t it simply be cool in 100 years society could look back and see the tremendous changes photographers made with the simple act of sharing and teaching? And no matter where you’re at, take comfort in knowing that every single one of us started with humble beginnings.

You can see more of Moose’s work at MoosePeterson.com and WarbirdImages.com, check out the new BT Journal for iPad, and find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+