A poignant reminder of the brevity of our lives

In my last blog post, I was responding to an aspiring photographer’s query on how to advance his career. That got me to thinking about the career paths of photographers, including, but not limited to my own. I went on to update my knowledge of the career path of another photographer that I started out working along side of a couple decades ago. Reading about him, I was poignantly reminded of life’s brevity….

As I have written many times, studying the career paths of other photographers (or artist’s or even business persons) is the best way to understand what they did along the road from the start of their careers(s) to their success. An argument can be made that studying the paths of non-photographers can be even more useful. That is because photographers tend to get caught up in notions of “making art” or the “glamorous” nature of their work, usually neglecting the business side of the profession, but that’s another blog post.

In thinking about career paths, I went way back to an early starting point of my own, when I was working in a camera store during high school and college. As I was organizing last week’s blog post, I remembered another young photographer who also worked in the same camera store that I once worked in. He had gone on from that entry-level job to build a very successful career as a professional photographer. I have to say I have not kept in touch with him per se, but I did follow his career arc with interest. Because I knew where he had started out his career, I was thinking of focusing the last blog post on his life.

One reason I may not have been in touch with him was that he had gone on from the camera store job to build a successful career in sports photography, eventually joining the staff of Sports Illustrated. He became one of the best baseball photographers in the business. My sports photography being among the worst imaginable meant that I was probably a bit embarrassed to put my work any where near in front of him.

Still, I followed his career at a distance, because I know where he started out, in the same place I did. When students would ask me how far they might go, I could point to the success of the California based sports photographer, Victor James “V.J.” Lovero. He was always known as V.J. when we worked together.

He was about 19 years old and a student at the California State University at Fullerton when we worked together. I was about 23, one year out of Pitzer college. We spent most of our time taking film from customers and filling out photo-finishing print orders. A few days later the same customers would collect their prints and often would ask our advice on how to improve their photos. Occasionally, especially in the build up to the Christmas holidays, we would sell a few of them different pieces of camera gear.

When things were quiet at the store, we would talk about what we were going to do with our photography (and our lives.) We were both young and full of ambition. I said I was going to be a magazine photographer. V.J. said he was going to be a photographer for Sports Illustrated. Amazingly, both of what seemed like wild dreams in fact came true. Just two years after we had worked together, which was in 1980, V.J. became the team photographer for California (now Anaheim) Angels baseball team. He used that to build his career to the point where became a staff photographer for Sports Illustrated.

In the 1980’s and ‘90s, when I was still heavily involved in magazine photography I would scan the photographer’s bylines in ALL the magazines I could get my hands, on including Sports Illustrated. Over those decades I saw V.J. work his way up the S.I. hierarchy from small “back of the book” features to full-blown coverage of the World Series. As I migrated away from magazine assignment work, I followed his career less and less frequently.

I would never say that we had been friends, but I knew where he had come from and enjoyed seeing where he was going. To me, his was an example of a career path to study and emulate, which is something I often told aspiring photographers. So when I checked in on him last week, as I was preparing that blog post, I was saddened to read that he had died at the age of 44, from cancer in 2004.

There is an especially touching video tribute about V.J. that can be found at:
http://www.sportsshooter.com/special_feature/vj_tribute/index.html The video documentary was produced by Brooks Institute of Photography student Max Morse. Testimonials about V.J., as a friend, father and photographer can be read at: http://www.sportsshooter.com/message_display.html?tid=6806 and http://www.sportsshooter.com/news/1091 A scholarship for photojournalism students was also created to honor his memory and career.

According to my own experience and the video/testimonials V.J. was generous with his knowledge. So I would encourage aspiring photographers to see the video and read the testimonials, to better understand V.J. as a person and as a photographer. There would be no shame in studying those analytically, to learn about his career path.

For me, the video and the testimonials helped me better understand what V.J. had done since the brief time that we worked together. They reminded me of the optimistic, ambitious, funny and caring person I that briefly spent time with. The fact that his life was cut short was, and still is, a poignant reminder to seize each moment, to celebrate each day. From what I know (and what others say in the video and write in the testimonials,) it sounds like that was something V.J. did just that. When I tell students to look at the career arc of V.J. Lovero I hope they pay as much attention to how he lived as well as to how he worked.

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