A few weeks ago I was standing with a flock of warbird enthusiasts up at the Flying Heritage Collection at Pain Field in Everett, WA with my camera in hand waiting for a bf-109 & FW-190 (WW II German fighters) when I started thinking back to where the obsession with War Birds and photography met…
Set the “Way Back Machine” to 1976 when I got my first airplane book at a little book store in Encinitas, CA right after my dad took me to see Monty Python’s Holy Grail at the La Paloma Theater. I think it was the drawing of a one of the Flying Tiger’s P-40’s that fascinated me, the shark mouth just looked so cool. I started trying to copy the drawing, over and over again. I loved that book and while it’s a little worse for the wear I still have it. This was the spark that would change the rest of my life, but at 6 years old I just thought the P-40 looked really cool.
A few years later, I think it was in 6th grade I was in the school library having to find a book to read when I stumbled on a book about the Red Barron and when I went home to start reading it I was hooked. I finished the book that night and went back the next day to get more history books. I ended up reading every book the school library having anything to do with WW I & II. One of my dad’s friends, who was an warbird buff, suggested that I read a couple of other books that weren’t at my school library, so I went down to the Carlsbad City Library to pick up “Incredible Victory: The Battle of Midway” & “30 Seconds Over Tokyo”, read them and kept going back for more. Most of my interest focused on the airplanes and this interest never passed.
A couple of summers later (between Jr. High & High School) my dad’s friend, who lived in Fresno at the time, invited me to come up so I could go to a with him to the Madera Air Show. For the first time in my life I was finally going to be able to see the planes I’d been reading about for the past couple of years. It was an amazing experience and I hardly minded that it was 110 degres out on the runway! I was there seeing these planes fly for the first time in my life, experiencing the sound and power of some of the most famous aircraft in the world and there I was with my little Kodak 110 camera borrowed from my grandmother taking the photos that would start it all.
The new obsession was air shows and thankfully I lived in Southern California and was surrounded by military bases, Mirimar NAS, El Toro MCAS, March AFB, Norton AFG, Point Mugu NAS and Edwards AFB all just close enough that I could make my dad drive me and my best friend to all of them with an upgraded camera borrowed from my uncle Dan this time. I got to see some things I’d never forget. One year at Mirimar NAS (then home of Top Gun) I watched on as a low flying F-14 pushed just a little too far and broke the sound barrier and managed to shatter the windows of the radio booth that was covering the show. At Point Mugu in 1983 or ’84 I got to watch famous stunt pilot Art Scholl (who later perished while filming the movie Top Gun) fly an amazing routine in a Rockwell Shrike Commander (he finished up his routine flying w/o power, did a couple of loops, landed and taxied the plane to the centerline of the air show and made it curtsy as it came to a stop – all without the engines on)! In 1988 I was at the El Toro Air Show with my uncle when I watched an F/A-18 crash during a demonstration. The pilot was fine, by the way.
My Junior year of High School is when I finally got a camera (Pentax special that was the Price Club special as a Christmas Present) of my own and the summer between my Junior and Senior year I got to take my first photography class at a local college (the class at my High School was impossible to get into). I had an amazing teacher who was more interested in helping us develop our style of photography than doing everything exactly by the numbers and I’m SO glad she was my first photography teacher. If my second teacher may had been my first things might have ended differently for me. She was clearly checked out and didn’t know anything other than how to run us through the chapters in a book – boring exercise after boring exercise with no passion or interest in what the students were doing.
My senior year was a rough time, with some crazy family problems that I won’t bother to go into here, but I started working on the school newspaper and yearbook and really poured my energy into the photography in an effort to block out what was going on at home. I took pictures of my friends at school, my cousins on the weekends and from time to time drove down to Palomar Airport to take pictures of the random planes down there. My trusty Pentax was stolen out of my car, so I traded my mountain bike for my friends Minolta X700 that I’m now teaching my kids photography with and I bough a Yashica 124g with money earned working for my father. With my work on the yearbook and newspaper I was really starting to take more and more photos of people and was really enjoying that. I even did some head shots for a girl at my school who was on one episode of The Wonder Years and I have shots of my classmate Denise Richards (pre-Charlie Sheen drama of course).
So, how did I get from there to here? I was actually very strongly encouraged by my family to go into photography, but I at the time I felt that if I took something that I loved so much and made it a job I’d end up getting sick of doing it and I really didn’t want to loose the passion for photography. As a result I had a long series of jobs at camera stores and various other things. While the jobs changed every couple of years my love for photography was still there. In about 1999 I was hired by my father-in-law’s company to spend a week traveling around the country taking pictures of their devices that were installed in hospitals. Suddenly the switch was flipped and when I got back from that trip I started hounding all of the local newspapers to hire me as a photographer. While I had a job, now as a travel agent, I kept calling all of the editors until one finally had an assignment for me. I started shooting school sports for a local paper after work and was thrilled to be finally making some money doing photography. It wasn’t much, but I saved every penny of that money to buy better equipment. Shortly after 09/11/01 I quit my job as a travel agent and set off on my own, doing contract photography for a sports photography company, working for the paper and picking up portrait shoots.
I was working as a photographer but things changed when my new wife (and my biggest fan) asked what I though about shooting weddings. Honestly, I’d avoided them with a few exceptions for friends and family and had never really considered being a “wedding photographer”. It just so happened that at that time one of my best friends was getting married and the friend of a model I’d done some work with was getting married within two weeks of each other. Mitzi just suggested that I go into shooting with the mindset of seeing if it would be something I’d want to do. Well, I loved shooting the weddings! We then changed the business name, started marketing weddings and soon had booked up 15 weddings for the next summer!
Now we’re into our 5th year of shooting weddings and we’re going strong. This year at Mitzi’s suggestion we opened “Little Black Book” as our boudoir studio and that side of the business has been much more successful than I had expected. Mitzi told me it would be, don’t know why I doubted her. She’s a genius!