First, an aside.
My switch to photography was gradual. It was the summer of 2000 and I was working on a fisheries research project on Lake Tanganyika in Tanzania. I had a small point-and-shoot film camera. After dropping it a few times, the door latch broke. Layers of green duct tape kept the door shut. To change a roll of film, I would peel the tape and retape the door afterwards. Every shot had to be carefully considered as replacing film was no quick matter. After the project was over, I advantured for a month, photographing the animals I had encountered.
Once back in New York, I was excited to develop the film. The giraffes in my photos were barely visible. They were not the towering, magnificent animals I saw on the pages of the National Geographic and was hoping for in my own pictures.
I had to figure out why.
I picked up books on photography, then started taking photography classes. The internet was America Online on Windows 95, so learning was more hands-on.
I started toying with the idea of being a photographer. By then, I was working as a fishery biologist in Juneau, Alaska.
Capital City Weekly was a free community newspaper that you’d read while grabbing quick lunch. The one you’d find in street corner stands and by the front doors of shops. They paid a little for the photos of community events around town. I started freelancing for them and felt exhilarated to be paid for photography.
Through their referral I landed my first commercial shoot. A national pharmacy association hired me for a series of photos of a local pharmacy. The pharmacy was to be featured in the association’s calendar.
The job paid $600, which I promptly spent on my first Canon flash needed to do the job. Without knowing how to use flashes, I scrambled to make it work.
I was emboldened by the success of this shoot. I thought all I needed was to quit my fishery job and I would be on the way of becoming a full-time photographer.
And I did quit my fishery job. Over. And over. And over again. It took another 7 years before I realized how to make it a reality.
This digression brings me back to the shoot for Absher Construction and the Tacoma Mission Center.
Editorial photography is how I started on my path of a photographer. It’s like a secret handshake. Photography opens otherwise closed doors. It lets you into other people’s lives, often in an intimate, unguarded and unexpected ways.
When I was still in Juneau, I worked with the United Way of Southeast Alaska to help them bring attention to homelessness. Along with a couple of other photographers, we created a series of images of people able to find permanent housing, as well as those not as lucky. This series was one of the last projects I shot on film.
I collaborated with the local homeless shelter, The Glory Hall, to create a short video to advocate for the first Housing First facility in Juneau. Housing First is an approach to ending homelessness by providing permanent housing with few or no preconditions, thus enabling many to improve their quality of life.
This video was my first attempt at film-making. At that time I had no training or experience in making videos, and borrowed the gear to make it happen.
Once I moved to Washington, I was happy to volunteer my skills with Real Change, Seattle’s award-winning newspaper. The paper provides those with low or no income immediate economic opportunities.
Photographing the newly constructed Women’s Shelter in Tacoma was thus a truly special project for me.
Construction was managed by Absher Construction and the photos will be used by the Tacoma Mission Center as well.
What was once a storage facility on the campus of the Tacoma Mission Center was turned into modern temporary housing. The shelter houses women experiencing homelessness. With 36 beds in two rooms, a laundry room, storage lockers and showers, it’s a welcome respite for those in emergency situations. The second floor of this new facility provides the badly needed office space for some of the staff of the Tacoma Mission Center.