The first two job interviews for the position of photo retoucher were quite inspiring (Although, some might think otherwise). One was at a company named Sox Imaging (I believe they are no longer in business). As a Chicago-raised transplant living in New York City, I just couldn’t forget the name. I believe the owner was a Chicago White Sox fan. This was late Summer, 1998. The competition was steep. My resume and experience were a joke. Yet, I knew I was going to achieve some measure of success if I did not despair. Just getting a peek into my future and soaking in the vernacular of the photo retouching field was worth the rejections.
In between various retoucher interviews, I landed a job with a studio on 25th Street. This was a high-volume, rough and rugged photography job, focused on high-school and college graduation portraits. Working at schools throughout the five boroughs, I got around. It paid well and provided a perfect opportunity to practice Spanish (along with some simple, yet near-flawless posing and lighting techniques). The office culture at the place was truly unbearable and dotted with some awfully humiliating events dished upon the unlucky employee who the co-owner decided was worth less than one of the giant cockroaches living in that old office building. Yet, I can finally look back it with genuine appreciation.
I was also called in to the Journal News to cover a few freelance photojournalism assignments on a weekly basis. One of their staff photographers, Chet Gordon, obligingly opened that door. I’ll never forget the time I visited his home and he offered nacho chips and the most delicious salsa. He had beautiful framed pictures of his work on the wall. He is what I call a “super-achiever.” Like my previous photojournalist mentors, Brian Jackson and Milbert Orlando Brown, Chet’s very presence inspired me to make no excuses for not shooting and shooting well. He recommended a timeless book called the Perfect Portfolio by Henrietta Brackman I bought it and put it to work.
Covering sports and features throughout Westchester, Putnam and Rockland counties provided an advantageous education in the history and geography of the world just north of the Bronx. Sleepy Hollow, Cold Spring, Nyack, Bear Mountain, Mount Vernon, New Rochelle and other places had some of the most memorable people and scenery. We were still shooting film at the time. Yet, as I always had done, we scanned the images at workstations in the photography department. A change in management eventually brought an end to freelance work for me and other photographers.
My first big break in photo retouching came when I shared my card with an editor at the Journal News. She had a reporter who accidentally ripped an original obituary photo—and had lost the torn piece. The subject was missing his shoulder. Using the “new” Adobe Photoshop 5.5—which I can proudly claim I paid for in full—I rebuilt the entire missing portion to their satisfaction. I printed it on my HP 1120cse (another proud purchase for my fledgling photo retouching studio).