It All Starts With NESOP

In June, 2014, I gave my first and only graduation speech as Academic Director at New England School of Photography. It was an exciting and optimistic event, and I was honored to play a small part in it. Here is what I had to say...

There’s a woman sitting over there, Marty Hassell, who has repeatedly said something to me ever since I took this job last October. 

She says it every time I wander into her office to ask how I can fix some administrative task I just screwed up. 

I usually walk away scratching my head, and that’s when she says it, and always with a sly little smile. 

“I’m glad you’re here”.

Well, I’m glad I’m here, too, especially tonight. Like Kurt Vonnegut used to say, “if this isn’t nice, what is?”

Marty Hassell is graduating tonight, too. 

So let me start by saying "Marty, I’m glad I was here when you were here”.

I hope that what you learned at NESOP has already made a difference in your lives.

I also hope you’ll try to use at least some of it to make a difference in other peoples lives as well. 

That brings me to Alyssa Minahan.

Alyssa has single handedly put together a volunteer team from this graduating class who are about to do exactly that. 

They will return to NESOP on Monday morning to inaugurate our very first Practicum project.

They’ve designed a two week photography course for a group of very talented young people from the Epiphany School in Dorchester. 

The kids come to us from a joint venture between two great non-profit organizations, Urban Achievers and The Take 5 Foundation. 

Take 5 was founded by Brenda Bancel, a NESOP grad. 

Brenda has used photography to make a difference in the lives of at-risk youth for many years now. 

Brenda, Alyssa and our Practicum instructors are NESOP grads doing big things. 

We hear that a lot. 

Now it’s your turn. 

The next time you walk through the door under the Citgo sign it will be as a NESOP grad, not a NESOP student.

It will be an entrance, not an exit.

I know this is all a corny metaphor, but give it a minute…

The fancy piece of paper we’re about to hand you is nothing more than a membership card. 

It lets you into a club full of crazy, screwy, wonderfully creative women and men.

They’ve been out in the world for almost 50 years doing big and small things with photography, and they’re known collectively as NESOP grads. 

To those who know what it stands for, that fancy piece of paper is the secret handshake that will open fascinating new doors for you. 

But that’s all it does. Once you’re in, the rest is up to you.

You’ve paid your initiation fee, the next step is to pay your dues.  

I know this probably sounds a little presumptuous coming from me. 

I don’t have the credential that you’re about to receive. 

I didn’t attend NESOP or any other photography school for that matter, so I’m an honorary member of the club at best.

Nevertheless, just about every important door I’ve walked through as a professional photographer in Boston over the last 30 years has been opened by NESOP.

Get this…

It was a NESOP grad named Paul Dube who gave me my first break in the commercial photography business way back in 1986. 

Paul hired me as an assistant at his excellent advertising studio, Hotshots. 

I was a replacement for another NESOP grad, Tim Lynch, who went on to gain legendary status as Clint Clemens’ studio manager. 

Nine years later, Lynchy and I found ourselves learning digital photography on the clock, side by side as freelancers at Filenes. 

I eventually took a full time gig at Filenes, and Tim freelanced there as often as he could. 

In 1993, I met NESOP grad and longtime instructor Heratch Ekmekjian. 

We were both day laborers on the early shift at a catalog sweatshop in Marlboro. 

We’ve been besties ever since. 

We’ve laughed like idiots and cried in our beer over how much we’ve had to evolve and adapt simply to keep working as photographers. 

Then, about 15 years ago, NESOP’s darkroom maestro Nick Johnson stopped for a cup of coffee at a cafe in Arlington. 

Hanging on the wall were 12 black and white photos I had shot in Australia.

He called me, and in 1999, I hung those prints and about 30 others in NESOP’s Gallery One. 

The Australia prints were arranged in a neat row along what is now the back wall of Marty’s office. 

That NESOP show is still the largest solo exhibition of my work to date.

Back to Heratch. In 2005, he convinced me that I should teach a workshop at NESOP. 

In doing so, he introduced me to what my life’s work was supposed to be all along.

Then Tim Lynch surfaced again, and recommended me to teach at another school in the area. 

I was hired by yet another NESOP grad, Rick Ashley.

Rick’s an amazing photographer whose Prom Series and Superman portraits you have undoubtedly all seen at Panopticon Gallery. 

I eventually took over from Rick as program director.

I was proud to have the guy who got the ball rolling for me, Paul Dube, on my teaching staff. 

And if you want to blame somebody for the fact that I’m standing up here tonight, blame Heratch. 

When it was time for me to move on to bigger things last year, he convinced me to call NESOP. 

There is yet another NESOP connection in my life I won’t tell you about, but it’s a biggie.

That’s how it works, guys. 

That’s what this club is about.

That’s what networking is, and that’s what you’d better start doing as soon as the aspirin kicks in tomorrow morning. 

Because there’s a point where you know what you know. 

There’s a point where your talents are assumed. 

That’s where you are tonight. 

That’s what the fancy piece of paper is all about.

If you succeed, it probably won’t be so much because of WHAT you know, but WHO you know. 

So look around you right now, the folks next to you, in front, behind, up here- we’re now your immediate photography family. 

I guarantee you, if you’re patient, professional and persistent, at some point down the road, somebody in this room will open a door for you.  

And when that happens, you’ll realize what has finally become very clear to me. 

It all started with NESOP.


Randall ArmorComment