The Big Trip

Here is what I had to say at the graduation ceremony for BU/CDIA graduates in February, 2013

I always go last, so I get to deliver the punch line. Besides, I'm not ready to see you all go yet, so please indulge me a little here. 

We don't want you to think of this as goodbye. It's more like get the heck out of here.

Seriously, this is actually bon voyage. 

Do you guys like to travel? Good, because you’re all about to take a trip. All these folks up here are on their own trip already and can tell you all about what the’ve seen along the way so far. But that’s their trip, not yours. 

Mine started out as a long railroad trip. Literally. I make a big deal out of telling my students how I taught myself photography by day while driving a subway train at night. 

After three years going around in circles in the raunchy tunnels underneath Philadelphia, one day I announced I was quitting to go work in a camera store. 

When the Superintendent of the railroad, R.S. Korach, found out, he walked up to me, put his face about 6 inches from mine and said “this is the biggest mistake you’ll ever make”. Without waiting for me to answer, he turned his back and walked away.

That’s how my trip started, 35 years ago, and I’ve thought about what that guy said to me just about every day of my life since then. 

Maybe if he could see this today, he might say something different to me. Maybe not. 

So, like I said, you’re about to take off on your own trip. I like to think that we’ve all helped you get ready for it. 

You came to CDIA to learn how to separate clients with creative problems from their money. In the process, you also learned a lot about photography, design, filmmaking, web development, 3D animation and audio recording. 

You’ve learned to think for yourself when it comes to this stuff, and maybe now you look more cautiously at the folks like us who have all the answers. Maybe now you’re starting to embrace the ones with the questions. Good. 

Along the same lines, somebody once said that a tourist see's what he's come to see, but a traveler sees what he sees. I like that. 

Some folks set out on the same journey you're about to start and they already know where they’re going to go and what they're going to see. After all, it's right there in the tour book! 

Others are open to just letting the experience reveal itself in its own way and in its own time. Either way, tourist or traveler, anybody who's ever gone anywhere interesting can tell you that it won't be like you think it will.

So hopefully, you’re starting to get my trip metaphor, because I should probably bring it home. So take a look at this picture. Here’s a happy couple setting off on a trip of their own.

That’s my mom and dad on their wedding day in 1954. They weren't cool, edgy, stylish, high-end or any of the other self-indulgent words we use these days to add perceived value to our clients or ourselves. 

They were just a young couple setting off on the journey of their lives. They were happy, which is exactly what the picture says. 

Come to think of it, I never saw my dad look this happy- maybe he was already thinking about getting around to making me, or something along those lines. 

I have no idea who the photographer was, and the thing we sometimes forget is neither will the descendants of your clients if your work (or their marriage) lasts as long. 

But as far as I'm concerned, as a documentarian of this day he was the best photographer in the history of the world. 

He was skillful enough to create something that could reach out over more than a half century to show me how my mother and father looked on the happiest day of their life. 

Funny story- the little wise guy there on the left would grow up to be my uncle, and he took the same trip we’re all on- he became a very successful photographer. 27 years after this picture was taken, he gave me my first job shooting weddings and portraits. 

He taught me how to take those white-shirts-and-khaki-shorts family portraits on the beach at sunset, high school seniors leaning against a tree or brides lit beautifully by window light, stuff that photographers have been doing for a long time now. 

He taught me that what we were doing was high end, and that we had a unique, contemporary style. Just like all the other decent, small town portrait studios in the world. 

Then five years later he fired me. 

That might lead you to the same conclusions that I came to:

First, it can suck working for family. 

Second, some of what we do is just pure BS- it always has been and it always will be.

Third, so much of life is relative- it depends on who your relatives are.

Fourth, there’s a point where you know what you know. Your opportunities to succeed then come from who you know. 

That means that making and maintaining strong relationships is probably the most important thing you’ll do as a person and a professional, and if you want to succeed as either, you’ll have to do it every day, forever.  

Finally, if you stick with things long enough and care to look back (in this case back almost 60 years) it all starts to make sense. It looks like a crazy, unforgettable trip.  

These days, if you fly alot you can apply for a special card that let's you bypass the the strip search at the airport security line. It gets you to the gate faster, so you can get a head start on your trip. 

Think of the certificate you've earned as that. That's all it is. We have accelerated you to the departure gate. You've been prescreened by security. You've used the facilities and you’ve taken your Dramamine. 

In your carry-on bag, obviously, is a camera, and now you know how to use it. But what else is in there? Is it a map, a compass and an open-ended rail pass or first class tickets for a guided motorcoach excursion to a bunch of tourist traps? 

Either way, here you are. You're next in line for departure. Ready for takeoff. You have learned how to solve creative problems professionally. Now it's time to start your trip.

Think of it as a working holiday, because while it will be work, hard work, you may be privileged to see things that most people only ever dream about, if you look. And being skilled, creative people, you get to show that stuff to the rest of the world. How cool is that?

Send us a postcard from time to time, OK? If you wind up in jail or need money, send it to Bruce.

And Daniel, for the last time, will you please turn off your kindle and stow it in the seat pocket in front of you? 

 Come on up and get your certificates.






Randall ArmorComment