photography school

Hey Kid, Don't be a Jerk!

When I was 20 years old I was a jerk. Not all the time, but in one particular instance I was the biggest jerk on campus. During my 20th year of life I attended Colorado Mountain College in Glenwood Springs, CO for one semester. I was in the professional photography program and it had a major impact on my development as a photographer. The coursework was great and the instructors were top notch, yet I only lasted one semester before transferring for the third time in my college career. There were a combination of things that led to my departure from CMC including the fact that the I-70 corridor through Colorado is rather expensive for someone trying to make it through school without incurring any debt. Another major reason was the fact that my new girlfriend (now my wife) was living in Boston while attending Berklee College of Music. Being 2,000 miles away from each other is a tough way to build a meaningful relationship.

The other factor that led to my departure was that I quickly burnt myself out on photography. The program was intensive and required me to throw everything else aside. I remember days of hitting the road before dawn to go on location to shoot. I'd come back before my first class in the morning, then process the film after lunch. I'd go to more classes and then print through the evening. It was great for fast paced learning, but my personality requires my life to be diverse. I needed variety in my life so I worked 30 hours a week at a local ski shop and spent the few spare moments I had climbing mountains and snowboarding. I loved Colorado!

But . . .

There was one particular instance during my time at CMC that I want to talk about. I can look back on it now and smile, but at the time I was convinced that what I was doing was the right thing. Being 11 years removed has given me a much clearer perspective of that "defining moment."

Simply put, I was an arrogant little asshole. I'm going to recount this experience now in the hopes that some of you younger readers won't be as much of jerk as I was at 20.

I was taking Black and White Photography 1. I should start by saying that this was an incredibly valuable class and I learned many of the fundamentals I now use as a professional photographer during this time. I went through the entire semester doing very well. I wasn't that crazy about many of the assignments the instructor assigned, but the material was relevant. I held an A the whole way through the semester until my final assignment for the semester when I really shined as a jerk.

BW Photo 1 - Make one picture that represents what America means to you. I remember getting the assignment and immediately being turned off. "How can one photograph represent America! This is a ridiculous assignment." At least this is how I felt at the time. Now I look at this assignment and realize how subjective it is. I literally could have shot anything. But, being the arrogant little jerk that I was I thought, "No way man, I'm not going to lower myself to these standards. I'm above this and won't do it." See what I mean - I was a dickhead.

So instead of just doing the assignment like the rest of my peers, I spent way too much time writing an essay about why I refused to do the assignment. I wish I could find a copy of that essay so I could have a really good laugh. I think I even turned in a black print. Yeah, like I said I was a jerk. I probably spent more time not doing the assignment than if I had actually just gone out and shot something new. It's hard to remember why I was so passionate about not doing it, but I remember being 100% sure of myself then. Where did I get that confidence?

Long story short, I got an F. And rightly so. I can't imagine what my professor thought when I turned that in. He was so furious that he didn't even talk to me the remainder of my time there. I don't blame him one bit. That act of defiance was something that isn't worthy of being addressed. If by some coincidence my former teacher happens to read this and remembers me, I would like to utter this apology:

"I'm sorry for being such a jerk. I had no basis for acting in that way and I hope you realize the lessons you taught me have been invaluable to my career. I regret not using the passion I had to actually create something meaningful. I regret acting the way I did and hope you'll except this belated apology. I was only 20, clearly immature and stupid. I'm sorry."

And with that I would like to turn in a revised assignment and say, "Hey Kid, don't be a jerk."  


I know this is bleak, but it's not the only way I feel about America. It just happens to be my most dominant feeling given the current economic and political climate. I hope it changes soon.