Why I Left Photography –
A Career Ending Incident

Referenced in Chapter 6 – Goals and a Path

Section – More on Goals

Below is the story about why I left photography, my first passion. I didn’t have a back-up plan for my life if something were to happen that would prevent me from pursuing a career in photojouranlism. I spent about sixteen years preparing to become a top photojournalist and was on the verge of joining Magnum, and then… I became lost and depressed after the incident.

In March 1990, at the beginning of college basketballs’ March Madness, Loyola Marymount University (LMU) had a great basketball team. I was the university staff photographer and I photographed almost all of their games. I got to know the coaches, players, and some of their families. One of the players was Hank Gathers. As a senior, Hank was a candidate for player of the year and had been projected as a top NBA lottery pick. Hank had caught the attention of the press and Sports Illustrated contacted me to provide them with photos of Hank and the team. (To see the photo, go to the photo gallery.)

On March 4th, LMU was playing in the West Coast Conference (WCC) tournament against Portland. Hank Gathers collapsed close to mid-court after he had just scored a dunk on an alley-oop pass. I had the court ringed with strobes (large flash units in the rafters) and had my Canon 300mm f2.8 lens focused on Hank when he collapsed. In an instant I knew these pictures would be on the front page of every sports page and magazine in the country. I couldn’t push the camera button; Hank was my friend. I didn’t want the world to remember him that way, I put my camera down.

I knew this was the end of my photography career. I had positioned myself to go to the next level in photojournalism. I had met Mary Ellen Mark and Burk Uzzle at a Friends of Photography workshop where they had reviewed my portfolio. They said they would nominate me for membership in Magnum Photos, a very prestigious international photographic cooperative, that I had always dreamed of becoming a member. I wanted to go to the hot spots of the world and record the action with my cameras.

But at that moment, I realized that I would first help the child on fire in the war zone before I took the picture. It would have been my job to take that picture, I couldn’t do that.

After following the LMU basketball team through the NCAA basketball tournament where they made it to the Elite Eight before falling to the eventual national champion University Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), I hung up my cameras and quit my job at LMU. I was lost for a while and bought a one-way ticket to Europe to figure out what I would do with my life.

Eventually I came home and decided I wanted to be a teacher, went back to school and earned my teaching credential in life science. I became a middle school math and science teacher with Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD). Later I became a high school biology teacher with LBUSD. I had found a new passion: education.

Almost a Career Ending Injury

Referenced in Chapter 9 –
Persistence, Motivation, and More About Your Path

Section – Problems Along the Path

When I was well along my path as a professional photographer, I had an accident, a metal bungee-cord hook became imbedded in the top part of my right eye.

We had returned from a skiing trip to southern Utah, and at the time, I had a Toyota pick-up truck with a shell on the back. It had gotten so cold at the ski area that the plastic catches on the shell that held the rear window closed had cracked. I used a bungee-cord to hold the window in place for the drive back home to Los Angeles.

After we had arrived in Los Angeles and unpacked some equipment, I was attaching the bungee-cord to the inside of the bed of the truck. It was fully stretched when it suddenly snapped free and came straight for my eye. I managed to move my head back a little, but not far enough. The metal tip of the bungee-cord hit the hard contact lens in my right eye shattering the contact lens on my cornea and the hook of the bungee-cord imbedded in the top portion of my right eye.

Witnesses to this event say I was screaming, and they could see the bungee-cord swinging back and forth. Fortunately, something takes control of me when I’m in a stressful situation and I remembered information from a graduate biology course at UCLA on the vertebrate eye. I could see a diagram of the human eye in my mind and I could tell where the bungee-cord hook was imbedded.

I slowly worked the hook out of my eye, witness say I was screaming the whole time. The pain was intense, so I had to get it out. When I managed to remove the hook, I half expected to see my eye on the end of the hook, fortunately, it was still in my eye socket.

A friend took me to the local emergency room. The doctor said I had done no additional damage removing the hook and that I had done an excellent job in removing it. After several visits to an ophthalmologist, it was determined that all that could be done was to allow time for my eye to heal. The doctor did not think I would regain my vision in my right eye.

To me this was an end to my career as a photographer, I was devastated, I had no other plan for my life. My right eye was covered with a patch, but when I moved my left eye, the right eye would move causing extreme pain. I sat with both eyes closed during my waking hours for what seemed like forever. In that time, I thought about what I would do next with my life. This was when I decided I would like to try teaching.

Fortunately, my eye healed and I could see out of my right eye again, but I was left with double vision. If I held my hand out and focused on one finger, I would see two of everything else. If I focused on something far away, I would see two fingers in front of me. This did not impair my ability to use a camera and I went back to work.

Having this type of double vision has made it very difficult to process visual information when I am participating in the sport of practical shooting. I see either two targets or two slides, sights, scopes, of the pistol. After much practice I have been able to ignore the “wrong one” most of the time.

After this incident I should have realized that I needed a Plan B in case something were to happen that would prevent me from being a photojournalist. I didn’t learn from this incident and when I did have a career ending incident later, I was lost.

Another Career Ending Incident

Referenced in Chapter 9 –
Persistence, Motivation, and More About Your Path

Section – Problems Along the Path

I loved being a classroom teacher, The Best Job I have ever had.
The students had a difficult time following the directions of the biology labs. They were written by PhDs, and the instructions left out steps in the procedures. Instead of using the labs provided by the textbook companies, I wrote my own.

My interest in technology first started at LMU with a Wang Mini system and Macintosh desktop computers. This interest in technology grew as a teacher. I used a Macintosh computer to write labs using MS Word, Photoshop, PageMaker, etc. Computers allowed me to write my own labs with illustrations, pictures, and step-by-step instructions.

Soon I was helping write technology grants and “hit” on six out of ten grants. I now had a classroom full of computers and was writing curriculum for new technology-related classes. I was putting in many extra hours working as the technology coordinator for the school, writing grants, writing labs, and teaching classes. All of my classes were performing very well, all my classes had a B+ average.

One day in seventh period I was administering a test to my biology class when I started to not feel well. I had burning pain in my chest. Connecting all the science classrooms in the science building was a building-long, storage, workspace, lounge area. I ducked into the area and much to my surprise, had a heart attack. I thought I was going to die. I heard a voice in my head, “You can’t die yet, you still have too much to do.” So, I said, “Ok” and started the breathing exercises I had learned from Aikido and calmed my heart. The pain mostly went away, and I went back to my class and finished administering the exam. After class I drove myself to the emergency room where they admitted me to the ICU.

I tried to continue as a high school classroom teacher, but it was too much for me. The stress, the long hours, the interactions, was too much for my heart. I didn’t want to leave teaching, but I didn’t have much choice. So ended my career as a classroom teacher, the Best job ever.

Here I was again with a career ending incident. At least this time I had been through it before and I had a Plan B. I really enjoyed computers and technology, so I decided to increase my expertise in this then new field of technology. I already had a background in computers and in a couple of years I was in a technology career at USC. My new plan also included helping my two stepchildren earn a college degree, which USC helped with free tuition for them, and I was also able to attend USC for free, earning a masters and doctorate in education (free tuition is part of the very comprehensive benefits package at USC). My job at USC allowed me to pursue my interest in technology while pursuing my passion in education.