This picture might look like a standard fence post along some back roads highway between Calgary Alberta Canada and Montana. It is, but it also means something more to me. You see, it took me back to my past. A time in my life I hate with a passion.
I was never the popular or cool kid in high school. I got picked on for having wavy hair that stretched past my shoulders and eight ear piercings. My clothes were baggy, I tried to blend in to the crowd, slide in and out of classes, and hoped teachers wouldn’t call on me in class. But there was one teacher who singled me out from the rest.
My junior year of high school I took Photography I. Mr. Kendall gave the class different photo assignments each week where we’d have to shoot a roll of black and white film, develop the roll of film, and process the images in the dark room. While other kids used the dark room to make out, text their boyfriend/girlfriend, or sleep, I enjoyed processing my photos. I finally found something I enjoyed and I think Mr. Kendall took note of that.
One assignment was to show that we understood the rule of thirds and depth of field. Other than that, it was up to us. I took my mom’s film camera to a strawberry patch in the next town over and snapped a picture of a fence post with rows of barbed wire strung between each. There were some other photos I took, but I liked this one the most. In the darkroom I made some adjustments using the old school dodge and burn techniques and pumped in a little contrast to help the image pop.
My matting skills were worse than my photography skills at that point, and probably still are. Where I should have matted the photo dead center and slightly higher than the mid point, I ended up placing it way off centered. By the time it was put in place for all of eternity, it was noticeable that I suck at math, geometry in particular.
I turned it in with hopes that I’d get a “B.” Mr. Kendall was sorting through the photos the next day. He picked mine up, saw my name on it, and a little “ah hell” ran through my head as I saw him walking towards me. I wasn’t blending in that day.
He sat next to me and asked me what was going through my head as I was shooting that day and why I did what I did as I developed the image. He just looked at me with a smile as I told him my thought process and what I wanted my image to look like. When I stopped talking Mr. Kendall told me I should never put down a camera and that I needed to be a yearbook photographer next year (he was also the yearbook supervisor), my senior year.
The next year he took me under his wing every 3rd period in yearbook. He critiqued my images and helped me get better at all styles of photography: portrait, journalistic, sports, nature, etc. Mr. Kendall gave me a safe haven for 45 minutes during my last year of high school. Yearbook turned into a place where I wanted to learn and take pride in my work. It’s also the first place where my photo work was published for all to see.
Last week I got to talk with a new friend in Wisconsin. She told me about how she’s working towards her Masters in Social Work. She has another year of schooling that’s going to add to her paying off more student debt when she graduates and a friend of hers got a Bachelor’s degree in engineering and is about to be making six figures just two years out of college.
Social work, much like teaching, is a very thankless profession and the salary proves that statement. But I think people choose these professions, among others, to do more than collect a crummy paycheck.
As we were leaving, my friend was talking about everything she’s aware of that’s to come: helping people who don’t want the help, trying to fix a failed system, seeing people at their worst, and watching issues just get pushed aside to never be addressed, among many others.
But I don’t think it’s about the money. I wonder what kind of legacy I’m going to leave. And I want to leave a great legacy that helps others when no one else would step up.
My baby cousins aren’t really babies anymore. One’s in 1st grade and the other is in 2nd grade; another’s in Pre School, and another will be in Pre School next year. I don’t get to talk to them as much as I’d like, but I when I do I always ask how school’s going. They almost always tell me about how awesome their teacher is and what he/she is teaching them in school at that point in time and how he/she takes the time to help them, and all the students in the class, understand what they’re learning.
As a teacher, social worker, or professional in a similar profession, you want to make a difference in our society, to leave a lasting legacy; I’m guessing. And I’m going to guess that there are lots of times where people in these professions wonder if what they’re doing is actually worth it. But a difference in one life is worth all the time away from family, the migraines, and possibly tears of defeat—hopefully seeing another’s dream come true, that they influenced, can help make those long hours, migraines, and the emotional stress a little easier to bare.
I’m fortunate to have never been through “the system,” but I have friends have who speak highly of the social workers that helped them and their family. I get to see the legacy of a couple social workers live on in a couple of my friends.
And thanks to Mr. Kendall, I’m doing what I love, I’m trying to take photos that I love, and I think other people love them too.