When I was in School…

August 15, 2012

By RF Staff

Cliff Mautner

College: Glassboro State College (now Rowan University), Glassboro, New Jersey

Major: Law-Justice

What did you want to do while you were in school?

I chose my school for its athletic program because I was a gymnast, and there wasn’t a large selection of schools at the time with a men’s gymnastic program. Like most kids at that age, I had no clue what I wanted to do and was more interested in playing sports and pursuing gymnastics than in studying (I also partied pretty hard). During my sophomore year, I found myself in a fascinating course called Rhetorical Criticism and Debate that was basically made for me. The emphasis was placed on pointing out all of the nonsense the mainstream media and politicians threw out for public consumption, and the goal was to interpret and expose it. We had to back our position with solid facts and arguments, and it was then that I realized that I was destined to be an attorney. I declared my major as “Law-Justice” with the hopes of moving on to law school…or so I thought. 

Where are you now?

Today, I’m a wedding photographer and a photographic educator. I still shoot some commercial assignments, as well as family portraits. 

What did your parents want you to be?

I had no intention of pursuing photojournalism while in school—my parents wanted me to go to law school. But, the more I shot, the more I loved it. My parents wanted me to be happy. Sure, they’d have loved me to be a lawyer, or doctor, but I always had their support.

Was there one professor or course that inspired your current career?

I took a class in Forensic Photography that brought me to such beautiful places as Camden, New Jersey! The assignments were relatively mundane, and I had a sense of what I was doing, since I’d been shooting casually for years. Both the forensic class and the photojournalism class did provide me with two finished “portfolio pieces” to be used in an interview for my first real photography job. I was a starving college kid, tired of not having money to do things, so I figured it was time to get a job. I saw an ad in a local newspaper that read, “Award-winning local newspaper seeks photographer.” I brought my “portfolio pieces” with me to the interview, I got the job and worked for $75 a week. I was a hot-shot photojournalist at age 20, and I was still going to school fulltime. Two years later, I began my career as a photojournalist with the Philadelphia Inquirer, where I shot 6,000 assignments during a 15-year career. I left in 1997, and have been shooting weddings ever since. 

What’s the most important lesson you learned in school?

How to fight my way through trivial nonsense in order to concentrate on what’s important. Fighting through red tape, kissing the right ass, and having the ability to work under pressure and get things done are all vital to anyone’s success. College surely taught me that, and I’m damn glad to have that experience behind me. I do I wish I’d learned more about the world of business (I avoided business courses like the plague). I felt they’d be boring, but I wish I’d taken them anyway. I was a photographer in business, but had to learn how to be a businessperson in photography. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle in becoming a pro-shooter? 

The ability to allow certain skill sets to become innate, to the point where exposure value, f-stops, shutter speeds, ISOs and all of the other nonsense are absolutely instantaneous. There should only be the process of seeing the photograph, and making the photograph. One must pay dues, however, today’s photographer doesn’t always have the patience to pay dues. I think this is the fastest path to failure.

What was your favorite way to procrastinate during college?

Procrastination is the most popular college pastime for many and I was no different. After a knee injury freshman year, gymnastics were over for me. I played tennis for my remaining three years. I was a sports geek—and I still am. Today, I run my business out of my golf cart.

Susan Stripling

College: Shorter University, Rome, Georgia

Major: BFA in Theatre

What did you want to do when you were in school?

I wasn’t sure; I loved to act and dance, but couldn’t sing, so that limited what I was going to be able to do as a performer. I briefly considered stage management or administrative theater work, but wasn’t at all motivated or inspired to go in that direction.

Where are you now? 

I’ve been a full time wedding photographer for ten years.

Was there a professor or course that inspired your career? 

I took a darkroom photography class in college, but I look back on it now and it’s no wonder I wasn’t inspired to become a photographer—my teacher was totally inept! Many of the “skills” we were taught in regards to lighting and exposures were simply wrong, and it didn’t give me a good foundation to begin any type of photography whatsoever. What did inspire me was theater. Having to take technical classes and learn about lighting and the technical side of a production taught me a great deal about how I approach lighting at weddings.

What was most important lesson you learned in

That just getting “an education” doesn’t prepare you for having a career. It was fairly easy to coast through college but being out in the real world was a surprise. If I wanted success I was going to have to work for it—and hard. College was a bubble where no one really failed and everyone was going to conquer the world, but starting a business and actually seeing it thrive and survive was a whole different ball game than auditioning for West Side Story.

What’s been the biggest obstacle in becoming a pro-shooter? 

Lack of business education; I don’t know if I would trade my theater education for anything, but sometimes I do wish I had a business degree. The business and finance side of running a photography business is so crucial and difficult to learn on your own.

What was your favorite way to procrastinate in college? 

I wasn’t a partier or a clubber; I was more of a recluse and a reader. I’d rather have been at home with a book than out at a club.

Rob Van Petten

High School: Tabor Academy, Marion, Massachusetts (where I hid out with friends in the darkroom trying to determine what it was that made a “good print.”)  

College: Boston University, School of Public Communication

Major: Photojournalism 

What were you like as a student?

I had discovered Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson. I spent every daylight moment walking around Boston and Cambridge looking for “good pictures”—street black-and-white images. I had a Nikon SP rangefinder and a 35mm f/1.8 lens (mostly). There was a social revolution going on, impacting politics, music, sexuality and art. We all had an awareness to document this upheaval and the Vietnam War controversy. Classes were filled with discussions of composition, decisive moment, the zone system, concocting custom developers and the social content of images.

Where are you now?

[Shooting] fashion and beauty, mostly for advertising. I like all types of photography, but I do love faces—it’s the most captivating thing I look at. 

What did your parents want you to be?

An engineer or an architect; my grandfather was an engineer and they thought I was tenacious, stubborn and argumentative like him. They were just happy I didn’t become a guitar player, which was my other plan. They thought photography was a nice hobby.

Was there one professor or course that inspired you?

A substitute photography professor, Macy Lawrence, was brought in while the photo department director was on sabbatical. The classes were intense, but honest and off the plan. The assignments were general photo, history of photography, large-format to 35mm. Whatever you were interested in, you could justify and do. Also I did a private directed study with Carl Chiarenza. It was the best school experience of my life. Years later, I met Macy at a lab where he was working and gave him the Nikon SP I had used in school as a thank you.

What was your favorite way to procrastinate?

It wasn’t cool to drink then and I didn’t like drugs. I was learning things about the creative process that fascinated me. We shot and reviewed images [for] every class, there was no procrastination. I loved it, so I shot all day and stayed up all night printing to get assignments ready for class. We had a great group in school—about a dozen photographers who took it seriously. It was hard work, but in the most constructive, supportive way. 

Where did you envision yourself, career-wise?

I wanted to travel around on a romantic quest for socially conscious street pictures. I had a string of photo studio assistant jobs and lived economically. I was shooting rock-and-roll bands and small fashion shoots at school, model comps. I went to lectures by Lee Friedlander, Duane Michaels and Leslie Krims. I had three images in a big photo show called “Vision and Expression,” judged by Minor White who was very encouraging and kind, and made me feel somewhat legitimate. I had no idea what a career was or how you planned one. I carried little prints around and showed them to people; sometimes they would hire me to shoot something. 

What’s the most important lesson you learned while still in school?

Listen to critique and be honest about your images. There are two types of people doing this: some make photographs and some make excuses. If there is a doubt, it isn’t good enough.

Silvana Di Franco

College: University of Maryland, College Park

Major: Radio Television and Film (RTVF)

What did you want to do while in school? 

I thought for sure I would end up in television. My first internship was at America’s Most Wanted (ha ha). After my friends took off for L.A. to pursue the elusive L.A. dream, I re-thought my path and moved to Berkeley. 

Where are you now?

I’m a wedding and portrait photographer in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Was there a professor or course that inspired your current career? 

My film classes inspired me, as did watching all the classics and studying the techniques and vision of different directors.

What did your parents want you to be? 

They just wanted me to be self-sufficient and be able to take care of myself. They probably would have been delighted to have me be a doctor, but they never pressured me into anything.

What was your favorite way to procrastinate in school? 

Seeing live music!

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned?

Pursuing an interesting path makes everything worthwhile. I may not have ended up in the entertainment business, but I was super-focused in class because it was fascinating and enjoyable. (I’m not so sure how well I would have done had biochemistry been the goal.)

What’s been the biggest obstacle in becoming a

I’m in a very saturated market here in the Bay Area; there are many wonderful and talented photographers all around me! The best way to stand out is to have excellent customer relations and build a community of like-minded professionals with whom you can exchange ideas, keeping in mind that we can all help each other.

Lindsay Adler

College: Syracuse Unversity’s Newhouse School of Public Communications

Major: Political Science (to learn to write and be more aware of the world), Photography (to hone my craft) and Entrepreneurship. 

What did you envision yourself, careerwise?

I decided I wanted to be a professional photographer when I was 15 or 16, but I was cautious because everyone warned me about the difficulties involved. Throughout the years I tried every type of photography—I published as a nature photographer, worked for two daily papers as a photojournalist, I ran a portrait and wedding studio. I never knew where I would end up, but I knew that as long as I could be a photographer, I would be happy. 

Where are you now?
I am a fashion and portrait photographer in New York City. 

What did your parents want you to be?

Ever since I was little my mom has told me that, “You spend most of your life at your job, and so if it’s not rewarding, you are simply wasting away your life. Do whatever makes you happy. If you work hard, you’ll succeed.”

Was there a professor or course that inspired your current career?

The first class I took that introduced me to fashion photography was Professor Mason’s class where he discussed the work of many of the greatest fashion photographers through history. Their work spoke to me. His introduction into this world got me excited about pursuing this career path. 

What’s the most important lesson you learned while still in school?

School makes you goal-oriented by giving you assignments and deadlines. Yet this is a bare minimum; you must set your own goals and deadlines outside of school and even once you’ve graduated. If you want to build your portfolio, set goals, concepts and deadlines for new shoots. If you want to grow your business, write out a roadmap with deadlines and a real path.  

What’s been the biggest obstacle in becoming a

Developing some sort of security and consistent income. When you work for yourself or freelance, it’s very hard to know your income from month to month. I overcame this obstacle by diversifying; although I marketed myself as a portrait and fashion photographer, I also would shoot products, wedding and anything else to be sure that I had income coming in the door while still focusing on my end goals. 

What was your favorite way to procrastinate?

I procrastinate doing work I want to avoid by doing other work I want to do. I hate wasted time; I don’t count time with friends as procrastinating, because I am contributing to building relationships. I would, however, do work that was due in weeks instead of what was due the following day.

Rob White;

College: North Carolina A&T State University (undergrad)

Michigan State University (graduate school)

Major: Theater

Where did you envision yourself, career-wise?

I wanted to be a Broadway star like Ben Vereen or Gregory Hines, even though I could not carry a tune to save my life! But I loved everything about acting and the theater: auditioning, rehearsal, performing, and I especially enjoyed the camaraderie and relationships I formed with my fellow cast mates, many of whom I am still close with to this day.

Where are you now?  

I’m a wedding and portrait photographer primarily, but living in New York City, I also shoot a lot of actors’ headshots. I find I use my theater background with every shoot I do—being trained as an actor, I’ve been taught to be a good listener, so I always have a good feel for the temperature of my client during a shoot. I can tell when a joke is needed, when more energy is needed, and even when I need to tone down my own excitement. 

What did your parents want you to be? 

A lawyer; and I gave it some thought, too, after I discovered I was too short to be a leading man!

Was there one professor or course that inspired your current career?

In high school, I took an intro photography class. It was very exciting to learn the history of photography, as well as those pioneers that moved the medium forward. To see photographers’ works, and to discover and then be able to articulate why I was drawn to certain images more than others was very important me at that time.

What was your favorite way to procrastinate

I cannot even begin to tell you the hours I spent daydreaming over an open textbook instead of studying! I’d daydream about everything: what I’d say during my Oscars, Tony and Grammy award acceptance speeches. Or I’d daydream I was a famous tennis star winning Wimbledon, or even a famous rapper in a hit video. Anything but studying!

What’s the most important lesson you learned in school?

It’s a lesson I’ll never forget, taught to me by my favorite high school teacher, Willie Jordan—without whom I may not even have attended college at all—the most important lessons I learned were to not fear failure and to learn that there are no shortcuts to doing good work. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle for you in becoming a pro-shooter? 

The biggest obstacle that still remains for me to this day has been on the creative side of the business—it’s been the ability to trust my instincts and not be afraid to step out of the box sometimes and think grander. Almost every time that I’ve stepped out of my “comfort zone,” I’ve yielded a image that was special or unique in one way or another, and it also helped me learn something that I was able to apply to future shoots.

Moshe Zusman

College: University of Haifa, Israel

Major: Computer Science

Where did you envision yourself, career-wise?

I always thought I’d end up as a computer guy.

Where are you now?

I specialize in wedding, portrait and commercial photography, and I’m known for my edgy and high fashion work. I own a photography studio in the heart of D.C., and educate photographers all over the U.S. on the business of photography and lighting.

What did your parents
expect you to be?

As a kid: LEGO engineer. As a teenager: a computer guy.

Was there one professor or course that inspired your current career?

My biggest inspiration was actually from a military commander who taught me to never make excuses for failure by blaming my surroundings or circumstances, but always look where I was wrong and get better. Today, that makes me strive to shoot better and never say “Oh, there was not enough light.…” 

What’s the most important lesson you learned while still in school?

My life experiences have taught me to learn not only from the good, but also from the bad. So from my school years I’ve learned to focus on doing what I enjoy and not what others expect me to do.

What was your favorite way to procrastinate during college?

Going to the beach. 

What’s been the biggest obstacle in becoming a pro-shooter? 

Not having formal training in photography; so everything I’ve learned is based on self-teaching and experience. Initially, there was also a language barrier I had to overcome—I once answered the typical question, “What kind of photography you do?” with, “I specialize in child pornography” instead of “photography”—true story!

Jessica Gordon is associate editor at Rangefinder magazine.

Jacqueline Tobin is the executive editor of Rangefinder magazine. She can be reached at