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“It’s a dream come true”
You Witness contributor Jeff Bachner tells the story of following his passion of photography.
My journey to change careers started in November of 2005. My wife had been very ill for about a year. The stress of dealing with that and the everyday pressures of running a high volume luxury automobile dealership became overwhelming and I lost my job. I needed something to help keep my sanity during the remainder of my wife’s recovery.
Amazingly, life always gives you what you need if you just open your eyes and look for it. I received an email from Kodak informing me that they were introducing some new products in the Soho area of Manhattan. In addition, they had hired some top pro photographers to give lectures that they called “Master Classes.”
The first lecture I attended was given by famed tennis photographer June Harrison. We struck up a friendship and June eventually became my mentor. The most important advice she gave me was to take photos every day. That’s exactly what I did.
A few months later I was rehired by the dealership where I previously worked. It soon became clear to me that my prior enthusiasm for the automobile business was gone. I felt that photography might fill that void if I could just figure out a way to make a living in the field. So, with encouragement from my mentor, I kept shooting, developing my eye for composition, and my skill with the camera. Part of my education was looking at what other photographers were doing. That’s how I found Reuters’ website and discovered You Witness News.
During the next year I started to submit photos. In July of 2007 I managed to secure a press credential for the Coney Island Summer Concert Series. As I snapped my photos I observed how other photographers were working. One in particular, Steve Mack, impressed me with his professionalism. I watched him pull out a laptop, edit his photos, and start submitting them to his agency. He was kind enough to answer my questions and explain his work flow. At that point I was hooked and knew that photojournalism was going to be my niche. The following week I was back with my laptop and started submitting my images to You Witness News.
You can’t imagine the elation I felt when I saw my first photo published in the You Witness News Weekly Showcase. Then, week after week, my photos continued to appear. It gave me validation of my photographic skill and the confidence I needed to keep going. Other photographers I spoke with thought I was crazy to keep submitting my work without payment* but, instinctively, I saw it as an opportunity to build a portfolio that would prove invaluable in securing paid work.
My instincts were right. Using my You Witness portfolio I secured a press credential for the AVP Volleyball Tournament in Coney Island in August, 2007. I felt that my work was good enough to sell so I sent emails to local newspapers and Volleyball enthusiast publications. Although all of them wrote back saying they already had people covering the event, Brooklyn Paper editor Gersh Kuntzman expressed an interest in seeing my work saying that he was always looking for photographers. When I sent him my You Witness portfolio he responded that he couldn’t pay anything close to what I was probably used to getting. Well, I’d never received a penny for any of my photos so, whatever he offered was fine with me.
We signed a Freelance Agreement and I started to receive assignments which I completed in my spare time. I was still working full time at the car dealership but that ended when I found myself unemployed again in December, 2007.
February of 2008 I got a call from the NY Daily News offering to purchase my photo of Miss Brooklyn, Leigh Taylor-Smith that they’d seen on the front page of the Brooklyn Paper. During the next few months the Daily News purchased other photos I submitted to them and Photo Editor Mike Lipack eventually offered me a Freelance contract. It’s a dream come true that I don’t think would have been possible without You Witness News.
View a showcase of Jeff’s images here.
*Any You Witness images that are used on the Reuters pictures wire are paid for.