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Dog Years

A Career Through the Years

I was a teenager, lying on the living room floor of our family home in Connecticut, flipping through the classified ads in our hometown newspaper. There was nothing that stood out to me. I was only sixteen, not of the age to seek employment as an accountant, secretary, or law clerk; waitressing was a guaranteed opportunity, but I was looking for something more enjoyable, something more exciting. I wished that “photographer” would appear somewhere among the lines of printed text. It was a job I had seen in action: my parents spending hours in our darkroom, the chemicals and the reactions and the precision all melding to form one beautiful image. Rolling Stone. Annie Leibovitz. A vision. But nothing more, seeing that the job I found that summer was as a camp counselor in Long Island.

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Much like the difficulty of taking one small, personal moment and etching it into a collective memory, photography is a fickle job, one that must be molded from your own efforts and advances. That vision never left me, and I resided in doing whatever it took to realize it. I finished high school and moved on to Ithaca College for their well-known photography department. After many hours in the darkroom, I received my degree and faced the difficult task of creating my own job.

When a dog is a puppy it doesn't know anything. It has to forge a new world, a small existence, from the beings that surround it - the humans and the dogs - to acquire the skills it takes to be a part of a pack. To gently bite when play-fighting, to lap water from a bowl without dribbling. How to heed a command. How to avoid tripping over too-big paws.

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I began my work as a dog photographer with very little knowledge. I didn't know how to interact with clients, how to market my work, how to reach the people that wanted what I could offer. I did not know what people expected from me. I just knew what I wanted to prove. The prospect of creating my own genre, my own special way of capture, bound the lens back to the body; allowed for the click of the shutter.

There is no one specific point when puppy becomes dog. It happens over weeks; frayed and bitten sneakers, bee stings, tilted, shameful heads. Despite the ache of learning the limits of the world, they settle down into it, fold themselves into its boundaries, and find that a reward often follows maturity.

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I became very comfortable working with dogs and their people. I received praise and recognition for the hours I had spent practicing and improving. It felt good - really good. So I worked harder. And harder. I broadened the scope of my work and my world and began shooting across the country, finding my way to new cities, forming new connections with those who lived there and the dogs who animated their streets. I addressed well-known ad agencies and magazines with a sense of confidence and received the respect I knew I deserved.

As a dog moves into their older years, life holds a little bit more. A tasty morsel slipped from the dinner table is followed by a long walk around the neighbourhood. But it can't make out the sound of squirrels rustling as well as it used to. The extra half a mile makes the limbs ache, and when they return back, they must rely on smell to identify their home, their vision clouded by age.

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As I move into my older age, I am losing my eagle-eye focusing abilities. It is harder for me to get up and down off the floor to shoot. Despite the differences, however, there is a sweetness in the way I remember that frantic need I felt as a teenager, that desire to become what I knew I was meant to be.

A senior dog walks with confidence, each step a show of acquired knowledge, each wag a sign of a life well lived. Like that of the dogs I know so well, this trust I have in myself lightens the future; it softens the edge that makes looking onward so terrifying. Wrapping up my career will be a celebration inclusive of all those wonderful clients, dogs, and images that encouraged me onward, who allowed my career to materialize out of a simple thought born in the basement beside the darkroom.

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