In the summer of 1981, my parents packed up our ’76 Cordoba—Corinthian leather seats, glove box eight-track playing Neil Diamond’s “The Jazz Singer” on repeat—and drove. They brought my brother and me two hours north of our southern New Hampshire home to White Mountain National Forest. The area’s tree-covered hills give way to sweeping views; it has some of the best fall foliage and the nation’s worst recorded weather. It’s quiet and beautiful. Those who make the journey today can still witness what tourists saw through a train window at the turn of the 20th century, when rail was the transportation of choice and photography was a new science and art. The trip marked my heart for two reasons: I discovered my love of both travel and photography.
This trip is the only time I remember staying in a hotel with my parents. Of course, they brought us on day trips throughout New England up and down the coast, but this was the first time we would live like kings: in a mid-century, probably never remodeled, motel.
Stepping out the front door of the motor lodge, I saw the swirling mists coming off the mountains and smelled the cool, humid air. Something stirred in me. At this young age I began to dream of traveling the world, and it’s become a passion in my life. I refresh my soul as I visit new locations and attempt to capture the beauty around me.
“I understood that the world was a vast treasure I could explore, and I could be transported back to any locale with a simple photograph.”Jeffrey Dachowski
That day also marked the first time I made a photograph. It was an out-of-focus image of Crystal Cascade, a waterfall I would photograph many times in my life. I’m sure I made other images on that trip, but the waterfall print from my Kodak 110 camera is something I still have. Funny that after all these years I continue to find value in that little print. This single weekend trip had a profound effect on my life. I understood that the world was a vast treasure I could explore, and I could be transported back to any locale with a simple photograph.
Over the years, I used up a few cartridges of 110 film on field trips. I felt I was working with professional gear when the disc camera came into my possession. But it wasn’t until high school that my photography began to blossom under the guidance of a mentor, William Rapf, my high school art teacher. He introduced me to a wide range of photographers: Avedon, Strand, Adams, Porter, Weston, Stieglitz, Man Ray. The list is long, as was their and Rapf’s effect on me. Without his kind words of encouragement, my love of photography and the career, opportunities, and friendships it’s granted me would never have flourished.
I share these stories to start a conversation about mentorship. We as image makers all started somewhere. We all at some point knew nothing about photography. One day that changed. We gained a tiny bit of knowledge and it made us feel wonderful. On some occasions we even get to witness the positive impact our images have on people.
“Remember how exciting it was to learn and try—and fail—at new techniques? Be bold enough to see differently and implement new ideas in your photography and your business.”Jeffrey Dachowski
The mentors I’ve had molded me into the photographer I am. I encourage newer photographers to ask questions of seasoned pros. There is knowledge to glean from these artists. Conversely, I challenge those of you who’ve taken the path to become a certified professional photographer or attained a degree from PPA to look for opportunities to learn from newer image makers, whose drive gives them fresh perspectives on the craft. Tap into that enthusiasm again.
Remember how exciting it was to learn and try—and fail—at new techniques? Be bold enough to see differently and implement new ideas in your photography and your business.
As I start my year as the president of PPA I’m looking forward to meeting many of you at PPA Affiliate events throughout the country, combining both my love of travel and photography. I never dreamt I would have had this opportunity those many years ago in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
Jeffrey Dachowski operates a photography studio in Bedford, New Hampshire, with his wife, Carolle.