African Air

African Air

Looked through the African Air photography book by George Steinmetz.  One of the best parts was the introduction. It had one of the most powerful quotes I saw.

In Steinmetz’s intros, he describes how he exited college and hitchhiked across Africa for over two years.  Most of the time completely alone, no knowledge of the language or customs, battling illnesses and unrest, and often found himself sleeping on police station porches or living off the generosity of locals who he couldn’t even talk with.  It was there, with almost no knowledge of how to even use a camera, he started shooting photos.  Those early pictures are an fascinating catalog of visceral encounters.

On returning to the states, he managed to get a meeting with Bob Gilka of National Geographic’s photo department and get some kind of job with National Geographic.  Gilka is apparently famous for his harsh, critical style and a sign outside his office door that said “Wipe knees before entering”

So Steinmetz, after hard years in Africa, he put his photos on the slide carousel. Gilka held the advance button without stopping. This then happened:

He stopped once when he saw a photo he didn’t like.  “Doesn’t work” he said curtly.  I tried to explain some of the difficulties of the situation but he cut me off.

“Is that an excuse?” he asked.
“Uh, I guess so,” I said.
“Well, we publish photographs here, not excuses.”


Wow.  What an introduction to the professional world; however, it really helped Steinmetz in the end.  Gilka admired Steinmetz’s tenacity and determination; but told him to come back when he’d learned more photographic techniques, how to use artificial lighting, and could handle a wider variety of situations.

I guess it’s always a good reminder to me that to be good in your business/field – you should look at it that way.  Don’t make excuses, make improvements.

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