The photographer’s dream

Penn State fans at the Citrus Bowl game.
photo by Tom Burton

Last night, I had a dream.

I had lost my job and was about to start over with another Florida newspaper.

I was driving in the city where I was born, trying to negotiate a maze of side streets that lead to the office. Once inside the building I encountered a puzzle of hallways.

I never found my way to the photo department. I never knew why I was fired from my job in Orlando. And I don’t think I ever found the film I needed for my camera.

The anxiety dream came because in the last two months, I’ve known a photographer and a photo editor who were suddenly out of work. I had worked with them in the past, and now their current publications had let them go. They are both very qualified – one of them exceptionally so – but they still didn’t have job security.

Things like this make photojournalists, on the whole, a rather insecure group of people. I’ve never decided if this business attracts insecure people or if the business creates insecure people. Either way, it’s a reality.

photo by Tom Burton

It’s hard to blame us for this personality flaw. Photojournalism is a very competitive field to get started in and only a small percentage of those who want jobs actually make it. We work to be better than the next photographer. Then once we do get a job, every day we are trying to prove ourselves all over again and seeking reassurance that we are, in fact, pretty good at our jobs. Past success isn’t as reassuring as it should be. After all, today’s newspaper is in the recycling bin tomorrow.

For example, although I usually cover feature stories, on New Year’s Day I was one of four photographers covering the Citrus Bowl game for our paper. The University of Florida was playing Penn State so the game was a bigger story than usual for us. I was lucky that all of the scoring happened in the end zone I covered. A finger-tip touchdown catch gave me a photo that lead the sports front the next day. The photo editor later told me how great it was to see the picture. He added that it was a pleasant surprise that the features photographer made the photo rather than one of the regular sports shooters.

I appreciated the compliment, but I also knew this editor had forgotten the 6 or 7 years I spent shooting sports for the Sentinel when I first joined the staff. Shooting good football wasn’t really outside my abilities. But it was outside the realm of recent memory. I had to prove myself, again.

Tom Burton

originally published on February 1, 1998 on

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