by Skip Cohen
Since it's Throwback Thursday, even though I've shared bits and pieces of this story in past posts, it's perfect for this morning. Fifty years ago today, I started my journey in imaging, and it's amazing how fast time has flown by.
Off to college in 1967, I was every parent's nightmare. Forced to take a class that was a requirement, I'd never study, but give me something I loved, and I could make Dean's List. Unfortunately, I went on and off academic probation, like the changing of the seasons.
However, certain aspects of my college experience became my first introduction to marketing and sales. For example, I had trouble studying in the dorm because it was so noisy. Summer of my sophomore year I convinced my folks it was cheaper to live in an apartment, which it actually was. I did a full presentation worthy of pitching investors in Silicon Valley today! (Note: You weren't allowed to be in an apartment until your senior year. However, I found a grad student who needed a place to live, and that's all it took. He also taught me how to cook...okay, so it was Alice B. Toklas brownies, but still required learning baking technology!)
After being on and off probation, Miami U. sent me on my way in December of 1969. I didn't want to live at home and needed to spread my wings. Much to my parent's dismay, I decided to move to Boston, where my girlfriend lived. A neighbor in Ohio knew one of the engineers at Polaroid at the time, and made a call - I had my first real full-time job.
It was February 6, 1970, when I started. Polaroid updated security badges every year or two, and while others were lost along life's journey, the one above, probably from 1975, survived. I was a Lab Tech in the Emulsion Development group washing bottles in the lab at $2.89/hour. It was the most money I'd ever made. Plus, on B-shift for a few months, there was a premium and overtime was 1 1/2 times with weekends being double time.
Leading up to the introduction of the SX70, the department was working on new ways to make emulsions, the light-sensitive coating on film. I was working with some incredibly patient people, one of them being Edgar Gutoff, a Ph.D. Chemist/Engineer who sadly passed away a short time ago. For those of you who know me, try and picture me in a lab coat, complete with pens in a pocket protector and a slide rule.
So, the short version of my career goes - back to school nights through Polaroid's tuition reimbursement program. Polaroid's worldwide population was over 20,000 back then, and my journey included positions in HR, Customer Service, Regional Services Manager in Chicago and International Services Manager, traveling all over Europe and Asia for almost three years. My last assignment was Photo Specialty Dealer Manager, which were the camera stores. In April of 1987, I got a cold call from a headhunter looking for somebody to be "president of a small camera company," whose products were only sold through camera retailers. That company was Hasselblad USA, and my world changed.
Hasselblad to PhotoAlley.com to Rangefinder/WPPI to my own business in 2009 and six co-authored books over the years. SCU was born in 2013, and my career has never slowed down. I know I sound like a McDonald's "Lovin' it" commercial but I wake up every morning with a smile on my face. And I've got an ongoing level of curiosity that would rival any of the characters in a Willy Wonka movie!
As I wrote recently in a post:
At a time when so many of my friends have slowed down, I love this business too much to give anything up. The busier I am, the more I love it. The more I realize how much there still is to learn outside my comfort zone, the more energy I seem to have to explore and navigate a new path.
All along the way, amazing people and companies have come into my life and career. I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in photo, and I've learned so much from so many different artists, writers, managers and educators. And as I've written so many times in the past, it's the friendships that make this business so incredible.
With fifty years invested in this industry, stay tuned. I'm going to launch a new series called "Lessons Learned," and I'll do my best not to hold anything back. If you can learn from my mistakes, then you'll have time to make new ones of your own!
Take the time today and take a look in your rearview mirror...as long as you're always going forward, it helps to appreciate your roots!
Happy 50th Anniversary to me, but even better, Happy Throwback Thursday to all of you!
Check out "Why?" one of the most popular features on the SCU Blog. It's a very simple concept - one image, one artist and one short sound bite. Each artist shares what makes the image one of their most favorite. We're over 100 artists featured since the project started. Click on the link above and you can scroll through all of the episodes to date.