It was 1972 and I was a Freshman in High School and successfully launched a newsletter about keeping marine reef tanks called “The Legal Reefer”. It was available in my local pet store that I worked in but I wanted to write a book. I started a manuscript and realized I needed photographs and opened up the yellow pages and called a few photographers. It was going to cost $500 to hire a photographer and that was about $450 more than I wanted to spend. After all, I only needed some pictures of corals and fish in tanks and I wasn’t going to spend that kind of money just to take pictures…… I purchased a Canon TLB for the same price as it would have cost to hire a photographer and that is how it all started. I instantly became fascinated with the physics of lighting a fish tank. The reflections, refractions and white balance were captivating and I was soon addicted to photography. At that time Nikon was really number one but I could only afford the Canon.
I started high school and took photography courses each semester and I knew this was my calling, and ironically to this day I still have a large marine reef tank. I researched schools and decided to apply to one and only one university, Syracuse. I was accepted into the Newhouse School of Communications early decision and sold my Canon and bought a couple of Nikons. After Syracuse I landed a job at the Syracuse Newspapers and built up my Nikon collection and was truly a happy camper focusing on my career. Life was good and I was gaining recognition in NPPA, contests and eventually mixing my full time job at the newspaper with magazine freelancing. I was working regularly for Newsweek, Time, Forbes, Business Week and National Geographic and started to lecture on the business of photography, creativity and the internet. One thing led to the next and I ended up with my college room mate Stephen Wilkes and one of my mentors Susan Meisalas teaching at a Palm Beach Photographic Workshop. I was in awe at the talent that was around me including Arnold Newman and we were all taking when we were rudely interupped by a man named Michael Newler. “Newlah” was from Long Island and was obnoxious and sweet at the same time, but extremely intelligent. He wouldn’t back off and just kept asking what would it take to get me to switch to Canon. Finally I said to him, “send me a bunch of gear to start with”. I thought to myself, boy I just got rid of this clown. After all who in the world would just send me gear to play with. I returned to my home and on the doorstep were very large boxes of Canon gear. I actually called my lawyer to see if I could open it because after all I didn’t sign any papers and I didn’t want any legal responsibility for what looked like a boat load of Canon equipment. My lawyer said if there was no paper work to go ahead and open it. I was a kid in a toy store. I was opening up box after box and there were bodies and every lens I could dream of including a 300 2.8 and an 800. Who was this NEWLAH guy?
Well Newler was and still is one of the most dedicated, intelligent and sweet yet obnoxious people I have ever met. I see a lot of me in him and to this day he is one of my dearest friends. OK so back to Newlah. There was a card in one of the boxes and it said Michael Newler Canon USA. I called him and just like the infamous commercial at the time, Mikey said, try it and you will like it. So I tried the gear and yes I did like it. We talked some more and he asked me to become a Canon Explorer of Light. The deal was interesting. We would not get free equipment but we could buy it at about the same price as B&H but the sponsorship would allow us to do speaking engagements and be paid. It was an incredible way to talk about the business of photography and speak to trade groups about the power of the internet and creativity. I accepted the deal and sold my Nikons and started the adventure of lifetime headed by Michael Newler. I was part of a group of some of the most respected people in the industry including the likes of:
Arnold Newman, Gregory Heisler, Greg Gorman, John Paul Caponigro, Jeff Schewe, Sam Abell, Joyce Tenneson, Douglas Kirkland, Dennis Reggie, James Nachtwey, David Stoecklein, Jack Reznicki, Lauren Greenfield, Michel Tcherevkoff, Susan Meisalas, Mary Ellen Mark, Stephen Wilkes, Barbara Bordnick, Art Wolfe, James Wood ,Albert Watson, Nick Vedros, Melvin Sokolsky, Gil Smith, Harvey Lloyd, Gerd Ludwig, Norman McGrath, Robert McNeely, Sheila Metzner, Joel Meyerowitz, Duane Michaels, Sarah Moon, Arthur Morris, David Muench, Barry O’Rourke, Chris Rainier, Roger Ressmeyer, Walter Iooss, Jr,Ryszard Horowitz, Dirck Halstead,Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Larry Dale Gordon, Robert Farber, Anthony Edgeworth, Patrick Demarchelier, Bruce Davidson and Harry Benson to name a few.
The program was dream come true run by a true visionary. It wasn’t about selling product it was about teaching and education. In the big picture if you taught and inspired people, they would buy cameras and if it was a Nikon or a Canon or a Leica it was all good for the overall industry. Michael Newler had one problem, he cared. In fact he cared so much that he put all of us first. This led to problems because we were first and the corporation was second. Michael was not a corporate player. He spoke his mind and really only cared about making the Explorer of Light program the best photographic program on earth. We all got to know each other and we all developed life long friendships within this tight knit group. Michael went to bat for all of us on every front explaining to management time and time again why we should not be traveling on food per diems as an example. He would go to the top and say these guys aren’t employees, they don’t get health care and vacations and they don’t even get a salary. We, Canon need to treat them with respect and understand that they are freelancers and they all get paid large sums from their clients so lets just treat them with respect. Michael was relentless trying to pursue perfection and we all adored him. We loved Canon. We travelled, spoke, ate and drank good wine and Michael would just go to bat for us because in the end the cost of the program was a drop in the bucket to the billions that Canon was making. In fact Canon would spend more to have their logo at major tennis event and other sporting venues than they spent on all of us combined. That said we talked, we inspired and people purchased what we talked about. Finally we threw a major surprise party for Michael in New York and just about every Explorer of Light showed up. It was the culmination of everything he had done for us and the program but we made a fatal mistake. We did not invite some of the Canon Management and they started to retaliate. The writing was on the wall and the program was going to change. Michael took a well deserved vacation and when he returned he literally found that his pass key didn’t work. When he asked a security guard why his card didn’t work he was led to human resources and told he was done. It was one of the most inhumane executions I have ever seen. With that move the program changed and not in a good way.
Canon bought in another gem of a human being Steven Inglima and the good news is that Steven will also be a life long friend. He is awesome and he tried to pick up where Newler left off but the program was different in every single way. Michael told us back then what would happen and he has called it to the nail. Corporate ties and accountants started to influence the program and moral took a dive with the Explorers. We were on per deims, and told we would need to use Canon printers and rule after rule about how many folks needed to be in the audience etc. etc. etc. Soon Canon would start to eliminate Explorer after Explorer and if you look at the masthead for the program now most of the absolutely best talent is gone. In fact I firmly believe that if Arnold Newman were alive today he would not be asked to remain an Explorer.
This year there was another round of blood letting and I truly thought I was at least safe. I was even using Canon printers but I was told that my metrics weren’t right. Numbers don’t lie, people do because my metrics were about as good as they could get. To this day on the Canon web site I am listed as having 16,391 views and 125 searches which far exceeds any other Explorer. I have an image on Google with close to 20,000,000 hits and gave lectures, workshops, and multiple ads in magazines like The New Yorker, PDN, Popular Photography and more but my metrics weren’t right. I along with many others were reduced to the title of emeritus which sounds more like a disease and it was an insult. Canon was convinced that the future is video but they lack in my opinion a fundamental understanding of the very art form. just because a camera shoots video one is not a cinema photographer and Canon does not get this. They should have learned from there past mistakes because they have made them before. At one point they thought the future was point and shoot cameras and they spent billions but in the end they got their behinds kicked by Apple and the iPhone. They wanted cinema photographers in the Explorer of Light program and they should have started a different program but they lacked insight because they thought they would be able to use the material that the cinema photographers shot for promotion. The problem was and is simple, most cinema folks don’t own their rights, they are owned by studios.
I had to make a decision, do I sit back and remain an emeritus? It was a tough decision because I really like Steve Inglima but this is business and I simply could not go on supporting a company that stabbed me in the back. I started to look for a new home. I tried a lot of brands but I was looking for a lot more than a brand. I was looking for another “Newlah”. The cameras are tools and the tools help but it is our wet ware that creates the images and it is people that make a company. Switching back to Epson printers was a no brainer because I used them for decades and love the printers and the people behind them like Dan Steinhardt and Eddie Murphy. For cameras however, I needed a company that believed in the still image and my search bought me back to my very roots where I started which was Nikon. William Pekala who is soon retiring is a class act and built a legacy that I believe will live on and Nikon believes in photographers. I have found so many people whom I sincerely respect at Nikon like Joseph Carey, Michael Corrado, Mark Suban and Angie Salazar. So to make a long story short, I have come home to Nikon and I couldn’t be happier.