What do you do for a hobby when your hobby has been your job for all of your adult life? First off, I have to say I do realize how incredibly fortunate I am. I was taking pictures long before I started getting paid for it. I am thankful every day to have such a career.
As a kid I tried many things before I picked up a camera in junior high school and learned how to develop and print pictures in the darkroom. I collected stamps, coins and baseball cards. raced slot cars, and did ceramics and even lapidary (stone polishing).
Did I pick any of those old hobbies back up when I became a professional photographer? Nope. But I do other things when I’m not taking pictures, even if many of those still involve photography. Hiking means taking close-ups of plants and details in natures. Travel and family events mean always having a camera with me — for years an amateur point and shoot, now an iPhone. Just like every other photo hobbyist.
There is another aspect at the heart of the hobbyist I carry with me on the job. Collecting, just as many people collect experiences.
I have friends who are into checking out the birthplaces of all 44 presidents (yes, I know Donald J. Trump is number 45, but Grover Cleveland is counted twice). Others save matchbooks from the bars and restaurants they patronize (not as many matchbooks these days, and even fewer open bars).
Then there’s the visiting all 50 U.S. states, a form of collecting that is on many bucket-lists. I achieved it before my 30th birthday — I’ll admit a point of great personal pride. Many were while working. (My last one: Maine, in 1984, came while covering the New Hampshire Democratic primary election I drove across the Piscataqua River on I-95 for a Diet Coke and a snack at a gas station in Kittery.) A lot just happened while growing up (thanks, Dad, for serving your country and for driving your station wagon all over while moving your family around on three continents).
One of the things I’ve collected over the years are what I call topic-photographs. It is something I have been able to do while doing my job. A side hobby. At different times over my career I have “collected” pictures of “no photos” signs I would find. Or pay-phones and telephone booths in unusual locations. Or old Wawas.
My latest has been “six-foot social distancing” signs. I don’t seek them out, or even google them, but between photo assignments I am always looking. They’re not great pictures, but it is something to do, which is what a hobby should be. And in these times, a good way to keep six-foot safe.
Since 1998, a black-and-white photo has appeared every Monday in staff photographer Tom Gralish’s photo column in The Inquirer’s local news section. Here are the most recent, in color: