Finding Treasure in Unlikely Places

Let’s be honest – we all have a secret yearning to find buried treasure. It’s not so much that we want to be swashbucklers on the high seas, looking for loot buried in a cave on a desert island (OK, most of us probably would love that), but true lost treasures have been popping up all over the place lately, and in very accessible places.

For instance, there was the story from July when an Ohio man was cleaning out a deceased family member’s attic and found 700 vintage baseball cards in mint condition from the turn of the century. There was also the instance in August when a Scottish woman finally decided to clean out her attic and found an old painting that had been given to her by her father (who had received it from someone else), which may in fact be a lost work of art by Leonardo Da Vinci, possibly worth upwards of $150 million, even with spatterings of house paint on it. I was also reading my favorite magazine, Mental Floss, the other day when I saw this article on 10 of the most elusive and valuable lost treasures in the world today.

Ladies and gentlemen, let the attic pillaging begin.

Even I got caught up in the ‘what if.’  I curiously looked through the crawlspace of my 70-year-old home, which was former military housing for Fort Gordon in Atlanta, but I found nothing but camel crickets, rusty nails and cans of old paint.  I am happy to inform you, though, that I did find some treasure recently, but I doubt it will fetch much at Sotheby’s.

While digging through my filing cabinet the other day, I found an old email printout that I had saved from college, sent to me just days before graduation.  It was a bulleted list of parting advice from my photojournalism professor, Jim Virga (pictured here), who influenced my thinking and career more than any other in my schooling.  I traded emails with him just a few days ago and he is still teaching, although now at the University of Miami focusing on motion picture production.

These statements were tacked just above my desk in my first few jobs until I lost them (or thought I had). Even though I don’t shoot for newspapers anymore, these constructs for handling oneself in a newsroom still hold meaning for me today.  Some of these were added in the months after graduation, based on Virga-isms I heard in class. I thought I’d share them with you:

  • Don’t take credit, and always share credit if given to you.  We rarely achieve in a vacuum.
  • Be on time. Actually, be early. Sometimes the prep is more interesting and real than the event.
  • Awards are overrated. They are the opinions of three to four judges, and tomorrow it could be a different group of judges. Focus on doing great work.  Let that stand on its own.
  • Be humble and gracious.
  • Learn people’s names and use their name when addressing them.
  • Come to the table with ideas. Story ideas will endear you to the staff and editor, much more than a well-constructed photo.
  • Pick your battles carefully, and make your push only when it really matters.
  • If your idea or image isn’t working, and everyone is telling you it isn’t working, it probably isn’t.  Let it go.
  • Know the story you want to tell, but recognize when it becomes a different story.
  • Document life as it is.
  • When you lack talent in a particular area, make up for it with hard work.
  • There is no such thing as filling white space; everything you put in an issue is a reflection of you and your work.
  • No chimping! Be confident enough in your technical skills to be in the moment. (FYI, ‘chimping’ was what Virga called it when a photographer takes a picture and immediately goes “ooo-ooo” and looks at the image preview on the back of the camera to see how it turned out.)
  • Maintain your ethics, even if it means losing your job.

These pieces of advice are ones that I have found invaluable.  What bits of wisdom from your teachers do you still hold as your personal and professional treasures?