Meet photographer Tony Blei Part 1

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin

Another photographer I’m privileged to have met online is Tony Blei.

I first came across Tony Blei, reading about “singles bar lessons” on the Rising Blackstar blog.

I admire Tony for his creativity, sense of humor, sharp wit and wonderful humility.

Tony makes Phoenix, Arizona his home.

I hope it will be apparent why I chose to ask Tony the following questions:

1.How important is a formal education in photography?
I am absolutely 100% self taught. I did go to a trade school, but it was more of a diploma mill (and they’ve gone out of business). I’m left with a meaningless “diploma.”

However! Schools provide insight and ways to go further, faster. As you’ve pointed out, PJ School taught you things like law and ethics.

I’m grateful that I had a pretty good moral compass that allowed me to avoid the obstacles that citizen journos will trip over (lawsuits).

While I’ve been competitive, the one thing I noticed about my college-grad counterparts is their network of contacts.

This can be very important, especially if you are working freelance and need a helping hand — or someone to vouch for you.

My advice: Go to school. The School of Hard Knocks is just that, hard. When you graduate from a university, you will enjoy the benefit of credibility.

2. Do you see aspiring photographers taking the path you did or are they taking shortcuts and missing out on some important lessons?
I didn’t go to school because I come from a family who invested more in booze and cigarettes than they did in my, and my brother’s education.

If you are a person who has the ability to receive formal education and short the path, the only real thing you are shortcutting is your own prosperity and future.

During the Great Recession, in order to feed my family I had to put down the freelance business and get a day job. Conversations ended with the question: “What school did you graduate from?”

Nobody in Arizona had ever heard of Bonanza High School (in Las Vegas, Nevada). I ended up with a job at Sears.

For $9 an hour. Scan the job ads. Companies want educated people. They don’t care where your degree is; just that you have one.

And believe me. Tough times will come again. Be prepared. Be educated.

3. What advice would you give your children if they want to follow in your shoes?

Be an individual who has his own point of view. Be interesting. Invest wisely.

The photographer’s life is very rewarding, but it comes with a price.

Tony Blei

I recall stepping off a helicopter and racing back to the newsroom with deadline news — when I should have been stepping into an auditorium to hear my son and his choir sing.

After 25 years of photography, nobody really cares that I’ve photographed 7 US Presidents and walked on water 16 times.In the end, my house is in foreclosure and I’m struggling to get clients.

Final word of advice to my son? Go to school.

Next: Juggling work & life…

Peter Phun Photography

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