Editor's Note: The first of a two-part series.
A pivotal year for me was 1975 because it paved the way to a 32-year (and counting) career as a full-time professional photographer.
It was in that year that a friend put in a good word for me at the Merced Sun-Star for a part-time job in the photography department. I was a high school junior and would come in after school to clean up the darkroom and print photos that the full-time photographers took that day.
After a few months, they decided to let me shoot some Friday night football games. The full-time photographers always got the plum games like Merced High and, I -- the "kid," as they called me -- got Hilmar High.
No offense to Hilmar High, but back then I had never heard of Hilmar High, let alone knew where Hilmar was. I got good figuring out where all of the smaller high schools were in the county even on the foggiest of nights.
Back in those days, the Sun-Star was an afternoon paper. Even so, the sports editor then, an intense man named Harry Blauvelt, always wanted the sports pages wrapped up the night before.
Harry was a great writer but was gruff and impatient, especially with the "kid" photographer, and I feared him.
I remember taking out my proof sheets of whatever game I photographed that night hoping he would like one of my images. He would study the small contact sheets and more times than not throw them back at me and say, "What else you got?"
This, of course, meant that he did not like any of my images, and I wasted an evening driving through the fog to some distant high school. I have to thank Harry because he made me try harder to make good images.
Eventually, I started getting a good assignment from Harry every now and then. He would even request that I photograph a big game that was important to him.
Harry went on to cover pro golf for USA Today. Tragically, he died in a bizarre car accident near his home in Maryland in 2011.
I guess my boss thought I did all right covering sports and eventually I was given other assignments, including some news stories.
The biggest news story that I covered in those early days was the Chowchilla bus kidnapping. It happened completely by accident, just a month after my high school graduation in July 1976.
One of the full-time photographers went to Chowchilla to cover the breaking story.
Later, I was sent to Chowchilla to deliver more film to him.
Upon my arrival, I was amazed to find the fire department set up as a media center for the growing throng of press people from all over California.
Once I found him, he informed me that I was to stay, as he was not feeling well and was going home.
At that point there was nothing to cover other than the growing crowd of photographers, reporters and TV camera crews.
As the day grew long and evening came, word arrived that the children and the bus driver had been found safe in Livermore.
The driver, Ed Ray and some of the 26 children climbed out of the bus, which had been buried in a gravel quarry. Soon they would be returning to Chowchilla.
There was nothing to do but wait for the victims to return home. I spent my time soaking in the scene.
I even got to meet and talk with one of my heroes, Joseph J. Rosenthal, who took the Pulitzer prize-
winning photo of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima during World War II. Nearing the end of his great career, he was working for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Sometime after midnight the kidnapping victims made it back to Chowchilla.
It was a wild scene of photographers trying to get pictures of the children getting off of the bus that brought them home.
In the middle of the fray was the 17-year-old kid who discovered that his future must be as a professional photographer.
Contact Jay Sousa at firstname.lastname@example.org.