Sunday, September 19, 2010

Career paths

In the near term, the career of university teacher is looking slightly less promising than the career of typewriter repairman or steam locomotive engineer. As a result, I'm intrigued by people who have made mid-life career changes, and we met an interesting one at our local coffee shop. He, like us, is a regular. While we are there with newspaper and novel, he is there with laptop and auxiliary hard drive; for us, the coffee shop is an escape, while for him it is an adjunct office. After grilling him about hard drives (we're wanting to get a couple for back up purposes), we asked what he does. He is a self-employed professional coin photographer.

I did not know there was such a job. I knew that there were professional food photographers (and food stylists), and the violin building class we took is taught by a guy who got his foot in the door as a violin photographer. But coin photography?

It actually makes sense. Coins are a collectible commodity, and their value is highly dependent upon their appearance. If you would traffic in coins, you need to have fair representations of them. Coins are also (apparently, though I did not know this) the very devil to photograph well. Capturing the nuance of a subtle patina and the shadings of relief are tricky under the best conditions; collectible coins are generally permanently encased in clear plastic, which complicates the project. So, it makes financial sense for a collector to hire a pro. The photographer was quite proud to show us some of his work, which fills his auxiliary hard drives, and it really is quite spectacular. Additionally, he gets paid to travel, and gets to see up close some incredibly valuable specie. As any coin collector will tell you, such items are heavily laden with intriguing history, sometimes almost as much as violins.

The photographer used to work in the financial field. He quit, developed a hobby into a career, and has never been happier. It doesn't pay as well, and he has to hustle, but beyond making an acceptable living what matters is happiness, not extra zeros.

Oh, and how many coin photographers are there in the U.S.? It is rather a niche market. Our coffee-house cohort is one of maybe ten or so nationwide. The field would be crowded by an eleventh, so I don't think I'll follow that particular path.

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