I wrote this piece of persuasive writing for a university course of the same name I was taking at the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, during the second-to-last year of my creative writing degree. The piece was meant to persuade the employer of my dreams to hire me. Even though it was written well over five years ago, the sentiment remains, the dream is intact, and hopefully I am moulding myself to become the writer and photographer National Geographic wants to hire.
Of course, technology has changed the game significantly since 2007: camera phones, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, online competitions… everyone has a chance to be a photographer or a journalist just by touching their phone’s screen a few times (well, they like to think so, anyways). But I believe that despite those changes, there is a serious art form behind photography and writing, and it takes outstanding work to be considered good by the best in the industry. Many years have passed since I wrote this paper, full of hope, thinking the road would be less bumpy and a lot clearer than it has been, and even though I know I have not yet reached my best, I think I’m on the right path. And this assignment is a beautiful walk down memory lane.
May 4, 2007
National Geographic Society
1145 17th Street N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20036-4688
To whom it may concern:
I can imagine what you must be thinking: Another cover letter from a twenty-something year-old thinking she can be a photographer for our Society. Well, I don’t want to be only a photographer, I also want to be a writer. And yes, I believe I can do it.
I see why you might be sceptical about believing that I, amongst hundreds of others, would have what it takes to hold two of the most coveted positions in the National Geographic. The way I see it, most people who think they want these jobs are not aware of what they entail. I cannot say that I have enough personal experience that could lead me to convince you that I in fact know exactly what it would be like, but I am very conscious of what they demand, and just the thought of being in the sweaty, steamy, mosquito-infested jungles of the Amazon or in the frost-bite-waiting-to-happen winter wonderlands of the Arctic makes me smile. And though I know the imagination is a very powerful tool, making my dreams come true is even more powerful: it’s what I must do.
So what qualities and ambitions must a good photographer, and a good writer, posses? Many applicants would probably say they want to travel the world and get paid to do it; I’m sure you would laugh at that, thinking they have no idea that these are real jobs, and tough jobs, at that. They would probably say that they would like to meet different people, discover new cultures and live an excitement-rich life. I cannot say that these things do not appeal to me; they are the propellers at the base of what moves me to apply for these jobs. But to me, there’s much more reality and much less fantasy. I know that leading this life would call for a lot more waiting around, taking care of wounds, escaping from things that can kill you, and being away from family and friends, than adrenaline-packed days and befriending hundreds of people in different countries.
That being said, you might now be wondering why I want this job if I know it doesn’t fit the romanticised profile that my generation has lead to believe it falls into. The truth is, I’m an idealist, and in my eyes, the best way to save the world is through education- but I’m not cut out to be a teacher. Contradictory to my romantic idealism, I am also a realist and am aware that it’s not going to be an easy paved road to salvation… not that I want it to be. You still can’t believe it to be true? When Jodi Cobb talks of her job as a photographer being “miserable conditions or horrible hotel rooms” or when William Allard describes it as “a bit insane” and “totally abnormal” it makes me scream with joy. I don’t know how hearing that this job means “working 18-hour days, [where you] don’t eat and you’re away from your family” (Michael Nichols) could excite someone unless it’s their true vocation.
I understand that words alone will not be enough to work as a photographer, since the photographs normally use stronger language than the person behind the camera. Granted, none of my adventures have been as intense as an assignment for the Society would be, but there have been instances which will progressively lead me to the professional scale. And if you think it doesn’t show in some of my pictures that I’ve been through these said adventures, I say, isn’t that the point? When you see Michael Nichol’s picture of a charging elephant you don’t want the viewer to consider that the photographer was in danger; you want the picture to show something amazing without the photographer’s situation distracting from the photograph itself.
As for my writing abilities, I am aware that they need more work than my photographs, but maybe, just maybe, all I need is to go on assignment, and through that long awaited experience, a magical story will unravel onto the page. If that doesn’t work, time and practise will be my paths to success.
Passion and drive are important. But not enough. A photographer must have ‘the eye’ to evoke the feeling of those unique moments and a writer must engage the reader with the truth in a story, while being informative, fair, and entertaining. I know I own these qualities, though I do not intend to imply that they are fully polished and at a professional level. But everyone must start somewhere, right? Experience is the key and the mother of learning. And I am bursting to learn things the hard way.
Laura Restrepo Ortega