Ben Solomon: Four good years behind the lens

This concept of writing is new to me. English teachers have never been generous in the grades they have given me and writing articles isn’t something that I have attempted, so my apologies to those astute enough to pick up on my weak penmanship. While I cannot write, I can say convincingly that over the past 35,000 hours something remarkable has happened. Investing our time in fraternities, student groups and our networks of friends, we’ve established what’s to come for the next phase. During this time, some of us have spent too much time on group projects and some of us drank too much, but we have been dedicated. Not necessarily dedicated to school, but dedicated to the concept of becoming someone. I surely won’t impart my wisdom on how I think college is supposed to mold a youth into a person, in part because this is my first and last article, and I want to get it right. But college has been good. Looking back in a year, five years, 20 years . college has been too good.

While professors and the parental units might not like to hear my theory, I had a different outlook on what college was and school was meant to be. My definition: everything outside of that lecture hall is important. No real learning happens in a calculus class where your professor doesn’t know how to teach (yes, that’s a crack at my calc professor who tried failing me freshman year). The learning occurs during what you do with your free time. I needed to find something with the ability to distract me from my homework and class. In high school it was creating a haphazard company that has snowballed into a success. Here, I needed something to hang my hat on to say I’m too busy to do my work. If you asked me four years ago that a few photographs could do that, my response: no way. Four years later, my parents, roommates and fellow colleagues at the paper can tell you, it did a damned good job at eating up my time.

Here’s the story:

August 28, 2004: before the first day of classes, I started on a journey without really knowing it. I didn’t really know how to take a photo, but I somehow convinced the sitting photo editor at this paper I knew how to.

Getting written up by the Metropolitan Police Department, Pentagon Police, Secret Service and the University Police Department (twice). Billy Crystal turning the tables and taking my camera and snapping photo. Mo Rocca cracking a joke about me on my first assignment. Witnessing Candice Parker in the NCAA tourney become the first women’s college basketball player to dunk. Having an unnamed blog make fun of my inability to use spell-check. Traveling to Texas, California, North Carolina for the Big Dance – pretending to be on a basketball team. All of these memories have been my headlines to a four-year career behind the lens. Hundreds of press passes later and having filed assignments from more than 12 states and two countries, my little plastic badge has given me the opportunity to be the eyes of 20,000 people in Foggy Bottom.

It’s funny. You can imagine me tearing up, turning to my wall of photos and pondering on my illustrious career on more than 1,000 photo assignments, but I am at a loss for words. It’s an incredible feeling to be a part of something for so long and then turn around and leave it.

This is the hard part – no one ever reads thank you’s unless you, yes you, are the one to receive the thanks. To all of you that have seen me on my best and worst days – I’m never really angry, it’s a front. It’s a passion for the paper. To the biggest name in the future of journalism: Jake, this is when I’m speechless for real. It’s been a ride. Bumpy? Not really, because I’ve genuinely thought of you as a close confidant and I look forward to many years ahead. From being on the road with you (even though you were in first class the whole way), to arguing for a front page photo, these will be times that I think neither of us will forget. To Joanna – whose kindness never went unnoticed. The thousands of miles we have traveled were one big trip that, while we made every flight (barely), was truly an experience that I think prepped us for the “real” world (if such a thing exists). To my play-by-play boys – even though we never got to take off from Rickenbacher, it has been too much fun on the road. To Ceasar – I’m not quite sure who is going to win our bet. Your never-ending passion for whatever project you take on (or create for yourself) seems to always put you in a position of success. So as to who’s taking who out to a five-star meal 10 years from now, it’s going to be a close call. To Nick – my criticisms of photos after I left the desk were out of never-ending love and support for the department you run and the jealousy I had in seeing your great work. When we’re 50, we’ll talk about how you used to shoot in film. Ryder and Alex – wow. If this was a baseball game, you both have truly stepped up to the plate. I am taking zero credit for what each of you are today, but don’t break the law and you’ll make me proud. To everyone else on staff, thank you, thank you, thank you, for putting up with me. A photo is a photo, nothing more, I know.

To the roommates of 504, 905, 701 and 203: the sound of the scanner at night never got me anywhere – I never got to cover Thurston or any other building burning down. Four years hasn’t been enough time to enjoy life with you all.

To all the family friends from Jersey and New York, aunts and uncles from Boston and the Island – you too have been more supportive than I could ever have dreamed.

To my Molly, David, mommy and daddy – I can’t tell you how indebted I am to have each of you support me through this crazy journey. I’m not going to let you down.

And with that, the buzzer has sounded, the clock is up, my word count is telling me it’s time to go. It has been a pleasure and honor – but you’re not done hearing from me.


Ben Solomon was The Hatchet’s senior photo editor, photo editor and senior staff photographer. He started at The Hatchet in Aug. 2004.

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