Why pro hockey is the reason I am a professional photographer

It all began with a knock to the door of my dorm the Spring of 1986.

I was just finishing my freshman year at Buffalo State College, in Buffalo, NY, an undeclared major in computer science. A friend in my dorm was asking if I was available later in the week to go to a hockey game in downtown Buffalo. It wasn’t just a hockey game, it was a NY Rangers hockey game, against the Buffalo Sabres.

Sabres/Canadiens,1987 ©Richard Freeda

 

My friend, Mike Groll, knew I was a hockey fan and more importantly, a NY Rangers fan. I answered yes, before I knew if I was really busy or not. Mike was a freelance photographer for United Press International (UPI) and often covered sports and news events in metro Buffalo for the wire service. It wasn’t an offer of a ticket, it was a chance to be places I couldn’t be otherwise.

Mike and I left a few hours before game time and I remember being real nervous. Mike explained that bringing me along wasn’t really allowed, but he knew the building and most of the security guys, so it probably wouldn’t be a problem. “The Aud”, as they called it, was one of those old-school arenas. Kinda square on the outside and lots of rafters, banners, seats and dust on the inside.

Mike explained that he was going to give me a camera so I “looked like I as working”.  We both walked into a nondescript side door of the Aud, waved hello to the security guard who barely looked our way and walked upstairs to the press box for a pre-game meal.

The Aud in Buffalo, in front of the new arena in background

Before the beginning of the first period, Mike brought me down to the corner glass, where there is a hole in the glass to shoot the goalie and the zone where the Rangers would be shooting. He handed me a 35mm camera with a lens on it and told me to to “pretend” to take photos. I looked at the camera, with all the knobs and numbers not knowing at all what any of it meant.

Right before Mike left, I asked, “is there film in this camera?” Without a beat, he said no.

“Would it be OK to put a roll of film in here?”, I asked as he was clearly trying to leave me to get  to his photo position.. He reached into his camera bag, took the camera from my hands and put a roll of film in the camera for me. He made some changes to the camera and told me not to touch any of the settings. “Just shoot the roll”, he said. “It’s 36 exposures.”

I took the camera and shot the whole roll during the first period of hockey (it’s not the photo above, that was taken at a game a year or so later). Mike developed my roll of film with his film  when we sent back to the UPI darkroom, a short walk from the Aud.

After Mike printed his photos for his UPI deadline, he looked through my roll of film. He put the loupe to the film, looking for a much longer time that he looked through his film. He clipped the very edge of one frame and nicely made me a print of a pretty terrible and mostly out of focus photo of two hockey players skating and not doing much more. The picture was pretty terrible, but Mike was nice enough to send me home with a print for myself.

As bad as my photography was that night, it was truly a beginning for me. I was just 18 years-old, pretty much failing my 2nd semester computer class and was thinking of ideas of what I should change my major to.

I asked Mike a million questions that night about photography as a career. Was it too late for me to start this? What should I do to get experience? What equipment should I invest in? His first suggestion was for me to take a darkroom photography class over the Summer, which I did just a couple of months later at Nassau Community College on Long Island where I grew up .

The next semester I changed my major to journalism, joined the college newspaper and the rest, as they say, is history. Mike even took me to Breezy’s Pawn Shop in Buffalo to look for a used camera, which is a whole other story.

I often think what my life might have become had I not been a freshman college student/hockey fan going to school in Buffalo when my friend Mike knocked on my dorm room door. Life is filled with happenstance and this instance changed the trajectory of my life forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rest, Relaxation & Celebration (and some hiking)

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of our wedding, I surprised my wife with a trip out West to Sedona, Arizona and the Grand Canyon. We just snuck a stop at the Canyon when the Governor of Arizona decided the fund the park with state money instead of federal money. We are feeling very fortunate for the opportunity to see and hike some some of the natural beauty in the world. 

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