As an undergraduate at Palomar College, I was a triple major in English Literature, American Sign Language, and Photography. I knew I wanted to be a creative; I just didn’t know what my path would be.
One pivotal day, I witnessed my Sign Language teacher suffer a nervous breakdown in class and two hours later, my English teacher announced openly to my fellow classmates that I was a terrible poet! I walked into my last class that day, Photography. We were developing in the darkroom for the first time. Unbeknownst to me, my career path was about to materialize – literally. I watched an image of my 12-year-old niece, who I had fashioned as Alice in Wonderland, “magically” appear in the developer. Mind blown… I was hooked. I had found my Plan A.
After my ArtCenter journey, I landed a full-time position at the Walt Disney Company as executive assistant to the President. It was a huge learning curve to be at the beck and call of someone so powerful in the entertainment industry, yet it seemed I had the perfect training at ArtCenter to prepare me. I could handle any demand that was thrown my way, not to mention managing the intense personalities that surrounded me.
After 10 years, my career grew stagnant and I knew I had to move beyond Disney if I was truly to become an artist – a realization that finally pushed me to make a change. Another major lesson ArtCenter taught me was to look beyond myself and take creative risks. So I leaped and landed a position at the Rand Corporation, publishing research documents. I went from Winnie the Pooh to investigating weapons of mass destruction!
Since childhood, I knew I had the ability to drive my future as long as I believed strongly enough to fight for that vision. But as an adult, it is easy to get sidetracked. Put in the long hours and then go play. It’s in the play where we learn.
When I was an ArtCenter student, I was driven to be the best and to prove to my parents, fellow students, and the world that I deserved to be there. As a result, I worked 24/7 and forgot to cultivate the passion and drive of my art. We need to take long walks, meet new people, go to the movies, visit Disneyland!
If you send out the energy for change into the abyss, the Universe listens. I ultimately made that call at a University Press Conference hosted by RAND. My officemate and friend pushed me to introduce myself to the keynote speaker, Stanley Smith of the Getty Museum Imaging Department. I inquired as to whether or not any positions for photographers were available at the Getty. He handed me his business card and two weeks later I was a photographer for the J. Paul Getty Museum. Plan A accomplished!
The Getty Museum is Los Angeles’ epicenter of preservation and cultural heritage and one of the leading museums in the world. For me, the Getty has become my sanctuary of discovery and artistic expression. Every skillset I’ve learned through my work-life journey has led me here. Every day, I have the great privilege to handle and photograph ancient art – from tiny engraved gems to large sculptures, with breathtaking gardens and inspiring architecture at both sites.
Today, as Lead Photographer, it is my role to ensure each studio photographer stays within the brand guidelines of the museum. We have a responsibility to be accurate. However, I’m not just here to document objects. I am a storyteller of the objects I photograph. Part of my job involves talking with the curators and conservators about the various stories behind the pieces in the collection.
These people are walking encyclopedias. We end up asking a lot of questions: What was the artist’s overall intention with a given piece? What is the best vantage point for capturing the image? Where is the light coming from? What kind of emotional response does this object elicit? In seeking the answers to these questions, I end up falling in love with every piece I shoot.
Since my Plan A was delayed a good 12 years, the world had changed quite a bit. Once I stepped back into being a creative, I realized that my ArtCenter experience equipped me with a foundation of confidence and knowledge that has now carried me through a 15-year career at the Getty.
ArtCenter has changed too, although it remains an intense and demanding experience for its students. Through my work, I hope to act as a kind of compass for ArtCenter students – to show them that, no matter how far you stray from your Plan A, your aspirations are within reach if you have the passion and courage to leap.
Tahnee L. Cracchiola
Lead Photographer, J. Paul Getty Museum, Villa Imaging Studios