Behind the Photograph: This Image Was a Photographer's Turning Point


© Steve Gottlieb

Natural History
When Steve Gottlieb took this picture in 1985 he’d been practicing law for 10 years. Photography was his hobby, and his hometown, Washington, D.C., was his favorite subject.

“As a lark, I decided to approach publishers about a book of my D.C. photographs. Incredibly, the first publisher I met gave the green light. I remember thinking it was a cool thing for a lawyer to have a fine published book of photographs.

“This photo, taken outside the Museum of Natural History on a drizzly fall day, was used on a promotional brochure for the book, and the brochure caught the attention of a graphic designer who said he wanted to purchase a large print of the image. We talked about the print, then he asked if I’d take on a commercial assignment for one of his real estate clients. He offered me $500 a day plus expenses—remember, this was 1985. In a flash it hit me that I might be able to make a living doing something I loved instead of slogging away at something I loathed. The day the book was published I left my office and I’ve never done another day’s work as a lawyer.

“The ironic postscript: The graphic designer didn’t buy a print or hire me for the assignment. I never found out why. No matter. He did something immeasurably more important: he opened my eyes to the totally radical notion that at the age of 36 I could change careers, and I doubt that would have happened if it hadn’t been for this photograph.”