Attending the World Series, climbing to the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, and driving with a NASCAR driver during a race are just a few experiences from the photography career of Jeff Vendsel.
As if that weren’t enough, CVHS’s new photography teacher has also taken pictures at the Skiing World Cup, the U.S. Open tennis tournament, and every 49ers home game from 1992 to 2005, as well as gone skiing with Olympic skier Jonny Moseley.
Vendsel graduated with honors from San Francisco State University (SFSU) in 1992 with a degree in journalism. From 1994 to 2010, he was a staff photographer at the Marin Independent Journal while simultaneously teaching photojournalism at SFSU.
The tales of daily excitement from his life as a photojournalist beg the question, “Why quit?”
“There are times when I miss shooting for the newspaper,” Vendsel said. “I really like to be outside, and working at the newspaper allowed me to be outside all the time. Being outside and having that variety in my daily life is what I miss most.”
There were some aspects of the job, however, that were not so sunny:
“Being a news photographer, there were times when I had to go to situations that were, I should put it mildly, really unpleasant, and it’s your job to take that picture,” he said. “And I don’t miss that; I don’t miss taking pictures of somebody’s worst day in their life, ever … I don’t miss that at all.”
After quitting his job due to a rapidly shrinking newspaper staff (the Marin Independent Journal had lost three quarters of its former staff by 2010), Vendsel and his wife moved to Washington where he lectured in photojournalism at Washington State University. After a year-long stint there, he finally moved back to the Bay Area to become a photography teacher at CVHS.
According to Vendsel, his newfound love for teaching high school stems equally from the students and the environment:
“It’s really, really rewarding to watch somebody who has no training, visually, learn to use a camera and learn to express themselves visually and watch their progress,” he said. “It’s great to watch that change, to watch people who have no training, and all of a sudden they can make beautiful pictures. Everybody has that in them, I’m convinced, and that’s really, really rewarding.”
In addition, he enjoys the open-ended, art-focused approach to photography at CVHS, a contrast to the more rigid journalistic curriculum at SFSU. He says he encourages his students to emphasize people in their images, and to think of photography as storytelling rather than simple reporting.
However, with the current job market for photojournalism so impacted, Vendsel is cautious about steering his students towards that career path.
“I have scores of friends who are unbelievably great photographers who are not working anymore, because the newspapers have shrunk in size. There are jobs in other areas of photography, but in that particular journalism area, it’s getting more and more difficult,” he said.
Nonetheless, Vendsel will continue to teach the art of taking good stock photos. A few photography students each year will meander into the school newspaper, some continuing on into college and the professional world. Others will enjoy photography simply as a fun and beautiful way to express themselves and say something about the world in the process.