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|| News Item: Posted 2006-10-05

Intern Diaries: The Santa Fe New Mexican
For me, working as an intern was like being in boot camp. I didn't do any earth-shattering work, but I showed up everyday and learned more that short period than I ever had before.'

By Susánica Tam, The Santa Fe New Mexican

Photo by Susánica Tam / The Santa Fe New Mexican

Photo by Susánica Tam / The Santa Fe New Mexican

Dancers rehearse at Early Street Dance Studio on Thursday, May 11, 2006, for their upcoming concert, "Kaleidoscope," where they will be performing to "Royal Fairies," from Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty."
(Editor's note: At the end of each summer, it has been a tradition at the Sports Shooter Newsletter to have several students share their experiences working at an internship.)

So I usually consider myself pretty level-headed, but while I was an intern at The Santa Fe New Mexican, I managed to leave my camera at an assignment, to get in a car accident, to fall asleep on the first day of work (it's tiring to adapt to the altitude), to cry in the newsroom (I never cry), to drop a Dyna-Light (I never told anyone), to get kicked out of an assignment (on an Indian Reservation), and even to drive to the wrong city for a shoot. And that was only in the first two months.

I arrived in Santa Fe on a Wednesday evening in January and almost barreled completely through town before I realized that I had already gotten to my destination. It was a quiet place, cold, and at night, I saw none of the purple skies, southwestern cacti, or fabulous eateries that everyone pretended to knowingly rave about when they heard I was going there.

The next morning I showed up early at work, but the DP, Clyde Mueller, was away in the Ukraine giving an Important Talk, so my dressing up didn't impress anyone. But from the get-go, I was treated like a staffer. Within the first week, I had an A-1 photo. I worked hard to catch up. In the beginning, I showed up at the other photogs' night assignments after I had finished my day shifts, so I could filch their trade secrets. I didn't want to be the squeaky wheel with the horrid, unlit, high-school-gym exposures.

For me, working as an intern was like being in boot camp. I didn't do any earth-shattering work, but I showed up everyday and learned more that short period than I ever had before. Whenever I thought I was getting used to shooting, I always got a new challenge handed to me. Although I was terrified I was going to screw it up, it was satisfying to see progress and know that I could do better with each attempt I made.

The first time I was told I had to drive to Albuquerque to shoot and transmit a baseball game, I was so nervous, I had to quell the rising vomit all the way there. I clutched another staffer's borrowed laptop, convinced that I would be missing some vital piece of gear and fail to be able to send my images. As it turns out, later in the season, I actually did forget a card reader, but by then, I knew the other photogs and swiped one from someone else. Another quirk of the Santa Fe internship is that the intern works on Sundays. Alone. While everyone else has the day off, it becomes the intern's chance to shine (or get screwed). I got to work on my people skills, in some areas where cameras weren't the most welcome. I shot a powwow one day, only to have an irate parent call the paper the next day about her child's photo appearing in it, (even though she herself had given me the caption info), and my editor dealt with it. It felt a good to know that they believed in me and stood behind me.

Photo by Susánica Tam / The Santa Fe New Mexican

Photo by Susánica Tam / The Santa Fe New Mexican

Head Man Dancer Karl Duncan, 21, a museum studies major at IAIA, student body president, and a member of the San Carlos Apache Nation and Mandan-Hidatsan and Arikara Nations, judges the men's contests at the 2006 IAIA Graduation Powwow at the IAIA campus.
Some of my Sundays were truly glorious, others were just plain tiring. On the third anniversary of the Iraq War, I drove two hours to a rural town to photograph families who had lost their sons. The assignments ranged from hard news to the absurd, but at the very least, Sundays could be colorful. Santa Fe has all sorts of festivals involving members of town dressing up, parading, and occasionally, burning things.

There was also the grand opening of the rainbow retirement center where elderly gay couples go to live. Another weekend was the Fiesta Queen procession where the church crowns a Don Diego and there is a royal march of sorts coming from the famous St. Francis Cathedral (which, this year, turned into a downpour and a flooding rainstorm midway through). Occasionally, I would even get to venture off into local rock-climbing areas and shoot my own familiar projects where I felt at ease.

At first, I felt shy in the newsroom, and anyone who works there will tell you that the photo department has its eccentricities. When I got there, I felt like there were people with whom I had absolutely nothing in common. Strangely enough though, I found after a while that I not only had a lot of respect for my colleagues, but I actually genuinely liked everyone.

After six months of being gone, it was time for me to leave. I sat at the ritualistic going-away dinner at the Cowgirl BBQ and Western Grill (where else?), this time in my honor, and grinned at all the funny stories that were now mine. For once, I felt like I could relax. Everything was so familiar, I couldn't imagine leaving. There was something about the afternoon thunderstorms, and the way the air smells. Over there, they call it the Land of Enchantment, but it's also known as the Land of Entrapment.

A few mornings later, I got off the freeway in Los Angeles.

To all my fellow photogs and co-workers, thank you for your patience, your guidance, and for standing back and letting me stumble and find my way. I miss you guys!

(Susánica Tam is a recent graduate of the University of Southern California. You can view here work at:

Related Links:
Tam's member page

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