Pay it Forward

An original print of an image my mentor and longtime friend Jose Luis Villegas made of Grammy award-winning blues man James Cotton.



Shortly after leaving the Marine Corps in early 1998, my wife Stacy and I bellied up to a Benihana table next to a very nice looking couple for lunch. At some point, the question of what we each did with our days came about. Stacy’s response was simple; she was an educator, a gifted and talented one at that. And has been now for quite some time. I, on the other hand, was in the throes of transition from military service to what I hoped to be a long career of making photographs.

The couple we met turned out to be the talented and highly respected photojournalist Jose Luis Villegas and his lovely wife Ruth. Jose’s worldview was and is specific and simply beautiful. The lives he has touched and the subsequent stories he has told through is work are something to behold.

In what I would later find to be true to form behavior, Jose took me under his wing. In the years that followed, my career as a photojournalist budded under Jose’s guidance and advice. Eventually, we found ourselves side-by-side on assignment. Covering events large and small, local and national. Ultimately, I spread my wings and grew into myself.

Today, I mentor and teach those I am able. Each time I do, I can’t help but see the wild-eyed kid I used to be. And think back to how grateful I am to my now longtime friend – and the gravity of his gift to me.

My only hope is that I can somehow pay it forward.