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Waynesboro photographer has picture-perfect job

April 15, 2002|BY RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

Raymond Gehman's life began to come together one day in the fourth grade.

A National Geographic photographer came to his class with a slide show on photos he had taken in the Arctic.

"I was hooked right there and then. I knew I wanted to become a National Geographic photographer," said Gehman, 50, of Waynesboro.

Gehman recounted a circuitous route to his dream job traveling the world photographing people, places and nature for the famous monthly magazine.

He grew up in Fairfax, Va., attended George Mason University and flunked out, spent three years in the U.S. Army and decided that if National Geographic was what he really wanted, he'd better prepare for it.

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He enrolled in the University of Missouri's journalism program, where he learned to write and take photos. In his senior year, he won a contest that earned him a photography internship at National Geographic.

He graduated in 1979 and went to work as a photographer for a newspaper in Missoula, Mont. Three years later, he moved into a job at the Virginian-Pilot newspaper in Norfolk, Va., which he held for nine years.

While he was in Norfolk, Gehman's skills in photography began to win him awards and contests.

National Geographic came calling in 1985.

"I was lucky and my timing was really good," he said. "My boss at the paper was great. He let me take the time off."

The magazine sent him on a two-month assignment photographing state parks in the South.

From there, he did occasional freelance work for National Geographic while keeping his newspaper job.

In 1987, the magazine sent him to Yellowstone National Park for a year to shoot pictures for an article on the ecosystem in the greater Yellowstone area.

He quit the Virginian-Pilot in 1992 to become a contract photographer for National Geographic. He worked about 150 days a year, he said.

Gehman was sent on assignments for magazine articles and books published by National Geographic. He photographed Eastern Wildlife from Maine to Florida, a Medieval forest in Poland, the devastation of Hurricane Andrew in Florida, wetlands around the country and the west of the American cowboy.

He was sent on enough assignments in Western Canada to earn him a reputation as "the Canada guy" among his magazine colleagues.

"The next thing I knew, it was five years later," he said. "I was never around home much, and when I was home, I was busy editing and cataloging my photos," he said.

Two years ago, he lucked out with a lucrative commission from the Ford Motor Co. for photos in an advertising campaign for one of the automaker's big pickup trucks.

"Ford paid for my swimming pool," he said.

Since the mid-1990s, Gehman has worked for National Geographic as a freelance photographer. He said between that work and resales of his photographs, he makes a living.

Gehman and his wife, Mary Lee, have two sons - Mike, 21, and Andrew, 16. The family moved to Waynesboro in 1992.

"We thought it would be a great place to live and raise children," he said.

National Geographic has proprietorship only on the photographs it publishes. Gehman gets to keep the rest. He has an agreement with Corbis, a photographic archives founded by Bill Gates in Seattle, to sell his work.

"Corbis has about 10,000 of my photographs," he said.

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