35: What does it mean to be 35?

By PHILIP EIL  |  November 20, 2013

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"THE BEST I'VE EVER BEEN" Conaty.

Ryan Conaty , freelance photojournalist

I went to CCRI and my career counselor there said, “Well if you could do anything, if money didn’t matter, what would you do?”

My response was, “Well, you know how Jimmy Buffett sits on a boat and drinks rum all day? That’s what I would do.”

And she said, “Well, you can’t do that. What else would you do?”

At that time, I had a motorcycle and I was a lifeguard at Bonnet Shores on the ocean and I felt like I was hot shit. And for whatever reason, she got to talking about those sorts of things and somewhere along the way she said, “How about — hear me out — how about being a stuntman? I think you’d make a really good stuntman.”

But then I became a news photographer and I didn’t want to have a motorcycle anymore. You go to a few of those motorcycle crashes and you decide it’s a dangerous thing. People think this job is exciting and it is; that’s why I pursue this. I like taking pictures, but the real thing is like going backstage or in a hot air balloon — whatever it is, you get to do cool stuff. But  there are also a lot of days spent standing in the cold, like near a dumpster where they found some toddlers. I mean, it’s a lot of shitty stuff. You go to a lot of accidents. I have a friend who works for Reuters who says, “We’re like lawyers without the money.” People never like to see news photographers. I’m there on everyone’s worst day, like when your house burns down.

My other thing is, I love cars. I can’t help it. I get behind the wheel and even in traffic, I still feel like, “This is way faster than I could move, by my own power.” I feel like I’m in charge of this machine that weighs tons and it’s like beautiful and makes all this noise. I just love cars. And so last year, Formula 1 racing returned to the US. It hadn’t been here for a bunch of years, and it came back to Texas and the New York Times sent me to take pictures of this weird European thing returning to Texas.

And I was in the Ferrari garage where they’re making basically the fastest car that people can make. The cars are beautiful and they need to look that way because, on planet earth, we have oxygen and for thing to move as fast as it does through oxygen, it has to look like this. It’s like nature makes these things beautiful. They’re like upside-down spaceships. They’re made of carbon fiber and there [are] chemists making the fuel and the tires. And there’s aerodynamicists putting these things through wind tunnels. And I’m just standing there in the Texas sun, with this beautiful machine, and I just started crying. I’m thinking, “This is exactly where I want to be. This feels like home. This is perfect for me.”

It seems like a hard thing to do, right? Getting on the front page of the New York Times for someone who just went to CCRI and was told to be a stuntman? I kinda want to see what else I can do now. Being 35, I feel robust. I’m not a tough guy or anything like that, but I feel strong. Not like I can do a lot of pushups, I just feel like this is the best I’ve ever been.

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