Brad Mangin is a San Francisco-based freelance photographer and a founding owner of Sportsshooter, an online forum for sports photographers. He is a regular contributor to Sports Illustrated and Major League Baseball Photos. Early in his career, Brad worked for legendary sports photographer Neil Leifer.
Wayne: You have said before that your childhood friend Joe Gosen convinced you to take a photography class when you were in high school in Fremont, California. How did he manage to do that? How did you become so quickly passionate about it? And can you talk about the role of your high school instructor in developing your interest?
Brad: I grew up with Joe Gosen in Fremont. We met when I moved to town in the second grade, when we were seven years old. While attending Washington High School, Joe convinced me to take basic photography during my junior year from long-time photo teacher Paul Ficken. Up until that point I always wanted to call San Francisco Giants games on the radio as their play-by-play man.
After I started taking photography and using Joe’s Pentax ME-Super that he so kindly lent me [in 1982], I realized that this was something I might want to pursue. Little did I know that once I hit Ohlone junior college after graduating from high school that I would never look back on my radio career that might have been. My high school photography teacher, Paul Ficken, was instrumental in both Joe and myself pursuing a career in photography. Because of his passion for art and wonderful sense of humor we both took every photo class we could from him over our last two years in school and continued our pursuit to learn photojournalism at Ohlone College in Fremont and then San Jose State University. Our good fortune of having terrific photography teachers continued on the junior college level when Gerry Mooney was our photo advisor for the newspaper staff. That was followed up at San Jose State where we were fortunate to learn under the legendary photojournalism program founder Joe Swan and his successor Jim McNay (who later started the Visual Journalism program at Brooks Institute of Photography in 2001 and made Joe his first faculty hire).
I am a firm believer that so much luck is involved in how a young person chooses a career and I know for a fact that I would not have chosen to dive head first into photojournalism if it was not for the wonderful teachers that came into my life and encouraged me so much like Ficken, Mooney, Swan and McNay. I have been very fortunate.
Wayne: How much of an interest did you already have in sports at the time?
Brad: I grew up a huge sports fan thanks to my father. He was a high school basketball coach for 32 years and there was always a ballgame of some kind on TV while growing up. My older sister Paula and my dad were both San Francisco Giants fans, so I followed in their footsteps rooting passionately for the orange and black. When I was a kid I always thought the coolest thing ever would be to have Giants season tickets and go to every game. Well, now that I am older I actually do have season tickets to the Giants games, owning four lower box seats behind first base with three other photographer friends! I actually go to about 18 to 20 games a year as a fan and shoot about 40, meaning I actually see almost [three-quarters] of all the Giants home games, thanks in large part to my job as a sports photographer! I think that is pretty cool.
Wayne: What else were you doing to develop your photographic skills while you were in school? You've mentioned before [on Sportsshooter] the importance of the Cappon and Zannier book to you: what other magazines and books were you reading? What, do you believe, can–and can't–photographers learn from books?
Brad: While I was in high school and junior college starting out I read everything I could get my hands on. When I was just starting out I could not afford buying all the large photo books, but I made sure I bought and read every issue of Modern Photography, Popular Photography, Petersen’s Photographic, American Photography and Shutterbug. I constantly looked at pictures in magazines and especially newspapers. I learned who all the Bay Area news photographers were by name and grew to follow the work of certain shooters I admired like Nick Lammers and Dino Vournas of the Hayward Daily Review.
I believe that photographers can really learn a lot from looking at pictures in books, magazines, newspapers […]. Of course, everyone is different in the way they learn. I really enjoy reading and studying the techniques that others are trying, and then going out and doing it myself. Others can’t stand reading or don’t have the patience for it and are completely self-taught and have accomplished a lot in the profession. I really enjoy being inspired by looking at the work of others. This is one of the reasons why I subscribe to five newspapers a day- so I can see the photography that all my friends and colleagues are doing so I can learn from them.
Wayne: How did you end up in the photojournalism program at San Jose State? Can you talk about which instructors were important to you and why?
Brad: I really lucked out having such a wonderful school like San Jose State 30 minutes down the road from my childhood home. My mother and sister when to SJSU and really enjoyed it so I figured that if it was good for them it would be good for me. Add the fact that they had one of the best photojournalism programs in the country at the time (started by Joe Swan) and it was a no-brainer. My transfer from junior college to SJSU as a junior could not have gone smoother. The classes we took from Joe Swan (and later Jim McNay) were so valuable in our progression as young photojournalists. However- the best part of school to me was learning from the other students, especially the upper-classmen who were seniors when we were juniors. Veteran students like Ken Lam, Richard Haro, Julia Tranchina and Scott Nystrom were so helpful in teaching us the ropes. We learned so much from our peers about getting internships, putting our portfolios together and working on deadline. These wonderful students, along with the regular National Press Photographers Association Student Chapter meetings we had rounded out a wonderful educational experience that culminated in my internship at the Contra Costa Times– who ended up hiring me upon graduation.