Harry Fujimoto is a rare soul who traded his stand-up comedy routine for a camera--and is getting more laughs with his photos than he did with his act.
"Only now I don't have to worry about the rejection," he said.
Fujimoto arrived in Los Angeles in 1966 in his search for fame, but he discovered that being a struggling comedian was tough. So he took other jobs and eventually settled into a position as an adjuster for an insurance agency. Then his interest in photography, especially with animals as subjects, bloomed.
In 1979, he quit his insurance job and showed his photographs at an art show on Redondo Pier, netting about $30. Now, almost a decade later, his works can be found in many places, not the least of which is Art-A-Fair at 777 Laguna Canyon Road in Laguna Beach (through Aug. 28).
The things that make Fujimoto's work different and charming are the captions. For example, the caption accompanying a picture of a polar bear lying in a pool of water says, "I go with the flow, but the flow won't go." Another of a koala bear looking at a tree says, "Since I've been talking to you, I feel much better." That one is a big seller with therapists, he said.
A sense of humor has always been important to Fujimoto. "I just wanted to make people laugh," he said. "I discovered I had a sense of humor when I started to play the accordion and would crack little jokes to cover up my mistakes. The audience would appreciate my jokes because they were spontaneous. They would appreciate that more than the six months it took me to learn how to play the song."
Fujimoto, 45, grew up in Alamosa, Colo., where his parents were vegetable farmers and where he learned, he said, what working hard is all about.
He graduated from the University of Colorado with a marketing major, which has helped his photography career. "Marketing is all common sense," he said. "What I sell is not a product but an emotion to the animal and nature lovers. When they see something that hits their emotion and they feel they can share that emotion at a reasonable price, then they will buy that item."
Fujimoto didn't get into serious photography until after a 1973 trip to Yellowstone with his girlfriend, who is a photographer.
"She had this fancy Nikon with all these different lenses, and all I had was an Instamatic. We were in the Grand Tetons, and I was trying to get some close-ups of sunsets," he said. "In Yellowstone, I was trying to get close-ups of a bear with my Instamatic. Believe me, as soon as I got back from that trip I got my Minolta."
Fujimoto's photography career, however, did not flourish until he started adding captions about four years ago. He began experimenting about halfway through that season and doubled his sales immediately.
People who want to put a price tag on emotions will find a range of $148 for a framed 16-by-20-inch color photograph to $11 for an unframed matted 5-by-7-inch picture.
The photography column, which runs each Saturday in Orange County Life, is intended to help both the serious amateur and weekend shooter. Questions and ideas are encouraged. Write to: Robert Lachman, Chief Photographer, The Times, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif., 92626.