Imagine a two-time NFL Pro Bowl starting quarterback calling your name and personally meeting you midfield to give you a fist bump after a game.
“That jealousy thing goes on. Everyone’s like, ‘You know Derek Carr?’” said Cary Edmondson, University photographer. “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, we did all these shoots in Fresno.’ But they’ll still be like, ‘He knows your name, though.’”
For Edmondson, the opportunity to shoot professional sports is one he didn’t see coming.
“My mom always said I was good on the art side,” Edmondson said. “I was one of those kids who would put a puzzle together in no time, so she thought I had an eye for this stuff.”
His dad was an art major at Fresno State. He always had an interest in the field but was hesitant to dive in because he never thought someone could make a career out of photography or art.
While in college, after switching majors three times, Edmondson got into art with an emphasis in painting and drawing.
“When I went to The Collegian, that’s when I really went crazy with photography,” Edmondson said. “I always dabbled in it. I did the high school photography class. I did the Fresno City photography class. I didn’t take photography at Fresno State. It was just The Collegian.”
He had heard of the student-run newspaper when one of his classmates at Fresno State, who is now one of his best friends and works with the media studies department at UC Berkeley, was showing photographs in their design class. He noticed that photos his friend was showing were all Collegian photos. He was interested in the access photographers were able to get — how close they got to the games, players and coaches like Jerry Tarkanian.
His friend told him to talk with Jill Richards, the photo editor at the time because the staff at The Collegian was always looking for help.
His first assignment: to take photos of a new book on display in the library. He said he remembers thinking his shot was boring, but the staff liked it.
After that, he got to cover his first sports game. The Collegian sent him to capture some shots of a volleyball game. Edmondson said it was tough because the players were always moving and crossing each other. Photographers used film at the time, so he didn’t know if he got any good images. He dropped off four rolls of film, and the next day the photo editor told him that he “rocked” and whatever he wanted to shoot, to just let her know.
He asked for all the sports games.
His first Collegian front page picture was a shot of former Bulldog star quarterback David Carr fumbling the ball against Boise State with the headline “Destiny Slips Away.” It was a big deal to Edmondson because he was still new to photography. The football team was ranked No. 8 in the country, but after losing that game, it was no longer in the Top 25.
Although he was not an MCJ major, he became photo editor in his second semester with The Collegian. He was a first-year graduate student and he needed to take at least one course to be enrolled as a student. He wanted to gain more experience.
After graduating, his first job was as a real estate photographer. He would quit soon after because he got hired at the Selma Enterprise.
While working for the paper he won first place for a photo he got of a woman holding a puppy who died due to smoke inhalation. He remembers listening to scanners and hearing reports of a fire that was nearby. When they got to the scene, he took the shot from a distance, and the result was an award-winning one.
Edmondson now works for USA Today on the weekends. He travels to games around the Bay Area and covers teams like the Oakland Raiders, the San Francisco Giants, the San Francisco 49ers and the Golden State Warriors.
He said that most of his opportunities stem from connections from Fresno State. His friend, Justin Kase Conder, who was also an athletic media relations photographer, was taking pictures for US PRESSWIRE (now USA Today). While Edmondson was working in Las Vegas, he said he remembers he was envious of Conder because he was taking photos of professional sports.
When they were both in Vegas, he was covering USA Basketball, and Conder was taking photos for US PRESSWIRE. Edmondson was able to get a shot of Lebron James dunking the ball emphatically. A few months later, Edmondson got a job as a university photographer at Cal State Stanislaus. He was now closer to the Bay Area, and he reconnected with USA Today and started doing more professional games.
Edmondson said he doesn’t get starstruck as he once did. However, he does acknowledge that it is a good feeling when he and current Raiders quarterback and former Bulldog Carr greet each other. He said he hopes to one day show his children all the legendary athletes he got to capture in action — athletes like Stephen Curry, Peyton Manning and James.
Edmondson said he has checked off all the big things on his bucket list. He has shot all of the major sports championships. He has taken photos at the NBA Finals, Super Bowl and the World Series. His work has even been featured on the covers of magazines like Sports Illustrated.
As for a new bucket list, Edmonson hopes to one day do some work for ESPN the Magazine or TIME Magazine.
“I was the guy who collected baseball cards, football cards. I could memorize every guy’s stats,” Edmondson said. “It’s cool to find an avenue where you can still be at a high level.”
He said it is now hard to watch a live sport unless he’s up close, on the field or at court level.
“Once I got a season pass, that was my life,” Edmonson said.
His advice to aspiring journalists and photographers is to practice and to soak in all the knowledge they can. He said to never leave an assignment early and to work until you get a photo you would feature in your portfolio — never settle for average.
“Challenge yourself,” Edmondson said. “You don’t want to do anything if it’s easy; then it’s boring.”
Edmondson advises to find the right mentor and to know that you can’t do everything just on your own.
“The way you’re actually going to learn anything is if you go out there and just try, try, try and experiment,” Edmondson said.