Nomi Wagner Portrait Artist

From First to Second Life: How I Found Greener Pastures

by Nomi Wagner

The last day my family was together before my father went to war.

As a young child, I saw the world from a survival perspective. My father was killed in World War II when I was five years old, and my grandparents died shortly after the war. That left my mother, brother, and me. Seeing that a woman could be left alone with no one to support her, I made the decision to find a career where I could support myself.


There were few choices for study in the late 1950’s, for women who wanted a career—teaching, nursing, dental hygiene.

My cousin was a dentist, so I decided to get my B.S. in Dental Hygiene. Hygienists were always in demand. For 18 years it was a perfect part-time career as a mother of three children.

Photography had been a passion of mine since childhood. Ater my father and grandparents passed away, I spent hours devouring our family photo albums to grasp onto any semblance of family. Keeping those pictures in mind, for my 10th birthday I asked for a Brownie Hawkeye camera and started taking photos of family and friends. By the time I was an adult, my photography skills had improved, and people started telling me that my photographs looked professional. One day, in 1978, I was cleaning the teeth of a prominent interior designer. I told her that if I had to do it over, I would have become a professional photographer. She told me that people in her business always needed photographers and encouraged me to go for it.

That night I went to the library and got every book I could find on photography. After I signed up for classes at UCLA, I found a private photography school, whose owner had been a professional portrait and wedding photographer in New York. I took every class he had to offer, and on Saturdays I would go to his office with a list of questions. As he taught me everything he knew about photography, I absorbed it like a sponge. Within a year I left dental hygiene and became a full time professional photographer.

Post by Nomi Wagner and Paige Miller

For fifteen years I enjoyed great success and was in high demand. Amazingly, I was doing something for which I had a passion, and I could support my family! I had managed to do what so many people only hope to do — I found my bliss.

But you know, even the best of times have their dry spells … as in my next post.