Author Archives: Tom

About Tom

I have been a photographer in one form or another since I was very young. From the first time my father gave me my first Kodak Instamatic, I realized that I had a passion for photography. Our bonding moments were usually behind the lens of the camera as he and I explored the Arizona desert together. These were some of my best memories that I have of my father. I was first published in a magazine called Engineering News Review in 1986 while still in high school working as a year book photographer. During my college years, I took a position as an event photographer taking pictures at parties, graduations and other special events as well as group photos for sports teams. After graduation, I started shooting portraits and modeling photos while working at a 1- Hour photo lab and later a custom color darkroom. Later, I worked as free-lance Assistant Photographer for various fashion, commercial advertising, architectural, food, automotive and catalog photographers working for clients like Kmart, Dillards, Volvo, Chevrolet, Architectural Digest, Galyans and others. This was a very rewarding period of apprenticeship and self discovery. I continued shooting commercially and personally. My most notable client to date would be Circle K for a billboard campaign in Arizona. Photography has been an important part of my life and it is through The Aperture Project that I want to use my profession and my art to help others. I came up with the concept while taking of all things a dating class. We were participating in a relating exercise where two men with extremely different opinions about a subject were asked to explain their position to each other. It was a process in which the listener would repeat what he heard and the person explaining his position would say whether he felt he was understood or not. This went on for what seemed like hours. They switched roles and eventually after repeating this process over and over and with some facilitation, they came to the realization as did I and nearly 400 other men that these two extremely conflicting opinions did, in fact, derive from the same core value. It was that exercise combined with another one in which we had to consider and write our personal mission statement which The Aperture Project sprang to life.


World Domination Summit and the Year 2020

Recently, I attended the World Domination Summit (WDS); an event dreamed up by blogger and author Chris Guillebeau. Being that this was the first time I’ve ever attended this event, I had no idea what to expect. All I knew is that I loved the name and the premise of the event which is: living an extraordinary life in a conventional world. The other deciding factor, a couple of friends whom I respect told me I should go. Really, what more did I need? And as it turns which, it was very sound advice.

To be honest, I was not all that familiar with Chris and his work; I had heard of his books The $100 Startup and The Art of Non-Conformity as well as his travel hacking work through friends.  At one point, I even briefly scanned his websites, signed up for the WDS wait list and eventually bought a ticket for Kate and I as soon as they came available.  Let’s face it, I was pretty much convinced that I too busy trying to dream up my life of non-conformity to really dig deep into Chris’, but what I did know is this; that on the surface I very much appreciated what he stood for in life.

Muffadal, Tom, Ruthy and Bethany

Muffadal, Tom, Ruthy and Bethany

The first thing I realized about WDS is that you need to stay on top of things. Sure, you can simply show up and get more than your money’s worth but to really get the most our of your experience you need to be a participant not a spectator. There are parties, meet-ups, special events like “The Great Namaste,” treasure hunts and academies; most of which are scheduled around the week of WDS, but some continue long after the stage crews are gone and the lights dimmed.  Somewhere during the weekend, I also discovered that there is usually some kind of special surprise that Chris and his crew of amazing volunteers present to WDS participants. This is where my WDS story begins and it all started with a text from an unknown number, “Good morning! This is Michelle, the WDS Team Magician. We have a few fun things in the works for our final session this afternoon and need your help. Meet me at the backstage entrance … at 3:55pm and I will fill you in.”

The Time Capsule

Welcome to the year 2020!

“Yeah right,” I thought, “this must be some kind of joke. And if it isn’t they are going to have me do something ridiculous on stage.” Kate agreed and bet me $10 that they would be making me dance on stage. But as it turned out, it was anything but a joke. As requested, I showed up at the backstage door precisely at 3:55pm and was met by 3 other participants, Ruthy, Muffadal, and Bethany, and a very tight-lipped WDS ambassador; who by the way, filled us in on nothing. We were left completely clueless as to what was going to happen to us.

Interestingly enough, I had met Bethany on the first day of the event in a line for some kind of “time capsule” booth. The premise was that once you crossed the threshold of the time capsule, you were now in the year 2020. Participants were being videoed as they described what life was like for them in 2020. Six years later, these videos would be released; giving us an opportunity to see if the 2020 we dreamed up anything like the 2020 we were actually living?

Chris Guillebeau

Go ahead, Chris, tell that story…

I spoke of my photography career, the the portrait that I had taken of the President and some ridiculous comment about a photo shoot that I did with some nameless pop-star. I also mentioned that we were celebrating the sixth year of The Aperture Project and that we had benefited the lives of thousands of children all over the world by getting them to connect in meaningful ways through photography. There was more but you get the gist of the story. As I was to find out later that afternoon, this was the reason that I was standing at the backstage door.

A little later, Michelle the WDS team magician showed up, introduced herself and thanked us for showing up. She still didn’t “fill us in” as promised and eventually split us up and handed us off to various ambassadors who sat us in very specific seats throughout the theater and was told not to say a word. Obviously, I thought this is all still very strange and still had no no idea what was going on, so I sent Kate a text and asked her sit next to me. Once the seats started filling, I did as I always do and began introducing myself to people around me. They all seemed pretty normal I guess except for this one guy. He was real fidgety. He kept looking around and couldn’t stay still in the seat. “Whatever,” I thought, “he’s probably looking for a friend.”

As was to be expected the afternoon session began on-time and the next speaker was introduced, and the next, and a special presentation of participants who were to rap a cappella style to the Prince of Bel Air then suddenly it was over. I sat there nervously the whole time. I began thinking, “What? Why am I here? What’s going on?” Nothing happened.

Chris came on stage in his modest, unassuming way,  made some announcements, looked at his watch, told the crowd that they wrapped up 15 minutes early and if everyone wanted to go they can, or if they’d like, he could tell a story. Of course everyone applauded loudly, wanting to hear his story.

Tom Rooney, are you up there?

Tom Rooney, are you up there?

He told us that as a kid many of the adults in his life would ask him and his friends that cliche adult question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”  Most of his friends would say stuff like “I want to be a doctor or an astronaut or the President” and the adults would say things like, “Oh, that’s great!” or “You can definitely do that!” But Chris, being that his favorite restaurant was Burger King would always tell the adults, “I want to work at Burger King.” Hearing this, they would hesitate and say, “Well, Chris, you can always change your mind later.” He loved Burger King and couldn’t understand their reactions, but learned to say other things that were more pleasing to the adults. And luckily he also realized that Burger King was not only a bad career choice but an equally bad diet choice.

Tom & Cameras

Here I am trying not to drop these cameras in front of 2500 people.

Then he began to describe how they had asked WDS participants what they wanted to do when they grew up. He began describing the 2020 time capsule, and instantly,  I knew exactly why I got that text message from Michelle, but I still had no idea exactly what was in store for me. He began to show short snippets of the videos and then told the audience that the WDS ambassadors knew exactly where everybody was sitting. They were that good and he was looking for some people. The first person he was looking for was sitting up in the balcony, and he pointed in my direction. He began naming the people sitting around me, telling people what they ate for breakfast and other random details about their lives. But they weren’t the person he was looking for and then he said, “Is Tom Rooney up there?” I stood up, and nervously said something. He asked me to come down and join him on the stage. When I arrived backstage, I was greeted by none other than that strange, fidgety gentleman who unbeknownst to me quietly left his seat sometime after the afternoon session began.

He said, “Hi Tom. Remember me?” I most certainly did, he was obviously a spy figuring out who was sitting around me, creating the perfect illusion of omniscient ambassadors. Chris performed his magic trick three more times with Ruthie, Bethany and Muffadal. Here we were all on stage and, one by one, they showed our 2020 videos then presented us with amazing gifts. In my case, Chris and the WDS team presented The Aperture Project with six digital cameras and the rental of a gallery when it comes time to exhibit the photos of Aperture Project participants. It was an amazing surprise!

I can’t tell you how grateful we are here at The Aperture Project for the kindness and generosity of Chris, Michelle and the WDS team. Thank you all for helping out what will undoubtedly become a world changing organization!

PS: Kate still owes me that $10.

Photos by: Armosa Studios / Creative Commons License. (Thank you, Tera!)

Project Update: We’re back!


It’s true. The Aperture Project went on a bit of a hiatus for a while, but we are back, moving forward and making huge leaps of progress in turning our project into a reality.

So where did we go? To be honest, during the last couple elections, I went through a period of deep introspection. I saw our country divide deeply over issues of race, fairness and equality, the environment and women’s issues. I witnessed political pundits, and still do, take absolute fictions and deepen that divide by getting both sides to argue along the periphery versus finding issues in which all Americans could unite. They blended politics and religion when it served their purpose and then argued for the separation of those when it did not.

I was utterly dumbfounded by how we all, including myself, were sucked into arguing about our differences that I ultimately convinced myself that based solely on what I was witnessing that this project was doomed for failure. I felt that we were slipping backwards as a society and I became very disheartened. How could I transform the world by connecting children and young people based on their similarities and inclusion when we as adults were hell bent on dividing the world based on our differences?v

I thought to myself, “The world doesn’t want this. People don’t care, so why should I.”  Unfortunately, for a brief period of time I slipped into a world of cynicism and resignation. I lost sight that change is possible and even a single individual can change the world for the better.

Regardless of these setbacks, the dream of The Aperture Project never left my heart, and over time I realized it was exactly these things that convinced me that the United States and the world needs this project now more than ever. We live in an amazing period of transformation and change in which we need to realize that despite our differences we as human beings are far more alike than different. If we can find ways to relate to one another based on those commonalities, then we can do great things in the world!

Please join me in moving The Aperture Project forward and making this world a better place. Thanks!


Capturing a moment in time: when writing meets photography

Jill captures real moments, places and people through the lens of her camera and her writing as she travels and makes connections around the world.
By Jill Kozak
A writer by nature, a photographer by accident, is what I tell people. I set out for my round-the-world trip in January 2012, taking a lovely Canon PowerShot A2200 along for the ride. The results have been good, my photos capturing moments in my travels I cherish, people I’ve met along the way and places I hope to see again. When I set out for my journey, I believed that I would work and write my way around the world. As fluent as I am in the written word, I realized that what sets my travel writing apart are the poignant photos that accompany my pieces. There are times when I stand stunned at a beautiful sunset, when I think no photo can do the moment justice. This is the photographer’s job: to catch a moment in time so that it might be remembered later. In times of sheer, unadulterated beauty, sometimes it’s best to leave the camera in the bag and live the present. Other times I am overcome by a duty to freeze action so that I can reflect on it later. There is a visceral quality of photography that cannot be replaced. While writing tries to explain with words a vision for the mind’s eye, a photo gives a bit of an edge so that one can properly visualize a place, a moment, a memory. Some of the best photos I’ve taken while traveling have been spontaneous. All of the best photos of me have been taken in a moment of exciting adventure, the signature “smile and pose” technique falling to the wayside. It wasn’t until I arrived in Australia that I even began to consider myself a photographer. Before my trip, I was just a writer who happened to tote a camera around. It was that trip, in particular a visit to Sydney’s Royal Botanical Gardens, that changed my mind about my talents. Not only could I write about an experience, but I can explain, through photos, what it was like to live a moment. Since embarking on my journey, I’ve been pleased with the sentiment that I am a writer and a photographer. I’ve learned that the two often go hand-in-hand. Where the written word lacks, the photograph sustains and vice versa. It’s a symbiotic relationship of the most artistic type. As a photographer, a writer and ultimately an artist, I’ve been able to connect with other people from all over the world with my work. I wrote a piece that just recently got published in Native Foreigner Magazine, an online travel-zine featuring some of my photography from Bondi and Coogee Beaches, located on the eastern shores of Sydney, Australia. I have also connected with other artists on a personal level, most recently a painter friend of mine wanting to adapt my photograph into a painting. The connection between us has grown more personal now that we are collaborating on an art project, of my photography’s derivative. Photography and writing has given me the unique outlet I had been searching for my whole life to become worldly and connected. Before traveling, I yearned to have international friends, photos from abroad and stories about my trip. Aided with both tools, I’ve been able to view the world as a real place, full of real-life experiences, all of which are waiting to be captured by me. Photography is special because it aims to focus on real moments and places. When you pair the visual of photography with descriptive, poignant writing, what you have is the closest approximation of what it was like to live a moment. The coming together of forces is powerful and often very moving. Always a self-proclaimed writer, I’m now proud to call myself a photographer as well. It’s my hope that my life story continues to unfold and flourish with the help of my allies: the word and the photo. I am reliant on the quality of both to convey the breadth of my experience while traveling.

The Nature of Dominance and Bullying

What I have learned at the dog park also holds true on the playground: Bullies prey on the weak

My observations of the nature of dominance and bullying at the dog park and how it applies to the playground.
By Tom Rooney

While on my morning walk with my border collie, Sadie, we encountered another dog walker. And when doing so, I usually take the opportunity to say hello and give the dogs an chance to greet one another as dog do. You never know exactly how this will turn out because every dog reacts to one another a little differently but I think it is important for the socialization process.

Anyway, as the dogs come nose to nose. They greeted each other with tail wags and I assumed that this encounter like most of them will turn out amicably and we, as dog owners, would walk away with that warm fuzzy feeling knowing that our dogs are pretty darn cool. But it didn’t really turn out that way, the moment Sadie turned her back, the other dog began to lunge at her aggressively, growling and bearing her teeth. The process repeated itself 3 or 4 times.

The other dog owner, obviously a bit embarrassed by his dog’s behavior, suddenly asks me, “Is your dog an Alpha?” “No,” I replied, “Just the opposite in fact.” “You haven’t bred her or anything?” he retorted. “No Never.” “Wow,” he asserted, “my dog usually doesn’t react that way unless the other dog is an alpha.” At which point we wished each other a good day and continued on our walks.

I began to think about his comment and realized that he really misunderstood the nature of dominance and bullying. And let’s face it, his dog was just a bully. The one thing I do know about bullies it they typically don’t go after the their equals or those that appear stronger than them; they prey on the weak. They look for individuals in which they feel that they can assert dominance over and do so through various forms of aggression.

Now I am not saying that bullies never face one another, because on occasion they do. And this usually results, both at the dog park and on the playground, in a brawl of some sort. and when this happens, teachers or pet owners often rush in to break it up. The kids are sent to the principle’s office while the dogs are usually reprimanded, leashed up and lead out of the park. In case of the bullies, and sometimes in the case of the dog, there is a clear winner and they will stay away for one another at that point.

However, the process of bullying is much different. In the case of a dog, it may entail the dominant individual roaming around the park mounting the less dominant individuals. Dog owners nervously laugh, make jokes and do their best to break the routine and say, “Dogs will be dogs.” But on the play ground or in the classroom it will manifest itself in the form of wedgies, name calling and vicious rumors etc. but essentially the behavior is the same. These kinds of things rarely happen to the kids that are confident, wear trendy clothing or appear to have a strong social network. It’s usually that kids that are smaller, less confident, less social that are the focus of this kind of aggressive behavior. And despite the increasing awareness of bullying, I still find that some parents approach bullying the same way dog owners do. They nervously laugh about it; tell stories of what they when through as children and say, “Well you know, kids will be kids.”

Book Review: Twitter for Good

Written by Claire Diaz-Ortiz, Twitter for Good is a concise, straightforward guide as to how non-profits and social ventures can use Twitter in their social media campaigns by following her TWEET framework.
by Tom Rooney

I am essentially a Twitter newbie. I honestly didn’t get the phenomenon and filed it in my mind as place consisting of mostly narcissistic, blathering posts like “OMG! In line at @starbucks getting my mocha-frappa-cappucino latte and this girl is wearing the worst shoes #pukeinmymouth.” However it became pretty clear to me that it was not going to go the way of Myspace anytime soon.

So I headed to the book store, determined I was going to pick up one of those dummies books because obviously I was a dummy for not getting into Twitter.  Seriously. As I was I was searching for that ever so familiar black and yellow binding, my attention was suddenly drawn to this bright blue and orange book called “Twitter for Good.” And while I mused that the only thing more interesting would be a book entitled “Twitter for Bad,” I picked it up, read the reviews and figured that this would be as good of a start as anything.

As it turns out, Claire Diaz-Ortiz opened my eyes to the kinds of ways that Twitter can actually be used for good, that my initial opinion on the medium was obviously flawed and that I could actually use Twitter for, as she puts it, a “force for good.” I was a convert of sorts.

He book lays downs a pretty simple framework for utilizing  and engaging the Twitter community. She calls this framework: TWEET

  • Target
  • Write
  • Engage
  • Explore
  • Track

So am I a Twitter God now that I have been using her framework for a little over two months? Not exactly, but I have definitely made some headway in understanding how to use it in a way that allows me to effectively communicate my message and to some extent promote my cause. And as a Twitter newbie that is all I can as for. And as far as I am concerned, you should check it out too.

Also available on the Kindle.