Introducing Joe Massa with Manfrotto

Courtesy of Joe Massa

If you are even a little bit familiar with Rocky Mountain School of Photography, you probably know by now that we kicked off our 24th session of Summer Intensive (SI) on June 4. The first week of SI is always a flurry of activity with students getting situated in town and our staff running around making sure everything is ready. Once things are underway however, it becomes clear that all the effort is very, very worth it.

One aspect that makes the first week so much fun is that we get to reconnect with a handful of people who represent our Educational Partners. One of these people is Joe Massa with Manfrotto. Since Joe has been making the trip to Missoula to welcome our students since 2005, and is an integral part of our program, we thought it was about time to give him a shout out on the blog.


Tell us a bit about yourself. Who are you? Where are you from?
I’m NYC born and raised. The child of 2nd generation Italian immigrants. I grew up along with the computer, so naturally my first career was in technology as a Novell Netware systems engineer for Wall Street technology firms. After about 10 years I got bored with technology and wanted something low tech and creative.  I got into photography just at the birth of digital imaging…  Funny how life works…

You recently drove across the country to speak to our SI students. How was that? Have you made the drive from NY to MT before? Will you ever do it again?
This was my fourth or fifth cross-country road trip.  I like the freedom that a road trip provides. There is adventure at almost every exit if you are open to it.  There is also a lot of nothing in between.  Air travel has become so unpleasant that I only do so if driving is not an option.  I consider the time it takes to get someplace as part of the vacation and plan my route according to certain attractions I might never otherwise get to.  On this trip to Montana it was “The Great Platte River Archway” monument outside of Lincoln, Nebraska.  It is a terrific museum and attraction on the pioneer movement and the westward expansion of the United States.  I also figured that if we hustled across the country we could spend two days in the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone.  I’ve always been fascinated with the diversity of landscape in this country and a road trip is really the best way to see America….  As the old ad claimed…“See the USA in your Chevrolet!”

What prompted you to get into this industry? Do you have a photo background?
As I stated earlier, I wanted a change from the computers and changing technology of the Tech Sector. In 1996 I took a temporary position with a camera case company, Tenba,  to upgrade their computer systems and start work on the Y2K problem.  Once their systems were compliant,  the temporary position became long term and I started learning more and more about the photo industry.  I was always interested in cameras and photography but nothing serious.  Like most people, I liked recording vacations and other family memories.  In 1998 I took a job at B&H photo working on the floor selling bags and tripods.  Being surrounded by professional photographers, I started shooting more and looking at photography as an art form rather than just snapshots.  I would shoot, take notes on my settings,  get my film back, and then seek the advice and criticism of my co-workers at B&H.  I started reading books, watching DVD’s and learning all the different cameras and accessories.  When I had a customer I could not help with a question, I’d bring them over to someone more knowledgeable and, whenever possible,  stick around to hear the answer.  Then I’d ask my own questions after the customer left. I did this for seven years working my way through many different departments, shooting and learning all the time. In 2005 a position opened up at Manfrotto (then Bogen Imaging) in the sales department. Bogen was looking for a dedicated account manager for their biggest client, B&H.  They needed someone with the knowledge of the inner workings of B&H, not just working on getting orders but really being an ambassador to the 1,500+ B&H staff.  It’s over the past eight years working with Manfrotto that I’ve really been able to travel and assist with workshops that my photography has really advanced.  So I’m basically self taught, and still learning.

What do you like to shoot?
My passion is capturing the beauty of the landscape. I am happiest when I’m out of the city, typically in the western United States. And alone with nature. Living in NYC it’s a great way to relax and unplug from the hectic NYC lifestyle.  My heart is in the mountains and the desert of the American West.

How long have you been with Manfrotto?
8 Years and counting.

What is your role with Manfrotto?
Officially my title is Account Executive,  but there have been some changes and I think they are changing my title to Sales and Business Manager, Key Accounts.  I’m not really sure and don’t really care what the title is. Basically I’m responsible for everything that happens at B&H for all brands we distribute.  This includes, sales, marketing, customer service, training, website monitoring, in-store merchandising, working with their marketing team on outside events including schools and workshops, and occasionally I need to get involved with accounting issues. In short,  I’m known around my office as the B&H guy.  At B&H I’m known as the Bogen/Manfrotto guy!

©Marcy James

When I think of Manfrotto, the bomb-proof tripod my grandpa gave me comes to mind, but there is more to it than that. What all does Manfrotto do? What other companies or products do you rep?

In addition to Manfrotto Tripods, we have:
Gitzo Tripods
Manfrotto Lighting Supports
Avenger Grip supports
Kata Bags
Manfrotto Bags & Apparel
National Geographic Cases
Metz Flashes
Gossen Meters
Rotatrim Cutters
Manfrotto Video Supports
Manfrotto on Camera LED lighting
Elinchrom Studio Lighting
Lastolite Light Modifiers

Aside from talking to schools, where else do you go?
I’ve been traveling with B&H to several workshops (Maine, RMSP & NAPP).  Various industry trade shows take me to Las Vegas several times a year.  The rest of my time is spent in and around the NYC metro area, at the B&H store, in local photographers’ studios and NYC metro area universities.

Like many people in the industry, you’ve seen a few changes happen in the landscape of photography. What has been the biggest change since you have been in the industry?
When I started back in ’97, digital photography was just beginning. A DSLR was 20K,  .6 megapixels, and was a retrofit of a Nikon or Canon SLR film camera with a 7″ brick on the bottom of the camera. From there it just took off, changing faster than most could keep up, and once the news media began the switch from film to digital it really took off. Camera companies were rushing to build the next larger megapixel camera, and make it cheaper. I don’t remember when it actually happened, but I think it was with the Nikon D1 that digital was just as good as film and that this would eventually lead to the death of film. I just didn’t think it would happen so fast.

What do you think is the next big change will be?
It’s happening right now,  convergence.  Stand-alone video camcorders for the consumer are all but dead. Every still camera takes great video. Point and shoot cameras are hurting because cell phones take great photos now too. Pretty soon, all snapshots and videos will be taken with your phone and DSLR’s and mirrorless four-thirds cameras will be for hobbyists and those more serious about creating images. Professional video cameras are also almost completely solid state (no more tape), and the resolution and image quality is getting better and better.  The larger sensors are allowing them to get film-like results.

©Marcy James

You’ve been coming to Missoula to talk to our Career Training students for 8 years now. What is your favorite part of the visit?
I fell in love with Missoula the first time I got off the plane in 2005. I arrived at night and in the morning I awoke to find myself surrounded by mountains and some of the most beautiful scenery I had scene up to that point. I met Liz Dybdal and the staff at the school and they were just the nicest people.  Up until then, everyone I seemed to meet in the industry wanted something.  RMSP was thrilled to get literature and the fact that I was there to speak about my product was terrific.  All I seemed to have to do was show up and everyone was happy.  That was my first year with Manfrotto and I was soooo nervous getting up and talking to over 100 people. That first year I had about eight tripods, no bags, and no prepared presentation.  Over the years, the gear has grown, the presentation has gotten better, and I am not only comfortable up there, but it’s something I look forward to!

I consider everyone at RMSP not only colleagues, but my friends. So for me the best part of the visit is spending time with my friends.

General impressions of Missoula?
I love Missoula. The people, the pace of life, the location.  A wave of calm overcomes me as soon as I get into the airport (assuming I fly in).  I’m not naïve to think that Missoula is a utopia and not without some problems,  but coming from NYC,  and for me personally,  there is no place I’m happier.

Our students?
Quite simply … the students are the best.  I love helping people become better photographers because that’s how I learned – asking questions and paying attention to the answers.

Our favorite local ice cream shop, The Big Dipper, captures the attention of many-a-visitor to Missoula. What’s your favorite flavor at the Dipper?
Easy… Cardamom and El Salvador Coffee.


Do you know Joe? If so, give him your own shout out in the comments below. If you have any questions pertaining to any product in the Manfrotto family of products, you can reach Joe via email here.

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