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Switching gears
Glen Ellyn man goes from auto body mechanic to fashion photographer
By Kat Zeman | Daily Herald Staff

Photographer Terry Isaacson in his Glen Ellyn studio. Issacson is a former auto body mechanic.


Marcelle Bright | Staff Photographer

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Published: 9/23/2007 3:00 AM

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After turning 50, Terry Isaacson made a drastic career change.

"Old dogs. New tricks. It's never too late," he says, "as long as you have passion for what you want to do."

The Glen Ellyn man spent more than 20 years working as a body mechanic at an auto shop in Glendale Heights. Every night he'd come home drenched in dust, grease and dirt. Calluses peppered his hands. It may have been a good job and it paid the bills, but it didn't fulfill him.

"I'd get up in the morning and hate where I was going," he says.

Perhaps that's because Isaacson always envisioned himself an artist. In his spare time he painted, sculpted, drew and custom built furniture.

Then his life changed.

Roughly five years ago, Isaacson suffered a severe brain injury after being involved in a car accident. Half his body was paralyzed and he lost his ability to speak for several months. It took about a year for him to fully recover.

The accident did, however, bring him into some money.

After he healed, he used a portion of his arbitration award money to buy a professional camera. Prior to that, he flirted with photography by taking photos of his custom furniture with a cheap camera.

But the new camera possessed him. The first photo he snapped was of his 4-year-old son, Nicholas.

"I really love the camera," he said. "If it's something that interests me, I'll learn it and I'll do it to the best of my ability."

It didn't take long for him to build a studio at home. His business, Artistic Digital Media, was born. Isaacson felt a little like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By day he worked at the auto shop. By night he was a fashion and portrait photographer.

But last year, Isaacson turned his full attention to photography when he was laid off from the auto shop.

"At first I thought he was crazy," said Julianna Isaacson, his wife. "But I told him to go ahead and do it. My husband is so talented and I knew he could do it."

A dramatic career change -- even from a skilled laborer to an artistic professional -- isn't even that uncommon anymore.

Angela Nackovic, an adult recruitment project manager at the College of DuPage, works with people seeking to change careers everyday.

"People are not staying in one specific field for 20 or 30 years anymore," she said. "It's a different time."

The theories behind that trend are many, she said. Since people are living longer, they are working longer and now want jobs that they enjoy, she said.

Jobs used to be mainly out of necessity 40 or 50 years ago, she said. Layoffs and downsizing have also given many people a reason to suddenly change careers, she added.

Since setting up the studio, Isaacson's photography business has taken off, and he says he's done well for himself.

He photographed models and shot a video for Chicago Fashion Week. He also takes photographs at various community events. That includes cruise nights in Lombard and Wheaton, a Bloomingdale church picnic, Glen Ellyn Festival of the Arts and the Glendale Heights parade.

His photographs are available online at

Isaacson also enjoys digital photography. He calls it producing an image with his mind's eye. Some of his popular requests include portrait photographs in which mothers and daughters appear as fairies.

Other clients include fashion designers, advertisers, models and just regular folks looking for a family portrait.

Nackovic believes that changing careers, even later in life, does not have to be difficult. She recommends people conduct a self assessment of what they would and wouldn't enjoy, meet with a college education counselor to research the chosen field and possibly even job shadow a person in that position before spending money on education or training for that job.

At 53, Isaacson believes he's finally doing what he's supposed to be doing. He feels fulfilled.

It's never too late to chase your dream. That's his motto.

"Life does not stop as you get older," he said. "It gets more rewarding than ever."