An eye for art: Photographer transitions to cosmetology instructor

Terry Nelson spent 18 years as a professional photographer, doing commercial work for Berea College and other organizations in the craft industry.

He spent hours in the darkroom processing photos, working with lines and colors to make works of art. But when the rise of digital photography made it easier for anyone to become a photographer, Nelson said he needed to find something else to do professionally.

He found his place by following in the footsteps of his mother, a beautician who worked in Richmond when he was growing up.

Nelson got his cosmetologist’s license and eventually began teaching students at the College of Technical Education. He is now the lead floor instructor at the CTE school in Winchester.

Nelson said the transition was a natural one, and it was completely seamless.

“Everything I did in photography is right here,” Nelson said. “I still get to be artistic and I get to fulfill my wish of being an educator.”

Nelson still works with lines and color, and he still puts his knowledge of chemistry to work teaching students how to color, cut and stylize hair.

“There’s a science behind that stuff that most people don’t realize,” Nelson said.

On a typical day, Nelson works with the school’s 38 students in a theory class in the morning. He then spends the rest of the day on the floor traveling from station to station and working with the students individually as they interact with customers at the school.

Nelson said he enjoys the instructional aspect of his job and the ability it gives him to help others. He said his background as a photographer gives him a unique perspective that he can, in turn, share with his students.

He said, in particular, he enjoys seeing the moments when his students grasp a concept and figure out how to put it into practice.

“Like in hair cutting, when you first learn to us a traveling guide you have to set it and use it to go around the whole head,” Nelson said. “And when they get it it’s like ‘now I see, now I understand how this works.’”

He said he enjoys getting feedback from his students after they get their state license, and often talks with them about what they have trouble on to help them work through it.

When he isn’t teaching, Nelson enjoys being outdoors playing golf, kayaking and hiking.