The World’s Oddest Jobs: Odor Judges, Dog Food Tasters, and More

The Photo Blog
Jan. 21 2013 11:00 AM

The World’s Oddest Jobs: Odor Judges, Dog Food Tasters, and More

Odor Judge.
Odor Judge.

Nancy Rica Schiff.

Nancy Rica Schiff’s job as a photographer doesn’t exactly land her in the offbeat career category, but it has opened her eyes to less than traditional professions. Schiff’s book Odd Jobs, Portrait of Unusual Occupations, published in 2002 by Ten Speed Press, is the classic case of a photographer dealing with years of publisher rejections before finally getting a contract and discovering success.

As it often happens, the project had a serendipitous beginning. In 1989 while photographing at the Hollywood Race Track in California, Schiff noticed a strange-looking character on the track at the end of every race.

“I discovered that his job was to time the races and I thought to myself, not too many people set out to become race timers!’’ Schiff said via email. “That got me thinking about other unusual jobs and traveling around the country to find them.”

Dog Food Tester
Dog Food Tester.

Nancy Rica Schiff.


Schiff did exactly that, combing the country capturing the eccentric among us through black-and-white photography.

“My criteria for odd was simple: There had to be a twist of some sort,” explained Schiff. “Perhaps there was a gender reversal for example, a male bra designer or a young man testing tampons. In fact, ‘testing’ professions became a whole chapter. Or perhaps the job dealt with death or a forbidden but funny subject—or maybe the job was performed by only one person on earth.”

Colonics Therapist.
Colonics Therapist.

Nancy Rica Schiff.

Men's Underwear Designer
Men's Underwear Designer

Nancy Rica Schiff.

It might seem natural for someone with an odd job to have a corresponding personality. Not necessarily, said Schiff. “For the most part, the subjects I photographed were a delight to work with and very responsive. Many of them were happy to participate in the publicity and enjoyed their newfound notoriety.”

Because of the success of Odd Jobs, Schiff produced a second book, appropriately titled Odder Jobs (also published by Ten Speed Press). The projects have been transformative to both photographer and subject alike. Schiff described a couple of experiences that really left an impression.

“Climbing Mount Rushmore to photograph the ‘Crack Filler’ was the experience of a lifetime,” described Schiff. “Not to mention being squished into a small space in a custom-made trailer while hundreds of cows passed under me being artificially inseminated.”

Knife Thrower's Assistant
Knife Thrower's Assistant.

Nancy Rica Schiff.

Music Thanatologist
Music Thanatologist.

Nancy Rica Schiff.

Dinosaur Duster
Dinosaur Duster.

Nancy Rica Schiff.

As for her subjects, many contacted Schiff afterward to discuss the impact the images had on their lives.

“The ‘Odor Judge’ who is on the cover of Odd Jobs remarked to me after the book came out that her friends and neighbors knew where she worked but they didn’t know what she did there,” Schiff wrote. With two books under her belt, is there anything left for Schiff to capture?

Crack Filler
Crack Filler.

Nancy Rica Schiff.

Tampon Tester.
Tampon Tester.

Nancy Rica Schiff.

Leech Purveyor
Leech Purveyor.

Nancy Rica Schiff.

Rubber Chicken Maker.
Rubber Chicken Maker.

Nancy Rica Schiff.

“An odd job I never got to photography is of a ‘seat filler,’ ” wrote Schiff. “I have an image in my mind of nine people in a square format. Eight of them highly recognizable but the one in the middle is a complete unknown.”

David Rosenberg is the editor of Slate’s Behold blog. He has worked as a photo editor for 15 years and is a tennis junkie. Follow him on Twitter.


The World

How Canada’s Shooting Tragedies Have Shaped Its Gun Control Politics

Where Ebola Lives Between Outbreaks

Gunman Killed Inside Canadian Parliament; Soldier Shot at National Monument Dies

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

Paul Farmer: Up to 90 Percent of Ebola Patients Should Survive

Is he right?


“I’m Not a Scientist” Is No Excuse

Politicians brag about their ignorance while making ignorant decisions.


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

In Praise of 13th Grade: Why a Fifth Year of High School Is a Great Idea 

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

  News & Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
Gentleman Scholar
Oct. 22 2014 5:54 PM May I Offer to Sharpen My Friends’ Knives? Or would that be rude?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 22 2014 4:27 PM Three Ways Your Text Messages Change After You Get Married
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
Brow Beat
Oct. 22 2014 9:19 PM The Phone Call Is Twenty Minutes of Pitch-Perfect, Wrenching Cinema
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Wild Things
Oct. 22 2014 2:42 PM Orcas, Via Drone, for the First Time Ever
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.