What’s the Worst Thing that Could Happen?

I was always the “new kid” in school. My family moved more than 10 times before I graduated from high school.  We weren’t a military family, running from the law or in the witness protection program. My Dad was moving up the corporate ladder, our family was growing and it just set up a series of moves.

Being the perpetual “new kid” forced me to take risks every time we moved, forming new friendships, adjusting to new schools, dealing with the inconsistencies in the curriculum from school to school, and learning

gail and wagon
Me, taking a stand in the new neighborhood.

new neighborhoods and the local culture.

In my early years, I was not the one who was initiating “change” or deciding to take a risk – my parents were. Nevertheless it made me the person I am.  As a child I was learning that it was OK to take chances and in fact, it was a good thing. But I also knew that we were not a “normal” family and at times I longed for a life that was less transient and more like the families I saw on TV.

I look back at my upbringing and Roller skaters jump over teammates, Tokyo, JapanI believe that the greatest gift my parents gave me was to teach me that it was OK to take chances.
And in fact when I was afraid to take a risk, I remember my Dad asking me “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” To be honest, I never really thought of anything that was all that bad.
So, is it any wonder that someone like me would opt to go around the world with my daughter, traveling to remote places on six continents, and live out of backpacks for 99 days while creating a movie?

Erin and Gail, Peru
Erin and Gail and children of village along Amazon River, Peru

I was actually going to do this by myself until I received an email from my daughter telling me that she wanted to quit her job and sublet her apartment and go with me.

At first, it surprised me when she said that she wanted to do this with me.  She had only been working for a year after graduating from college and was lucky to have a job. But she was willing leave her life as she knew it, apartment, take a trip around the world for four months and face looking for employment upon her return. Then I realized I shouldn’t be surprised at all, she too had grown up with the notion that “taking a risk” was normal.

These days, I see young people growing up in a society that has been so over litigated in an attempt to make our lives more risk free that it seems like we are teaching our children NOT to take chances. Losing or failing is looked at as a bad thing and that instead everyone has to be a winner.  It seems that fitting in and becoming part of the status quo is what we should strive for rather than being unique or original.  The problem is, if everyone thinks and acts that way, innovation will die.  No on will dare to be different.
In the last few years, I’ve probably had to face more rejections than I’ve had to over my entire career, or at least it’s seems that the way.  On the other hand, I have had the most incredible experiences and successes of my life.  To be honest, I’m scared to death just about every day but I grew up thinking that was normal and that came with growth. Thanks Mom and Dad for giving me the courage to spread my wings.

 

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10 Things Freelancers (Photographers & Filmmakers) Should Do in 2017

Marathon swimming, East River, New York City

Be optimistic – I’m going to start with the hardest one of all, because it’s really difficult to be optimistic these days. But I find that if I can maintain a positive attitude and turn my thoughts to what is possible, I actually open myself up to more opportunities in my life, instead of creating more roadblocks.

Be open to possibilities. – Be more flexible in how you perceive things and who you are. Change is always happening, but it’s usually gradual. Most people don’t take notice until “change” forces their hand to act. It’s always better to be proactive than reactive so embrace “change” as an ever-present fact of life that creates opportunities for those who are open to seeing them.

Collaborate – Photographers are very independent creatures and collaboration is not part of their norm. As the “photography” business continues to change, photographers will find that collaborating with other artists will make their own businesses stronger. There is so much more to running a business than there used to be. While social media marketing has opened up numerous possibilities, it can also be overwhelming to a solo photographer. You can’t do it all. Work with people who can bring out each other’s strong suits.

Diversify – I’m not quite so sure why so many photographers are so rigid in how they define who they are and what they do. Having a “style” is great, but the trick is to not to be so narrowly defined by that style, so that when styles change, you don’t find yourself obsolete by your own design. It’s kind of like being type cast, where your audience or your clients can only see you in one way. Diversifying might be creating a whole new niche of your business. I recently created a business niche that is more geared toward the retail market. We create high end “Ken Burns” style family biography videos to preserve a family’s legacy with personal interviews with ones loved ones combined with old photos and home movies.

Concentrate on “the story”– I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of still photographers and filmmakers this past year and I began to notice a difference in the conversations I was having with each. Most times, filmmakers would be telling me a story, whereas still photographers would be telling me how they executed a photograph, or essentially telling me the “back story” of the creation of the image. It’s all interesting but “the story” is the bottom line – if that doesn’t come through to the viewer – the rest doesn’t matter – including how it was executed.

Be authentic – be true to yourself. That means that you have to trust your gut instead of second guessing it. This is hard, especially when things don’t always work out the way you had hoped. Step away from the “noise” and listen to the voice inside.

Fail more. – Rejection is a tough pill to swallow but it usually means that you are either pushing yourself to try new things, you are too far ahead of your time or it just wasn’t meant to be. If you look at successful people you’ll see that most have had failures and rejections in their lives but they stuck with it – instead of letting failure defeat them.

Self-Initiate more projects. – I don’t like to call non-commissioned work, “personal projects”. That co notates that there is no monetary value, and these days just the opposite could be true. With more and more lopsided contracts being presented to photographers for commissioned work a photographer has a better chance to make more money and keep ownership of their work by creating self-initiated projects. But they need to be prepared to work hard. We’ve been working on a project entitled “Like A Woman” where we shoot environmental portraits and a short video about women who are working in traditionally male professions. It is a subject I know all too well after working in the career of photography and now filmmaking my entire adult life.

Forget about the past and learn from mistakes. – You can’t change the past but you can learn from it and then, move on. Look toward the future but make sure you take time to enjoy the “now”.

In the scheme of things, you’re just one small speck in the universe. – I think we all get way too stressed about things that really don’t matter and we let those things control our life. When we become more conscious of that, we really begin to live life.

Tips for Young Photographers from an “Older” One

I’m not so sure if it’s true that we get wiser as we get older.  I think we just have a lot more time to make mistakes and hopefully learn by them.  When I was first starting out as a photographer, I was extremely fortunate to learn from some of the legends of my time – not just about photography – but all kinds of things.

Gail with children in small village along Amazon River, Peru

I think sometimes that we have become such a youth centric society in America that we forget what we can learn from those who came before us.

Some things I learned along the way:

  • Watch out for your “peak” years – most hit those peak earning years during their 30’s and 40’s. When you are at the height of your career, remember to live in the “now” and enjoy the ride. Things change quickly in a creative business.  Be prepared for the peaks and the valleys.
  • Stay away from trends and be authentic to yourself – Don’t emulate others’ style, find your own.  Listen to what your inner voice is telling you, despite what happens to be the trend du jour.
  • Be proactive – not reactive – Don’t fight change – it’s an impossible task.  Things are always changing. Nothing is static.  Doing nothing is not staying the same – it’s actually going backwards. By the time people react to change – it’s usually too late.
  • Say yes more than no – Whenever I’ve been brave enough to say yes to a job that I didn’t think I’d like or be able to handle, it has always turned into one of my most rewarding experiences, either creatively, financially or both.
  • Be more vulnerable – if you’re not feeling vulnerable, even at the peak of “success” – you aren’t pushing yourself enough.  During the entire making of my film, Opening Our Eyes, and even now, I have felt vulnerable – first in the journey itself around the world and the trials and tribulations that came with that and now dealing with the rejections that come with submitting the film to top tier film festivals.  But I thrive on the wins and we’ve been honored at so many wonderful festivals and that wouldn’t have happened – if I hadn’t been vulnerable.
  • When a door closes – a window always opens if you recognize opportunity – My worst moments have always been followed by my best ones.  Sometimes, something has to happen to motivate me to take the next step.  Unfortunately, when the crappy stuff happens, I feel least empowered and optimistic but I plow ahead because I know this must happen to get me where I need to be.
  • You’re never too old to be mentored – I love learning.  In fact I love it more now than I did when I was younger.  I love the whole idea of mentoring and I feel that it works both ways.  When I mentor someone else, regardless of age, I always end up learning as well in the process.
  • Marketing & Promotion: Do more pull – less push – The most effective promotion and marketing efforts on my part have been when I’ve spent more time “creating” for the sake of creating, rather than for the intent of marketing.  When I’m working on a project that I am passionate about, people who hear about it take notice and the word spreads.  When that happens, clients or media attention comes to me.  Whenever I have spent more time, “marketing” to potential clients or trying to get publicity, it has never worked.  It’s much better when it happens organically.
  • Network outside your profession – I’ve always found it more interesting to engage with people in all sorts of professions.  As a storyteller, I thrive on meeting different people.  As a photographer, it makes sense on many different levels.  I have found that by broadening my circle of friends and colleagues, it has led to many interesting collaborations.
  • Making mistakes ISN’T a bad thing – it just means you aren’t afraid to try new things.  Well I should probably not imply that I’m not afraid – quite the contrary – but I don’t let my fears become my reasons not to act on something. I often blog about my mistakes and in fact they consistently are the most read posts.  I think people would rather read about others’ mistakes than read manuals.
  • Don’t focus on the gear – focus on the story or the message.  The story never goes out of style.
  • There are no overnight successes – just ask anyone.  We just don’t hear about people until they do become a “success”.  Be prepared for rejection along the way because it comes with growth and consistently trying.