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.

 

Traveling Solo (as a woman)

I’ve been traveling solo to all corners of the globe since I made my first big trip hitchhiking half way around the world when I was 19 years old. That was decades ago. I no longer hitch hike and I prefer to stay in a nice hotel over a youth hostel these days, Hanoi-0347but I still spend a great deal of my time – traveling solo. You can see some of the images I’ve made on these journeys on www.kellymooney.com

Whenever I tell someone that I will be traveling somewhere – solo – they usually respond with the same question: “Aren’t you afraid? I generally answer with my own question: “Afraid of what? Safety is a common concern, especially from women – and for good reason – but fear or fear of the unknown shouldn’t stop you. I do believe that being fully prepared prior to heading out solo is the best course of action to minimize fears.

Some of the biggest pros of traveling solo is having the flexibility of making your own itinerary and schedule, immersing yourself in the local culture and meeting people you probably never would have if you had not been on your own. Those things far outweigh any fears or trepidations I may have.  I’m more afraid of having regrets because I let my fears stop me.

Some tips:

  • Be prepared – research. Good research ahead of time can eliminate a lot of problems. And I don’t mean, just researching hotels, restaurants and the sites but research the local customs, other traveler reviews online, scam alerts, US State Department warnings or simply talk to someone who has gone before you. So, be prepared and do your research before you go, but don’t forget to leave time in your itinerary to let serendipity happen. Those moments make for life’s greatest memories.
  • Alert your bank and credit card companies before going overseas. My ATM card and credit cards are my lifelines when I’m traveling, especially when traveling solo. I need to make sure that they will work when I’m in a foreign country and not blocked. Many times if a credit card company sees unusual behavior on one of your cards – especially foreign transactions, security may put a block or hold on your card, suspecting fraud. I call a couple days before I leave on an overseas trip to give the appropriate companies a heads up.
  • Make copies of your itinerary and important documents. I make a few copies of any credit cards I’m taking, my passport, visas, flight itinerary, hotel info and any other important information. I leave one copy behind with my husband and take a few copies with me and keep them in separate places. I also keep a contact list of important phone numbers etc. and store them on my electronic devices, but I also have printed copies with me. If I do get robbed or lose something, I am in a better position to get assistance.
  • Keep your passport in hotel safe. I am keenly aware of where my passport is at all times. When I’m at my destination, I leave my passport in my hotel room’s safe. When I’m traveling, I keep my passport in the same place at all times. That makes it easy when doing a checklist to make sure I have everything after going through security.
  • Know before you go. Perhaps the most intimidating times for a solo traveler is upon arrival in a foreign place. If you aren’t comfortable with public transportation or even grabbing a cab, then have a pick up waiting for you at the airport or train station. If you do take a cab – make sure you negotiate what the price should be before you get in – even if it is a metered cab. Also, find out how long it should take for a taxi to get you to your destination. It’s a good idea to get familiar with the currency exchange rate. Nowadays it’s easy to get foreign currency out of an ATM machine but you should know the exchange rate so that you know how much to exchange. I just returned from Vietnam and I did not check the exchange rate before I got there. At the ATM machine I was given a choice of withdrawal amounts and selected the lowest amount of 350,000 Dong. Little did I know it was less than $20.
  • Don’t look like a tourist. I’m a photographer but I don’t want to stand out by looking like one. Not only is it not a good idea from a safety point of view, walking around a city with two cameras dangling around my neck or wearing a photo vest stuffed with gear, it’s not conducive to getting good images. The biggest plus of traveling solo as a photographer as opposed to traveling in a group is that I am able to blend in more, be more discreet and get more intimate images than if I’m in a group of people all shooting the same thing.
  • Don’t eat room service. It can be lonely and some women are even intimidated dining alone but don’t cheat yourself out of a cultural experience by eating alone in your room. I frequently eat in outdoor cafes. It’s more casual, more conducive to solo diners and has the extra added bonus of people watching. It’s hard to be lonely in that type of environment. In many countries, it’s quite normal to seat an individual at an empty seat at someone else’s table. I enjoy this because it’s an icebreaker and is a great way to meet people.
  • Don’t be shy – mingle. One of the best parts about traveling solo is that I immerse myself more in the culture of where I am. Most times I don’t seek people out to talk to – they usually initiate a conversation with me, mostly out of curiosity. I have had a lot of great experiences by meeting people this way. I am cautious, but at this point in my life I can usually size people up if they are trying to scam me or not. It’s become almost instinctive. For the most part though, it has opened up many opportunities that I may not have taken if I had been traveling with someone else or in a group. It’s also beneficial to talk to other travelers. I have had a lot of great experiences that I never would have had if other travelers hadn’t made me aware of them.
  • Use common sense. Be trusting and open but be aware. Don’t walk down unlit streets by yourself at night. Don’t wear a lot of jewelry or flash around a lot of expensive gear. Be mindful of your bags and belongings at all times, never leaving them unattended. (One of the cons of solo travel is not having someone to watch your back or your stuff.). Most of all – Go with your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, then it probably isn’t.
  • Be confident. If you look confident, you will be less likely to be a target. Most problems occur when a traveler is doing something that makes them an easy mark – getting intoxicated, not being mindful of their belongings or venturing into unsafe areas.   Don’t let yourself become an easy mark.

I’d love to hear other tips solo travelers have or experiences they’d like to share.

7 Things I Learned About the Business of Photography

It’s a Business – You may catch some lucky breaks in your career or you may be an incredibly gifted photographer – but if you want to make a living taking pictures and sustain yourself financially,

Times Square New York City

you will need to manage your art and your career as a business. That means find a way to make a profit in pursuing your craft.

It’s Not Personal – Keep emotions out of your business decisions. This is a tough thing to manage because it’s usually at odds with the passion that energizes the creative side of you. I think my best work is very personal but I try to avoid the pitfalls of letting my emotions cloud my business decisions that are in my best interests. That could mean walking away from a job or a bad contract.

You’re Selling Value – If want to make money and stay in business, you need to understand your value or your photography’s value in the marketplace. Are you unique, have special skills or access to places other don’t, have one of a kind images, or are you simply a really good professional photographer who a client can hire with complete confidence? The answer to that question can help you assess your value in the marketplace. If you don’t know what your value is, then it will be very tough to sell yourself. You can’t sell what you don’t believe in.

“Always be Marketing” – I learned this from James Malinchak – America’s Big Money Speaker. I’ve never been comfortable selling myself, which is somewhat odd in that my dad was a great salesman. It always felt a bit disingenuous to me to toot my own horn, and no doubt I missed a lot of opportunities by not doing so. It’s tough to sell ones self and many of us are better off having a rep or an agency do that for us. But, I have found that the best marketing happens organically, when I’m at conference or a social gathering and connections are more personal.

Be Proactive Not Reactive – Change is inevitable. If you want to sustain your business, you can’t get complacent. Keep in mind two things: 1. Nothing lasts forever and 2. There will always be cycles of ups and downs. As Robert Frank said the other night when I heard him speak “Keep your eyes open”. He said that in answer to the question, “What advice would you give students?” and I’m sure he was speaking about creativity, but if you allow yourself to become complacent as an artist – your business will surely suffer.

Don’t Burn Bridges – Singer/songwriter Don Henley wrote; don-henley-don-henley-sometimes-you-get-the-best-light-from-a-burning“Sometimes you get the best light from a burning bridge”. Isn’t that the truth? It’s also a lesson that I have learned the hard way. Think twice before you say something or react in a way that might come back to bite you.

Relationships are Key – Most business people will tell you that their best clients have been from referrals. It’s a lot easier to create a bond with a new client when you have already been vetted. Some relationships are easier to manage than others. Some are good and some are toxic. It’s up to you to sort through which relationships you want to nurture or abandon.

More practical tips can be found in The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion

What Does a Photographer Look Like?

When I started out as a commercial photographer more than three decades ago, it was a very different profession than it is today. It wasn’t just different in terms of technology – it was different culturally. When I went out into the workforce in 1977, it was definitely a man’s profession.

I never really thought of myself as a female photographer, just – a photographer. I didn’t think the additional gender adjective needed to be part of the conversation – yet it was at that time. Sometimes it surfaced in social settings. One time, an art director who I worked for, introduced me to a very famous photographer who shook my hand and said, “You don’t look like a photographer!” And I thought to myself, “what does a photographer look like?”

It was worse when the gender bias surfaced in the workplace. I’m not sure if having a male business partner made the situation better or worse. I do know that the assumption was always that my partner Tom Kelly, was the photographer and that I was either his rep or his assistant. That assumption negated itself during a pre-production meeting or on the job, but I needed to make my presence known.

Things have changed…….slowly, over the years in the photography profession. There are far more women in the industry now than when I first started. It’s certainly not the exclusive male dominated industry that it used to be, but there are plenty of professions that still are – the movie industry is a perfect example. There are plenty of other examples of gender bias in the workforce, which is what motivated my project, Like A Woman.

Like a Woman is a series of environmental still portraits and short films about women working in male dominated professions. The idea was first inspired by Lauren Greenfield’s Like A Girl campaign. I loved the campaign and even though I felt hopeful that younger girls are growing up a bit more empowered than girls of my generation, that statement “Like a Girl” still lingers as a demeaning remark. I wanted to flip the narrative and make the statement, Like A Woman an empowering expression said with pride.

To date, I’ve interviewed 5 women from all different professions – architecture, engineering, auto mechanics, organic farming and industrial photography.

Jenna Close, Oceanside, CA
Jenna Close with surfboard, Oceanside, CA

I’ve just completed one on industrial photographer, Jenna Close. You can see it on the Like a Woman Vimeo Channel. Jenna demonstrates that women have come a long way in terms of having successful careers in photography, but she reminds me that there are still undertones of subtle gender bias. Things are changing, but until the gender adjectives disappear entirely from the conversation, we need to stay mindful and not drift into complacency.

If you know a woman working in a male dominated profession, who you think would make a great subject for Like A Woman, please contact me. mailto:gail@kellymooney.com

The Value of Personal Projects for Photographers

For as long as I can remember, in my professional life as a photographer, I’ve always had a personal project that I was working on. I’d either be thinking about an idea that I wanted to explore or I’d be actively producing and shooting something. I never felt that I had to do personal projects. I did them because I wanted to.

Taking/making photographs has never been just a job for me. It’s not something that I look forward to retiring from. It’s something that makes me feel like I am “on purpose” and living the life I am meant to live. It’s also how I communicate and connect with people. That brings me joy especially when my imagery creates awareness or provokes thought.

One summer, early in our careers, my husband/partner and I decided to photograph the Jersey Shore.

Jersey Shore
Wildwood, NJ   ©Kelly/Mooney

We shot every weekend that summer, from the perspective of a bicycle, as we peddled our way through different towns along the shore. We spent one memorable afternoon in Wildwood taking portraits of all sorts of people,  in front of the graphic facade of a fun house. Some of those images created decades ago, still resonate in a timeless way.

There are very few images that I am still drawn to decades after I shoot them. Most of the images with staying power were shot on personal projects. Those images came from a personal place, my unique way of seeing the world at that point in time.

Gail - NJ Shore
Gail – NJ Shore

Those are the images that still speak to me and resonate with others.

I’m not quite sure I could come up with an exact dollar value on the personal projects I have done. Many have been monetized in in a variety of ways.  But the true value goes far deeper than the pocketbook.

What am I working on now?  Check it out.

How the Beatles Influenced Me as a Photographer & Businesswoman

With all the hype happening this week around the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles coming to America, I couldn’t help but reflect how much this band influenced my own career as a photographer and filmmaker.

  1. I was inspired me to “capture” history (and use my camera as a means to that end). Beatles on Ed Sullivan Show - February 9, 1964To start with, the first pictures that I remember taking as a child were photos I snapped of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.  I vividly remember as I anxiously awaited the show to begin, that I needed to document it somehow.  It was just too important not too.  In fact it was so important that I have kept that snapshot in a small box of memorabilia for 50 years! I’ve spent a career documenting some of the most incredible places, people and events of my time.
  2. They inspired me to be a storyteller.  I used to orally tell stories to just about anyone who would listen to me when I was a very young child.  But when the Beatles hit the scene, about the same time I started noticing the opposite sex, I turned my fantasies into my own written stories.  I’m still writing stories and now translating them into ePubs, books and movies.
  3. They expanded my universe.  I began to “see” things differently because of the Beatles.  I became aware of different cultures, countries, music and wit. It was like an awakening for me and I knew then that I wanted to explore as many cultures and experiences as I could. I’ve spent a lifetime exploring the unknown.
  4. They taught me to always learn, grow and challenge myself. I grew up as a child and later a teenager, during one of the most pivotal and changing decades in America. As the Beatles moved beyond the “feel good” and innocent lyrics of songs like “She loves you…..yeah, yeah, yeah”, to the lyrical depths found on the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, I too was changing.  It was like we were growing together. I remind myself daily to always be learning, exploring, growing and challenging myself and that has helped me stay fresh in my career.
  5. I learned that “The Beatles” were more than the sum of 4 individuals. John, Paul, George and Ringo all brought their own unique talents and personalities to make up the most phenomenal band of all time.  But they were also savvy enough to know they needed expert guidance and collaborated with great people like Brian Epstein and George Martin.  It taught me the importance of collaboration and to surround myself with people who have talents that I don’t possess.

New Business Models in Photography and Motion – in a Global Economy

Manchester Airport, Manchester, England

This topic comes up a lot these days.  You  could apply “new business models” to just about any business – not just photography and video. Photography and video, in and of themselves are not business models at all, but rather they are mediums that are used commercially, non-commercially and personally. The business end of photography and video comes when you determine how you want to apply them in terms of today’s markets.

Today’s markets are global.  That’s good news and bad news, depending on the type of work you do.  If you are a stock photographer or even if you have expanded that into also shooting stock motion footage – your inventory or your content must be unique in some way in order to sustain that type of business model in our global economy. You will need to stand out and offer something unique,  if you pursue this type of market.

If you are a commissioned commercial or editorial photographer, cinematographer, or director, the competition is fierce and once again, if you don’t have a unique style or vision, most likely you will end up playing by others’ rules or signing “their” lopsided contracts.  It comes down to supply and demand of talent and work, and you will either compete with price or offer something that you do better than your competition.

The good news is, if you are willing to do the work, the world is your stage.  The portals for distribution of your “content” are open to all and as “creatives” we are no longer dependent on middlemen.  When I get asked to talk about “new business models”, I always look for where the new opportunities are.  Where will I be able to carve out my own “new business model”, rather than having to adapt others’ ideas of what that may be.  There is a big difference in those two approaches.

I am carving out a business model for who I am creatively, and where I see the most opportunities for what I do well.  When I am authentic to who I am and apply this to my work, I am able to deliver my own unique vision and reach the right audience,  while maintaining ownership and control over the licensing of my work.  I am able to do that not only because technology has enabled me to do that, but more importantly because I have set myself apart from everyone else who has a camera.

Think about it.  What are your strengths? What are your passions?  Now imagine a business model based on your answers. The world is our stage.