I recently visited with one of my mentors, Adrian Taylor who had been instrumental in my career. I met Adrian when he was art director at Travel & Leisure Magazine. He had just taken that job and relocated to NYC from San Francisco where he had been based for almost 20 years. My partner, Tom and I had just graduated from Brooks Institute and were young eager photographers when we met Adrian. Looking back, I think that meeting was perhaps the most instrumental and fortunate bit of fate in our beginning careers.
During our visit, Adrian started recanting his amazing stories of when he first got started as an art director. He was also young and eager to learn, when Frank Zachary, editor of Holiday Magazine took him under his wing. Adrian was reminiscing because Vanity Fair had just run a story about those early days of Holiday and the legendary writers and photographers who contributed to it at the time. The contributors read like a who’s who: John Steinbeck, Carier-Bresson, Slim Aarons, Fred Maroon, John Lewis Stage and so on. At one point in referring to Zachary, Adrian said “he encouraged me.” Without missing a beat Tom replied, “That’s what you did for us too.”
I’ve been thinking about how important “encouragement” is for someone just starting out. Learning technique and business tips from a mentor are very important things for young photographers to learn when first starting out, but I think perhaps the greatest gift a mentor can give is his or her encouragement. If there were one thing that I can point to that I got from Adrian it would be just that. He encouraged us to be the best we could be. He believed in me so much that I couldn’t not believe in myself and that made me challenge myself and grow with every assignment.
Years later, I had a friend who became a mentor to me when I first started to write. He too encouraged me. At times he praised me and other times he was incredibly harsh with his comments, but I learned and I got better because of his encouragement. He is no longer here, but his encouragement, as well as the lessons learned have played a part in my life. In fact, he gave me the courage to take on one of the most challenging projects of my life.
Mentors come and go in one’s life each making their own mark as they do. If you should be so lucky to have people like this in your life, make sure you do one thing – take the time to make an impact on someone else’s life. You never know what will come of that but no doubt it will make a difference, not only in that person’s life, but in your own as well.