Mentors and Lessons Learned

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 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.


Your Inspirational Heroes Are Just Like You

Today, October 9th is the birthday of two people who have been very inspirational to me over the years – Jackson Browne and John Lennon. Lennon would have turned 73 years old today if he had not been gunned down in NYC when he was only 40 years old.  I admire both of these men, not only for their incredible skills in writing but also for their activism and courage to stand behind their beliefs.

I had the honor of meeting Jackson after one of his concerts last October.  It was a memorable moment. Jackson had allowed me to use his song, “Alive in the World” in my film, Opening Our Eyes and it had been arranged for me to personally thank him after the show. He was warm and generous with his time and we talked a bit about the blues – a topic that continues to surface in my life.

The blues (music) seems to be the foundation of many of the musicians that inspire me. The blues is authentic and that authenticity comes through in the lyrics of both Jackson and John.  Throughout their songs, we get a very clear idea of how they feel and think. They share their frailties and inner thoughts as we see them as real people just like us.

I suppose a lot of us think it’s too risky to be so open with our thoughts and our hearts and choose instead to bury our  dreams, desires and fears inside the deepest recesses of our minds. A lot of angst can come sometimes from remembering things that have happened in our past – things we did or wished we had done – things we said and wished we hadn’t said – you know all those fleeting thoughts that seem to haunt us at times.  None of us can change the past – it has already happened. But we all can choose how we let our past affect our present and our future.

Some of us try to “block out” the painful things that have happened in our lives. I have found that I can’t really succeed in doing that because there will always be something that will trigger a memory. In fact when I try to “close myself” off like that, it actually just continues the pain, because I’m expending negative energy, trying to “block” it out . Instead, I try to channel those thoughts when they come, into more positive energy by reminding myself who I am, not how someone or something made me feel.

Everyone has ups and downs in their lives – it comes with being human.  That’s why the music and lyrics of Lennon and Browne resonate with their fans – they can relate- as humans. I think as creative people we can learn from these two musicians – how to take chances and how to be true to ourselves and follow our own path – regardless of how unconventional it may seem to others .  When we are true to ourselves, we will find that our future direction will unfold as it should – we just need to get out of our own way.

“You don’t need anybody to tell you who you are or what you are. You are what you are!” John Lennon


I’ve often talked about how important collaboration is in video.  And with the right mix of people collaborating – wonderful things can happen.

My longest collaboration has been with my husband and business partner, Tom Kelly.

June 4, 1977

Today marks our 35th wedding anniversary, but our relationship goes back even further – another 4 years.  It’s truly hard for me to believe that so many years have gone by, but that’s what happens when one is busy living life.

The way Tom tells the story of the day we met is that we were with our classmates (our first class of Brooks Institute) on a field trip, and we ended up at a roadside hangout in the mountains just outside Santa Barbara, California.  We were on a patio drinking beer – I was barely of legal age – and Tom spotted me – “this exotic chick with rings on all of her fingers and smoking Turkish Ovals (cigarettes)”. I didn’t have rings on all my fingers and I stopped smoking long ago, but the real reason I stood out back then was that I was 1 of only 6 women who attended Brooks at that time.

For me, going to Brooks Institute in the mid ‘70’s, was like mixing “oil and water”.  I had just come back from a yearlong “hippie-backpacking” odyssey around the world. I was the ultimate free spirit and I was thrown into a rigid educational environment with ex GI’s from the Vietnam War.  But, I met Tom and that’s when our collaboration began.  I knew nothing about photography, other than managing to get lucky with some images that I took with my Nikon FTN and 50 mm lens, on my travels.  Tom had processed reconnaissance film in the Air Force and had a dark room as a kid, so I looked to him for advice. That’s how we started and we quickly became a couple – being there for one another.

After graduating from Brooks, we moved back East and worked a year in NYC as assistants to two commercial studio photographers. (I had gone to high school in NJ and Tom grew up just over the state line in Pennsylvania) We also moonlighted, shooting jobs our bosses didn’t want to do and also shooting for ourselves on the weekends. One summer we took our bikes and cameras “down the shore” and shot a wonderful personal project on the boardwalk – some of those images shot during that summer, remain favorites of mine. Perhaps that’s when the lines between business and personal became blurred.

We were extremely lucky in our early years to have an amazing mentor, Adrian Taylor, who was art director of Travel & Leisure at the time.  Adrian gave us many precious gifts as young photographers just starting out.  The most important gift was his encouragement and his unwavering belief in us. Every time Adrian gave us an assignment, we wanted to raise the bar and Adrian’s eyebrows as well.  Each assignment for the magazine was more challenging and ambitious, shooting major city stories with celebrity subjects, and luxurious environments in fabulous destinations.  And the best part – we got to experience this together!

As much as we’ve had an extraordinary career, working together and independently,  we’ve also had a wonderful marriage and family – our best collaboration – our daughter Erin. Tom and I  are so completely opposite of one another, but somehow it has worked.  Tom is more comfortable being out of the limelight and pointing it at me. What’s amazing is that Tom not only manages to produce his own jobs but he also takes care of a lot of things around the house.  There is a whole secret world in our basement, that I know nothing about. I’m the dreamer with the crazy notion to think anything is possible and  Tom has always been there for me, supporting my latest scheme and adventure. He has been the wind beneath my wings. It hasn’t been easy,  and there have been times, when both of us have wanted to walk away – but we didn’t.  In our “throw away society” I suppose that’s rare. I think it’s a pity that people give up too quickly – you never know what’s just around the corner.

Like any good story though, a life well lived comes with conflict and contrast.  Sometimes that has to happen to get you to the “next place”.  I’m grateful to be celebrating a life well lived with Tom, my husband, my partner, my soul mate.

Happy Anniversary Tom – love you.

A Time For Everything

Have you ever had days when you’ve had dozens of pressing items that need attention, yet somehow you just can’t seem to concentrate, no matter how hard you try?  Your mind just seems to drift.  Today is one of those days for me. My mind is scattered and my thoughts are thrown in a million different directions.  Is it a bad case of spring fever or is it the beginning of something less temporary?

Spring is upon us, along with that annual feeling of “new” and “fresh” that comes with it.  It’s a time of year when everything feels hopeful, especially after coming out of the dark days of winter.  This winter was harsh – not in terms of the weather but in what my spirit endured.  Things seem to come in cycles – the ups and downs of life – careers, finances, relationships – the wins – the losses.  All the stuff that goes into a life well lived.

Today my mind is drifting back to memories of those magical, lazy days that seem to be burned indelibly into memory – a rainy day conversation at a plantation in Mississippi, a long walk through Central Park with a friend on an unhurried autumn day, an afternoon on the beach, lingering long after the crowds had gone, to watch the last glint of light on the water – and so many other memories of life’s “quiet moments”.

These are the days that make up a life well lived.  It’s days like today, when I take time to remember that,  there is indeed a time for everything.  Maybe today is a day I just needed to enjoy the day itself , and welcome the spring – and the hope that comes with it.

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Happy New Day

This is the time of year when we look back at our past year – our ups, our downs and everything in between. And we all pretty much look forward with optimism for a better year ahead – making pledges to ourselves with good intentions, to do better or be better in the New Year.

But what happens when you break the pledge that you made to yourself early in the year? Many of us tend to feel that we’ve somehow failed if we don’t live up to our own expectations with our yearly resolutions. Some of us think it’s better not to even make resolutions or have any expectations.

As for me, I look at every day as a new day rather than limit my aspirations to an annual event.

Times Square

Every day that I wake up is a “fresh start” for me. Any given day comes with the hope of possibilities. Anything can happen, especially if I open my mind to that way of thinking. Rather than pledge every New Year’s Eve that next year will be better – I tell myself every day that the yesterday is gone, and I don’t know if there will be a tomorrow, so all I have is the now.

I do know that I’ve grown personally this past year. I have learned to quiet my mind and in doing so I have gotten more in touch with myself. I question myself as to why I think I may want to do something. If the answers are mostly ego driven – I dismiss the notion. The more I get in touch with who I am and listen to my own voice, the more I have to give. I have opened my heart with no expectations in return but have been richly rewarded by doing so.

I wish I had learned all that I learned this past year, a long time ago. But everything has its own time and I needed to get through all those days along the way. That’s what makes life worth living.

Here’s to every new day.

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The Power of Music on 9/11

Today is a day of remembrance – it’s been 10 years since the Twin Towers came down in NYC, changing the Manhattan skyline and our lives forever.  We all can probably remember exactly where we were and what we were doing that terrible day.

As for me, I not only remember that day vividly, but the weeks that followed, even though I felt like I was living in a daze.  What I remember most was the healing power of music.  In fact, music was one of the few things we humans could let into our hearts and minds to try to begin to soothe our souls and deal with our pain and our fears.

Music is a universal language.  Regardless of where we are in the world, music is one of those things that can still define a culture and a people, even in a world that seems so homogenous in so many other ways.  I think that’s why it resonates with me, it speaks to the place I’m in, even though I may not be able to communicate with words. Music transcends any language and connects us on a deeper more primal level that goes straight to the heart. When I was interviewing blues musician Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, he told me “If you sing me the blues – I know exactly where you’re coming from”.

I think all of us can define moments in our life by a song that we remember.  We have all been exhilarated by music and have danced the night away or conversely been healed by music when it seems like we just can’t make it through the day.  What else has that kind of power?

Today, I will pause and remember that tragic day 10 years ago that changed our lives forever and as I do, I will heal my soul with music. I know if Willie “Big Eyes” could heard me singing the blues today – he’d know exactly where I was coming from.

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29 Years Ago Today – John Lennon Murdered

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 29 years since John Lennon was shot and killed outside outside The Dakota, his apartment building in New York City.

From the first time I saw the Beatles perform on The Ed Sullivan Show as a young girl in February, 1964, I decided that John was “my favorite Beatle”. There was something about him that appealed to me. Sure Paul was the cute one – but John was the …. well he just sort of struck me as more rebellious which was very exciting, even back then.

John followed his own path and used his voice to speak for Peace. After the Beatles broke up, he went on to have a great solo career and then when his son Sean was born, he pretty much left the limelight. He had recently resurfaced and had recorded a new album – and then he was killed.

I’ll always remember that night. I was watching the local NYC 11 o’clock news that had been delayed because a football game had gone into overtime. Half way through the anchor’s report came a breaking news bulletin saying that an unnamed man had been shot outside the Dakota, on West 72nd St. I instantly got a jolt and somehow knew that it was John Lennon and within a half hour it was confirmed that Lennon was dead.

The following week was a sad one in NYC. People gathered in Strawberry Fields, a section of Central Park that John and Yoko used to frequent. Night after night there were candlelight vigils and people took solace in each other’s company.

The entire world mourned the loss of John and along with that went any and all hopes that the Beatles would get together again.

Rest in peace John. You made a difference in many people’s lives.

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“You’re Only 25 And You’re Already Making Compromises?”

There’s a story that I love to tell because it explains why I followed the path I did – in my career and my life.

It was 1976 and I had just graduated from Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, California.  I had my technically perfect portfolio and I was ready to set the world on fire.  British schoolboy, Bath, EnglandMy plan was to move back East, and pursue my dream of becoming a photojournalist.  That was where my heart was – “telling the story” through my images and I wanted to share those images through the pages of magazines. But even back then photo essays and the magazines that printed them were threatened by a bad economy and changing times. Look had just folded and Life was seeing its demise – the first time around.

Back then everyone told me that to make a living in photography you needed to get a studio and shoot commercially.  I bought into that, geared my first portfolio toward that and got a job assisting a commercial still life photographer.  But it didn’t feel right -it  wasn’t the right fit for me.  I had wanted to become a photographer to capture people and their cultures and what was going on in the world – not to shoot static objects in a New York City studio.

I had admired Jay Maisel’s work at the time, his eye for the detail and the streets of New York.  I decided to give him a call and ask if he had time to look at my portfolio and maybe give me a critique or some advice.  He agreed so we set up a time at his studio down in the Bowery. The late ’70’s was not a great time for NYC – economically speaking it was broke and Mayor Beame had just been turned down by the Feds for a bailout.  Just taking the trek down to that part of Manhattan at that time,  was an adventure in itself. Jay was a true pioneer in buying that old bank building back then. I’ll never forget the contrast between the graffiti covered exterior and amazing space inside.

Jay looked at every perfectly mounted print of technically perfect photographs and tossed them aside.  He looked at me and asked me if this was what I really wanted to do.  I started to go into a lengthy explanation of how I really wanted to be a photojournalist and proceeded to tell him all the reasons that I had given myself when I talked myself out of pursuing that dream.  And then I took out some snapshots of things I had shot on my travels before I even went to Brooks.  He looked at the images and told me that he could tell that this was what I should be doing.  And then he asked me how old I was.  I replied that I was 25.  He looked me straight in the eye and said “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises?”.

It was a turning point in my life.  Every time I’m tempted to go off course, I remind myself of Jay’s words and I get back on track.

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