Saturday, July 01, 2006

"Luck" and recognizing opportunity

Whenever there was a disappointment or "downturn" in my life (large or small), my mother used to say "things happen for a reason". I would interpret that to mean that something bad just happened because something better was coming along. I took comfort in what my mom said because I'm a "glass half FULL" kind of person. I assumed she meant that "the reason" was positive. The word "luck" is an interesting word. Most of us would give it a positve connotation - luck meaning good luck. But there's also bad luck. What I think is - all of us have "luck" in our lives - and depending on how we recognize opportunities - depends on how that word will be defined for us.

If you're still reading this, you're probably hoping I get to the point - any point. Back in 1977, Tom and I had just returned from our honeymooon in Europe. Actually it was a month long sojourn through parts of Europe to shoot and build our portfolio. I remember long days, camping out (sometimes in the car), eating cheap, and taking pictures for the love of it. Tom may remember things differently - but that's for him to tell you.

When we returned, we edited our photos, culled them down to what we thought were the best and made an appointent to show them to the art director of Travel & Leisure, who at that time was Adrian Taylor. I'm going to back up here a bit chronologically speaking, in order to explain the "luck" part of this blog.

In the summer of 1976 - our country's bicentennial - Tom and I got our "lucky break". We had recently graduated from Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, CA and had moved back to the East Coast. Adrian had also just relocated to New York City from the San Francisco Bay area. His roots were in Bucks County, PA - same place Tom grew up. Adrian's son Clem, was Tom's brother Tim's good friend. So there was a connection - a "it's who you know" connection. So now we have that "luck" factor and "who you know" colliding together in the universe and creating a moment in time where fate can take it in any direction depending on how we force it's hand.

I will try to retell the story as correctly as I know how - about the day Tom first met Adrian Taylor. It was a hot summer day and Tom had arranged to meet Adrian at his NYC apartment. When Tom arrived at the appointed hour, Adrian was in the street hailing a cab and told Tom that someone had just stolen his bicycle and he was in hot pursuit of the culprit.Tom (not knowing what else to do) took a seat on Adrian's stoop and waited for his return. I remember Tom telling me that he wasn't sure if Adrian was telling the truth or just blowing him off. At any rate he gave Adrian the benefit of the doubt and waited. Some time passed and believe it or not about a half hour later Adrian showed up riding down the street on his bicycle. That was the beginning of a friendship and ultimately a major turning point in our lives.

Fast forward to that day in 1977 when we showed Adrian our "honeymoon" photos - not the kind of photos you may be thinking right now. We went into the projection room at the magazine feeling somewhat confident of what we had to show but came out feeling like we were the greatest photographers on the planet. That's because Adrian gave us the greatest gift of all that day - belief in ourselves. We were very lucky - lucky to have the opportunity to show a portfolio to the art director of Travel and Leisure and very lucky that the art director was Adrian Taylor. After that meeting,we were pumped and ready to start our careers and set the world on fire. Adrian also selected some of those images to use in the magazine's special section on Europe - thus not only giving us the opportunity to make some money - but more importantly the opportunity to get published - and in a major magazine.

Over the years our relationship with Adrian and Travel & Leisure blossomed. It was a wonderful time in our lives. Traveling everywhere and getting paid for it and building a reputation in the publishing world. Every assignment that Adrian gave us was a bit more challenging and bigger than the next. But it was his encouragement and guidance that turned our raw talent and naivete into both personal and professional growth. He also gave us opportunities. Opportunities to shine. I'd like to think that we not only recognized the opportunities, we embraced them and went out every time to make the best photographs we could. I for one always wanted to raise my own personal bar. I thrived on the positive feedback we got from Adrian. The last thing I wanted was to disappoint someone who believed in me.

Knowing Adrian had other benefits as well. He is a man who has great taste - in art, in decor, in design etc. etc. etc. He made me aware of artists, photographers, furniture designers, writers, architects that I had never heard of. In essence he educated me in the finer things in life. My only regret about that is I can't afford my own taste now - but that's another story. He was a mentor in many ways.

As I look back at those "salad days" I realize how fortunate we were - that Tom was from Bucks County, PA, that Tom's brother Tim knew Clem, that Clem was the son of Adrian, that Adrian moved to NYC from San Francisco, that Adrian was the art director at Travel & Leisure, that Adrian's bike got stolen that day, that Tom waited for him to return, that we spent the money we got when we got married on that honeymoon trip instead of on a new refrigerator, that we used our honeymoon trip to shoot photographs and most importantly that Adrian was the man he was and gave us exactly what we needed - belief in ourselves.

We still keep in touch with Adrian - not as much as I would like. And he's still the same guy - encouraging me to raise my bar. So my advice to anyone starting out - recognize your opportunities, believe in yourself and don't always play it safe. That's what I got out of knowing Adrian. And like my mom used to say "things happen for a reason". It's up to us to take it the rest of the way and define what the "reason" is.

Here are some of the photos that we shot over the years for Adrian and Travel & Leisure:


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