True story: I fail at something every day.
Sometimes, I miss the small details, sometimes the bigger picture.
Same, same. It still feels like Failure.
In trying to hold to the Michael Jordan/Wayne Gretzky/Thomas Edison school of thought, there is little comfort in the moment of understanding that success is achieved because of failure, attempting anything is the only way to mess everything up and, wow, now it’s abundantly clear there are 10,000 ways not to do whatever.
If I learn nothing else from my mistakes, it is the indisputable fact that I will continue to fail until the day I die. In case there is an afterlife, you should join the pool on how I manage to screw it up because, at some point, I will find a way.
Why do the failures stand out in our memories so much more than the successes?
I have no clue.
Always the kid with the Does Not Pay Attention In Class box checked on her report card, I recently participated in a design competition sponsored by a company I enjoy a very pleasant relationship with.
They laid out an enticing idea to 12 designers: Throw budget out the window and create a photo set using their high-end, showroom exclusive fabrics and fibers in a creative and unexpected way. Show us what you would do with a blank canvas. The winners’ designs would be built-out and presented at an industry party, hosted by Hearst Media at NYC’s Highline Stages, with the rest of the group’s submissions shown gallery style.
Sounds fun and fairly straightforward, right? Right. It was, except the words budget, creative, and unexpected didn’t register with me.
Dear Parents, Kathy does not pay attention in class…
The concept for the space was decent, focused on equestrian details, but not spectacular.
Despite my slightly cartoonish rendering style, it’s fair to say the presentation board turned out well. It is a section of the fabric and wood wall detail loaded with the design elements and plans. Oh, and I conceived and created it, but…
I failed to execute the design with abandon and it shows.
Budgets can kill creativity and given a license to run free I unwisely chose restraint. I tend to err on the side of practicality and longevity, not what is trendy or unsustainable, and it’s becoming clearer to me now why one of my favorite design school professors recently told me, “You should write more.” It’s not possible to design less, so she’s probably right.
I do know this:
My failure to thrive on this project was an expensive mistake. It ended up costing me time, cash and confidence. If only I’d reimagined the oriental rug hooked in fabric this might be a much different post, with lots of shots of the built-out space and some incriminating out-of-focus party photos.
When sharing a shot of the finished board on Instagram, I got this comment from another designer:
show more! like the room! stop being modest!
I wasn’t being modest. Truth was my only retort:
That’s all there is! Just the board, no build out. Next time hopefully!
Kate Kelly Smith, SVP and Publishing Director of Hearst Design Group, and House Beautiful’s EIC Newell Turner were in the building, but it was a lively, crowded party so I doubt they ever laid eyes on my work and I didn’t take the opportunity to introduce myself to either one of them. The lose, lose is totally my fault.
I failed to have a professional headshot taken recently, I mean ever, and it literally hurt.
As in psyche scarring pain. When the team was putting together the event, everyone was asked to send in a bio and headshot for the collateral material distributed for event and for presentation on the company’s website. As I’m in the final stages of a two-year process to allow my new natural hair color grow in, pointed-at-me cameras haven’t been at the top of my friend list, so I sent the photo from the blog’s about page.
It isn’t good. I was an inch or two of growth into the process at the time and the damage from years of trying to blend in the gray is obvious, but it’s better than anything taken in the half colored, half natural past few months.
I received an email that was surely very difficult for the author to send. She politely asked if I had a different photo they could use; one that wasn’t so “close up.” Understanding exactly what she meant and grateful for her tact, I told her no and she replied that, if it was okay with me, one of their professional photographers would snap one at the event. She said, “the good news is you’ll have a new headshot.”
Having just an inch or so of color left on my ends, I was excited by the prospect of a fresh look but the proposed photo shoot didn’t happen. The “close up” shot is in the event book and will grace their site until I send a pro version. After one more haircut, a few weeks to let it get some length back and a cash money appointment with a photographer, I’m good to go.
Taking the upside, silver lining, glass is always full (half air + half water = science) approach, it was an honor to be one of 12 asked to participate and my work was shown in a NYC gallery–a dream! I met a couple of fantastic people and got to spend time with a sweet friend. Win, win.
The habits of being an introvert still raise their head now and then. If not for some company reps, a couple of new-to-me creative geniuses, and one rock solid friend, Canadian turned New New Yorker, Maureen Coates, I’d be a graying flower still stuck to a brick wall in the Meatpacking District.
Let’s consider this ominous shot of a storm moving in, taken on the newest section of the Highline, a win:
My design of the space was based on details noted while photographing a charity polo match, benefitting a therapeutic riding center I volunteer for. They serve children with special needs and each lesson is a poignant reminder of the real definition of triumph.
Success comes in small steps.
After renting a good lens, taking a lot of photos at the match, figuring out that rain looks a lot like dust, spending many hours editing the best of the lot and many more compiling them into a video, I sent it to the organizers to use for promotion of next year’s event. The video currently posted on their website isn’t the best quality and I wanted to contribute by giving them something to replace it with.
I failed to notice a small detail in the wording for the fundraiser, so the gift of the original compilation was met with a thud.
Dear Kathy, “Thanks for the cute video, but” you did not pay attention to the alpha order…
In interior design, ‘cute’ isn’t a compliment. It’s an insult; a “bless her heart” southern jab. I knew she didn’t mean it that way, so I fixed my
misteak mistake and resent the link. Whether it will be used to update the website or shared through their social media channels is TBD, so on top of a few other missteps around these photos, it feels like failure at the moment.
In the mean time, I will keep showing up with a camera and for the awe-inspiring little wins that happen during riding lessons with the kids.
This year’s match was covered in a steady enough drizzle to curl my hair and dampen the coats of dozens of fillies.
I caught one of the players mid-air, mid-shot and dotted with drops of rain frozen in motion all around him. I tweeted out a low-res version of the image to him and offered to forward the original, sharply rendered, ginormous file. Gratis.
He tweeted “this is great,” but never responded to my offer. Maybe he thought something was expected in return, but it’s not true. I wanted him to have it. His lack of interest felt like failure. As I edited the video, I realized, in spite of the layer of precipitation between us, it is a good shot and even if he doesn’t want to use it, I do.
Meet award winning restaurateur, polo player and free photo denier Frank:
The light was unpredictable and some of the photos are dark, so I’m studying up on exposure compensation. If I learn anything and get it right the next time…well, that’s a win.
The bas-relief quality created by the exposure fail is intriguing though:
Whether playing polo, modeling or hanging out with family and friends, Nacho Figueras is constantly in front of a camera. He seems to be very aware of when he’s being photographed. I sent him a shot from the practice match, showing him making a turn at full speed, and was honored he liked it enough to post it on Instagram.
Some people chastised him for failing to give me credit, but that’s not the way I felt at all. I gave him the photo. In my opinion, it was his to use as he pleased. He could’ve thrown it in the trash, but he chose not to. It received some compliments and a lot more attention than it would ever see in my feed, so it felt like a little win.
After skirting the darker side of exposure with polo, the next event I photographed ended up being overexposed and underwhelming.
It was also raining that late October day, but it presented a new photographic challenge wrapped in a blanket of heavy fog. The right course of action when faced with unfamiliar conditions is to research the correct approach to use. I failed to do that and ended up with a ton of unusable images.
There is so much gratitude around the fact this was not a paying gig. If an end product had to be delivered to a client, I would’ve lost all credibility and I’m still new at this so there’s not a lot to spare!
In screwing up, I made another small step toward success.
It seems there is unexpected beauty to be found inside our mistakes. The failure to go through a quick refresher on how to shoot in inclement weather lead to a softness in some of the usable images that adds an artistic feel I fell in love with.
By using incorrect camera settings mixed with nature’s plan, it seems I accidentally created a dreamy Visual Supply Co. quality filter.
I probably couldn’t replicate it if I tried. I will try.
Maybe the Jordan/Gretzky/Edison’s of the world are right.
Failure may be the key to success.
I still have no clue and I’m going to keep showing up anyway.
If you want to see the rooms that were chosen for build out in the design competition, here’s the link.
You’ll find loads of great ideas from five successful designers.
If you want to see scenes from a fun event in support of a cause that is near and dear to my heart, check out the video that will probably never see the light of day anywhere but on this blog. It’s full of photographic wins and losses, beautiful fillies and generous patrons but, most of all, it’s filled with love and ‘growth opportunities.’
Have you failed your way to success? Tell me your story. I want to hear about what you did and how you did it. Let’s learn our lessons together!
Balls to the wall, people. Balls to the wall.