Editor’s Note: If you’ve ever had the opportunity to see Stacy share her work in person, you know she’s one of the most powerful storytellers we have in our midst today. This post from 2016 is about the Veterans Portrait Project and the power of mentoring. Make sure you also check out her PBS show, After Action!
Mentorship is Invaluable
I’ve known photographers who hold their cards very close to their chest for fear of showing their proverbial hand. I’m not sure why they’re fearful. After all, you can teach someone a technique and they will not produce the exact same picture implementing those techniques. You see the technique may be replicated, the art and vision cannot. That’s solely distinct from one individual photographer to another.
On the other hand, I’ve met photographers who pass it on freely without any expectation of return. In fact, I’ve been the recipient of such mentorship. That’s why I’d say I fall into the latter group. In my mind, there’s no harm in it. Some may argue that I’m grooming competition that could take food from my table. That’s a valid point, but I’m unafraid. I’m secure enough in my abilities to share with others without fear they’ll overtake me. I am who I am. They are who they are. Besides, I’d be very proud if they became uber-successful. That’s just another form of accomplishment – to have impacted someone’s life so greatly would be an honor. There’s also the old adage that healthy competition brings out the best work in all of us!
To that end, I don’t view it as creating competition. Rather, I’m giving back to my profession. That’s why mentoring others is so important to me, and I do it in many ways. I’m listed as a mentor with the National Press Photographers Association, and I’ve written books and blogs, and I do podcasts, webcasts and public speaking. I talk to middle school, high school and college level students and teach professional photography workshops. Any way I can help, I try.
Over the last 15 years, I’ve developed many fun, unique ways to mentor and teach. I’ve had middle and high school photography student internships, college internships, first assistant opportunities for newly graduated photographers and more. There’s something to be said about improving yourself by cultivating others.
Most recently I’ve used my program, the Veterans Portrait Project, as a learning tool. With the support of Nikon Professional Services, we provided Nikon DSLR cameras to 66 Raritan High School digital photography students so they could learn how to take studio portraits. For two days, we taught the art of portrait photography, how to communicate with strangers, types of lighting techniques, posing and exposure fundamentals. On the third day, the class culminated with a Veterans Portrait Project event where the students stood shoulder-to-shoulder with me and took portraits of local-area veterans. It was amazing to see how much the young students flourished behind the camera, and in front of our eyes. It was a huge success. Check out some of students’ work. I think you’ll be equally impressed.
At this point, you may be asking what’s the purpose of this post. This is my attempt at inspiring you to take someone under your wing, and be a mentor too. It’s also my round-a-bout way of saying we’re all responsible for the future of photography and we should all be contributing to its success. Whether photography is old-hat to you or you’re new to the game, you’ve got something to offer someone. Let’s be open, ready to share and inspire each other. Let’s flourish in this art together.
You can see more of Stacy’s work at StacyPearsall.com, keep up with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, and stream her show, After Action, on PBS.