I first want to sincerely thank those of you who took time this holiday weekend to write me personally, or contribute to the discussion on this blog. It is truly appreciated. When I wrote the “Will the Real YOU Stand Up…” blog article, I knew it was topical, but had no idea it would strike such a chord. Some of you shared stories with me about the pain you suffered at the hands of unethical individuals who “stole” your idea or work. And it’s obvious by the comments of Marta, Karen, and others, that this topic of unoriginality and the pervasiveness of it in the industry really hits close to home. And it should considering this is a creative industry.
It seems like there’s a consensus that the Operation Brand Aid idea is a good one. But, it would seem like there are those of you who believe that the recipient of it should be someone more deserving. That we should find a relatively unknown and give him/her the royal treatment, not Lauren. Well, if this project is successful, we just may do it again. However, I want to share with you why I think that for right here, right now, that such a time as this, the industry NEEDS the subject to be Lauren. If you would indulge me and patiently wade through this post, allow me to explain. My answer may not totally appease the emotions you’re feeling, but I hope it will provide a new perspective. There IS a method to my madness. 🙂
THE ORIGIN OF MIKE COLóN
Many of you are viewers of my video podcast “F-Stop Beyond:In Living Color.” It’s a sort of a “Barbara Walters” of photography interviews. Last October we had the opportunity to an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” version of the show, with none other than celebrity wedding photographer and industry leader Mike Colón. We filmed the show live at Brooks Institute in Santa Barbara, CA, and Mike graciously gave us three hours of his time to share with us a treasure trove of information (part 7 of 12 is currently playing). In part 2, Mike told the story of how he first met famed wedding photographer, and B-School co-founder Becker.
It was about ten or so odd years ago. Mike was a relative new-comer to wedding photography. He was trying to figure out how to go about this business when a colleague of his told him about this guy Becker who was charging 2-3 times what the average was in his area. Mike wanted to find out how he did it. So, he called up Becker pretending to be a groom in hopes of getting some info. (Well, technically he wasn’t pretending. Mike WAS a groom-to-be at the time as he was newly engaged to Julie, but he had no intention of hiring Becker. He just wanted to get info).
As Mike tells the story, he left a message saying he was a groom looking for info. Later on when Becker called Mike back (on the only line Mike had), Mike answered “Mike Colon Photographers” (it was his only line, so he had to be professional). Becker immediately saw what was going on.
“Oh, so I see, ” exclaimed Becker. “You’re just a photographer wanting to get info. You’re not a groom for real.”
“Uh, well, um…” stammered Mike, “I AM a groom, but….”
Let’s stop for a minute. How many of you have this happened to? A newbie in the business calls or emails you pretending to be a bride or a groom so they can secretly get your info. How do you feel when you find out? Don’t you just want to reach in through the phone and wring their necks? Wouldn’t most of you have given them info and helped them out if they were just honest about it upfront? Why did they have to go the manipulative route? It’s frustrating isn’t it? That’s what makes the next part of the story interesting.
Instead of telling Mike off, Becker sat with him on the phone for over an hour giving him all kinds of info. He later accepted Mike’s offer to go to lunch and give him even MORE info. Wow. When Becker had every right to cuss Mike out and hang up on him, he instead extended a hand of grace. I think the ramifications of that action had more affect on this industry than I think either of them knew at the time.
Where would Mike have been if at a time when he was being a little bit deceitful, Becker DID cuss him out instead of help him. Would he have been as successful, and as a result, be able to help so many more out as a result of his success? Or, maybe he still would have been as successful (Mike is a pretty bright guy), but would his level of generosity to the industry have been the same? Mike is one of the most generous and gracious teachers in the industry. How many thousands of photographers have been positively affected by his generosity. Even sitting with us for three hours for FREE to share with students and viewers of the show some info he charges thousands for. Could his level of giving and generosity be due in large part to the fact that someone gave to him, and did so when he probably deserved the opposite treatment?
My life experiences, and I’ll dare say history itself, has shown that the power of grace when extended to someone who’s done something wrong, has an exponentially more powerful affect than when you do the same to someone who hasn’t.
WHO’S RIGHT IS IT ANYWAY?
Another thing I find interesting is that the one person who more than anyone has a right to be pissed off is Scarlett. After all, she was the one that Lauren mimicked. So, how did Scarlett react? In both her public comment on this blog and in an email to me personally, she praised the project, said it was great for the industry, and wishes Lauren well. Very interesting.
I’ve noticed in this industry people often times get more upset at transgressions than those who are the supposed victim of the transgression. It’s like the whole thing with Scarlett and Jessica Claire. There were all these haters on Scarlett for allegedly “copying” Jessica Claire, when Jessica herself came on this blog and said that not only did she NOT consider Scarlett a knock-off, but thought she is a lovely person. It kind of baffles me.
When reading the comments like “this is a slap in the face to us”, it seems like YOU feel we’re TAKING something away from you by doing this. When in truth, we’re GIVING you something. Everyone watching will be able to benefit from the information Lauren gets. Let’s focus on that.
This situation kind of reminds me of when my 14 year old gets upset when we don’t punish our 4 year old for doing something that the 14 year old sees as bad, but that we as parents see as the ignorance of a 4 year old. He’s four. He’s going to do bad or even stupid things that if my 14 year old did, she would be punished for. Yes, Lauren made a bad call. But, she’s a relative new comer to the industry. What she did is not unlike what so many other newbies do (that was one of the reasons for my original blog post in the first place.) And I think it’s safe to say she’s learned her lesson. Between the blog posts, the hate emails, the downed website, the negative PR, she’s paid her penance.
Many of you see this as a reward. I don’t. I actually see it as a rescue operation. It’s obvious Lauren needs the help. And if as I’ve said she’s paid her penance to society for what she’s done, then as such, she has as much as right as anyone else to this “royal treatment”.
But it’s not just Lauren who I believe is being rescued. This may be going too deep, but I think it’s a rescue operation for this industry. The redemptive power of an act like this is just the kind of thing we need in an industry beset with so much drama and negativity over the past year.
On my last blog post, Stephen Karlisch cynically commented
Now, the interesting part is going to be, what is she going to do with it to move forward, now that the spotlight is on her. Good luck Lauren, we will all be watching each and every step you take.
I actually believe this is another reason why Lauren is the right person for this first Brand Aid project. Because of the attention the topic is getting, that many more people will benefit, and that many more people will be able to be inspired when the industry extends such a powerful example of grace and forgiveness.
WHAT MIGHT THE FUTURE HOLD?
Stephen also made this comment:
I think this will show the world how powerful branding and exposure are to this industry. A relative beginner photographer gets the royal treatment, and catapults to the top of the industry, at least for the next 15min.
Again, when put in context with the rest of his comment, I got the impression he was being cynical, but it did strike me as interesting. Who knows. Maybe Lauren will become the next Jessica Claire, Bambi Cantrell, Julia Woods, or Jasmine Star (oh wait, it’s too late to be the next Jasmine Star. Jasmine’s already blowin’ up the scene after only a few years in the business. Congrats by the way J*). Anyway, if Lauren does catapult to stardom, who knows how many thousands of photographers might be positively affected by her as she goes out to give back to an industry that collectively showed grace at a time when she made a bad call as a newbie. Just like a young, pony-tailed Mike Colón has done as a result of how an industry leader responded to his rookie maneuver.
Sure, we could drop Lauren from this project, slap her on the wrist, then go out and find someone more “deserving.” However, with all my being I do not believe it would have as powerful, positive, and lasting effect as if we do this with THIS person now.
ONE LAST ILLUSTRATION
When I first posted Lauren’s and Scarlett’s videos side by side, some thought it was going too far to show the videos—that I could have made my point without doing so. I think we can see what the power of illustration has. I don’t think the response wold have been a fraction of what it has been without actually showing the videos. The filmmaker and storyteller in me likes to SHOW rather than just TELL.
In my “New Hope” blog post, as an answer to Kristen’s comment about “rewarding bad behavior” I referenced the story of “Les Miserables.” Below is the sequence that I was referring to. I leave it with you and ask, how do you feel after watching this sequence? How do you think Jean Valjean feels in the story? Have you ever been in similar shoes, and how did if effect you? How would YOU feel if someone did the same for you?
If you made it this far, thanks. All I can say is trust me on this.
Oh, and for the record, my wife has since changed her mind on the topic and fully supports and embraces this direction. You can ask her if you don’t believe me. 🙂