Jay Maisel Day 2 – Failure is an option

Double Bass

In May, I took a 5-day workshop with Jay Maisel in New York City. Jay made his career as an eminent commercial photography, but now shoots only for himself. The week is designed to open the doors for you to take yourself on a journey as an artist and photographer. Here are my thoughts on Day 2

Day 2 was hard. It was raining. My mind was processing the ideas from Day 1 and all the people I had met. I was in a strange city. The short-acting adrenaline of Day 1 had worn off and I was tired.

Before leaving LA, I was looking forward to the rain we would get in New York. I wanted to get some “rain shots”. We don’t get much rain in LA and this would be novel and exciting. As was the routine, we were sent out shooting after lunch. Out again onto the unfamiliar streets of New York. The open hearted New York life I experience on a sunny spring day on Day 1 had turned to a rushing mad dash of umbrellas. I tried for my “rain shots, but seemingly all I got was wet.

Perhaps I was in the wrong part of town? Perhaps I wasn’t good enough? Perhaps, I was not open? Perhaps I was not considering failure as part of this experience.

From the beginning, Jay stresses that failure is an option. While we are behind our cameras, we are not business professionals. We are not doctors, lawyers, or accountants. When Jay admonishes, “This is not brain surgery” he does not mean to imply that it is not difficult, he means to imply that, no one will die.

As we grow older, we are expected to become masters in our professional life. We become conditioned that failure is not an option. It is stressed that as a result of our failures people will die, go to jail, get fired, loose money, or be subjected to a myriad of other forms of misery and consequence. As good school children, we are taught to learn from our mistakes in order that we do not make these mistakes again. We become more cautious and take less risk.

Jay’s message about failure is different. Failure is part of the practice and part of the journey. You should continue to fail. If you do not continue to fail you are not continuing to be curious. Failure is the result of taking chances and taking chances results in photography that moves people. Failure can also leads to serendipitous results. “There is nothing f-ing sharp in this image!” could lead to “There are no rules in photography”.

It is difficult to put our egos and professional pride aside and take the chances it takes to come home with a card full of failures. But fail we must. Keep taking chances and keep failing. “It is not brain surgery, no one will die”.


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