Recently I was breaking bread with a friend and colleague, who is a highly respected and well known photographer. For the sake of this story, we'll call this photographer Asa. During the conversation, I turned to this photographers' assistant, and asked "how did you come to be assistanting Asa?" What was shared was not, per se, genius, nor, really, a secret. However, it was a validation of the common truths along the path to success, and it is worth sharing.
The story goes, that after the assistant had heard the photographer give a lecture, through happenstance, they ran into each other several months later. Pleasantries were exchanged, and an offer of "if you ever need some help, don't hesitate to call me" was made. Now, it's important to note that this assistant was still in college. A short time later, for a short-term assignment, Asa called the assistant, and the assistant was available. At this point, you might be of the mindset to suggest "oh, well, that assistant just got lucky." And to that I say "perhaps. However, Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Thus, here is where our erstwhile assistant proved their mettle.
Photographers and assistants have an interesting symbiotic relationship. I can recount one instance where my full time assistant, a young women of a mid-sized build, suggested that she was unable to heft several large equipment cases into the production vehicle, and so, rather than push her or expect more, I just helped. No harm no foul, I surmised. However, when a project came that called for a second assistant, after several months with my full time assistant on board, we send the second assistant down to the production vehicle. We arrived there, and I said "wheres all the gear?" This slightly built (also female) assistant said "oh, it's in the car", and from that day forward, the first assistant was loading all the gear herself, and without any quarter for complaint from me. The point is, photographers often get accustomed to just accepting the stated limitations of an assistant, even when the limitations outlined just don't seem to ring quite true. As in my case, Asa had a similar situation. Asa's full time assistant was used to a somewhat tortoise-like travel case handling routine, and as the normal assistant would be moseying along with cases, Asa would have to wait around, and otherwise be delayed by the assistant. However, for Asa, the first sign that the new assistant was a keeper was that when Asa arrived at the curbside, the new assistant had figured out how to load all the gear onto two huge luggage carts and have them ready for Asa without delay. From that point forward, Assistant "Tortoise" had been one-upped by Assistant "Hare", and the fabled ending to that tale is not the same as this one. Here, the Hare proved that when called upon, Hare could deliver.
As we finished out meal, I found it refreshing to find a fine example of success coming to someone who really demonstrated a superior work ethic. To this day, That assistant is traveling all over the world with Asa, and their commitment to excellence shows through each time an assignment comes in and is swiftly completed.
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