We had the good fortune of connecting with Derek Fahsbender and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Derek, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
Succeeding, to me, is more a mindset than a tangible, quantifiable benchmark. For some, that very categorization is what makes finding and/or recognizing “success” difficult. My approach to success has been treating it less as an end goal, and more as a constant reason to keep going. The creative industry is difficult in many regards, and it can be soul-sucking at times, but what has kept me going is small victories, minor progressions and a constant, complete aversion to what anyone around me has accomplished. These two mindsets have been life-changing for me as a person and as a creative. Celebrate stepping from one stone to the next, and use that to take your next step–regardless of how many more stones it will take to cross the river, or how many steps it took the next person. We all have our own definition of success, and thus our own path to it. Not only does this way of thinking help quell burnout, but it has kept me driven through the various stages of stagnation I have faced in building a brand.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
I consider myself a hybrid professional-creative, as I have a career as a Senior Producer for B&H Photo, in addition to my outside work as a creative. Although the two do overlap, each has its own challenges and rewards. I’ve never been much of a risk taker but, truth be told, I never desired being a “full-time photographer” either. Many creatives feel as if they’re not a success, or not a “real creative” if their paycheck isn’t funded 100% by their creative endeavors, and I find that mindset extremely unjust. Finding a creative 9-5 that has allowed me the comfort and stability of a paycheck and benefits to support my family, along with the opportunity to work in the field I’m passionate about, has been the ultimate “pinch me” moment in life. Becoming a brand ambassador for Fujifilm and Oberwerth has only sweetened my feeling of achievement. But long before the dream job and the brand sponsorships, I was stuck in a spiral of unemployment, part-time jobs, dead end jobs…and photography that was as aimless as my professional life. Years of crippling depression only made matters worse, and all I had was tomorrow. It was then I realized that “tomorrow” was all I really needed. It is the epitome of hope, and hope is the seed of success. We have a choice to make every single day of our lives regarding our success. We can let our circumstances defeat us, or we can change our mindset, regardless of what we are battling, and we can fight. Success, for me, didn’t come overnight…or even after a few years of actively trying to change my standing. I went about my days blind to the small victories, obsessing over what hadn’t gone my way, until I started to respect the process of growth. I began to change my perspective, and soon that changed my definition of success. Your success is like a plant: feed it in increments, shower it with positive light and don’t expect it to fully mature overnight.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Let’s just start by saying that it is physically impossible to not have a great time in New York City. No matter what you are interested in, there is something for you here. I would want to show them all sides of life. From the tight-knight communities in Washington Heights and The Bronx, alive with music and the intoxicating smell of Caribbean cuisine always in the air, to the awe-inspiring, intimidatingly beautiful architecture that stretches across the borough of Manhattan. I would show them the vast natural landscapes of Central Park and Prospect Park, the walkways lining the Hudson and East Rivers with amazing views of the city, and finish with my favorite downtown neighborhoods of Lower East Side, Chinatown and SoHo. New Yorkers are some of the most charismatic, friendly, off-the-wall personalities you will ever meet, and it’s that very culture that creates such a memorable experience here. You never know who you will randomly meet that will leave you in stitches laughing at the craziest stories, or the countless amounts of celebrities you will walk by that act just like anyone else on the street. It’s a city that is made to immerse yourself in, whether you’re here for a weekend or a lifetime. One minute you’re listening to classic hip hop at my favorite pizza joint, Sauce Pizzeria, and the next you’re being invited to a rooftop to sip a $5,000 bottle of wine with people you just met 8 minutes ago. It’s that kind of city. I have no detailed suggestions on sight-seeing, or where to eat/visit….just get lost in the city and enjoy the ride. Take a camera, put on some comfortable sneakers, leave your headphones in your bag, and just go. Talk to people, wander until your feet hurt, pop into an empty old Irish bar and enjoy solitude in a city of 8 million people.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I probably would have never gotten out of my own way were it not for my earliest mentor, Kevin Alex (kevinalex.com). Along with sharing some hilariously great times behind the camera, he was always looking out for my best interests and pushing me to accept nothing less than being great. Every time I wanted to give up, I heard him telling me “don’t be me”–a reference to his own photography career and all he left on the table. Along with his talent and knowledge, Kevin has always had an insane amount of confidence in me, confidence I didn’t have in myself; and being a self-taught photographer, he was my formal education for everything from portrait lighting to large format photography. It’s funny, we had more confidence in one another than each of us had in ourselves, and I have always been somewhat driven by wanting him to be proud of me, to look at my success and share the feeling of accomplishment.
Phil Penman (Image of me)