From yesterday’s Fuckup Nights Malmö 2019 where I was one of four fuckupers to speak in front of about 200 people. Fuckup Nights was founded in Mexico and is now organized in 318 cities across 86 countries (and counting) with the goal of sharing every kind of fuckup – from small mishaps to epic mistakes. According to Charlotte and a few others, I nailed it. Which I definitely didn’t think I was going to do after my really, really bad rehearsal. It was a very well-organized event that I feel really happy to have been a part of. Here’s my speach:
Good Evening, Everybody!
Thank you for inviting me to Fuckup Night Malmö.
My name is Joakim Lloyd Raboff and I haven’t had a fuckup in 12 hours. At least not one that I’m aware of….
So, I work as a photographer here in Malmö. You might have come across my work in Västra Hamnen which I’ve documented in absurdum for more than a decade.
If there ever was a profession beleaguered with fuckups, it’s definitely mine. Why else do you think all us photographers take so many darn photos? We actually fuck up so much that the only way we can get away with getting paid is by taking hundreds of photos… so that at least statistically, we’ll end up with a few usable shots.
Sometimes being a photographer can be a challenging way to pay the bills. I’ve gone diving with great white sharks for travel magazine, documented super-tall buildings from ridiculously small planes and have had neurotic portrait clients expect me to perform miracles with my camera and Photoshop – when it’s really a therapist and a dentist they should be seeing.
But when all is said and done, I really love my job. It allows me to buy cool camera gear, travel the world and meet a bunch of mostly interesting people.
Obviously, over the years, I’ve worked with a lot of different companies. Small and large. Known and unknown. Fun and not so much fun. I’ve worked with the United Nations, Skanska, ICA and IKEA as well as Agda’s ugly poodle Lola.
I think it’s the mix of clients and assignments that has helped keep me on my toes. Yes, I’ve had a great run – without any career-ending fuckups. So far.
Truth be told, when Jacob Lejdström asked me if I would share a major fuckup with you guys tonight, I had to think for a while to remember one that stood out and hovered above the rest.
Then I recalled a gig from a few years back. It was an assignment for a special kind of doctor. The kind that performs photoshop in real life – with a real knife. Yes, a plastic surgeon.
I’d been working on an off with this particular doc for a few years. And no, it’s not the asshole that raped his son’s girlfriend after sedating her. It was a different quack. A decent fellow.
Anyway, my assignments for the doctor would typically include documenting his patients post-op and then working on the before and after images in Photoshop to achieve similar lighting and scale. You get the idea, like aligning noses, ears, throats, hips, thighs and bellies. Of course, my shots were always better lit and composed, so most of my time was spent editing the doctor’s photos at his clinic. For some reason, he never asked me to shoot any of his breast enlargement or reduction patients. Not once.
About a year into my working relationship with the plastic surgeon, he called to ask me if I would come in and photograph a patient that had recently undergone a breast enlargement procedure. He also mentioned that the entire clinic had recently been renovated and suggested I start shooting in his office. With my entrepreneur’s hat on, I thought this was a great opportunity to get more work from him. Especially since the vast majority of his clients were there to get bigger boobies.
The patient, Maria, a women in her early 30s and I arrived a few minutes after each other and the clinic’s secretary introduced us. The doc was in one of the operating rooms and I wouldn’t see him until later that afternoon.
I kindly asked Maria to step in to the doctor’s office and proceeded to explain the objective of the shoot. She looked a little perplexed but nodded and smiled as if everything was perfectly normal. While slowly removing her sweater and bra, she told me that only about a week had passed since her operation and that she was still a little sore and stiff. I told her to relax and that we had plenty of time.
I’d pulled the drapes across the office windows so the nearby office workers wouldn’t be able to look in. So it was kinda dark in the office. Once she was topless, I started shooting.
Like most professional photographers with reasonably high ethical standards, I worked this gig with both a scientific and artistic approach and shot Maria’s new breasts from every possible angle and with every lens I had in my camera bag at the time.
And despite what must have seemed like advanced acrobatics to Maria, she just followed my instructions and moved, shifted and bent her torso to every new angle I came up with.
30 minutes and 200 photos later, we were done. Before she left, Maria asked me if I didn’t want to take any shots of her in the clinic’s waiting room or the small café.
No, no, I replied with a smile. – I think I’ve got all the photos the doctor needs now. Maria smiled, we shook hands and off she went.
I grabbed a coffee, sat down in the café and started looking through my collection of Maria’s breasts and felt exhausted from the fairly intense shoot. Half an hour later, the doctor walked into the café and asked me how things had gone.
Excited about the prospect of getting more work from him, I shared my unbridled enthusiasm.
– It went really, really, well, I said.
– I’m so looking forward to seeing how you photographed our new waiting room and café with one of our patients in it. Isn’t Maria a sweet girl?
Uh…what? I was devastated. How the hell did I not get that the doctor wanted me to shoot Maria as a lifestyle model in his new clinic – and not post-operations photos of her enlarged breasts?
I knew from previous assignments that the doctor could be a bit absent-minded and his briefs were often confusing…but this was still way off the radar screen…but how could I have fucked up so badly?
And what would the doctor think of me once I told him? Was he going to think that despite being a serious photographer and a happily married man, that all I really wanted to do was shoot women’s boobies?
I was caught somewhere between a mind-fuck and a presumed shit storm.
Eventually I calmed down and told the doctor that I had totally fucked up and misunderstood his “brief”. He forgave me and we continued to work together for about another five years. I went on to help him create books, film operating procedures and prepare for lectures. I even designed the sign outside his new clinic when he moved across town.
In conclusion, communication is everything and assumptions are the mother of all fuckups. But you still need a significant amount of fuckups to succeed.
When you’re a freelance photographer, unless you have a steady gig for a reoccurring client, you have to keep your eyes and ears open at all times! Not only do you have to recognize an opportunity when it comes along, you also have to seize that sucker! I’ve had a reasonable amount of success over the years and still have a good reputation.
I think the key to being successful as a freelance photographer and entrepreneur is my ability to learn from all my fuckups. But it took a seemingly endless amount of mistakes and bad calls to get to the pivotal moment in my career when there were actually more happy endings than fuckups.
But in all honesty, I kinda miss the fuckups. Why? Because they meant I was likely trying something above my competence level – and living more on the edge.
I still try to challenge myself. But because of all my previous failures, I’ve got a huge library of fuckups to help me recognize and avoid them. Which inevitably makes me a less adventurous (boring) photographer.
As I get older, I really need to keep reminding myself that it’s the fuckups and not the success that move me forward. #fuckupmore #beforemetoo
Thanks for listening!