Never Say Never

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The Phyllis Kuykendall Story
by Steve Kozak

Phyllis Kuykendall never intended to be a professional photographer. She still has old family photos of herself with a camera in her hand at the age of ten. She grew up taking photos and continued to do so after having children of her own, photographing her children, family gatherings, and even did her own holiday cards – all on “Program.”

She spent 25 years as a legal assistant before working with her husband in their own business. In 2007, Phyllis took on the role of “Mother of the Bride” for her daughter’s wedding. Our friendship began when she selected me as the wedding photographer for this important event. During the engagement photos, bridal portraits, and the wedding day photography, Phyllis always expressed an interest in my process of creating these memorable images. After the wedding, I invited her to take some basic classes I was teaching and clearly remember hearing her say, “I will never be a professional photographer. I just want to learn more about my camera.”

Never say, “Never!”
After completing my classes, I encouraged her to look at Texas Professional Photographers Association for even more opportunities to learn. She hesitated because the name of the organization included the word “Professional.” After assuring her that she would be welcomed with open arms, I explained that, if you want to learn photography, there is no better place to learn than from professional photographers. Phyllis took this advice and joined Texas PPA and, in 2008 attended her first event… the Texas School of Professional Photography.

“Looking back, Texas PPA provided me with a pathway to success that I would have never imagined.”

– Phyllis Kuykendall

This event is a week-long school held at the end of April in Addison, Texas. Students come from all over the US and abroad to spend one week learning from some of the best photographers in the world. What makes this event so unique that students spend the entire week studying with one instructor, giving them a deep-dive into the world of photography and a study that is focused on the student’s needs and goals.

Phyllis enrolled in Elizabeth and Trey Homan’s class, knowing full well that she was in a bit over her head and that she would never have a photography business. “Trey and Elizabeth shared concepts and techniques that I never knew existed or would have understood just trying to learn things on my own.” She recalls, “I was captivated by the creativity and the fresh ideas Elizabeth presented in class, seeing first-hand the value of capturing images with directional light and creating shadows.”

Shortly after this class, Phyllis purchased her first set of lights and began working with them, practicing on family and friends. “I was eyeing new lenses and gear and I thought I could do a few small schools,” she explained. “Maybe it would help pay for my photography habit.”

With her new lights and a thirst for knowledge, Phyllis joined her local photography guild and started watching photographic competitions to learn more about lighting and how to get more out of her camera. She never thought she would enter image competition but loved hearing the judge’s comments and learning what goes into creating high quality images.

Like so many others, Phyllis began photographing in her make-shift studio… her dining room! She quickly discovered the challenges of photographing young children in the studio when, in 2009, a friend asked her to do her daughter’s senior portraits. “We did studio images and images in the Fort Worth Stockyards. I quickly realized how enjoyable it was to work with teens and seniors who could take direction and would be still,” she explains.

Just two years into her journey, Phyllis was a professional photographer. “I continued my commitment to learn…even if just a little at a time. I was really inspired by photographic competition and entered my first image at the monthly competition in the guild. It won First Place. This was even more special because Trey and Elizabeth were that month’s speakers and judges. My first instructors at Texas School chose my image!” she remembers, fondly.

“Photographic Competition provides insightful feedback and an honest appraisal of your images from top tier photographers who are there to help you grow. By taking that evaluation and applying the suggestions to my work, I grew as an artist. This is why I continue to enter my images.”

Phyllis also happened to earn a top award for one of her images in her first time entering the TPPA Annual Photographic Competition. “I was not even sure how to fill out the forms to enter,” she laughed.

There was no denying she was headed for bigger and better things. In 2010, she earned her CPP and passed the exam on her first try. Still, Phyllis embraced image competition. “My father was an artist who worked with water colors. I loved the way he could mix the colors to produce the variety of hues to create his paintings. I regret that he did not live to see my career take off in photography because he could have provided me with so much insight. I do believe I am channeling his talent and gift when I am working on my images. I love doing digital paintings for competition.”

As Phyllis continued entering images, her confidence increased and she ultimately earned her Master of Photography degree from PPA.

A few years ago, I asked Phyllis to speak at one of our Texas PPA events. She of course told me, “I will never be a speaker.” As you might guess, she discovered her love of teaching and sharing with others and in 2019 received her Photographic Craftsman degree from PPA. “Now, I even have people reaching out to me to mentor them,” she says.

“Looking back, Texas PPA provided me with a pathway to success that I would have never imagined. I’m so grateful that TPPA is there looking out for photographers, to pat you on the back and to encourage you along the way. I have this community of support that I would have never met if it were not for Texas PPA. I love that there are so many friendly people who are so willing to help.”

When asked about her advice to others, Phyllis said, “I try to attend every event that Texas PPA offers. Of course, you have to budget for your continuing education and put a little away every month, but this is where you go to stay current and to get refreshed. If you are new to Texas PPA, go to the events and don’t hide in the background. Talk to everyone and introduce yourself to those you recognize from social media. They will be flattered. Walk up to groups and make yourself known.”

The Mother of the Bride who never thought she would be a professional photographer, who only wanted to support her photography habit, who would never enter image competition, and who would never be comfortable speaking in front of a group… has come full circle.

Phyllis Kuykendall credits Texas PPA for providing access to opportunities for success. Through various Texas PPA speakers and events, she applied the knowledge she gained and she saw her sales double every year during her first five years in business. She gained confidence through success in photographic competition. She built a network of friends and colleagues which fosters a successful mindset and an atmosphere of encouragement. She took the opportunities to give back and discovered her love of teaching.

This is what Texas PPA has been doing for photographers for over 120 years. The limits to what you can accomplish are boundless. Perhaps it is time to decide whether or not you want to pursue your own dreams. What can Texas PPA do for you?

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