I had the pleasure of talking with D.K Smith in April and we talked about everything and anything. He is a Pratt alumni who graduated from the Photography program. He has worked for many firms and been successful at starting his own photography company, as well as creating a new startup company. D.K told me that he attributes all his success to Pratt, as he was encouraged to maximize his creativity and use innovation for motivation and direction in his work
D.K has always been involved in building and creating things, which was a passion from his childhood that continued through his engineering focused high school experience. He started at Pratt as an architecture student, and then his sister returned from Japan with the birthday gift of a new SLR camera. All of a sudden, he was taking tons of pictures and realized that he wanted to be a photographer. As he reflects back on that time, he stated that the seventies were an exciting time for photography, since there was so many undiscovered ways of seeing and visually representing things.
When asked to share the three best things about his education at Pratt, D.K quickly answered “foundation, criticism, and the creative geniuses that surrounded me.” Through the flow of the conversation, he gladly shared his thoughts on all three.
When discussing the Foundation Year he shared with me an enlightening story from his commercial photography work. D.K and his employees often traveled to far off locations for photo shoots; most of the time to ones he had never seen. His assistants would often ask, “How do you know exactly what to do each time we arrive?” D.K replied with this explanation: “While you guys are setting up the lights, I am freaking out because at first, I have no idea what to shoot. Then I think about all the things I learned in foundation year. I look at the environment and themes such as color theory, perspective, and framing start running through my mind.”
By referencing the fundamental building blocks from his Pratt experience, he was able to establish new ways of perceiving locations and solving the visual communication problems he was faced with. D.K was literally making something out of nothing by using these principles. When he realized the influence and value of the Foundation Year, he went back into his notes and found inspiration in the basics. D.K illustrated how a foundation helps to create a successful person by referencing the construction of a building, “A soaring structure’s height and stability is rooted in its deep and wide foundation. People too need a foundation to grow from.”
D.K spoke about how influential it was for him to learn how to take and give criticism positively and how to receive it. During his time at Pratt, he learned how important it is to take the criticism people give you and allow it to improve your wok. Even now as an entrepreneur, he looks for people to give him honest feedback so he can make things better.
Another important element of his Pratt experience was the significance of his peers and other alumni that he has met after his time at Pratt. D.K calls Pratt the “Do School.” While here, students produce an incredible amount of work that other students can see just by walking throughout the campus. The atmosphere of creativity helped him thrive as a student and learn from the struggles of other students.
D.K found that fellow Pratt alumni have been great resources after he graduated. One of the jobs he held was because of a Pratt friend that got him in with the art director. The second opportunity occurred when his interviewer happened to be a Pratt alumnus who understood the rigors of the experience and the broad depth of knowledge that students learn here. D.K strongly advises that we should take advantage of the connections that exist with Pratt alumni. Many times a complete stranger will turn out to be a fellow Pratt companion.
D.K has stayed focused on achieving his professional goals and strives to remain involved in whatever intrigues him. He is in the midst of growing an entrepreneurship accelerator that focuses on helping Brooklyn based founders get started. It may focus on business planning and startup iteration, but he utilizes his creativity skill set just as much. D.K. is always looking outside the box to find the answers for entrepreneurs who seek his expertise. He put it this way:
“It’s like working on puzzles, but the puzzle pieces don’t exist yet.” Thus, he uses his creativity to discover the puzzle pieces.
Pratt Alumni are always offering to teach us from their experiences and D.K’s advice is something to take away. My chat with D.K. was a chance for me to learn from his experience at Pratt and how it was applied in the working world. I just had to share this with everyone. All of our journeys to success will be different, but there will always be times when we find help and inspiration from someone else's story.
Written by: Jil Berenblum