So FotoFest Meeting Place day one was today and it certainly was an experience! Well, actually even getting here was an experience…
It took me several hours longer than expected to finish packing, printing, burning, etc. and did not even get on the road to Houston until about 10 PM. I had Kiwi (New Shih Tzu) riding shotgun, and about halfway through she decided to start freaking out and I had to pull over about every 10 minutes to get her to calm down. Finally just put her in the crate and she chilled out. Of course then I got pulled over for having a taillight out (Seriously, I can’t see my taillight, how would I know?), and ended up arriving in Houston closer to 2 AM. As a photographer I make it a habit to travel light…somehow I screwed that up on this 4 day trip:
Stagger to bed around 3, wake up at 7, shower and head for the Meeting Place venue. Didn’t have time to eat, but figured I could get something there. Of course the hotel restaurant is open, but after gauging me for $20 just to park I figured I would go to the food court next door…which was closed. Rather than get stiffed by the hotel again I decided to just fast for the morning and head towards the Meeting Place room, which was a standard hotel conference room filled with tables that looked a lot like this:
That of course was the calm before the storm. Those being reviewed would start lining up at the door and as soon as they announce that the session begins people make a mad dash to the reviewer they’re scheduled for at that particular time. Everyone is scheduled between four and five reviews per day for the next four days, but each appointment is only 20 minutes so you have to make it count.
My scheduled reviews for the day were Toby Kamps (Contemporary Arts Museum Houston), Natasha Egan (Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Juan Travnik (PhotoGaleria Teatro del San Martin, Argentina), and Stephen Mayes (VII). I had no idea what to expect, but here’s what I got:
The time seems way too short. It feels almost impossible to describe your vision, the scope of the project, and what you’re looking to gain while showing your prints in only 20 minutes. I did the best rush job I could, and prayed that these people liked my work. Speaking of my work, you are only encouraged to show one body of work (which you barely have enough time to do anyway), and so I am showing my “A Mirror Will Suffice” series dealing with Nathan Huf and his mother. I have brought down 2 separate edits as well as a book layout. You can see one of the edits currently up on my website at http://www.wrrphoto.com. The hope for this project is that I will leave here with an exhibition, at least two museums having purchased prints, and ideally a book publisher.
The first review was with Toby Kamps, and honestly I couldn’t have picked a better first reviewer. Incredibly nice, thoughtful, and obviously passionate about photography, Toby made it an easy experience for me. He went through my prints while listening to my story, and honestly didn’t say much. When he did say something though it was “Wow”, “Very Powerful”, “Amazing”, etc. HUGE relief! When we got buzzed and told the session was over he asked me to get in touch with him and we exchanged information.
I’ll pause here and say that since I’ve never done this before I thought there were all kinds of purchases made during sessions. After my first session I was a bit disappointed as I couldn’t imagine cramming a sales request on top of the very brief discussion that we were allowed to have given the time frame. So I shifted my thought process to networking mode and decided that I was going to treat this as a giant opportunity to build relationships. This was reinforced upon coming out of the first review. I ended up sitting next to a woman who has been to Meeting Place SEVEN times, and she explained to me that almost never will a purchase go down during the review, but that if the reviewer accepts a business card you’re in decent shape, and if they ask for it, you’re in excellent shape. Instantly felt great!
Next up was Natasha Egan, and I again feel like I won the lottery. Nice, friendly, and obviously sharp as a tack when it comes to photography (and probably most anything else), Natasha had a similar review as Toby. All very positive comments, and it finished with us agreeing to talk again.
So feeling pretty happy about the first two reviews I figured I should grab some food, and so I wandered down to the food court and had some mediocre pizza. Tomorrow I think will be this joint, and I can feel the coronary coming!
Back the the reviews, and up next was Juan Travnik. This did not go as smoothly in my mind as Juan seemed to be questioning why I chose such a contrasty approach, and mentioned a few times in a few ways that he thought the work was strong enough without the contrast. I agree, but I also explained to him that I processed these images this way because I was not trying to create a document of these events, but rather was trying to photograph my memory of the feeling of this experience, and that the contrast was thus very necessary. I get that many people disagree with the contrast choice, but hey, that’s what makes photography great…we can create in our own way and some can love it and other can hate! In any case, I felt like he wasn’t the biggest fan of my work and this might be my first fail of the session, which is totally ok, because I know there is zero chance everyone will like what I’ve done. In a twist, when we got buzzed, Juan said to me that he wasn’t sure exactly what he could do to promote my work in his country, but that he really wanted to try! Love it! I’ll take someone trying to help my work further along any day. So he gave me his card and said to get in touch with him after the meeting place to see what we can do together. Awesome.
Had about an hour of waiting in the lobby for my final review of the day with Stephen Mayes. I was quite excited about this as Stephen is the director of VII, and perhaps more importantly is in my mind a visionary when it comes to distributing visual imagery. He is very critical of the way photojournalism is being handled as a business (as am I), and has some interesting ideas about where its going. So I was excited…excited enough to misread my time slot, show up 20 minutes early, and have to awkwardly excuse myself as the girl who was supposed to meet with Stephen glared at me for wasting two of her 20 minutes. It’s okay, I would have kicked someone out of the chair if they were wasting my two minutes!
After waiting out the next 18 minutes I finally sat down with Stephen and we got our chat/review on. His review was excellent in that he was obviously committed to giving his all to each image. He was very thorough and explained what he liked about each one, and then gave me his overall thoughts on my work. His comments were all very positive, actually better than I expected. I think I’m like many photographers in that I am always questioning whether or not my work is truly good enough. I’ve had many amazing people tell me my work is great, yet every time I show it to someone new I get nervous that they will hate it. Odd position to be in, but good I suppose as I could only feel that way if I truly put a lot of myself into it.
In any case, I was Stephen’s last review of the day, and he was gracious enough to continue chatting with me 20 minutes after our session ended. We again swapped contact info, and off we went to the welcoming party. One other cool thing is he encouraged me to apply to the VII Mentor program, which I think would be seriously cool! After my ordeal getting here and the lack of sleep in general, I skipped the majority of the party/tour, but I did hang out for a bit over an hour, most of which was spent again talking to Stephen. He’s a brilliant guy, and very convincing. Not that I needed much convincing as I believe much of what he does concerning the future of this industry, so really I walked away affirmed in those beliefs, with a couple of interesting new nuggets gleaned as well.
So all in all I have to say day one was a tremendous success. I feel as though 2 of my 3 goals could be met simply with the people I met today, so I will cross my fingers, knock on wood, and pray to any god that wants to listen! Hopefully day two will bring more of the same…
I hate to end on a sad note, but while at FotoFest I got a text that friend and legendary rock and roll photographer Jim Marshal died in his sleep the night before. Jim is a legend, such a legend in fact that Annie Leibovitz has called him the greatest rock and roll photographer of all time. He created some of music’s most iconic images, and the world has long yet another imaging icon. He was a gruff man who spoke freely and openly about most anything (I remember at lunch one day with he and my mom where he started talking about how he would kill any motherfucker that walked in his door if he didn’t know he they were with the .45 he keeps next to his bed…this despite him not legally being allowed to own a gun thanks a an “incident” some years earlier). I asked him once if he had any advice for an emerging photographer and his answer was “Nope. Not a fucking thing. I can’t say shit about photography. Just go shoot, and take off that fucking lens cap!”
What I will always remember most about Jim though was the first time I met him. He had me come to his house and we went to lunch together, he signed some books, and I left. When I got home I sent him an Antone’s t-shirt just to say thanks for meeting me. Two days later I had a fedex slip on my door and when I opened the box this was in it with a note that said “Thanks for the shirt, keep in touch, Jim.”
Rest in peace buddy…thanks for everything…