Last week I had the opportunity to attend Photoshop World in Las Vegas. Now, I'm normally not one to get too psyched about an event like this. We're talking about packed days of brief one hour or so sessions. Depending on the instructor, a lot of the sessions in events like this can feel like drinking from a firehose because too much material is being crammed into such a short timeframe. Other times I've come away from similar events feeling like a lot was lacking for the sake of brevity. Too deep or too shallow - it's hard to find a happy medium when the instructor only has about an hour slot. Still, I knew I was going to be able to attend some sessions of a few people I really respect and I'd get to hang out with some good friends. Of course, being in Vegas I knew there would be plenty to do in the after hours. I was mentally prepped for 3 days of little sleep, fellowship with some good people, and learning a thing or two about Adobe software.
While I was prepared to soak up various photography and post processing techniques from some of the industry's best photographers and educators, I found that for me new technique was the least of what I brought back. This wasn't because there wasn't great stuff being taught - quite the contrary. It was just that there was way more important stuff that I heard. Things I needed to hear about purpose and philosophy - that deep stuff that is so much more crucial than any technique or gear. I also saw things that I needed to see. Images that rose above the techniques used to create them and moved me personally. I went to the conference expecting to simply learn about Photoshop and other Adobe apps. Maybe pick up some lighting or posing techniques. Yeah, I got a little of that. More importantly though I was hit with thoughts, stories, and images that shook the hell out of me and made me think long and hard about the art of image making.
If I could sum up what image making is about in one word based on what I saw and heard at Photoshop World, passion is the one. The folks whose images bowled me over the most exuded an infectious passion for their work. They're not snapping photos willy nilly. They know what subjects move them and they seek them out. They're connected with their subjects - in the mix, getting dirty, for better or worse, long hours - tirelessly. You don't just see their images, you feel them. There is a story behind them. Dave Black really drove this home for me. I dabble in sports photography and Dave is one of the best in that area. His images are special; I've thought that since I first saw his work years ago. After hearing his stories and talking with him personally, I know why now. It's the passion. He loves what he does. He goes the extra mile and then some to get the shot. He captures the passion of the athletes he photographs. Sure, he catches the action. His images are much deeper than that though. They tell stories. With passion. He got close to a lot of these people. The emotional series of images from his years of following Michelle Kwan still linger in my mind. Through her success and failures, he was there capturing her passion, sharing in it with her. "She was my favorite", his voice quivered with restrained emotion at the end of his panel presentation. I admit a tear rolled down my face. Passion.
I attended a couple of Joel Grimes' sessions. He is one of my favorite photographers and I was really excited to see him in person and meet him. I love his work and I find his talks extremely motivational. Joel has great mind for business as well as art. He tells things like they are, communicating the realities of the photography business in an inspiring manner without pulling any punches. This is a hard business to be in and it's not getting better. Now more than ever it takes persistence. I'll admit I don't take rejection well - who does? Joel is very successful as a commercial photographer and he'll be the first to say that it doesn't come easy. Expect rejection. Expect a lot of "no." Expect to get knocked on your ass. Over and over. Get up, dust yourself off. Keep going. Keep knocking on those doors. Keep picking up the phone. Get a "no" the first time? Call again. And again. And again. Favorite quote from Joel's session: "It is a 100% guarantee that if you step out into the real world you be rejected. It is a 100% guarantee that if you don't learn to overcome rejection you will never achieve your dreams and aspirations." Persistence.
I believe the most powerful images come from what is deeply personal to ourselves. A lot of wonderful images were shared by the instructors at PSW. I saw some fantastic, mind blowing art. While I took in all this imagery I realized that catching someone's attention, reaching the eyes, is the least difficult thing to accomplish. If you can engage someone's brain and reach the mind, you have made an even more difficult step. If you can touch someone personally, reach in and grab hold of his or her heart, you have truly made a powerful image and successfully shared a bit of your self. Maybe that image creates a connection with the viewer. It occurred to me that an image can be both a window to another soul and a mirror of one's self. Creating and sharing of personal work was stressed by many of the photographers at a panel presentation. I found the work that photographers created for themselves to be the most expressive and by far the most moving. In particular I was captivated by the images shared by Julieanne Kost. I'd previously known her as an extraordinary teacher. I give her full credit for helping me get my head wrapped around Adobe Lightroom. She is also an amazing photographer and artist. Her image presentation floored me - not because of the skill and technique that I knew went into their making. It was because they felt intimate, like a baring of one's soul without uttering a word - reaching eyes, mind, and heart. Personal.
We photographers can be a curious bunch. We fret over hardware and software. Gadgets and gizmos. Tips and tricks. Plug-ins and Actions. Tools and technique are important to be sure. However, they are not the most important things in image making. I'm not even sure they make the top ten. I need to be reminded of that from time to time. I think we all do. I never would have guessed that would be the message I'd bring back from a Photoshop conference and expo.
The leading image was taken while I rode the monorail train down the Las Vegas strip one night during the conference with a couple of photographer buddies. My movement on the train was emphasized by dragging my camera's shutter. As I continue to grow as a photography artist I often find myself looking for less literal interpretations of subjects. Focus and sharpness become less important. Night becomes a blank canvas and the lights of a city the paint.