Friday, March 26, 2010


I think it's so interesting how my relationship (because it is that) with my camera changes. Some days I want the freedom of the point and shoot: the light, fits-in-your-purse, carry it anywhere kind of camera. Great for dinner, parties, and just in case. Some days I want the big gun, the pro line, the heavier than ton of bricks that you have to carry on one arm with lumbar support plus the backpack that fits all the extras and interchangeable lenses and f1.8s. Great for portrait sessions. Not great for all day, all night use when you're on the go. But I mostly take it anyway. Even if it breaks me on long trips that involve layovers in multiple airports. But that's part of the job description. And you've got to love the power of f1.8 in any situation. So I won't complain. But this week I rediscovered the beauty of living in the in-between. I brought out the camera lens combo that reminded me why I miss the D300 for the travel walkabouts. Because one camera and one lens (the 18-200) is all I need. That, and just a few days of beach walking, sunrise city streets and people watching. Nice.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Building Relationships: a reflection on WPPI 2010

Those of you who know me know that I have spent the last 7 days immersed in knowledge, inspiration, networking and friendship courtesy of WPPI – Wedding and Portrait Photographers International – 2010. As I sit here, the curtains of my hotel room at the MGM drawn back so I can see the Las Vegas skyline behind me, I am reflecting on what, for me, is one of the best things I have ever done with my time, money, career and passion. Choosing photography as a life was a no brainer. And so was following my passion to WPPI for the second year in a row.

And so here I am. Wanting to share with you what drives me to be a photographer. And share why part of that is the ability to connect and reconnect, to make friends, to establish lifelong relationships with other people who share my passion, who understand who I am, who are willing to teach me to be better with no fear of competition, and who are willing to put time and effort into helping me become who I am now assured I am meant to be.  This means more to me than I can even put here.

I am reminded this and every year that this business is about relationships. It’s not about money. It’s not about who is better than who. It’s about the clients who become friends:  the bride from last year who you haven’t spoken to in awhile who offers to let you stay with them when you say you might be coming to their city. It’s about the new parents who trust you enough to invite you into their home, allow you to move the furniture, take over the house, and have complete creative freedom with your talent and then cry in happiness when they see the result. It’s about the person who connects with your work enough, who loves YOU enough, to become more than a client, to begin building a relationship with you that will last a life time.

But it’s also about relationships with peers and mentors. What an incredible feeling it is to meet others in this industry, people who are fearless and wonderful. This convention is about them - about the conversations started over lunch with someone from Colorado who just happens to be sitting next to you who then goes from stranger to friend in no time at all. It’s about a hello on an escalator from a girl from Connecticut that turns into a photo shoot for her and her husband in the city. It’s about sharing your struggles and fears with the photographer from San Diego sitting next to you in the session. And at the core, it’s about the shared passion. The desire to have a dream in our hearts of a life worth chasing (thank you Justin and Mary for that bit of inspiration). It’s about never ever giving up, no matter how hard it can be to make this passion into a life, because you know that you have support from people all over the world who are struggling like you, who have struggled like you, to overcome and so become some of the best in the industry.

Yes, I am thrilled that I won an award for one of the competition prints I entered - one of 3500 entries. Yes, I am honored that the folks at the album company I trust with my work – Azura Albums – liked it well enough to want to include it on their floor display at the conference this year - the conference that saw more than 14,000 people. But more than anything – more than all of those things combined – is the simple truth that I am inspired to continue - to be better - every year by the interactions and friendships I make, by the words that I hear, by my new and old friends, and by the speakers, whether they know it or not, committed to sharing their all with no fear and no holds barred.

This has been the most amazing week. I had to increase my text plan (no, sadly, I am not on unlimited text), recharge my batteries nightly (literally and figuratively) and function on way less sleep than normal. But in the end, it was worth every minute. This post is dedicated to all the speakers who inspired me this year: Cliff Mautner, JB and DeEtte Sallee, Doug Gordon, Justin and Mary, Nichole Van, Catherine Hall and so many more. But most importantly this is dedicated to my photography family – to the ones I know I can turn to if I need anything - advice, someone to listen, feedback on a great (or bad) idea, a place to stay in any part of the country, or just someone who gets it when no one else does so that I will still pick up that camera every day and make memories, no matter what the cost.

To Gina Marie, for remaining a friend in photography from the time we met in Goldsboro in GAPC until now. For your amazing words about me, my work, and how I inspire you. For letting me infringe on your time with your brother. For saving me a seat or a place in line. To Misty, my new friend from CT, for saying hello on an escalator, for being amazingly outgoing and funny, and for allowing me the privilege of photographing you and your husband in your favorite city – the images are SO cool. To Jeanne for being part of JJJ from the moment we met in last year’s Plus Class with Alycia and KJ, for inviting me to lunch with you and Jason, for your capacity for humor, for your no BS approach to advice , and for your enthusiasm for food. And to Jason – for being one third JJJ, for being a closet foodie, for being encouraging and honest in your feedback and trusting me to do the same, and for being an unexpected kindred spirit found in an unexpected place.  Overwhelmed always precedes amazing. And you are each amazing at what you do, how you do it, and who you are. Only with you do I feel unselfconscious about pulling out my camera wherever, whenever (like in the middle of dinner) and making magic happen.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

the responsibility of the photographer

I could go into great detail about what I think believe the responsibilities of a good photographer are - to their family, to their clients, to the world at large and, then, more organically, to the earth that we tread upon to capture time. There are many ideas to expound upon here, and many that I have opinions on, but there is one in particular that strikes me again and again. As a photographer I believe it is my responsibility to tell the story with pictures, whether or not it's a difficult-controversial-ugly-unsanitary story to tell. But when does that responsibility to the truth turn into exploitation?

I am a photojournalist - though not in the sense of communicating breaking news with my camera. I am usually recording a more joyful moment - of a high school student's senior year, of pregnant mother's seventh month, of an adoptive parent's first look at their baby. And, when traveling, I try very hard to communicate a real life look at the places I go, so that others can benefit from the beauty that I see. To give others the chance to live the story through me.

But not every story is one with a happy ending. And sometimes, well, more and more often given today's media presence, photographers are tasked with the responsibility to translate tragedy in ways only words once did. And as anyone who has seen photos from 9-11, Katrina, Haiti, Chili, pick your devastation knows, it's a lot more challenging for viewers to banish gruesome images than perhaps it would be to banish mental pictures that would only be the result of imagination. But then again, could we really fully appreciate what's going on if we were not able to see it with our own eyes? Perhaps not.

The issue of "over-information" is one that media photojournalists have to deal with daily, even hourly, as they are deployed to disaster or war-time locations. They are charged with the responsibility to record the death toll. To record the gravity of the situation. To record the truth. And the response from the public is not always one of gratitude. I read statements from people who, rather impolitely, argue that "enough is enough" when it comes to pictures. They believe there's no need to see certain images - to see the blood, the death, the destruction  - so closely. Perhaps it makes them uncomfortable to see something so terrible, to break into their reality with the unpleasant and the unhappy?

Please don't misunderstand me - I know there are those who use their cameras to take advantage of a situation like a natural disaster, selling the graphic details to the highest bidder and glorifying themselves with their images. In so doing, they are disrespectful to the people involved and they ruin it for those who really are there to communicate the tragedies in a respectful and honest way. There is a way to do it right. And our responsibility as photographers is not just to tell the story, but to know about that fine line, where it is and how to carefully walk it. Personally, I am not sure where I stand even now.

I don't have any disaster experience, but I struggle, as I know other photographers do, with what is OK to photograph versus what is crossing that line. For me, this mainly applies to photographing random people - and, in truth, to photographing homeless people in locations I travel to. In this, I definitely wobble a bit. Yes, I am telling the story. Yes, I am being respectful by keeping my distance, not harassing the person, and knowing when to walk away. But there is this moment, empty of thought, empty of anything but what I see through the viewfinder. In this moment I am not debating, I am not waffling, I am deciding. I am taking the photograph. And I think about it later. I suspect that really is how any photographer with passion does it. For me, it's about the moment - everything else disappears. But again, don't misunderstand me, I am not condoning bad behavior behind the camera, and I am not saying that I do not think about privacy and respect both before and after the photo - but I am saying that when the moment appears, I take the photo first and have the internal conversation later. I don't think this makes me heartless. I think it makes me a photographer. And a photographer with the responsibility to ask myself later "was that OK?". Because sometimes it isn't.

Maybe the fact that I struggle with what is right means I am on the correct side of the line. Because there isn't really a good answer. There are those who would say that I, even with my concerns, my mental battle between what is right and what is truth, am still crossing the line. No, there isn't a good answer, but there is a right answer for me. I suppose, in the end, what matters is what I can live with, given my moral, social, behavioral parameters. If I feel that I am doing it for the right reasons, then I feel it is my responsibility to do it. And right now, the right reason is that I believe stories need to be told. With truth. But also with dignity and respect. And I believe that telling the story creates conversation, creates necessary dissension that leads to internal dialogue, creates a chance for people to see something and then decide for themselves if it's right or wrong, rather than being ignorant of the situation altogether. Whoever said "ignorance is bliss" was, perhaps, correct, but he or she was not a photographer.

And that's the true story.

This photo of a homeless man in Florida was taken with my i-phone from my car window. I was in the passenger seat and we were stopped at a red light when I looked out my window and saw him. It was one of those moments where I pulled out the phone, took the photo, and then later wondered if this was truth or exploitation. In the end, I believe it's truth. Though I am using it here to make a point. And some might argue that, in itself, is exploitation. What do you think? Comment!