Photography. What does that word bring to mind? If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have told you key light, fill light, kicker light, background light. Metering, composition, posing, color, zones –the technical. Then, I attended ImagingUSA for the first time. I did so to complete a goal, my goal of certification. I wanted to go in, show my technical expertise, and go home. I knew my stuff, I was confident I would pass the exam, and I was ready to just get it over with. But, to hedge my bet, I enrolled in the Certification Preparation Class. I sat in the classroom surrounded by award winning images by Gary and Kathy Meek. Stunning images, images that pulled me in and made me wonder– How did they get a light there? Which area did they expose for? Is that even possible? How much editing time was involved? Technical stuff.
Part of the class involved study groups, and I groaned when Gary said this was one of the most important aspects of his class. I HATE study groups – just a bunch of random people thrown together; none of whom would care as much as I. It is embarrassing to type that now because the study group I lucked into (simply because of the hotel I’d booked at) turned out to be the greatest treasure from Imaging 2013. I quickly realized that I was surrounded by true greatness; greatness of heart, greatness of mind, greatness of creativity. Each one of my study mates taught me something during our three nights of cramming. Amid arguments over circles of confusion, explanations of light ratios, and discussions of white balance; Jules taught me that anything is possible if you just do it, Cindy taught me that I need to chill out, Travis taught me to see beauty, Vickie taught me to be myself, Sheila taught me perseverance, Marco taught me to love where I’m at, and Marian taught me how much I needed friends. Even after the class, we encouraged each other with image submissions, celebrated business victories, and consoled each other when goals were missed. I consider these photographers among the best of my acquaintance and having them in my life has made me a better person. ImagingUSA hadn’t even officially begun, and yet, I had learned lifelong lessons.
Exam day came. Two hours later it was over, and it was time to head to “the show”. We arrived just after the floor had opened and we descended the escalators with hundreds of others – a giant tsunami of photographers. After visiting a few vendor booths, we decided to peruse the print competition display. Large zig-zagging temporary “walls” were covered with hundreds of nearly perfect competition prints. Again, I was blown away by the sheer technical genius! But, as I rounded the corner of the loan collection I saw this:
I grew up on a farm, and one of our most favorite pastimes was climbing trees. One particular tree sat directly in front of our home and was designated as “The Climbing Tree”. My siblings and I would see who could climb the highest, fastest, best. I remember falling out of that tree one day; One second I was going up and the next instant I hit the ground, landing flat on my back. The air was knocked out of my lungs, and I was unable to breathe. Seeing this image had the same effect as hitting the ground (without the falling part). I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. My brain wanted to analyze, but my heart took over – I was mesmerized. This piece grabbed me. And it didn’t let go:
My definition of “genius” was, in that moment, redefined. The possibilities of photography as an art form expanded to infinite. This artist had truly created a one of a kind piece. Times eight. In an industry flooded with photographers, he had separated himself not only through his camera, but by using all available tools. My mind was blown. Incredibly, I was able to meet the artist, Richard Sturdevant, just a few minutes later! Richard had so many awards around his neck he was going to need a brace, yet he spoke to me with such a humble heart. He congratulated my classmates and me on our completion of the CPP exam, and talked to us about our next step – print competition. His heart for teaching shone bright and I am filled with anticipation of someday taking one of his classes. Day one of ImagingUSA, and my heart was changed.
The remaining days were filled with seminars and workshops with some of my idols. Some of my idols were knocked down a peg after seeing the work of the Print Exhibit. And I found new photographers to follow, photographers who cared about the industry and not just about making money. Where I wanted my business to go changed over those three short days. There is no way I could have anticipated that 2013 (with the assistance of the United States Air Force) would move my family to Turkey, that the best choice for my business would be to put it on hold, and that I’d have to sit quietly by while other photographers paraded around me. If I had not attended ImagingUSA 2013, if I had not met the group of people I had the privilege of befriending, if I had not taken the CPP exam, I probably would have folded everything – just shut it down. But my study group friends give me inspiration every day, my new goal of my Master of Photography keeps me motivated, and my certification gives me confidence in my work.
Last year, if you’d asked me what photography means, the answer would have been technical. Now, the word “Photography”, to me, means “Art through persistent knowledge”. I am giddy with anticipation of ImagingUSA next month; my study group will reunite as eight Certified Professional Photographers and we will lay plans to conquer 2014! I hope to see YOU there!
The images in this post are used with permission of the creator, Richard Sturdevant, who is AWESOME!