My Own Road to Seeing ~ New York City PPE 2014

October was rough. Hell, 2014 was rough. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure I have ever come closer to complete and total burn out since I started Type A in 2008.

I was taking on more and more with each passing month: triple the seniors I photographed the year before, more second shooting gigs, the store opening, more editorial assignments. All things I chased….but it left me pretty exhausted and road-weary by October.

I developed a slight love affair with NYC when my husband and I visited in 2012. It’s just such a magical city. That’s the best way I can describe it. It’s the perfect place for a semi-introvert….because even with the millions of people, you can be anonymous. You blend seamlessly into the furious motion of the day and within that tornado you can BREATHE. It’s like being in the calm epicenter of a whirlpool. Everything is chaos around you, yet you can just be.

It’s what I loved the most. That and the opportunity around every corner…the options…the lights….yeah, it’s safe to say I adore that city.

So, when I heard about the PhotoPlus Expo in NYC I decided to break my streak of NEVER going to conventions and attend.

When I read that Dan Winters was giving one of the seminars, I knew come hell or high water I had to get there. He’s one of my all-time favorite portrait artists.

I’m not a very well-seasoned traveler….so I had this completely irrational fear of not being able to find my plane once I got to the airport.

So what does Type A girl do? Type A girl gets there 5 hours early.

I found my plane.

My first full day in New York I had switched out my first seminar to see Cliff Mautner instead of Michael Grecco. Mostly because Michael Grecco is a portrait artist and I figured if I was going to get the most out of seminars I should probably throw a wedding photographer in there somewhere.

Cliff’s seminar was pretty good. Lots of good advice from his over 30 years in the business. Always good to take away some nuggets from those who have weathered all the storms.

One of the guys I was really looking forward to seeing was Joe McNally. So much so that I signed up not only for his Seminar but his Master Class. Well worth it. Joe is the master of light manipulation and one of my major influences with use of flash and big lights. His seminar was all TTL based (which I do not use) but the idea behind flash position, etc. is the same, so I learned quite a bit.

And he took my picture (helped I came to the seminar wearing a 16% grey sweatshirt). So that was cool.

That night I wandered down to Times Square. I didn’t stay long, it’s not really my speed. But, I figured might as well see what’s up. Lots of whoremongers, apparently.

On the walk back to my hotel I passed a place called Infinity Tattoo. Being that I was on vacation and feeling a bit spontaneous, I decided to jump in and see if they take walk ins.

30 minutes later (no joke) I was walking out with new ink.

Times Square is kind of a “crowd-phobic’s” worst nightmare. I enjoy it in very very small doses. That’s about it.

On Friday (Halloween) I got up super early to go to the 9/11 Museum. Last time we were in NY it wasn’t completed yet so I was pretty excited about seeing the final product.

It was really well done. Very stirring. Very quiet and contemplative. I was glad I went.

That afternoon I took Mr. McNally’s master class, which was all about large light sources. Made me realize I need to spend some more money. LOL.

It’s always nice to be around people who are obsessed with light modifiers as you are. The “Ooooh’s” and “Ahhh’s” that came up from the crowd every time light was modified a different way was pretty funny. What a bunch of geeks. These were my people.

That evening I decided to have dinner at whatever place I could find that sounded interesting and then photograph some Halloween revelers in the city.

However, my interesting dinner space (Aya Sushi) turned out cutting my night short as I became violently ill after eating there.

So yeah. Aya Sushi…not sure if I’d recommend it. : )

That was pretty much the only sore spot of my trip, so I’ll take it.

Saturday was pretty much the best day ever. Dan Winters seminar in the morning was almost a religious experience, seriously. I’m not being facetious. The man is a moving speaker and had some wonderful insights into creativity and work and life in general.

What struck me MOST about Mr. Winters didn’t happen during his talk, however. It happened afterwards. He was selling his new book, The Road to Seeing, outside of the room (pick this book up, its incredible so far). So, folks naturally lined up to have him sign their purchased copy. I had Ben Folds’ keynote to get to, so after standing in line for about 15 minutes without it moving I decided I didn’t need to meet Mr. Winters….his talk had been enough….and I scurried off to see Ben.

More on Ben in a second, but after Ben’s hour long key note….I left the room and there was Mr. Winters….talking to EACH and EVERY person who was having their book signed at length. He hadn’t moved.

I ran upstairs to get some food, came back, and he was still there.

All in all, Dan Winters….portrait artist of some of the biggest, most famous names in the WORLD….sat in a hallway of a convention center for over TWO HOURS talking to each person who wanted an autograph. It was pretty stellar. He listened intently to each person’s story and gave upbeat and humble feedback. It was just a joy to even watch. That solidified it for me. He’s my favorite.

So, once the line just dwindled to nothing and I noticed he had a sandwich sitting there untouched, I hopped in a the end….the second to last person to approach him.

“You don’t have to talk to me, you can just sign the book. You have a sandwich to eat!” I said. To DAN.WINTERS. Oy.

He chuckled and asked where I was from. After I told him I came from Wisconsin pretty much just to see him speak, he laughed and said that was so great and I made his day…..WTF. Surreal. Surreal is what that was. That dude. His work. His artistry. Seriously.
So getting back to pre-Dan run-in I went and listened to Ben Folds’ keynote presentation. Not only is he a kick-ass musician but a photographer as well and he showed some of his work. It was a great presentation (he’s a funny dude) and afterwards I got to meet him, have my picture taken (it’s gross, but hey….I’ll take it. It’s Ben).

I was on such a high after the Ben/Dan afternoon that I was pretty worn out. I was supposed to take a posing seminar with Lindsey Adler but about halfway through it I found myself nodding off (no fault of Lindsey’s at all, I was just exhausted). So as not to be completely rude and fall asleep, I snuck out the back and went to an early dinner.

It was a good day. I needed that. I needed a day just peppered with happy all over the place. It had been a long time.

That is not to say I live in some black hole of unhappiness. Quite the contrary. I live in a world of a lot of rushing, stress, exhaustion, kids who need more of my attention than I’ve been able to give them lately, and just LIFE in general. I needed a DAY. A day that was all about unhinged joy.

To me, unhinged joy is being able to meet and bask in the knowledge of some of my heroes…..then head on down to Greenwich for a little record shop browsing and a farm to table bistro.

Then I get back to my hotel and find out Benedict Cumberbatch is on Graham Norton.

No joke. Seriously. Best day ever.

I didn’t really want to leave so soon but I knew I had to. I knew too many more days and I would grow weary of the hustle, bustle (and, let’s face it, weirdo trash/food smell of downtown New York).

But I feel like I got a chance to really get back to the CRUX of why I do what I do for a living. Why I’ve chosen to work for myself. Why I still, after a handful of years, get a thrill out of a picture that goes the way I saw it in my head. I was able to be around others for nearly a week who feel the same way I do about softboxes, and gritty black and whites, and the way Dan Winters can light a subject. We are people who are unapologetic geeks about our craft.

It is so so SO damn easy to get wrapped up in the SMALL. The noise. The things that just don’t freaking matter.

As I was sitting there listening to Joe McNally speak, I wondered in the back of my head “I have to wonder if he even gives a shit if one of his pictures gets 100 likes or not”?

Of course he doesn’t. He has bigger fish to fry. Like paying jobs that send him all over the world.

Same with Dan. Same with some of the other folks there. As photographers we tend to live in the now….and we LIVE for the “atta boys”. The accolades. The folks jumping on our pages and telling us how AMAZING our work is. We revel in it as it happens, but when it’s over and we don’t receive more….it can lead to a bit of a spiral into the “I sucks”.

I was struggling with that. Letting social media determine my worth as an photographer. Which is ridiculous. As Ryan Brenizer said…..there’s a hedgehog on Instagram that has more fans and likes and followers than you will EVER have. EVER. No joke. A hedgehog.

I’m printing out a picture of that stupid hedgehog and putting it up as a reminder that it just DOESN’T MATTER.

People are fickle. People are strange. People will like a lot of weird things. Facebook/Instagram/Twitter……in the long run, these things may help drive and distribute your work….but they shouldn’t DETERMINE your work….that’s on you.

It’s on me.

I curled up the last night in NYC and I started to read Mr. Winters’ book. In it he doesn’t talk about how to be popular on Facebook or get the most reTweets or any of that garbage. He talks about reconnecting with life….with his family…..with finding his place and speaking the truth. Things organically happen for the better for people like Dan because they focused on what mattered and ignored what didn’t. I’m sure of it.

I have a very long way to go. But my own “Road to Seeing” definitely had a long layover in New York City this week….and it was a very important part of the journey. I know what kind of business owner/photographer/artist/mom/wife/person that I want to be, I just have to take the necessary steps towards arriving there. I may never get there.

But it’s a single step….and that’s a start.

Until next time NYC. : )