Friday, April 27, 2012

Being cameraless

My camera has been in the shop for repairs for over a week and I've been going crazy without it. Everything I think about doing involves a camera. It's like I feel only half there without it.

I have a back-up -- my old Canon 40D -- but when I got it out and tried to turn it on, nothing happened. I charged the battery, and still nothing. So today I drove across town to the camera store, hoping the problem was just a worn out battery. It was. Whew! That was a relief. The Detroit Zoo was on the way home so I stopped in.

Such a good idea. It was a beautiful sunny day and our zoo has absolutely lovely land and trees and flowers, not to mention a butterfly house, and environmentally-friendly spaces for the animals. When I got there, lots of school kids were lined up ready to go back to school. I didn't want to spook the kids so took a few "lap pictures" (shot without looking through the viewfinder) and went on my way.

I started at the butterfly house and experienced what I had forgotten is always a problem for me with that camera: the shutter release button is incredibly difficult for me to push. I don't have that problem with my Canon 7D, but the 40D is very frustrating for me to use. The only way I could get anything today was to use manual focus (not all that easy for my gimpy hands either) and put on the 3-second timer.

Not the easiest way to work but at least I could get something. And that "something" was the gorgeous peacocks that were wandering around everyplace. I took a good number of blurry shots but got a few good ones.

Click on image to see it larger.

All in all, it was a wonderful day. And now I feel like myself again.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

FotoFest 2012 Biennial

FotoFest 2012 Biennial in Houston, Texas. The granddaddy of all portfolio reviews. Four days of intense, single-minded, intimidating, exciting 20-minute sessions where you show top photo industry professionals from around the world, prints and books of the portfolio you hope they will want to exhibit, publish, write about, talk about, celebrate far and wide. If you're an emerging photographer, you dream of being discovered at FotoFest. It has happened to others, so why not you?

Like 500 other photographers, I came to Houston not having a clue what would happen. I had been preparing for this incredible opportunity for months prior to my session, Session 3, March 26-29. There were four sessions in all, and believe it or not, I met a couple of photographers who had signed up for back-to-back sessions, 8 days of at least 4 portfolio reviews a day, and usually way more than that. I don't know how they did it. As much as I adored every single minute I was there, 4 days was all I could have managed. I was so geared up every night that it was hard to sleep. I was literally vibrating the entire four days.

And yes, it was amazing to be able to show my portfolio, Falling Into Place: Self Portraits, to national and international museum directors, curators, gallery owners and directors, educators, book and magazine publishers, photo editors, photography festival organizers, photo agency representatives, foundation directors and creative consultants. I saw 22 different reviewers in all. Their feedback was priceless, and when the invitations came, they took my breath away.

But I would have to say that my favorite part of the whole event was simply hanging out with my colleagues, the other photographers who had also brought their work to be reviewed. Although we were from many countries, we shared a common language: our passion for photography. So while we waited in the lobby outside the hotel ballroom where the reviewers had their tables, we showed one another our prints and books, talked about how best to present them to the reviewers, offered ideas of other places to submit the work, and generally supported and celebrated one another. For four days and nights there was nothing in the world but us, our work, the subjects and causes we care so much about, our dreams and challenges, and our shared passion for photography. I saw such amazing portfolios and met such wonderful people!

Photo by Damion Berger

Each of us had jewel-like moments that will stay with us for life. For me it was the remarkable experience of being with hundreds of people who understood and appreciated what I have been trying to say with Falling Into Place since that bright June morning in 2008 that I took the very first self portrait while sitting on my upstairs toilet with sunlight pooled in the lap of my nightgown. And out of that understanding and appreciation came invitations, some right there during my 20-minute sessions and others since I have returned home from Houston. And I hope there will be more to come.

This is what has happened thus far:

1. During our review, Paula Tognarelli, Executive Director of the Griffin Museum of Photography in Winchester, Massachusetts, invited me to have a solo exhibition of prints from Falling Into Place.

2. On the same day, Stephanie Heimann, Founder and Co-Director of Fovea Exhibitions in Beacon, New York, said that she wants to mount a solo exhibit of my self portraits.

3. At breakfast the final morning, Tom Griggs, who had brought his photographs of Medellin, Colombia (where he lives) to be reviewed at FotoFest, took the time to look through my self-published book, Falling Into Place. He was moved by the work and asked to feature it on Fototazo, his website that combines social giving (microgrants for emerging photographers from economically disadvantaged backgrounds in Colombia) and all things photographic. He published Falling Into Place: Self Portraits on Fototazo on Tuesday, April 24. The URL is

4. During my FotoFest review with Amber Terranova, the Photo Editor of Photo District News (PDN), she said she would like to feature my work on PDN's Photo of the Day blog. She recently emailed and said she plans to feature Falling Into Place on Monday, April 30. The URL for my feature is

5. Last week I heard from another of my reviewers, Howard Bossen, PhD, Adjunct Curator of Photography at the Michigan State University Museum in East Lansing, MI. He asked me to prepare exhibition proposals for two of the secondary portfolios I had showed him at FotoFest, my Detroit and Young Musicians projects. Howard is pursuing the possibility of mounting an exhibition of my work here in Detroit.

6. The biggest news of all: I FOUND A PUBLISHER FOR MY BOOK!!! Or rather, he found me! My next-to-last portfolio review was with David Drake, Director of Ffotogallery in Cardiff, Wales, UK. Ffotogallery not only mounts exhibitions and offers classes for university credit, but publishes books of photography. In our 20 minutes together in Houston and in recent emails and a long Skype visit since returning home, it has become clear that David is totally committed to publishing Falling Into Place: Self Portraits. He believes in the quality of my photographs and the importance of the message. David is projecting the book will be released in about a year and hopes to host the Book Launch at the first Cardiff International Festival of Photography in May 2013, the festival he and Ffotogallery are organizing. Yes, we still need to raise the funds to produce the book but David is confident we can do it. I keep pinching myself to make sure I am not dreaming.

So if you are a photographer who is serious about your craft and want to take it to the next level, I say find a Portfolio Review or two or three, and sign up. You'll need to wait until 2014 to attend FotoFest but put it on your calendar now. And then follow your passion wherever it leads you. Stay true to yourself and you will know what, when, where and who to focus on with your mind, heart and camera.

By the way, if anyone ever thought that advancing age--I will celebrate my 70th birthday in June--means your life becomes predictable and hum-drum, think again. As long as passion is your driving force, the adventure never ends. Take it from one who knows.