WPPI 2014 (and why I'll be back next year)

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Today was day 1 of REST after a week in Las Vegas at the annual photography conference WPPI.  The rumors are not exaggerated.  This was literally one of the best weeks of my life and I can say without a hint of doubt that I will be returning next year - and the year after that, and after that, and after that - likely until the day I die.

It was a whirlwind of a trip.  I felt the same way on the flight out as I did on the way back - anxious and excited and every thought a blur.  The anticipation did not precede disappointment.  In fact, every hope I had for what I would gain from attending this conference was far surpassed.  The classes, the parties, the friendships that were made and those that deepened - they were all magnificent pieces of this incredible seven day photography-fest.

On the first day, a day which I thought (naively) would be a day to relax and adjust to Las Vegas and to prepare for the following day's classes, I made my way from the airport and took a cab directly to the MGM to meet up with a friend, drop my bags and grab something to eat after a long flight.  What I had intended to be a relaxing day turned into a quick-tour of the entire strip, walking from nearly one end to the other and back, dining at Wolfgang Puck's restaurant, sipping on a 32oz margarita for approximately 5 hours, and watching the water show at the Bellagio before finally checking into my hotel (the Parisian) around 11pm.  I got to my room and promptly passed out, knowing I would be up at 7AM to pick up my conference badge and begin a full day of classes.

Day 2 was dedicated to business and marketing.  I took a class taught by Blair Phillips on jump-starting your business - the perfect kick-off to a week intended to pick me up and set me down on the right path; another class by Sal Cincotta on clarifying business goals in the wedding industry and connecting with the clients you most want to work with - again, it was exactly what I needed to validate the path that I am taking.  Finally, at the end of the day, after walking about 5 miles back and forth across the MGM, a class with Sarah Petty gave me the perfect nudge towards specialty session plans (which you will probably start to see this spring!!).  Again, I found myself making a mad dash to my bed, passing out the moment my head hit the pillow, and knowing I would repeat it all again the next day.

(Side note - I wish I'd blogged daily from Vegas, because even now, a day after it all ended, I cannot remember individual days - only one long string of awesomeness…)

During the week, I took classes from Justin & Mary, Melissa Ghionis, Ninety Nine Beans….and….wait for it……Elizabeth Messina.  And I'm sorry, but now I have to gush a little bit...

Not only was her class AMAZING - as in remind me why I started this business, remind me why I am a photographer, and remind me that I am above all things, an artist - but Elizabeth was an incredible presence.  I've been a head-over-heels fan of her work since 2007, when Leah Macdonald first showed me her work in her class at the Art Institute of Philadelphia.  I think when we are fans of someone (or someone's work) for so long without actually having any perception of them as an actual human being, they become something more.  They become a kind of deity, a looming presence, and in this case, a litmus against which I measured every photograph I took.  Her class, aside from being an incredible inspiration, showed me that she's human, too.  She's a photographer like me.  She started for the same reasons as I did.  Our equipment might be different, we might be literally coasts apart, but we share the same vision.  (And the fact that she was an absolute sweetheart only made it that much better.)

Annnnd I maybe sort of maybe kind of splurged on an Elizabeth Messina original wood print afterwards (personally signed and everything!)….It was better than Christmas morning, as evidenced by my face.

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After a very full week of classes, and a very full brain, Carly Valentine and I decided it was time to escape the glitter and noise of the strip - and we headed out to the Valley of Fire for what would be one of my favorite days ever, and what would produce some of my favorite images - ever.  It was quite an experience going from flashing lights and feather boas and sequin rain to such perfect natural beauty.  I'm entirely sure that no photograph could ever truly capture that day, but I sure tried.

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Carly even gave me the honor of photographing her out there, something I'll always cherish.

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So, more than just classes and all the amazing things we learned during these master-lessons, more than what I wrote down in my notebooks, more than my to-do lists created after inspiring talks by my heroes of photography, WPPI recharged my creativity.  It reminded me why I began, why I picked up a camera in the first place.  It reminded me that I am an artist - something that gets lost all too easily amidst emails and business accounts and taxes and bookkeeping.  My art is my business.  And without it, I have nothing.

So.  See you there next year?