Palm Springs Photo Festival April/May 2013
Where to begin? I mean, it’s one thing to write a report on a one-day visit to a photo festival or an event, but when it’s the Palm Springs Photo Festival which I just attended for the 1st time, that’s a whole week’s worth of writing! I truly had a wonderful time; I viewed a lot of incredible photography, I reviewed a whole bunch of attendees and volunteers, I met lots of new people and spent extended and quality time with some already familiar faces in a much warmer and sunny environment! On the day we all arrived (Sunday), it was the hottest April 28th on record in Palm Springs, as in “ever” reaching a whopping 106 degrees! They said it would be hot, but even the locals had to admit that it was a lot hotter than usual for this time of the year!
The large group of faculty, sponsors and volunteers (as well as many of the attendees) were split between 3 hotels, the Hyatt Regency Suites, where most of the action took place including the seminars and portfolio reviews, the faculty lounge & lunches and sponsor tables. Some of the faculty stayed at the more “artsy” Korakia, which is an adorable little Mediterranean & Moroccan style pensione where the dinners were held each evening as well as the opening night reception, at which I ran into what appeared to be most of ASMP’s either current or former national board members, including Gene Mopsik, Blake Discher, Judy Herman, Gail Mooney, Jenna Close, and Shawn G. Henry. Later in the week I became acquainted with the very whacky and yet wildly informative world of Colleen Wainwright when I attended her seminar on social media. Also at the opening reception, among many others, were Lauren Wendle, Publisher of PDN Magazine & Vice President of the Nielsen Photo Group, along withthe magazine’s chief Editor, Holly Hughes.
The 3rd hotel (where I was staying) the Palm Mountain Resort, was sort of in between the other 2, both in size and location, and to be honest, it was my favorite. A little bigger than the Korakia, not as corporate as the Hyatt, and very laid back – plus it had the best pool! All I had to do was walk across the lawn… I swam every day – I was in heaven!
Each night there was an outdoor networking dinner for the “faculty” hosted by different sponsors and culminating in a fabulous Moroccan Feast on the last evening, served family style by our wonderful waiters who had gotten used to the crazy crowd by then – these communal dinners were so much fun, and were accompanied each night by delicious wines from small select California vineyards. At the very first of those dinners (Monday) I was seated at a table of approximately 8-10 people, and what are the chances, but we discovered that 6 out of the 8 of us were Leo’s. How crazy was that? In case you were wondering, and I know you are, those 6 fabulously creative people were Sarah Rozen, Photo Editor @ Women’s Health Magazine, Susan Jones, Director of Photography at AGE Photostock, Nancy Glowinski, Photo Editor for Reuters, Frank Meo, The Photo Closer, Queen of the Alternative Process photographer Jill Enfield, and yours truly Louisa J. Curtis of Chatterbox Enterprises – quite a sextet!
After each dinner, everyone either took a shuttle bus, or stumbled down the street and around the corner, to the Palm Springs Art Museum, where we were treated to our evening slide shows, and photographer presentations. It has been a while since I was able to immerse myself in photography without a bunch of other “daily life” distractions, and it was the 1st time I had been away in a while, so it really was part vacation for me as well. What I also enjoyed was not only meeting a lot of new contacts, but also getting to know a few people on a deeper level than previously when we have simply run into one another at an event. I saw old friends such as my buddy Alexandra Bortkiewicz, Photography Director at Alamy in the UK, consultant Sherrie Berger, who amongst many other things handles PR for the prestigious Lucie Awards and the Lucie Foundation, and I even ran into the very charming Photo Editor at People Magazine Darrick Harris, who will be one of my panelists at PPE (Photo Plus Expo) in New York this October.
But what about all of the photography that I saw? Some of the evening presenters during the festival were Jill Enfield, who spoke about alternative processes, but she also shared with us some interesting family history and stories as well. We saw Stephen Wilkes take us step by step through his “day to night” process, along with Andy Katz, who not only showed images from his beautiful book on wines, but his family vineyard also provided the wines we were drinking that same evening. French photographer Mathieu Grandjean, Director of Open Show in Europe, was in town to tell us more about that – and many of you may recall I mentioned the New York branch in the last newsletter. It was also Mathieu’s birthday that day, so he was presented with a birthday cupcake, candle and all. Frank Ockenfells III kept us entertained both at dinner and with his creative celebrity portraiture, while Ralph Gibson showed something like 300+ slides while transporting us through his enormous and fabulous career retrospective!
Aside from the evening presentations, there were also lunchtime sessions and afternoon symposiums each day, and one of those I attended was given by National Geographic photographer Chris Rainier. I certainly knew his work, but it was wonderful to hear him speak as well as seeing a retrospective of his travels all around the globe, documenting the vanishing cultures of our world. In one of his glorious stories he referred to “where the green meets the blue” – a beautiful expression of simply where this island ended and the ocean began. Beyond that was the unknown. I took a few photos of Chris during the presentation, and later on I had to chuckle to myself, when in his darkly humorous presentation on the last evening, diehard B&W film photographer Roger Ballen, who was born in New York but made his home in South Africa (both photographers have South Africa in common) since the 1970’s, summed up his work by saying “the light comes from the dark” and that it was all about the “integration of visual relationships” – so Roger, if you’re reading this, please note the visual relationship between Chris’ arm and the bow and arrow in his image on the screen!
I saw a lot of photography that is documenting either cultures or land that is vanishing, or simply causes that speak to universal and global issues. One of those was James Whitlow Delano, whose book project Mercy invited a diverse group of photographers to submit images that spoke to the theme of “mercy” through their eyes. James resides in Japan but has spent much of his time working in Malaysia, specifically documenting the “little people” whose lives are being disrupted and whose rainforest is being systematically destroyed by the logging companies, all in the name of “Green” bio-fuel. Bit of an oxymoron really, destroying the planet to grow “green fuel”… I mean, what’s wrong with that picture?
Photojournalist Ashley Gilbertson with the VII Agency spoke from the heart and we all felt it. He showed images from the wars (chiefly Iraq & Afghanistan) he has witnessed first-hand, but it was his haunting series of Bedrooms of the Fallen that was so poignant and touching. He admitted to having to gone through a lot of therapy himself, much like the soldiers, but he was also passionate that the public needs to better understand that not only are they suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) but many of them return and commit suicide because they cannot live with the lingering memories of death.
Before each of the evening photographer presentations, we also viewed 4 short slide shows, comprising the finalists in the festival’s Slide Show Contest. The entries came from all around the world, the contestants paid no entry fee to participate, and the final selects were an interesting range of subjects and origins. The overall winner was Alison Turner, whose beautifully haunting series Reflected Identitiescertainly caught the judges’ attention. One of my own particular favorites was by Marjorie Salvaterra, whose wonderfully whacky “tongue-in-cheek” entry entitled Her takes an imaginative look at what women go through as they get older and definitely struck a humorous chord with me. She was also named one of PDN’s emerging photographers earlier this year, and I can see why. Another prizewinner, this time the top pick from the Portfolio Reviewers was Melissa Pierschbacher, although I did not get to review her work, I can certainly see why she won! I had a few “favorites” from the photographers that I did review, starting with Massachusetts-based food photographer Elizabeth Cecil, whose delicious work certainly caught the hungry eye of several of the reviewers, followed by Vancouver-based Torrie Groening, who integrates her fine art drawings and paintings into her exquisitely crafted photographs, Washington, DC-based photographer Kristi Odom, with her sepia prints of endangered species, and Gregory Diamond, a recent graduate from the Masters Program at Brooks Institute of Photography, and 1 of the 4 recipients of the festival’s Emerging Photographer Scholarship (well deserved), who showed a fascinating series and interpretation about how the world views “brail.”
Another inspirational story was that of David Nelson, who used to be a sports photographer, but after being diagnosed with MS, instead of quitting, he said, “I’ll shoot fine art instead!” Although he is now in a wheelchair, he and his wife Margaret continue to travel around the country photographing over-sized signage in his series “Land of the Giants.” Now speaking of “giants” – pretty much everyone takes a picture of the Marilyn Monroe statue while visiting Palm Springs (myself included), and she was conveniently located right in the heart of the festival so most likely you walked past it pretty much every day, if not several times a day. And each time you walked past her, no matter what time of day, there was always somebody taking a photograph of them selves, usually standing in between her legs and underneath her crotch. It’s a very large statue! I mused as to exactly how many images would be taken of her whilst we were all in town? I even saw a local TV news crew filming a segment about her. So naturally, I had to do my own take and decided to shoot her from behind!
Now, about those birds… One night, after one of our networking dinners and a few glasses of wine, a small group of us walked the “back way” to the Palm Springs Art Museum. The group included most of the 6 Leo’s, so we were loud and laughing and then I looked up in the sky above the mountain to our left and I saw a flock of birds flying in a V-formation. At least, that’s what I thought I saw. I immediately got the rest of the group’s attention and they all saw it for themselves, so it wasn’t just me who saw this, I have witnesses! We all stood there and gazed up at this beautiful sight – why so beautiful? Because they appeared to be illuminated from underneath and none of us could figure it out? I mean, in photography the light is everything, but where on earth was this light coming from? The city lights weren’t bright enough, there was no full moon… we couldn’t come up with a solution, but we all agreed they were wonderful anyway and Susan Jones aptly named them the “Firefly Birds.” Some time later when I was back in New York, I pondered back over this notion of illuminated birds and V-formations and my friend immediately suggested the most obvious notion and one I had surprisingly not thought about – until then. So what were they? A flock of illuminated Firefly Birds, a US Air Force secret training mission, or a bunch of Extra Terrestrials simply showing off and going for a celestial spin…
More about those flipping birds… I can’t recall if this was the same night, but it may have well as been, or if it was on another evening, but upon arrival at the Annenberg Theater we were asked to kindly “flip the bird’ so that Jeff could take a group photograph of us all. He did preface this request with the story of how it all began with a couple of them flipping the bird and sending the photo to someone else, and then that person with his friends responded with their own version, and as it continued, each time the group in the phone photo got a little bit bigger – until this particular night, when Jeff trumped them all by photographing “the largest group of bird flippers on record” in the Palm Springs Art Museum – And here we are!
They say things come in 3’s, so here’s my 3rd bird story… One day I was walking up the main street from my hotel to the Hyatt, and as I was passing one of the deserted storefronts, this somewhat straggly-looking and slightly suspicious character beckoned to me and muttered something about photography and a bird. I chose to ignore his enthusiastic gestures saying that I had to be somewhere (really Louisa?), and off I went. The next day, I was walking in the exact same spot and there he was again, only this time I saw what it was he was referring to. There, hovering above the plants was a teeny tiny bright purple humming bird. It flew off before I could get a photo, but I realized that perhaps he wasn’t so crazy after all! Since I don’t have a photo of the purple hummingbird, I’m giving you a picture of a purple vintage car instead that Tracey Woods, Photo Editor at Essence Magazine, and I found one afternoon parked right there in the Art Museum parking lot!
And finally, I want to say thank you to my pals Allegra Wilde of Eyeistand Frank Meo, The Photo Closer, for both encouraging me to come out to the festival this year, I am so very glad that I did. And last but by no means least, I want to give a special shout-out to Festival Director Jeff Dunas and his charming wife Laura (who celebrated their wedding anniversary while we were all there with them!) for hosting this wonderful event. Jeff and his amazing team of producers, sponsors and volunteers succeed in bringing both artists and technicians, creators and makers of beautiful, inspirational and moving images together for 5 whole days – everyone shares a passion for the art of photography and we all merged into one massive party in the hot desert sun! I also want to give a special mention to Associate Producer Michelle Gossman, and Faculty Captain River Jordan, who were both brilliant at taking care of us all. And Workshop Producer Nina Miller did an awesome job as well, along with all of the dedicated volunteers – you know who you are… Just to show how thankful he was, on the very last evening, Jeff invited all of his staff and volunteers to come up on stage and take their much-deserved curtain call.