Let me be very clear: I have never been into winter sports. Skiing, ice hockey or even ice skating were all simply bizarre to me. You see, I grew up in Madras, India, where “winter” is when the temperature hits 75 degrees. There, you’ll see aunties and uncles hustling over the main stretch of the beach in sweaters and scarves. I grew up unaccustomed to the cold weather. In fact, when my fingers start to freeze up, I look for the nearest Starbucks where I can quickly warm up. Don’t ask me what I am doing now in New England!
Jokes aside, when I heard Inspire Photo Retreats takes place in the middle of snow season and offers a ready refuge to photographers, I was hooked. Yet it wasn’t till last year that I spent the entire three days at the conference. Years before, I poked my head in to check it out. The vibe was always the same – a strong handshake, a warm hug and even an occasional peck on the cheek. How could I refuse, right?
While the next conference in 2016 will be in Newport, Rhode Island, the one I attended was in Portland, Maine. It was dreary outside, but the conference itself had its mix of high and warm points. First off, my friend Dave Jackson was back at the conference to teach and chill out with everyone. His august but relaxed presence was welcomed by all. “This is a pretty cool conference,” he told me. “It’s my kind of scene.” Yes, Dave could be freezing his tush out in Appleton, Wisconsin where he is from, but he chose to come out to Maine and be a part of this very special conference.
What makes Inspire Photo Retreats so special? Let me rephrase that question: what makes Inspire Photo Retreats a conference one cannot miss?
It’s an eclectic mix of photographers. We aren’t all wedding photographers or baby photographers or landscape photographers. We are photographers who have chosen the hard path of working on our craft and our businesses. The warmth and camaraderie are bonuses of having real conversations that often last through the night and into the wee hours of the morning. So there is that ready sense of community and wanting to help each other. Just take a look at the Facebook forum before the conference and you’ll see people connecting and reconnecting, offering up rooms to crash and rides from airports. Remember, a lot of these people have never met each other in person before.
In fact, I drove up with David Apuzzo, a Connecticut photographer who I had met a couple of times but didn’t really know all that well. Sure, living in the same state, we often ran into each other but our conversations were rather limited. But when he contacted me for a ride, I readily said he was welcome to travel with me. I narrate my experience of that four-hour trip here.
Portland, with its many restaurants offered yet another opportunity for small groups of photographers to go out for dinner. I was chosen to lead a group and everyone except me happened to be women. While the conversations and the cuisine were outstanding, I had some explaining to do when I got home to my wife.
These aren’t normal classes, like the ones you had to plow through school. Whether it was Carla Ten Eyck, Anne Almasy, Leah Haydock, Ned Jackson or David Murray – they didn’t speak before listening to the audience. Their words, from experiences past expressed in succinct ways what each of us was feeling deep inside. Epiphanies and emotions ran high in some classes. The classes were exactly what a retreat is meant to be – not so much an escape from reality but a celebration of what is most important to all of us. The winters in New England aren’t just cold, they can be depressing. Some of the seasonal work dries up and the brain has a tendency to wonder whether new customers and old clients will be back knocking at our doors. The Inspire Photo Retreat classes were reassuring and a calming influence for my fractured and doubtful mind. Unlike other conference where speaking to an instructor or a seminar leader would be near impossible, at Inspire, it’s the thing to do. Groups of photographers linger and surrounded the teachers, peppering them with questions or accolades for the content they had just shared. What I enjoy most about the classes is the lack of that great divide between student and teacher.
At other industry conferences, there is a wrap up party and everyone goes home, sometimes with a mild headache. Not at Inspire. The conversation continues online and off.
For example, I get together for lunch with Eric Foley, months after the conference ended. Foley is a friend and also one of the organizers behind Inspire. We talk about the industry, about the next Inspire and how our businesses are going.
One of the other attendees and I talked about blogging and when she reached out to me several weeks after the event, I made sure she found the right resources for what she wanted to do with her website. Huge win for her of course, but it left me feeling good about helping another photographer. The feeling that “we are in this together” is a consistent hum during and after the conference.
The connections you make at Inspire can lead to second shooting opportunities, working on projects with other photographers or a collaboration with a bigger studio.
Then there are the vendors and sponsors of the conference who atypically mingle with you throughout the entire convention. At one point of the event you could be chilling out with Jared Bauman, the CEO of ShootDotEdit. Or, you could be grabbing breakfast at the hotel restaurant with Kate Kauffman from Fundy Software or step out with Colin Breece of ShootProof. I recall spending a good deal of time talking with Katie Van Buren of ShootQ about upcoming features.
Can you imagine getting to know the very people behind products and services that are responsible for making your photography business a success at larger, impersonal conferences? I’ve been to them all and it simply doesn’t happen because in those instances it takes a lot of effort. At Inspire Photo Retreats, vendor sponsors are expected to spend time with those attending the conference.
So, with a strong sense of being a part of a community, experiences with truly generous teachers and having the confidence that there is help beyond the conference, Inspire Photo Retreats gets my high recommendation for anyone interested in elevating their craftsmanship and their commerce.
Seshu creates intimate, sentimental and natural photographs for his family and editorial clients. He has carved himself a successful business portraits niche in Connecticut. He is also the editor and publisher of Tiffinbox, a blog for inspiring photographers. He lives in Avon, Connecticut with his wife and two sons. As a one time photojournalist, Seshu continues to be a news junkie who enjoys listening to NPR and podcasts while he runs on a treadmill. His one weakness is collecting photography monographs of established and emerging photographers.