2013 was my first trip to IUSA. It was an important event in my photographic career, I was receiving my Master’s Degree, so I was going to make this trip the absolute best it could be. I volunteered to help set up the print exhibit and work the ASP booth, and I attended several CPP meetings and proctored the new exam. But aside from the awards ceremony, the most important appointment I had was on Sunday morning at the Mentor Booths. For 15 minutes I was granted the undivided attention of an affiliated judge. For FREE. I had no choice in who that judge was to be, it was the luck of the empty seat that found me sitting with a pile of my work at the booth of Rene Genest.
I was nervous. I was soon to receive my Master’s Degree, but at times I wondered what was next. What should I do to expand my talent, work on my skills, take me to the next level?
I brought 11 enlargements with me, the images that had all merited and loaned to earn me 14 merits in 3 years. My “Master’s Collection, if you will.
In the collection were two sets of puppies, two women, one family and six men. Three of the images were high key and eight were low key. Five were color, Six were black and white. I was worried I was getting in a low key rut.
I also brought along two competition prints I was working on for the upcoming Northeast District – more low key men portraits. A real “theme” was forming in my work and I was getting a little nervous. I needed advice about the overall direction I was going in and what I should do next to keep from pegging myself and my style into the low-key male portrait genre.
I also found, to my great surprise, that I tended to do a lot of black and whites. That was never my intent, but I enjoyed the fact that this was developing into part of my “look”, but again, I was worried that I had myself too focused in one area.
So, I was looking forward to my mentor booth meeting with great expectation and excitement.
And I was not to be disappointed.
I’m sure I was talking a mile a minute and Mr. Genest probably thinks I mainlined an entire pot of coffee before meeting with him, but 15 minutes, while a generous amount of time, didn’t seem nearly enough to adequately cover all my questions. Or so I thought. It worked out quite well, in the grand scheme of things, though…
So… we’ll cut to the chase….
Rene looked at my work, talked to me for a bit and challenged me. He agreed that I was getting into a bit of a low-key, black and white groove… but he pointed out that black and white can be high key as well… and it can be toned…. and that these were two options that I might try and explore to get out of my box and expand within the style I had begun to create.
Ahhhhh!!!!!! I “got” that. I understood that. I could DO that. Although the high key suggestion really caught me off guard, I had shot it before and could light it fairly successfully, it just wasn’t a “go-to” setup for me.
I thought a lot about what Rene talked to me about. It was probably the most important 15 minutes of the entire event for me. [OK, aside from that little walk across stage on Tuesday night to get my degree. ]
I flew home from IUSA on January 23 and the deadline for Northeast District was March 15. But before that, was my own state’s deadline of mid-February. I needed to get a plan in place for two more images…
I also decided that instead of waiting for a judge to challenge me, I should also be trying to look more objectively at my work overall, identify my areas of weakness and challenge myself, too.
One of the things that I find myself doing when working on competition prints as well as client work, is avoiding poses that involve the hands. I just don’t like posing hands, there are certain ways to do it correctly and more often than not, I find myself submitting images for competition that do not include the subject’s hands because I don’t feel I have a proper grasp of it.
“OK,” I thought, “if I’m going to rise to a challenge – I’m going to make it a challenge worth rising to.”
I’ll admit, at this point I got a little cocky. Before this, I had only entered client work into competition, but now I was going to create something specifically FOR competition. I was going to break out of this little low-key box I had myself stuffed into and I. WAS. GOING. TO. SHOW. THEM.
I have no clue who *THEM* was or what I was going to show, but, I was riled up and when this chick gets riled up… well… it’s interesting, to say the least.
So, for one image, I was going to experiment. I was going to take my mentor booth advice and RUN with it…..
High key…check….. toned black and white… check… use hands…. ugh…. check….
I racked my brain… models, concepts, ideas…. it had to be more than a head shot if I was to include hands…. it had to be high key….I began drawing lighting diagrams and deciding on how much of the body should be in the image … high key… hands… high key… hands…
Suddenly, I had an inspiration!
Several years ago, while practicing some lighting, one of my muses, Alex was at the studio helping me out by modeling. Alex is an actor-friend of mine and has done this a few times for me and was part of my CPP portfolio back in 2009. Alex is very stylish and has a series of silver rings he wears sometimes. He had commented that he had a friend that just didn’t care for all his rings and he thought a photo showing them all off would be kind of humorous. He was right, we messed around with some “vogue” poses and came up with this:
Now, I think we can all point out a number of things wrong with this – but it was from March 2009, four years ago, while I was still studying to pass my CPP exam, so…
So, with the above idea as a base, I set about correcting all the things that were wrong and adding in the challenges from Rene as well as my self-imposed ones, and came up with this:
It was a risk, a huge one. For me. I was so uncomfortable with this image in competition - it was so “out of my box” that I didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, It did well at my state and then at district and eventually, I was tickled to learn it had been chosen for the Loan Collection at IPC 2013. If it weren’t for my IUSA Mentor appointment, I would have never tried higher key images. Well, at least not that soon. I’m enjoying exploring a variety of black and white experiments, although I still have a deep and abiding love for low-key. I’m glad that I made the appointment, and I learned more in that 15 minutes and the resulting challenge than I have in a very long time. I’m prepping for IUSA 2014, and you can bet I’ve got a Mentor Booth appointment. PPA Members can request a Mentor Booth appointment here: http://www.ppa.com/membership/content.cfm?ItemNumber=2214