Sometimes I wish we could just start over

A few weeks ago I was privileged to teach a Masterclass at the annual WPPI in Las Vegas. For the past 5 years Joy and I have attended WPPI and it is an event that we look forward to each year—for inspiration, professional and personal growth, and invaluable connection.

The largest photography show in the world, this year WPPI drew more than 14,000 attendees. Platform presentations and Masterclasses are presented throughout the convention. Unlike the Platform classes that are open to everyone, Masterclasses are available only through paid pre-registration. Sign-ups are limited to 35 people per class.

Some classes sell out immediately. Others sell out eventually. And some don’t sell out at all. Mine fell somewhere in the middle, selling out eventually…within the first few days. It was a great topic, “Getting Published: It’s easier than you think”, and we planned to address the advantages of getting published when it comes to successfully marketing your wedding studio and making yourself stand out from the competition. In today’s market its important to take advantage of every available opportunity. And besides, who doesn’t like seeing their name in print?!

As the convention neared we were fortunate to secure a fairly impressive panel of guests—six editors from a variety of print and online publications. It was our great fortune and no doubt a truly special treat that we were able to share with our attendees; all of who had signed up before the special guest panel was announced.

The plan was for me to present the first hour of the class and then open the second hour of the class to live Q&A between the attendees and the panel.

I arrived at the classroom about 45 minutes early and hooked up my computer, microphone, and did my routine last minute checks: the same thing I always do when I teach. A few minutes before 8:00 am, the classroom started to fill. We had a lot of information to cover, so we started promptly at 8.

As usual, I began with a 5-10 minute introduction, telling everyone who I am, where I’m from and why I am qualified to be presenting on the specific topic. It was not about me and it was not about my ego (my print competition scores this year removed any notion of ego that I possessed), I was simply establishing credibility from the beginning, a basic principle that they teach in every public speaking class.

A few minutes into my carefully crafted presentation, a woman from the back row loudly interrupted, “I’m sorry, Garrett, but could we just please skip all this stuff and go straight to the part about getting published. I mean, that’s why we’re all here, right?”

There was an audible gasp in the room. And I was taken aback, to say the least. But I calmly replied, “yes, we will get to that within the next couple minutes, but just please bear with me.”

I continued, and for the next 50 minutes, shared practical advice straight from the mouths of a handful of editors that I had interviewed—some of the top editors in our industry. The presentation was very much NOT about me.

When we reached the halfway point we quickly transitioned to the panel: Lara Casey from Southern Weddings, Stacie Francombe from Get Married, Diane Rice from Destination Weddings & Honeymoons, Rebecca Crumley from The Knot, and Christy Weber and Blair deLaubenfels from Junebug Weddings. For the next hour they shared some of the best information that I’ve ever been privy to. It was exceptional and as I moderated from the front I wished I could have been sitting among the other attendees taking notes.

About halfway through the panel discussion, the woman who had interrupted me in the beginning gathered her things and left.

I don’t know what the issue was but I wish I did. I wish we could start over. I wish I could have met with her before the class and discovered her expectations. Or maybe we could have met afterwards—that would have certainly been helpful. I wish I could talk with her and find out where she is in her business and if she feels there’s anything that we can help her with. I wish I could find out if she signed up for my class because it’s something that she wanted or if it was simply because the one she actually wanted was already sold out. I wish I could sit down with her for lunch and discover what it was at WPPI that benefited her the most and what did she feel (besides my class) was a total waste of time.

I closed the class like I always close, with a gigantic chunk of inspiration. Our camera is such a powerful tool and we are blessed to be able to tell some of the most amazing stories through our lens. Stories of hope and heartache, tragedy and triumph, real, honest, emotional, stories that because of us will be passed from generation to generation to generation. Getting published is great, but it’s only a vehicle to allow us more opportunities for story-telling.

The stories are many, but the one I shared that morning was about Heather and her father, as they danced the father-daughter dance. As I relayed my emotion through honest vulnerability and then finished the story with the supporting photograph, there were a dozen people crying. I was crying. Joy was crying. Some of the editors were crying. And afterwards there were hugs all around. It was church-like.

Until now I haven’t admitted it, but over the past few weeks I’ve thought a lot about the mystery woman who’s hand I was never fortunate enough to shake and who’s name I may unfortunately never get to know.

I really wish she had stayed until the end because that’s the part that mattered. That’s where we found perspective.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I will always find my passion in photography. But someday, maybe after following a thousand brides and grooms, and after chasing thousands more children and their families—someday who knows?

Someday I’ll start over and someday I’ll follow my truest passion. Someday I’ll teach my passion. But until then I’ve got a lot to learn.

It’s always the ones who walk away that really make you wonder.

(A special thanks to Rich and Heather Smith for the pics above)


Unknown said...

Great stuff man, thanks for sharing. It makes one think, how many things do we miss because we have an agenda to complete?


Lara said...

I love reading your writing... you have such a gift. I have to admit, along with a couple of the other editors in the back of the room, I was probably one of the gaspers. You seemed completely unphased by her comment. This showed me-- and the rest of the group-- your strength snd passion as a teacher and a leader. Thank you for a very inspiring afternoon. I learned so much from you!

jaredwanzerphotography said...

great blog, your words are inspring & very well put together! very great blog!

t said...

her major loss.

so often we're focused on what our art can do to elevate us the artist (getting published), as you said, we forget that it is a privilege for us to use our creative talents to bring others' stories to life.

Unknown said...

Garrett, thanks for the authenticity of your post. I was skimming through my daily google reader blogs and actually read every single word of the entry and was moved. I think no matter how grown up we get, and no matter how much great stuff we hear, all it takes is one person to knock us down. I relate to you and wish someone had a water balloon on hand to take her out. Or maybe she just needed a hug to remind her of the humanity behind photography.

Tracey said...

Having attended one of your workshops, I can honestly say it changed my photography and perspective. I could not be more grateful, thank you Garrett and Joy.

Cameron Clark | baby business blog said...

I know this isn't the same, but I've been teaching spinning (indoor cycling) for 12 years. I absolutely hate "walk-outs" - I just think it's rude and disrespectful -- especially in a small class. But I try not to take it personally, it could be any myriad of things going on with that person on THAT day, you know? They probably regret their decision or maybe they purposely wanted you to feel this way. Don't give them that pleasure. You are good at what you do and it's their loss. I would love to hear the top 5 tips that you learned from those editors in that class! I couldn't make it to WPPI this year b/c my 4 month old doesn't take a bottle--ARGH!