I just returned from an intense week at the Collective Quarterly Portfolio Showcase 2018, held at Chico Hot Springs in Pray, Montana. After such a digging-deep week, I'm not sure how I exactly feel, which is funny because I'm also simultaneously compelled to blog about the experience, using words I can't quite form at this moment. (This serves as the disclaimer for a potentially discombobulated post.)
I'll just go chronologically with philosophical and introspective commentary along the way.
We all arrived at the Bozeman airport on Sunday, most of the small group taking the morning shuttle bleary-eyed from early morning travel. It's now fascinating to look back at the half hour of waiting together by the big grizzly bear statue: we didn't know each other, awkwardly introducing ourselves between long periods of silence. The shuttle ride felt tentative, each photographer on the bus making small talk while taking in the great expanse of the Montana landscape. Lucky for me, I connected with Marion right away, seeds of a friendship had begun on Facebook prior to arrival.
In about 45 minutes, we arrived at Chico Hot Springs, nestled in the foothills of the mountains, its centered background a very sharp mountain peak.
Arriving at this gold-mining-era resort was exciting, terrifying, and peaceful. Ahead was the unknown: the vulnerability of showing work to established professionals + meeting new people, fellow photographers. I love meeting new people, exchanging war stories and learning about new friends' lives. Geeking out about gear and the world of photography was an added bonus.
Day one was consumed by some settling in, some exploring and some adjusting to the lack of useless distractions like TV and reliable internet. Soon, the need to continue to prep and refine my portfolio set in. I'd never done a true portfolio review before so the endless prepping and refining were really for naught - I didn't know what I was doing or putting together or, honestly, what I really wanted out of the week.
I applied to this workshop with the pure intent of getting my groove back, reigniting that spark of creativity, finding out what I'm doing and what I can do next. Meeting other photographers was extremely important to me, to talk shop and air my frustrations with colleagues who could either relate directly or understand these feelings as it relates to photography. People like Marion, Lauren, Julia, Bailey, Alley, Jen and Lisa.
Montana was a draw - self-care was in order for the week as well. Feedback from and discussion with the reviewers plus takeaways from the lecturers were only going to help guide me in this undefined, all-over-the-place journey.
I'm not even sure where to go next here. I could talk about the lectures and reviews, the place itself, what I was starting to glean from the experience, but first, I think I need to go total photographer on you. Let's talk about The Feel.
I would guess most artists have The Feel, the moment (or hopefully, momentS) when you're in the zone, producing work that thrills you. Whether it's a corporate shoot or a passion project, The Feel is what keeps images fresh and alive. It keeps the photographer fresh and alive. When I get The Shot, I always have The Feel. The Feel usually leads to "that's a wrap" in my brain, knowing I have The Shot makes everything else following fun and inspiring for both me and the client.
I've lost The Feel. Though I rarely said those words, I alluded to my struggle to find The Feel in each conversation I had throughout the week. I wanted to bounce it off photographers who are better than I in technique, approach and execution. I needed to find a kindred soul who could help me navigate this time, where burn out is real and The Feel is elusive.
I put all I have into each and every shoot but without The Feel, it's a job. The problem is, this not a job, it's a passion, one that I have worked really hard to pursue professionally. Losing The Feel means I've lost my way and spending the week in an immersive experience in Montana was what I needed to get through this. Looking for The Feel at a portfolio review may have been risky, but with all of these pieces and parts - remote Montana, photographer vibes, portfolio reviews, lectures, panels - working together and maybe even at odds, I knew something solid was going to come out of this experience.
Part of this process for me was shooting. Just shooting to shoot. No jobs, no pressure, no thinking. Just create.
On Tuesday, my new friend Bailey and I headed out the dirt road along the property, towards Old Chico. I'm a huge nerd for all things rustic/old/abandoned/rusty, so our short time in Old Chico was awesome. I mean, look at this truck. So cool.
On Wednesday, my new friend Lauren & I headed to Livingston, about 20 miles from Chico Hot Springs. This town, frozen in time, held The Feel. We completely nerded out there, with signs from another time juxtaposed against a majestic backdrop of snowy mountains. I could have spent a whole day there, but since we only had a total of two hours, the rush of getting it all in added to The Feel. We were also honored to meet Virginia at the Murray Hotel, who took us on a tour of this historic hotel, complete with a manually-operated elevator ride.
Roaming the streets of Livingston, literally, shooting with a loaner Leica just for fun, helped me reclaim The Feel. Even just posting these photographs now, in this blog no one reads (I think that's usually called a diary...) is helping me figure out what I walked away from this workshop with (full stop with a preposition.)
This workshop helped me work through some things, though I have yet to figure out exactly what those things are. I need to sit with the experience, apply what I can now and continue to use the portfolio feedback, new friendships and open dialogue to better my work, both in technique and in approach. For the moment, I'll be over here marinating.