Entrepreneur

Collective Quarterly Portfolio Showcase 2018

 Where this is going nobody knows...

Where this is going nobody knows...

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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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, JuliaBailey, AlleyJen 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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

The Feel.

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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.

So.much.Feel.

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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.) 

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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.

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Meet Morrison

Enrique, my Nissan Murano, was getting on in years. Now you know he was wrecked in The Great Minor Accident of 2016. After months and months of ridiculousness with the other party's insurance company. Enrique was totaled and I was left with a rental. Under the gun, I had to look for new wheels. 

I'd been toying with the idea of getting a business cargo van for months. I did a lot of research, as I do, and test drove a Ford Transit Connect and a Nissan NV250. I decided pretty quickly that I would outgrow those just about instantly. They're a good size but just too small. I moved on to the next size up, test driving the Ford Transit 150 and the Mercedes Metris and Sprinter. For how few options there are in the medium size cargo van world, there are a million options. Ford, Mercedes, Nissan and Ram. 97% white. Standard height. Walk-in height. Really tall height. Standard wheel base. Long wheel base. Very few used options. Used cargo vans usually have about 100k miles on them and are only 3 years old. Very few new options. I couldn't even find a Ram ProMaster to test drive within 150 miles of my house. Did I mention they're almost all white? After all the drama with Enrique over the years, I knew I needed something ultra reliable so I went new. New. As in a new car. This goes against all of my being - I am a used car person all the way.

Buying new, I also had the option of getting something other than white... I know it sounds silly, but I didn't want to spend that much on a cargo van, a vehicle that already didn't woo me, and have it be white. Since I didn't want white at all whatsoever, my options were slim. Really slim. I went back and forth, but honestly I had the best experience at Mercedes of Fairfield. Really great actually - Steve & Mekaeel were fantastic. I was treated like anyone looking for a cargo van, not a FEMALE looking for a cargo van. I don't handle the "maybe you should look at minivans" and "maybe you should test drive this small SUV" comments well when I know what I need and what's best for my business. Yes, I'm a girl. No, I don't need a minivan, thankyouverymuch. (No comments on how Morrison kiiiiiinda looks like a minivan without windows...)

It was settled. I was going to get the Mercedes Metris. As I mentioned, new cargo vans in non-white were slim. There were exactly 3 in the whole state of California: two blacks and a silver. I wanted the dark grey one I had seen online, but couldn't deal with an 8-month wait for it. Letting that go, I chose a black one. I've finally named him: Van Morrison Obsidian, or just Morrison.

Meet Morrison.

Cargo vans have the cool factor of being able to customize them to no end in the back. I had shelves & a bulkhead installed immediately by Sierra Truck & Van in Fairfield. With those done, I've figured out how to best fit my gear on them. Now some extra customization was needed.

My dad is an engineer + he & my mom were able to tetris their way through endless road trips with 4 kids in a minivan and small trailer. Enough said. I had the crew who was going to help me customize Morrison to fit my photography business. In the photo above, you'll see the sweet shelves on the left, loaded up with gear. Bulkhead in the center, separating the cab from the cargo, also saving my head from being chopped off if gear flew forward in an accident or from stopping quickly. On the right we've got stuff on the floor: C Stands (above; also called "Three Prongs of Death" according to some) but usually also light stands and tripod. The goal is to get as much as possible off the floor. Not only will it prevent things from sliding around at every turn, literally, but also save space for large shoots where I need the cargo space for boxes of props or gear we don't use as often. Or maybe a bicycle. You never know.

Here were our top challenges:

  1. Add more lighting - can't see anything in a cavernous black cargo van!
  2. Find a place for my gel roll and paper rolls so they don't get scuffed or squished
  3. Get everything I take to every shoot off the floor and give it a home
  4. Figure out how to secure the items on the bottom of each shelving unit so they don't slide around
  5. Find a place for the cart I hate, better known as the Evil Finger Pincher (also, find a new cart that I don't hate. One thing at a time.)
  6. No center console = where do I put lotion and other random car items?

1. Done & done:

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I ordered some magnetic tap lights on Amazon for $5 a piece. I put 5 of them around the cargo space and ta da! We have light.

Next up: Find a spot for the gel & paper rolls

Oh, Mileage.

There are so many habits I have yet to form as a small biz owner/entreprenuer/solopreneur/freelancer. One of those is tracking my mileage. After last year's 3-hour tour of going through each day of 2014, noting the meetings, looking up the miles in Google Maps then recording them in a Google Doc, I *fully* intended to track my mileage at least each month in 2015. 

Yeah. About that.

So I didn't. Here I sit, forcing myself to go somewhere interesting (Napa Palisades downtown), beer, reuben balls (amazing) and every device I own to try to get this done. Then I thought...if I could only export my calendar into an Excel spreadsheet, life would be a little bit easier. 

Found it. Thank you, internet geniuses. 

GTimeReport accesses your calendar and creates an Excel Spreadsheet in approximately 2.3 seconds. Incredible. I customized my report to only show the meeting info & date, then I just added a column for roundtrip miles. I'll need to clean it up before sending on to my accountant - my calendar gets messy - but all in all, this probably shaved off a few hours of debilitatingly boring work. 

Steps:

  • Download Excel spreadsheet of your calendar
  • Create a column for miles
  • Look up each line item in Google Maps (this is the time suck, but better than a paper map, eh?)
  • Clean up unnecessary entries or rows
  • Send to accountant
  • Pass Go

I am so thrilled with this solution but I swear I'll still try to be better about tracking my mileage in 2016. I swear.