Awestruck - The Palm Springs Photo Festival 2015

"If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants."

Isaac Newton

The memories, contacts, and keepers from the Palm Springs Photo Festival I carefully packed away for home.
Last week I had the privilege of volunteering for the Palm Springs Photography festival.  Being a volunteer had amazing perks.  I was able to attend seminars and evening symposiums from some of the greatest photographers on the planet along with experts in marketing, archiving, software and the business of photography along with hearing about the opportunity for advocacy and social change.

I arrived late.  The festival started on a Sunday but I had travel plans.  I made sure to be there for a portrait presentation on Tuesday.  Too bad jet lag got the best of me and I forgot.   But I caught the seminar by Elizabeth Sunday on funding fine art photography through a collector's circle.  When photographers pursue a fine art or documentary photography they often need to be funded in order to have the time to do their work creatively and effectively full time. The festival provides excellent instruction on funding projects and this seminar was eye opening to say the least.  It was wonderful to get to know this talented artist as well.  Her work in Africa is so beautiful and unique.  The late evening presentation was Mary Ellen Mark who has led a long career in Documentary photography.  Her work has impacted the awareness of life beyond our own circumstances.  She is an icon and a gracious photographer glad to share her knowledge.

Mark Seliger & Jeff Dunas
Wednesday was a busy day working in the transportation department.  But it meant loading up the workshops for Frank Oeckenfels, Peter Hurley, Mark Seliger and working next to Ian Ruhters wet plate class.  I felt like a stalker and like a newbie kid.  "Who's that!" then the Facebook stalk.  What amazed me was the generosity of time by the people who sat in my shuttle.  After driving Mark Seliger a few times, I was comfortable in asking him if I could copy his Oscar Photo Booth set for weddings and it was interesting to me that it was as I saw it...an imagined recreation of a turn of the century traveling portrait photographers studio.  Then to hear him speak in the evenings presentation was a real treat!  Did you know he writes and performs music playing guitar and singing?  His song used for the background of a Brad Pitt session video was so good.  (Not fawning, the video technique could have been so much better - I kept thinking what my kids could have done with it!)

Late Wednesday evening was a symposium of Emerging Artists.  Hearing how they pursued their projects, how they funded it, where it led was informative and their enthusiasm for the art form was infectious.  The opportunities they created for themselves makes you realize the possibilities and they are abundant!

Really late in the evening there was a party to meet and network with all the attendees.  There were so many wonderful photographers I met of all ages.  I had a great conversation with Mark Seliger's assistant who shared the lighting for the Vanity Fair Oscar Photo Booth.  I also met a young woman who had Mary Ellen Mark as her mentor and she was very sharing (and wore an adorable dress).  I met a photo assistant from Scotland who came for a workshop who was a hoot.  It was late but I could hardly sleep!

Thursday I drove some prominent photo industry people to the airport.  It proved to be a great opportunity to network for me.  To hear I am on the right track with my portraiture and personal projects is reaffirming and hearing that they would be available to me is too exciting for words! I managed to attend a seminar on archiving film work.  Important information to be sure.  Agency Access provided a seminar on creating a vision based portfolio by a couple of great speakers.  Young, enthusiastic and knowledgeable with a great presentation every photographer needs to know to get the best out of their work, their portfolio and their website.  I'll definitely be sharing my notes on that one! Thursdays evening events more than made up for all I missed!  

The symposium was on Advocacy Photography as an agent for change.  Hearing photojournalists who have seen war, human suffering, issues that need to be heard and the changing scene of how photographers are hired and paid for this important work.  They face danger death, see the pain of men, women and children suffering unbelievable circumstances.  Without them we would have no knowledge of the important issues that need to be heard.  I hope to share their stories in future blog posts. 
Dan Winters hoping to win big

The last speaker was Dan Winters.  I studied his portraiture in Don Giannatti's 8 week portrait class and grew to appreciate his style in depth.  He taught a workshop for the first time in 10 years at the festival.  He brought his own assistants and was generous to the festival and attendees with his time and informative in his presentation.  He expressed his joy in participating and it was noticeable as he held his tickets for the evenings raffle of a Pentax 645z  then shouted as he was one number off.  He was one seat away and scared the tar out of me!  BTW, the new Pentax is my new camera of choice.  I'll be saving for it however long it takes. Many photographers who used it as part of the festivals vendor lending program raved about the results they got. 

A big part of the festival is slideshows submitted by photographers from around the world.  The winner won a new Canon EOS 7D MKII with lens.  The slideshows are always a great event with so much talent and variety of work!

Barry Schwartz giving us the business
Friday things wrap up. I attended one last seminar by Barry Schwartz on what it takes to build a creative career.  The copyright information alone, though brief was just what I needed.  Being able to ask questions of experts in a small group is such a great feature of this festival.  It's more of a discussion than being talked at and such great speakers.

I had some of my best networking contacts taking people to the airport.  I can't share til we see how things pan out.  Really huge exciting stuff.  All I can tell you is that any photographer who wants to have the opportunity to have their work seen and be paid well for it must attend this festival.  So many of the industry people said this festival allows them time to really get to know the attendees work well and discuss their finds with each other as well as have the time to hear what the photographers they meet have to offer.  They take their time with the portfolio reviews that are available every day.  The other volunteers are talented photographers, one was also a beautiful model I look forward to working with on a project.  So many great and sharing professionals and students.  The photographer/prison guard (really!) who ran the transportation department I worked at kept us laughing and happy through the nearly 110 degree heat!  He accommodated our schedule for seminars we wanted to attend and gave us opportunities to choose who we could shuttle and meet.  I am waiting for film to see the portrait I shot of him.  

I also drove the Aussie architecture photography workshop instructor to the airport.  I learned so many things in that short ride and his profound, passionate views on photography were inspiring.  He said that he tries to instill in his students the need to see the work as a portrait emphasizing the personality of the subject whether it is a building, room or detail. This being more important that the tools or technique.

Wow.  I'm still digesting all I learned and reading my new autographed copy of Dan Winters "The Road to Seeing" and excited to be on the path!

Attend this festival if you can.  Be inspired.



  1. A great write-up that made me wish I was there. Thank you!

    1. Thank you! I hope you get to go one day.

  2. What a fantastic opportunity for you Virginia!

  3. Sounds like a wonderful, educational adventure Virginia.

    1. Thanks Don. One of many of which you've been a big part!