The road that led me to where I am today
In 2014, I attended a conference with 4 of my classmates from Grand Valley State University. It was the national Society of Photographic Education conference and it has forever changed the way I view photography, and my foreseeable future.
I am a Grand Valley State student majoring in the School of Communications Photography Program. Back then, I was a sophomore, incredibly excited for my first photo conference. I went with three classmates and our professor Victoria Veenstra. It was an excellent bonding experience for us and I learned so much from them just in one trip.
We all volunteered at the conference. It makes the conference a little easier to attend because you are able to work back your conference fee. It’s also an excellent way to make new friends and meet your peers. From volunteering, you know people throughout the conference that you able to connect with and share ideas with. I recommend everyone volunteering at least once at SPE. Volunteering also gets you into a special student volunteer lecture that Susan Kae Grant and Mary Virginia Swanson held. The presentation was so helpful and influential by how much information it gave you about marketing yourself, and getting credit for your work and getting paid for your work.
The conference itself was just such a great whirlwind of knowledge, and learning, and photographic art that changes you and teaches you. There are so many different styles that are represented there. You learn from everything you see, you make connections and friends that span the continent that will help you on your photographic journey. It’s an amazing feeling to be around so many like-minded people that come together for one thing: photography. And every conference in is a different part of the country, allowing you to get to explore a new place and learn about a new culture.
Over the next few days at the conference, I was introduced to so many new things that I hadn’t been able to discover yet. One such thing being alternative printing, in the form of a company called Bostick and Sullivan.
They were selling platinum palladium prints made from one of your images through digital negatives, and it was fascinating to watch. I purchased my own print from them and stayed for hours watching while they printed everyone’s prints. The next day, I went back to the expo. They were incredibly busy catching up from the last night’s orders. I was desperate to learn the process, so I asked if I could help them out. And to my excitement they said yes. I spent all of Saturday at the conference, learning and making prints. It was such a blast. There was a very nicely-made video of the conference filmed by Chuy Benitez. He even captured me making prints with Dana at around 45 seconds into the video.
After the conference, I became very interested in alt processes, but with limited funds, and no classes about the subject in our photography program, I was unable to progress much further. I experimented a little with what I had, but it didn’t quench my thirst.
Around December, the four of us who went the last year began fundraising and recruiting to go to the next national conference, held in New Orleans. Our number went from 4 to 9 students attending the conference. We made a video, started a fund my travel, and did photo booths as we raised money for all of us to go. I told so many people about my own experience in Baltimore, and about all the connections you can make, and everyone was looking forward to going.
Below is the video that we made for our fundraiser. It filmed and edited mainly by my lovely friend Jess Weal. I was unable to make it to any of the shoots, but it greatly helped out our cause.
I happily arrived in New Orleans to attend the 2015 national conference, aptly named SPENOLA. I went to the expo all ready to see the Bostick and Sullivan guys again but much to my disappointment, they were not there. They were unable to make it that to year, to everyone’s chagrin.
Even so, I still had an amazing time. I was able to see my friends from the previous year, make new friends, meet different photographer, and get samples of film and paper from the expo. The highlight of my trip was when my work was critiqued by one of my photographic inspirations, Olivia Parker. Plus, a trip to the French Quarter and Bourbon street is never a dissapointment. And the beignets! So delicious.
We made it back safely to Michigan and classes resumed as usual. And my friend Erin Williams created this thank you video to all of those who helped us out.
These are a couple of my own snap shots of New Orleans. Fun lights and foggy nights.
I had an amazing time at the conference, however, I was still upset about the missed chance of seeing Bostick and Sullivan, so about a day after we were back, I called them. I talked to Dana about getting an internship, and a week later, Melody called me back saying there was one available and that I would be able to stay with them. I was thrilled. We got everything set up with the school and at the beginning of May, I left Michigan behind for the summer and set out for Santa Fe.
I spent a wonderful two and a half months in Santa Fe, working with several different processes, doing different workshops, and learning the basics of printmaking. I didn’t realize how much I had learned until someone started asking me questions about a certain process, and I found I was able to answer all of their questions. I learned the basics of cyanotype, kallitype, salt prints, albumen prints, carbon printing, oil prints, platinum palladium prints, and Van Dyke brown prints. Right now on my own, I’m learning gum bichromate and working on a platinum palladium project. My main jobs were to assist in the office and take phone calls and process and orders, and to be a research assistant to Richard Sullivan. This past summer, we were working on a way to rod-coat gelatin onto paper for carbon and oil prints.
Just being in a different part of the country, much different from my own was a great experience. I am from Michigan, a very wooded state outlined by some of the best beaches. We have every single season, we have some decently sized hills, we are barely above sea level, and no one can drive through winter like we can. And I live out in the farmland. And then I was planted in a savanna area at 7,000 feet above sea level with a 360 view of mountains.
It’s a different kind of wilderness beauty that I had to get used to. I loved it. I loved the mountains, and the pigeon trees, the lizards that I would occasionally find in the house, the random monsoons, and the lack of humidity. I made so many connections there, and the art community was an amazing experience. Santa Fe will always have a piece of my heart, for that is where my second family lives.
I was able to have this experience because I attended the 2014 Baltimore Society of Photographic Education Conference. Because Bostick and Sullivan was willing to put up with me and teach me. Because of the loving guidance from my family, friends, and professors at Grand Valley State University. It’s incredible to look back and follow all of the steps of how I ended up in Santa Fe, and how I ended up back in Michigan, and how it connects to the work I’m doing in my thesis work. It all started in Baltimore. Where it ends, I’m excited to see.