Last spring I was invited to speak at a very large photography convention in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The show, PhotoImage Brazil, was in August and I was fortunate to spend two wonderful weeks in Brazil as part of the convention. I’ll be posting more about my experiences as a speaker there in the next couple of days.
When PhotoImage Brazil show manager Duda Escobar first asked me to come and speak in Brazil I was a little ambivalent. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anything about photography in Brazil or the market there.
When she asked a short time later if I could lead a workshop or a “PhotoExpedition” into a wilderness area called the Pantanal with a Brazilian photographer I didn’t know, I initially declined. Being away from home for two weeks during wedding season is very difficult for me.
I had no idea what a trip to this wild Pantanal region would entail. However the more I thought about it, the more I realized what a wonderful opportunity this was to explore a country I knew little about. Perhaps this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity that couldn’t pass. I soon called Duda and asked her to please put me in touch with the other photographer so that we could explore this idea together.
The “other” photographer turned out to be none other than Izan Petterle, a very gifted photographer from National Geographic, Brasil. After my first conversation with Izan I was completely at ease. Izan is an old hand at doing these “PhotoExpeditions” or adventures. He has been doing them successfully for years. His enthusiasm and knowledge of the area made me excited about the project and we agreed to proceed. Initially we wanted about 10-12 students to make this trip a real workshop. The only problem was that we were so late putting it together that we did not have time to advertise it adequately. As my departure for Brazil approached, we did not have any students signed up and we came close to canceling the Photo Expedition.
In the end, we decided that if nothing else, this Photo Expedition would be a good opportunity for both of us to get out and explore our own creative visions and tastes. It has been a long time since I worked on a project such as this and was hoping that a trip into the wilderness could rejuvenate my weary eyes. For the past 5 years I have photographed women in white dresses on nearly every Saturday during spring, summer and fall. It was time for a different kind of creative challenge.
I am so glad we came to this decision. My trip to Brazil in August was one of the highlights of my life. From the enthusiasm that I was greeted with by photographers at PhotoImage in Sao Paulo, to the humble, yet warm and proud hospitality offered me by the ranchers and cowboys in the Pantanal, this was a dream trip.
I have always known that personal projects are an important part of growing as an artist. However, knowing this and actually doing it are two different things. Between family obligations, work and other distractions I just never took an interest in pursuing a personal project. I have always been and I still am extremely passionate about photography. I have just reached that point in my life where I no longer live to work, I work to live. Carrying a camera around in my off time is not something I generally practice.
I cannot begin to tell you what a rewarding and educational experience this trip has been for me. This kind of documentary storytelling is the reason I became a photographer. It is the part of photojournalism that I loved the most. I am sorry that I let so much time pass before pursuing this type of in depth project again.
My new good friend Izan made a post on his National Geographic blog about our trip. In it, he talks about watching me work and the things he learned from me. Izan, my dear friend, learning is a two-way street. We learned from each other. I loved the enthusiasm with which Izan approached each day, the wonderful eye he has for light and his way of capturing ordinary scenes with a very artistic and abstract feel.
Even though Michael Jordan was the best basketball player in the world and Pele perhaps the best soccer player ever, both men needed coaches to help them grow even at the peak of their careers. Sadly many photographers work in relative isolation without exposure to new ideas and approaches. It is good to seek out a mentor or a source of inspiration, no matter what level your career is at.
I returned home to the US with renewed sense of purpose in my work. I see this newfound sense of excitement in the wedding images I have made each weekend since I left Brazil. I can’t wait to return in November for another Photo Expedition, another opportunity to photograph the Pantanerios, and another opportunity to stretch my creative legs.
More than anything else, I am glad that Izan is now among the best of my friends. I look forward to my every conversation with him and proceeding on this exciting journey down the TransPantaneira with him.
Here are a few images from the trip. The images were initially edited for a High Definition slideshow, and most have been cropped to a 16×9 HD format.