I am sitting in the Las Vegas airport as I write, although you won’t be reading my words until long after I have returned home from this adventure. Waiting is one of the joys of shooting film. There is an amount of time before you are able to relive your journey. There is no instant gratification, but rather time to sit, think and reflect before that magical moment when you first see your negs. Since this is a time consuming process, I often chose to write before development. It is important that I record my thoughts while my brain is full, while I am still in the mindset of wherever it is I was. Sometimes these reflections change once I add imagery, but often, the words I write immediately after an experience are the most honest.
Along with three fellow photo seniors (Tamrin Ingram, Lauren Garms and Collins Laatsch), a hand full of faculty and some alumni, I went to the desert to attend The Society of Photographic Education’s (SPE) 2016 National Convention: Constructed Realities. It was a last minute decision for me, a spontaneous choice that has greatly impacted my present as well as my future. While there I attended eleven artist talks, some from photographers I already knew and loved and others who, up until this weekend, I didn’t. I meet faculty from graduate programs all over the country and became friends with fellow undergrads from the programs I dream of going to. One day, while lounging by the pool reading a little photo theory, I had a conversation with featured speaker Lyle Ashton Harris. People whose tutorials I watch, whose work I follow on instagram, suddenly became real. At the exhibitions fair they gave me free film, paper samples and t-shirts; it was like the Wyandot County Fair Merchant Building on steroids. I bought beautifully made photo books, that weighed down my carry on, filled with imagery and stories from contemporaries and masters alike. There is a new collection of business cards in a box that has recently been emptied of my own. Best of all, this weekend welcomed me into a community I have desperately wanted to be apart of. I now see myself as one of many hardworking, dedicated and educated photographers who work hard to have their voices heard. SPE is a group I am proud to be a member of.
Up until this point, I have stayed in few hotels (I grew up in a family of avid tent campers). The places we did stay were mainly Holiday Inns and, of course, the occasional seedy travel motel. Vegas was an entirely different world, one of grandeur and opulence, a place that the ratty red shoes I have been wearing since seventh grade should not have been walking. It was a lot to take in at eleven o’clock in the evening (or really anytime of day). Flying in at night allowed us to see the massive expanse of lights that is Las Vegas, Nevada. It was impressive really, not how bright, but just how big. We flew over four hours of nothingness, of darkness and desert. Then, suddenly, the world below was illuminated. Vegas goes on forever, miles of lights shining through the vast nothingness. The four of us photo seniors landed with not a thing but the lights and a stark black sky; we had absolutely no concept of our landscape. With morning came the discovery that we did indeed have a room with a view, a view overlooking the red rocks that were hidden away by the night’s sky. Never before have I been to a place and been so shocked by it’s daytime reality. You cannot see these mountains in the darkness; the lights of Vegas don’t stretch up to their slopes. With the sunrise, their beauty was revealed. That first morning Tamrin woke me up by yelling, “Katie, I don’t have my glasses on so I can’t tell, but those are either clouds or those are mountains!”. Similar excitement followed us the rest of the trip.
They don’t talk about Red Rock Canyon when they speak of Vegas, but they should. There is so much more to this spectacular city than the city itself, then the neon strip it is famous for housing. These mountains stretch high into the sky, dwarfing everything that attempts to come near them. Cactus litter the earth and humans are free to roam the land. Our group was fortunate enough to be able to drive the thirteen mile loop through this terrain, even more blessed to be given the opportunity to shoot our surroundings. I could not think of a better place, a better group of people or a better experience for my first SPE. This city called for adventure and spontaneity, pressing outside of my comfort zone to make new connections and furthering friendships with the ones I already had.
Thank you Vegas for welcoming me, for showing me my first glimpse of the American Southwest, and for giving me sun kissed skin before sending me home on a plane to Ohio. Goodbye for now Nevada; Colorado awaits with open arms and snowcapped mountains.
Above is a photograph of the fabulous (not seedy travel motel) hotel we occupied.
At the top of my bucket list is to visit all 50 states. Nevada marked 26/50 and so I have ventured past the halfway point. I just want to see it all.