This was my third Fearless conference. I would normally say that it surpassed my expectations, but life has been teaching me lately to avoid expectations. They’re just thoughts, mental projections that shift my focus to what I want, rather than allowing me to accept reality as it is. I make an effort (not always successful, I admit) to approach things with an open mind. I find that when I strive to pay attention to the “now” and get out of my own head, I’m rewarded with little surprises, serendipitous moments and awesome things that I could not even have imagined had I been planning for them (I still plan a lot, I’m just more open to things not going according to plan).
Fearless conferences are unique. They don’t focus on business, lighting, models, processing or SEO. Speakers are not always wedding photography rock stars. They’re inspirational experiences – and I use “inspirational” with care, because in a world with so many inspirational speakers, coaches of all kinds, easy DYI solutions to fixing your body and soul, 10-easy-steps-to-success-in-everything-guides, the word has lost most of its meaning and uttering it makes you (sound like) a proselyte.
For me, Fearless conferences are inspirational because inevitably, after each one, I am in total awe of the people I meet. Not the photographs. There are amazing photographers in the community, no doubt, but there are even more amazing stories to be found – and I think the fearlessness lies in the stories. On our first night in Budapest, two photographers stopped a pickpocket. On our second night, a couple of American photographers managed to reunite a lost dog with their owner (and doing that halfway across the world is pretty impressive). One photographer came all the way from Chile and shared personal stories of loss and struggle in front of 150 strangers (thank you Monica Munoz). Victor Lax (a badass photographer) learned English to give his presentation. Isabelle Hattink brought her father to the conference and he played a live guitar set for her slideshow – and I think I’d almost want to hear him as a speaker at the next conference, because he definitely stole the spotlight on so many occasions. We celebrated Kirsten Lewis Bethmann’s birthday (and made her cry, again in front of all those people). Irina and Robert spoke wonderfully about striving for meaning over perfection and about being better people, not just photographers – giving back to the community, civil activism, personal projects and the relentless push to keep doing the hard work. Incidentally, after Marius Barbulescu’s presentation at the last Fearless conference in the US, it seems that wedding photography is becoming an unlikely export for Romania. Emma Case told her story of online trolling and abuse after sharing a photo that meant a lot to her. As good as these presentations might be, the most amazing moments are not always to on stage. Sharing stories, tips, frustrations, pieces of technology that might make life easier, discovering how similar our lives as wedding photographers can be across borders, that’s what I find uplifting every time I go to a Fearless conference. For example, I got some of the coolest ideas from evening chats with Louis Brunet (I won’t tell you what they are, you’ll just have to buy him a drink at the next conference to find out).
What all the speakers had in common was the courage to openly share intimate life stories in front of 150 strangers. Most of us expect our clients to trust us, to allow them to be part of their intimate moments, document them and then publicly share those moments. If we don’t allow ourselves the same kind of honesty and vulnerability, how can we expect it from our clients? To me, that too is fearless.
I mentioned “strangers” a couple of times – that might be misleading. The overwhelming sense from most attendees was a feeling of community. With egos left at the door, without the struggle to prove one’s worth to other photographers, the conference felt like part family reunion, part group therapy session, part pub crawl. One Irish photographer (the only one from Ireland actually) bit the bullet, came to the conference solo and, I hear, stayed sober for most (if not all) of it. A few fearless moms brought their toddlers. A friend of mine, first time attendee, wanted to go together for the evening drinks – he didn’t know anyone there and was feeling uneasy about socialising. Well, 5 minutes after we arrived, he literally tripped over another photographer, they chatted and I lost him for the night. So much for social anxiety.
To top it all off, Fearless conferences in Europe are organised in a different city each year. Sorting out the logistics, finding appropriate venues and entertainment for 150 people, then donating all the proceeds from the conference to the Environmental Defense Fund (because let’s face it, if the planet is going to shit, we’ll all be dead and there will be no weddings left to photograph), that too is fearless and I think Huy Nguyen (Fearless founder) deserves a very big thanks for this.
Myself…I’m not always fearless. I’m a fearless procrastinator. There are things I could do better. There are things I know I should be doing, but I’m not. Not yet at least. But I’m working on it and having conferences like Fearless each year is the sort of inspiration I need, the gentle kick in the butt to push me forward. It’s not a race, and there’s no finish line, and like Irina and Robert said, we just have to keep growing. Looking forward to next year. Meanwhile, I have some growing to do.
The 2017 Fearless conference took place between March 21st – 22nd in Budapest. The speakers were: Jeff Cooke, William Lambelet, Emma Case, Jide Alakija, Kirsten Lewis Bethmann, Irina and Robert Trica, Isabelle Hattink, Julia Frantova, Monica Munoz, Victor Lax.