PSPF 2019 Take 1.

Every May I land in Palm Springs for the festival and sometime late on Sunday I see Jeff Dunas, the human behind the machine. I look at Jeff and each year I wonder the exact same thing. “How does he do this?” “Why does he do this?” Around the pool at Korakia [Pensione] stand hundreds of people from around the world including a list of faculty that reads like the who’s who of the last sixty years of premiere photography. What genre? All of them.


The “how” of the festival must certainly be an eight to nine-month planning and scheduling affair, and for this Jeff deploys a full staff. They are everywhere; in the hotels, on the streets, driving shuttles, transporting classes to the remote peaks and deserts and also manning every air-conditioned inside post like classrooms, seminars and portfolio reviews spaces.

The “why” question of the festival is more difficult to define. Jeff is odd. Not in an “I collect spores, molds and fungus,” kind of odd. Just odd in the sense that he has a very particular background in photography, publishing, printing and connecting people. He is capable of doing things that others aren’t. And he’s got the respect of the widest range of photographers I’ve ever seen. Certainly, it would be easier to learn Mandarin or find enlightenment or explore chaos math than produce this festival but for some still unknown reason, he continues. This is year…..fourteen? I think.

You know me, people. I’m not that social. I like the quiet. I like being alone. And yet last night I probably spoke to at least a hundred people I know really well and another fifty I was meeting for the first time. For anyone who spent part of their life in the photography industry this is ____________(Enter preferred holiday celebration here.) in May.

In the course of one hour last night I got to talk and eat with five of the most incredible photographers walking the Earth. I knew four of the five, and the fifth was a tough sell but I broke him down with enough questions to stun Alex Trebek and then it was off the conversational races. If you are nice I’ll tell you who they were. You will be jealous, or if you are an Instagram photographer you will have to look them up. (On Saturday I told an IG photographer I was going to the festival and also listed some of the faculty and he had never heard of any of this nonsense or any of these people for that matter. This should not surprise me at this point but it still does.)

My goal here is simple. Collect, listen, take notes, get feedback, learn what’s new and co-teach a two-day bookmaking class. I will be posting daily if possible. Also, I did run into the Fujifilm guys. There were words exchanged, questions asked. Even a potential plan in place, but for what will remain secret for now. It’s probably a long shot.

PSPF 2019 Take 2.

Today was a bit strange. There was photography, yes, lots of it actually. And it ran into the wee hours of the morning, as things tend to do here at the festival. But for me, it was a logistics day, one loaded with “things I need to do now because I might run out of time later in the week.”

I know what you jackals want!

So, my first stop was Fujifilm. I needed to get my entire bag of gear cleaned, checked and updated and the folks at Fuji were kind enough to do just that. Fuji also sponsored a photographer named Kevin Fickling who shoots action sports, advertising, commercial, etc. He’s an XT3 shooter and has started using the GFX as well. Think you can’t use these MF cameras to shoot action? Think again. Kevin was very cool, honest and shared all kinds of relevant details of his photography business. And he shoots cycling! He’s a guy that is constantly learning, constantly adapting and is doing motion, stills, building handmade bikes, creating leather goods, producing and designing sets, etc.

And these brands. Thank you!
Gives you an idea of sponsorship. This doesn’t happen without these brands.
Social media heart of darkness, but if you must.

In addition to Fujifilm, you also have Canon and Sony. As well as many other vendors, but make no mistake, this is NOT a trade show style event. Yes, there are vendors but the idea of the image never falls from pole position in terms of importance. This festival is about ACTUAL photography.

Today I also got to talk a lot of Blurb. Everyone knows me as “the Blurb guy,” so this is just par for the course. But, this is one of the best parts. I see current students, former students, beginning bookmakers, and uber accomplished book publishers. The book is still a highly regarded item to those living in the world of high-end professional photography. In fact, last night one of the best photographers in the world, and one of the coolest guys came up and the first thing he said was “Hey, remember the film teaser I showed you?” “Well, we just got the book deal.”

Then came dinner. Then came two hours of projections and talks. The speakers of the night were Barbara Davidson and Roger Ballen, two very different shooters who operate in two very different worlds, but both highly skilled and highly successful.

The night session landed with two heavy hitters. Stephen Wilkes and Jay Maisel who have an interesting, long-term relationship. If you don’t know Jay Maisel I’m not sure where you have been for the past fifty years, but he is a unique personality and unique photographer who has done more in his career than I could ever do in ten lifetimes. When his face pops into my mind it is followed by a range of imagery that seems more like the work of a hundred different photographers than just one, lone man. He’s remarkable.

PSPF 2019 Take 3

Today I had little time to think. This can be dangerous. I feel as a collective, as an industry, we are missing something. We are missing the greater conversation while we focus on other things that might lead to us to water in the short term but won’t solve our long term thirst. But whoa, hey, let me slow down. (More on this later.)

I try not to break routine on trips like this. Heck, I try not to break routine on any trip, but when I’m attending something like PSPF it can feel overwhelming because there are so many interesting things happening I often feel like I can’t relax because I might be missing something. Yes, FOAMO. Guilty.

The afternoon symposium was “Women in Photography,” with Mona Kuhn and Barbara Davidson amongst others. 

Women in Photography Symposium
Women’s panel. Wide range of work and skillsets.

I was able to attend a lecture by art consultant Sybylla Smith, someone I met a few years ago and someone I find intriguing. Her program was titled “Concept Aware: Enhance Your Creative Practice.” Sybylla is an art consultant but she has also been a designer, an art director, producer and has been responsible for getting and creating shows for hundreds of photographers. In other words, a diverse background.  She covered A LOT of topics and ideas, and her talk actually became interactive as we were tasked with multiple assignments dealing with understanding our place in photography. We worked as individuals and as teams attempting to define terminology, context, practice, and creativity. Perhaps the idea that stuck with me the most was “You have a professional responsibility to be involved in the overall photographic conversation because it will inform you where you fit.” Now, this plays into the context idea of with your skillset and with your knowledge, you can determine where you currently fit in the professional industry. Understanding your context can be the key.

She also encouraged us to consume. Read, attend shows, go to lectures and expand our current knowledge base. She also had us supply single descriptive terms to individual images. A single image would appear on the projector and we had one minute to produce ten terms. Might sound easy right, and in some ways it was, but what was profound was the range of response. All over the place, which is incredibly poignant. This exercise again illustrated context, perception, interpretation, etc. ALL of these things are how small ideas become life-changing ideas. As an intelligent photographer, you must have an understanding of these ideas to fully maximize your potential.

Sybylla Smith
The Networking dinner and to the Palm Springs Art Museum for the Evening Presentation

 PSPF 2019 Take 4

Newsflash. I don’t work as a photographer. Haven’t for a long time. However, I’m still intrigued by the idea of being a working photographer in 2019. Why? Because so much has changed. You often hear horror stories these days. The photography world is ending. Things are grim. I put vaseline on my lens and now it’s on my sensor. You know, end of days shit. But just recently I ran into a photographer from Los Angeles, someone I’ve known for twenty years, and when I asked him how things were going he replied, “I’m turning work down.” “I’m booked six months out, going gangbusters.”

Once I got up off the floor we had a hug and a short cry and I told him how happy I was to hear this. Being at PSPF I realized there are more than a few photographers doing well, but you see there is more to the game today than ever before. Photographers are on the hook to be more, to do more and to for lack of a better description-have their shit together. Seriously, have their shit together. The days of dressing like slobs, not being social, being unorganized, not working with contracts, not following up, putting stupid things on social…these days are effectively OVER if you want to play in big girl world of modern photography.

I’ve been preaching for the last ten years, “Be more than a photographer,” and I think the market today not only asks this but demands it. You must predict, think ahead, be prepared and come to the table with flushed out ideas and strategies. And, you better have a damn good track record.

Loaded afternoon panel
Nadav talking influence

The afternoon featured a totally LOADED panel, Photographers on Photography with Nadav KanderRoger BallenMaggie SteberMelvin Sokolsky, and Ruddy Roy. I’ve seen all of these people present before, even interviewed one, but what was interesting about this particular panel was their task of showing their influences. Case in point; Nadav Kander listed these folks. Vija CelminsFrances BaconSugimotoJeff Wall, and Gerhard Richter.  

Milnor_PSPF_2019_Day_Four_-4Kander 3
Kander talking influence (original in color)
Kander showing work (Original in color)

So, I must now leave the air-conditioned confines of this splendid hotel room and return to the guts of the festival. There is more to be done. There is work to be seen including Nadav Kander and Duane Michals. Jesus, talk about a one-two punch. I must also prep for my class which begins tomorrow. A two-day foray into the quagmire of modern publishing, and I use “quagmire” in the most flattering of ways. Wish me luck.

PSPF 2019 Take Five

But this, my people, was just the beginning. During the late afternoon, the entire festival ventured to the Palm Springs Museum to see a screening of the new Stephen Wilkes Film, “Jay Myself,” which is about legendary photographer Jay Maisel and his fifty-year history living in a six-story bank building in New York’s Bowery neighborhood. This film is f&^%^%$ great. Funny, sad, personal, historical and frankly absurd in so many fantastic ways. My advice, find it, watch it and then watch it again. Now, the cherry on top was that Jay and Stephen were sitting right in front of me. I can’t even begin to describe how many insightful moments are in this hour and a half documentary feature. “Shoot for an hour, edit for a day.” I walked out of the theatre, shook my head and said “Holy shit.”

Those hearty enough to survive this were then faced with the party….which start at 11PM and run until 1AM. Seeing as I get up early, and I’m old now, I passed on these gatherings and retired to my room where I hovered in lotus until dawn.

Jay Maisel, the lead in “Jay Myself” and Director Stephen Wilkes
This year’s festival is winding down. The slideshow winner has been announced. The raffle prizes have been given away.

What comes last is sadness. I mean it. This festival is unlike anything I’ve experienced in the photography world, and there is a post-festival depression that begins the moment I walk into the furnace-like atmosphere of the valley and head for my car. I need this feeling to continue. I need to feel the burn of realizing there is so much more to do.

 NSA was here, as usual, but their drones are getting smaller. Which is nice

(c) Dan Milnor, 2019. All Rights Reserved. Shifter Media.