Getting the geek on

I traveled down to King City, California, this month to attend the annual Al Weber Rendezvous event. Al Weber is my own personal Buddah when it comes to photography, having met him several years ago in Condon, Montana, at a workshop. That first Condon experience made for a magical week–one that changed my life in a number of ways. As a matter of fact, more than one kind of magic has occurred for me in Condon. A colleague of Ansel Adams, Weber chose to take his knowledge of photography into the teaching realm. Al is a curmudgeon and not at all concerned about flattering you about your work. He meets you exactly where you are and gives it to you straight. That being said, he is also loving and can be gentle–the best kind of teacher.

So, imagine a gathering of photographers from a variety of walks and ages that are followers of the Al Weber School of Photographic Craziness. The criteria to attend is to have studied with Al at a workshop. He makes a few exceptions, mostly for friends of attendees. There was everyone there from professional photographers who have spent their lives behind a camera to weekend hobbyists and everyone in-between. Many of these people have been “with” Al since they were in their teens and twenties. It’s both a humbling and enlightening experience. King City is chosen for its close proximity to Carmel, from which Weber hails. I love to tell the story of Al’s neighbor who, when planning a drastic remodel, walked across the shared culdesac to ask what Al and his wife Suzy would like to see from their ocean view vantage point. Al’s response: “As little of you as possible.” And that’s what Al got. A relatively unfettered view of the ocean from his Carmel highlands 1960s-style home. The neighbor built his home virtually on the side of the cliffside. Al Weber often gets what he wants.

The King City weekend involves everyone showing their current work, (digital and/or film prints) and a catered meal on Saturday night. There is a lot of photography talk–“What camera were you using?” “Is that an inkjet print?” “Are those prints toned?” The realty is that it’s a weekend of getting our inner geeks on…a time to cut loose and let it be all things photography, all the time. How refreshing to experience no eye rolls as film speed, film size and silver gelatin are discussed alongside megapixels and Photoshop.

There is something exhilarating about standing in front of a crowd of that caliber and showing off your prints. I begin to sweat in places that normally stay relatively dry. My hands and voice shake a bit, and I usually end up making a crack about being an English professor–you’d think I would be at ease in front of a crowd, right? I received some positive feedback along with some questions. I was fueled. I love this experience.

Photography is one of the reasons I am alive.

When I say that, I mean that photography is one of the primary ways in which I exult in this wild and precious life I’ve been given. I thrive when I am taking risks behind the camera, and I feel a sense of euphoria when a print turns out, carefully crafted in the chemicals of the darkroom. The smell of Dektol, of Stop Bath, of Fixer…I grew up with these friends and find recognition and belonging in them much like one may respond to a favorite pie or childhood song.

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