I went about this year’s National SPE Conference a little differently. My companion at every conference in years past wasn’t able to fit it into his schedule this year, and since my husband and I have been talking about taking a road trip to the South for years, he decided to come along and we made a short vacation of it.

I’ve realized there’s a balance in attending conferences like SPE; it’s incredibly demanding to try to go to a talk every time slot, as well as take advantage of every opportunity the conference offers. So I saw more of the city and consequently missed more of the conference events this time, and I managed my guilt about this well, I think :) As always, here are my notes.


The first conference event I attended was the Thursday evening guest speaker, non-fiction writer Rebecca Solnit (her books include maps made by artists and cartographers; one by Jakob Rosenzweig and Jacqueline Bishop is this post’s featured image). It was a great kickoff to a heavy but engaging conference, the theme being “Atmospheres: Climate, Equity, and Community in Photography.”


Friday, I didn’t make it over to the conference until the afternoon, for Julieanne Kost’s Lightroom demo. After that, I went to Lara Shipley and Antone Dolezal’s talk about their project, Devil’s Promenade. In the evening, I caught the Honored Educator Ceremony for the fabulous Mary Virginia Swanson, then settled in for guest speaker Chris Jordan’s amazing presentation, “Atmospheres of the Mind/Heart: Facing the Realities of Our Times.” I was thrilled when Jordan mentioned that he decided that morning to scrap his prepared talk and spend the evening just talking about Midway, a favorite project of mine.

Late into the evening, I walked around the awesome Curator Portfolio Walkthrough (seriously, this one was the best I’d ever been to!) and got to see so much great photography. I’m bummed I somehow didn’t take any pictures, but I snagged a couple from Jaime.


First thing Saturday, I went to a talk I loved, a panel discussion on “Finding the Right Graduate Program.” If you’re thinking about MFA programs, I’ll gladly share with you my notes from this talk. Maybe it’s that I’ve been out of undergrad a while, but I really appreciated these tips that felt like, “hey, take it from some folks who know—these are the important questions you need to be asking and getting answered in order to make this huge decision.” Then there was Julieanne Kost’s Photoshop CC talk, which was definitely the incitement I needed to upgrade from  CS5, which I’ve been using since I graduated from college D: And if you haven’t seen Julieanne Kost speak, why not?! She is so funny! I was initially bummed Peter Krogh wasn’t at this conference, but now I think both Adobe presenters are wonderful.

I finally got to see one of my favorite former instructors, Nate Larson, and his collaborator, Marni Shindelman, speak about their work during their talk, “Tributes to the Data Stream.” It was fantastic! Last was Hank Willis Thomas’ “I Am. Amen.” I saw Thomas speak once when I was a student at MICA, but seeing this talk in post-Katrina New Orleans and in light of the police killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice… it was a compelling presentation to see. I ended the conference Saturday night with the Combined Caucus Exhibition opening reception at the New Orleans Photo Alliance and the Ogden Museum of Southern Art. I have a couple pieces in the show, which is up at both locations through April 5 before traveling to the University of Central Florida Art Gallery for an exhibition May 13-28.


A few things stood out to me this conference. This year there was a conference app, Guidebook, which I found super helpful. I generally try to avoid using my phone too much at SPE conferences, but this is an alternative to tons of booklets and paper, and it had everything I needed, like maps, bios, and the ability to make my own schedule. Probably the coolest thing was the addition of (surprise!) performances by the Big Nine Social Aid and Pleasure Club and the Mardi Gras Indians: Guardians of the Flame at the end of the big talks. I really can’t get over it. What a great way to keep the energy going, include the local culture, and add to the experience of New Orleans.

There were a lot less people I knew/recognized this time! I wonder why, because I don’t feel like the conference attendance overall was low. I’m not sure if I can commit to it yet, but I don’t know how next year’s conference in Las Vegas can top this one. Awesome job, SPE!