Ever since I became passionate about photography, I’ve stayed clear of other photographers. I’ve grouped up with a few of my closest friends, but in general I’ve shied away from attending any events or mass gatherings. This is partially out of fear, due to a lack of confidence in my abilities, but also out of a little inadequacy; my Canon G12 looks like a toy when compared to the world of DSLR cameras. I can’t tell anybody what an f stop is or what the right ISO is to use for certain conditions. Hell, I rarely take my camera out of ‘Auto’ mode at all. However, I took a step outside of my comfort zone yesterday when I joined about 40 other local photographers in downtown Tulsa for an ‘Instameet’, organized by one of my best friends and some other artists I respect from my Instagram circles.
The day was bitterly cold; in fact, I wasn’t sure anyone would show for the meet even though it’d been planned for months. Samantha and I layered up and drove down to the Guthrie Green, hoping there’s still be enough folks to make the effort worth it. Snow fell out of the sky with tired ambivalence and the wind seemed to laugh at me as it assaulted my face, but lo and behold there was a small group of people huddled together near Lucky’s. My excitement began to override my anxiety as I shook hands with people I knew by their Instagram handles, adding dimensions to relationships that had been built by mutual admiration of talent. At about 2:10, we gathered for a group photo on the steps of the Green; someone brought an Oklahoma flag, which was a really nice touch. By the time we set out to wander the streets, there were over 40 of us.
Anybody that has been with me when I’ve been in photographer mode can tell you that I tend to wander off, lost in my own world as I capture various things in my lens. I quickly noticed that a large group works similarly, with each shooter wandering off and coming back regularly. The whole group expanded and contracted like a separate organism. I also noticed how the many would feed off of the creativity of a few. There were several instances where I saw someone taking a photo of a building I knew well, but in a new and exciting way, and other people would experiment with the same idea. After we left the Guthrie Green, we wandered down Boston Avenue towards the Center of the Universe. One of the guys headed into the parking garage across from the Union Depot, and then everyone did. I stayed on the ground level, but looked up often to see others on various levels, exploring the city in their own way. When an approaching train sounded its horn, people took various positions to capture it.
The cold was REALLY starting to get to me, but I pressed on. We walked over to Boulder and turned east on 3rd. There were about ten guys that had driven up from Oklahoma City to partake in the meeting and they had some creative ideas. They had a couple of smoke bombs they used for creative effect and weren’t afraid to climb a little; at one point, they ascended a fire escape in an alleyway and inspired some Tulsans to do the same. My fear of heights and consequences kept me on the ground (again) but it was somewhat exhilarating to see a more fearless breed of photographer, taking advantage of the empty streets. As we continued, I noticed our group had begun to splinter, no doubt due to the brutal winds and cold temperatures. By the time we made it to the fountain area at 4th and Main, I too was spent and ready to warm up. An end-point had been established at McNellie’s Pub, so I locked arms with Samantha and hightailed it for warmth and shelter.
We hadn’t been at the pub for more than ten minutes before others in the group began trickling in. I spent the next two hours talking to my new friends, sharing our combined works, and enjoying a much-needed meal. At one point, I just sat at the end of our long table and let the cacophony of conversation wash over me. I was among friends, even though I couldn’t tell you most of their names. My friend Maggie, one of the organizers, looked over at one point and smiled broadly. She was on Cloud Nine; and why shouldn’t she be? She helped put together this fantastic event, which was successful beyond our hopes. Not only was attendance stronger than expected, the Tulsa World newspaper had some representatives that showed up. They launched a new initiative, starting with our group, to celebrate local photography on a wider scale through Instagram and the paper itself.
I learned a lot from my fellow photographers and also had the opportunity to share some of my knowledge, something I hadn’t expected. I was able to speak to some of the history of the city and my passion for the unique offerings that Tulsa presents. We had people of every skill level, with equipment ranging from smartphones to expensive SLR rigs with multiple lenses and accessories. My fears were completely eradicated and I had a wonderful time; I can’t wait for our next gathering….once it’s warmer!