GPP Pop-Up Seattle: Why Go, and What to Expect

Several folks have asked for more specifics on the Seattle GPP Pop-Up. So here's the long version.

Gulf Photo Plus is widely regarded as one of the best photo weeks... well, anywhere. And deservedly so. Every year, people attend from dozens of countries all over the world.

The problem is that GPP is held in Dubai, which is an awful long way for most westerners to travel.

But each year Gulf Photo Plus holds a Pop-Up event somewhere other than Dubai. In 2013 they were in London, and in 2014 it was Singapore. This year, for the first time, a GPP Pop-Up is being held in the US. It's scheduled for Sept 19th and 20th in Seattle, Washington.

If there is any way you can get there, you want to be there.

What to Expect

Unlike the full GPP event in Dubai, GPP Pop-Ups are self-contained within a weekend. They are designed to be accessible without burning up your vacation time. Over two days, there are four sessions, and you'll attend each one. The presenters this year are Joe McNally (location work and lighting) Zack Arias (building a photo business) Greg Heisler (understanding a creating evocative light) and yours truly (more on my session below).

This is the same group we had in London in 2013, and they will each approach the weekend from totally different directions. As for London, it was obvious by the end of the weekend that the people who came left ot only with new-found knowledge but also a serious set of recharged batteries.

Joe, literally a firehose of experience and information, teaches a lot. But generally he teaches alone rather than in combination with other instructors. Zack teaches not so often these days, more recently pouring himself into his busy, Atlanta-based photo career.

Greg, on the other hand, is much more difficult to access. Having accomplished pretty much everything that one can accomplish as a photographer, he has since transitioned into a life as a professor at Syracuse University. That's great (okay, fantastic) for Syracuse students, but a loss for the rest of us.

I have spent a lot of time with Greg over the past few years. Still, I will sit and listen to him any time I get the chance. It's hard to explain, but I have really come to believe that he thinks and works on a completely different level than most human photographers.

Even more important, he is generous and gracious with sharing what he has learned through his decades of work. (And so many of the things that for him seem somehow genetically intuitive or something. It's not even fair.)

Fortunately, he is able to distill his knowledge and articulate it in a way that is easy to understand and makes perfect sense—in retrospect. Which is all the more impressive.

Suffice to say that it can be humbling, if not downright intimidating, to share a stage with these guys. But I'll happily do so any time I have the chance. As much time as I have spent with them, one thing I have learned is that you really never know where they are gonna go with it. So I am happy to be there to learn from them.

We're Headed to The Vista

If I don't know where the other guys are going with their sessions, I do know where I am going with mine. And I want to talk a little about that.

As neat as a week of days at GPP in Dubai are, the nights are for me even better. And that was especially the case for the first few years I attended because of a place called The Vista. It's a bar, and that's it pictured above.

All day we'd be teaching (and/or attending) our classes and workshops. And as the evening came and the desert air cooled we'd head up to the Vista, a rooftop bar at a nearby hotel. And we'd drink. And talk. And drink some more. And talk some more.

Often, we'd close the place. And that might mean 3am, on a day when you were due on location for the next day's shoot just a few hours later. I mean, how could you leave when people like Heisler and David Alan Harvey and David Burnett and a table full of others were sharing experiences and comparing notes with you?

If the days were about F/stops and shutter speeds and lenses and flashes and general photo talk, the nights were reserved for what was arguably much more impotant stuff. It always tended to morph into the 50,000-foot view stuff:

• Given everybody pretty much gets the F/stops, how do you possibly differentiate yourself?

• What are the things that they don't tell you about in photo books/courses that are (arguably much more) important to growing as a shooter?

How the #!&$ did you talk yourself into the Ayatollah's office in 1979 to hang out and make photos during the revolution? (That would be Burnett -- no kidding.)

In ny 35 years as a serious photographer, I hold few experiences to be more valuable than the nights spent at The Vista in deep conversation with other photographers. So for Sunday morning, that is where we are going—even if only metaphorically.

We won't have the alcohol (or whatever—I am not checking your coffee travel mug.) But we'll be at The Vista in spirit. If the rest of the weekend is spent looking in towards photography, our session will be spent looking out from photography.

Specifically, what is it about you—the "not photography" part—that you can tap to change your approach, your thought process, your opportunities, your career?

We all share a love for, and a specialty in, photography. Which is both great and a curse. In that sense we are all competing with one another, and some days the pond seems really crowded.

For most of us, that's a problem. Especially if you are a mediocre photographer. And straight up: as far as I am concerned, I am a mediocre photographer.

My pictures won't move you to tears. They surely won't cure cancer. So if I am just thinking as a photographer, I'm screwed in the long term.

Fortunately, if I am a middling photographer, there is something else that I am good at. I can step outside of a box and look at a problem from another perspective. I can connect dots. I can see the way that things work together—and more important, new ways they can work together.

You'll probably never be able to compose with a 35mm lens the way David Alan Harvey can. But you can learn to arrange things that are not necessarily visual, and turn photo-related hurdles into new opportunities.

Sure, you have expertise in photography. But that's an overcrowded boat on a choppy sea. Where are your other areas of expertise? Where could new areas be? How could you combine those knowledge centers to create new opportunities?

How much more powerful is your photography when it is only a component of another thing you are doing? Some other thing that can be far more unique to your interests or skill set?

Those points of intersection are where I live. They are far less crowded, with far more opportunity, and thay are for more uniquely suited to who I am.

Finding—and leveraging—those intersections, that's where we are going Sunday morning. And it is especially cool because we can explore that space together without fear of saturation or competition. Because everyone's collection of interests and expertises is unique.

So while I can't speak in detail for the rest of the weekend, that is where we are really going on Sunday morning. And after lunch, I'll be parking my butt in a seat (probably with a notebook) to take in whatever Heisler is serving.

GPP Pop-Up 2015: Seattle

More info/tickets: GPP Pop_UP website


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