March 1-4 was the Society for Photographic Education’s 55th annual conference, hosted by The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. This year’s event was titled ‘Uncertain Times: Borders, Refuge, Community, Nationhood’. It’s been several years since I attended the SPE conference, so I was keen to experience this gathering once again. Even with a major winter storm ravaging the city. It’s an interesting event for many reason, but let me share why I enjoy it so much.
The delegate list includes students studying to become photographic artists, and art school photography faculty from across the country. They have a complete understanding of not only the technical side of photography, but also its history. The attendees, and those giving talks and lectures, use photography as a tool to tell a greater, conceptual story. I love the fact that many of them are published photographers who also know and respect their photo books history.
Each day at SPE is a whirlwind of talks, lectures, workshops, screenings, reviews, and informal gatherings where you can talk to some of the most interesting and well-educated photographers around. You can also satisfy your tech needs with Canon, Sony, Fuji, and other vendors camped out in the exhibition hall.
As a former photojournalism student, there is something intriguing about modern people committing to a topic for an extended period of time. In an age of people learning photography via YouTube, the SPE group provides much needed balance, producing in-depth work that references then adds to what’s been done in the past. The ultimate result for many of their projects is the photo book and the museum show, the two most highly coveted items on a photographer’s checklist.
The other thing that makes covering this event so fun, is that Blurb is a household name in the photography education market. We’ve done multiple education outreach programs over the years, and the Blurb platform seems to be a perfect fit for both photography students and faculty. The SPE attendees are testing, tweaking and experimenting, and providing their feedback, allowing Blurb to expand and refine their offering. Traditional publishing is still the goal of many creative professionals, but self-publishing via Blurb is a strategic option that works well in tandem with other methods.
Next year will see the Society for Photographic Education land in Cleveland and I hope to be among them.