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Past SPE Annual Conferences


New Board Member Aspen Hochhalter Reflects on SPE's 2016 National Conference

Posted on 04/04/16 by Aspen in Board Member Posts

Three weeks ago, I attended my first SPE National Conference as a Board member. It was a fascinating and inspiring week. I witnessed a Board full of dedicated individuals envisioning a bright future for SPE, and experienced, as you all did, a fantastic conference! As I reflect on my time in Vegas, I am drawn to one particular event that served as a reminder of my love and support of this stellar organization and why I’m excited to be a member of SPE’s Board of Directors.

On Thursday morning before the hotel filled up with familiar faces and much-anticipated conversations, I had the good fortune of sitting-in on an intense three-hour career development crash course presented by Susan Kae Grant and Mary Virginia Swanson. Susan shared valuable insights and strategies for maintaining a long-term creative practice with SPE’s student volunteers, while “Swanee” revealed an expanded vision of what success in the field of photography could be in our current cultural context.

During this session, there was a beautiful moment when they both asked the students to turn their attention to the people sitting next to them. They pointed out that these fellow volunteers are, in fact, their future colleagues who will comprise the professional ranks of curators, art critics, gallerists, creative directors, educators, and artists who will help build their careers. This moment, for me, embodied the essence of SPE: a community of diverse people connected by creativity, passion, ambition, and most importantly, a love of photography. This group of eager and passionate volunteers is the future of SPE. Through SPE, they will help each other succeed in their chosen fields. The friendships and camaraderie ignited in that very room will help those future leaders achieve tenure, publish their first book, or land that coveted job. That group will eventually become the leaders of SPE, keeping the organization that is so integral to our lives, a vital active force in the photographic field.

Community building is fundamental to SPE and vital to its members. During our board meetings before the conference, the fundamental nature of SPE’s community was emphasized again and again as the most important member benefit—and what a benefit, not measured in tote bags or discounts, but in networks and friendships. I couldn’t agree more.

On the Tuesday prior to the conference, SPE’s Board of Directors convened for three days of discussions, planning, and brainstorming, as well as attending to the governance of the organization. This board is, of course, one of the most vital communities within SPE—it is a cross-section of the larger organization, a group of diverse professionals connected, again, by creativity, passion, a love of photography, and a desire to serve the organization we love. We are lucky to have such dedicated professionals willing to share their energies to keep SPE going, to create a vision for how we can expand, adapt, and serve our members even more—I am very fortunate and humbled to be a part of this group!

While I keep falling back on the word community, it doesn’t nearly encompass the depth and breadth of SPE’s influence. A brief glance through SPE’s award history reveals an inspiring list of “Who’s Who” in the photo world. This is the community that our student volunteers are joining, not just the future they’re building with each other, but the legacy of this organization.

This confluence of community and legacy was perfectly illustrated during the honored educator ceremony at this year’s conference. We all witnessed the outpouring of devotion from Jim Stone’s students and colleagues—his photo family—as they payed tribute to him with Jim Stone t-shirts and crocheted beards. This moment took me back to the first SPE National Conference I attended years ago, to that moment when I knew this was an important place to be. It was a pivotal moment, not only because I got to speak with Jerry Uelsmann, or was star struck (an understatement) by Robert Heinecken, but also because my personal photo family began the moment I met my future graduate professors in the lobby of the conference hotel.

What an amazing group to call family, a community of our personal heroes, who welcomes us with open arms, and works so hard to help us succeed in order to continue the legacy that is SPE.

All images courtesy of focalchrome.

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