Before we jump into Jerod’s post, I wanted to write a quick note about “Connections.”  This is something Jerod and I have discuss at length and something I’m happy to see he decided to write about.  Why?  Simply put, the gap between those trying to promote themselves only and those trying to truly connect seems to be growing larger.  The big picture here should be that Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, etc have given us an amazing capacity to connect with  people and that we should try to utilize those capacities.  If we lose sight of the people, we are truly missing the point.  The photography industry is filled with great people.  I love connecting – it’s probably the most rewarding part of this job.  Jerod’s post is an amazing illustration of the importance, need, and real satisfaction of connecting with people.

First off, I’d like to thank Brian for letting me spend a bit of time with you! It’s always encouraging when the community (industry) you work in offers up great minds, great experiences, and great people, and Brian’s one of them.  Do yourself a favor and follow him at @bhirschyphoto.

In fact, what I really want to talk about here are those connections we make as people working in a creative world. For roughly seven years, I’ve been able to work in the photography industry and be a part of some fairly unique experiences that were in some part due to making connections. I’m not talking about the connections that the corporate, straight-laced, Networking 101, met-you-at-the-company’s-picnic-heard-you-had-a-job-available types of connections. I’m talking about the connections you make with others in a community (industry, if you will) of similar participants that continually and encouragingly convince you that you’re on the right path. Connections like the one that I made with Brian Hirschy in a barbecue joint just north of Austin, Texas—a connection that’s kept us in touch as photographers and friends for a couple years now.

There’s no good way of describing what these types of connections feel like, but you know it when you’ve made one. At the end of my undergraduate at Texas Tech University, I was heavily considering going to law school. I was already shooting a little at that point, but nothing too serious. I decided to take a two-week field course in color photography, and the connection I made with that small group of people in the Edge-of-the-World, Texas, and the experience we had while shooting the surrounding rivers, wildlife, and desert ocotillo, drove home my urge to work behind a camera. I decided against law school.

I continued to work on my master’s degree, and in the meantime I started compiling a landscape portfolio. I never considered photographing people up to that point until a magazine editor approached me about a story involving ten well-achieved individuals she was featuring in an upcoming issue. I’ve always had (to a fault sometimes) a “never say no to an opportunity” policy, so I took the assignment, naively bought some speedlites (this was before Strobist), and shot the story. After seeing the images run and hearing some very encouraging things from the editor, I had made another connection, and I now had another avenue to see where this work could take me.

I kept shooting for magazines throughout the next couple of years. I built a strong friendship with my mentor, Wyman Meinzer (above), the State Photographer of Texas, and the man that taught that class at the Edge-of-the-World. He treated me as a friend and a colleague, not an assistant, when we drove all over the state shooting everything from cattle underneath wind turbines to monsoon season in the Chinati Mountains. I can’t say enough about this connection and what he’s done to continually encourage me to work hard at an art and have fun in a business that is not exactly friendly to newbies. We eventually began working on and publishing book projects together, and after I took an instructor position at the university, we began teaching together, including the class that I took from him years before.

Connections like these, though, don’t occur without some fire. Like I said, you definitely know when one of these connections is made, and as a result, you’re even more excited and convinced that this is where you need to be. Sure, opportunities open up for you as you pursue this route, but without continually making the type of connection I’m talking about here, each opportunity then becomes just another thing you do. Truly connecting with those in your photographic and creative community will do more for your drive than just plain ol’ networking will do. It’s important, but it doesn’t necessarily always put food on the table, and it certainly doesn’t feed your soul if you’re just going through the motions.

One more story, and I’ll let you go.

I recently made a few more connections, and one of them happened to be with a good guy named Baron Batch (above). Baron’s a passionate individual, a football player, a photographer, and a humanitarian (if you’re on Twitter, he’s worth following: @baron_batch). He showed up to a gig I was playing with the band I was in a few years ago, and we started talking about photography. Not the sizing up conversations you have with other photographers (yes, you have them, everyone does, even if they tell you they don’t). We talked about how we got into shooting, what each of us were doing with our work, and what photography really means to us. Several months ago, Baron returned from a mission trip to Haiti with a handful of portraits of children who had been orphaned by the devastating 2010 earthquake. While there, he learned that it cost on average 150 U.S. dollars to send a child to school for one year, and he was going to sell special edition canvas prints of the portraits to raise money for those in the portraits to get an education. Several thousand dollars were raised, and all proceeds went straight back to those children.

Baron and I visited many times about his experience and his burning interest to do more. Over these visits, an idea started to emerge about an organization that would combine photographic storytelling and humanitarian outreach to individuals who are overlooked by not only natural or historic circumstances, but even larger aid organizations. This was certainly not a novel idea, but it was an idea. Baron ran with the idea, and before too long, he began to generate huge support for this new organization, 2ndHandImages.

The goal of 2ndHandImages is simply to tell stories, to make connections with those that are deeply affected by the unfortunate circumstances that life throws at people from time to time, and to generate a way for others to make connections with them as organization supporters. We’re not interested in telling the story that generates pity. We’re interested in actually saying something about a person’s life, their occupation, their family, their joys, their goals, and their hearts. We’re interested in connecting people from across the world and from next door.

I could write about 2ndHandImages (@2ndHandImages) more, but I’d rather you visit the site as the organization takes its first baby steps and grows (because it will)! The community surrounding its inception is already starting to populate. We’ve already partnered with other organizations and storytellers just made it back from a return trip to Haiti. Opportunities for other photographers and creative storytellers to participate are always available, and we’re even in the middle of planning a few workshops and educational rendezvous as well!

No matter what area of life you’re in, I hope you are always striving to make connections that encourage you to always move forward. Photographers around the globe know how important these connections are for their work, their passion, and sometimes, their sanity! If you haven’t made that first step yet, or found that conversation you’ve been searching for to excite you, consider today the beginning of making real connections. Connections that push you. Connections that tell you that you’re in this community because you need to be in it.

Remember, you can never have too many.
Jerod Foster