By: Booray Perry
I had just finished shooting a sunset beach wedding and was walking across the parking lot to my truck when I noticed another photographer loading her gear into her minivan. She stopped what she was doing, walked over and introduced herself.
"I'm Carol," she said, "Have you ever heard of the Tampa Area Professional Photographers Association?"
"Sure," I said, "I've been to a couple of meetings."
"Really? I don't remember you."
"It was a while ago."
"You should come back, it's a great organization."
I had heard about TAPPA a year earlier and had gone to a couple of meetings just to check it out. It was a little awkward for me to suddenly be in a room full of people I didn't know. It was obvious that a lot of the photographers in the room had known each other for a long time. They were laughing and joking and seemed so at ease with one another. I sat by myself, pretending to be very interested in something on my phone. I felt intimidated because I didn't know anyone, didn't know if I was good enough to be there.
After running into Carol in the parking lot I thought I might give it another try. She seemed nice and really enthusiastic about the association So I went to another meeting. This time, the president of the association noticed me and came over to introduce herself. She was bubbly and engaging and she made me feel welcome. The best part was, she made me want to come back again the next month.
After a couple of more meetings I began to evaluate whether or not being in the association was worth my time. What's in it for me? I wondered. What could they teach me, what could I learn? Like a lot of photographers, I was focused on trying to grow my business and worried that someone else would take my business from me. I decided to change my approach. I wasn't going to go to the meetings anymore because I was hoping to get something out of it. What would happen if I just went to meet people and didn't care about impressing anyone or guarding my secrets (trust me, there are no secrets). What would happen if I just made friends?
That was three years ago and I've barely missed a meeting since.
I meet a lot of photographers and every time I meet someone new I encourage them to come and join TAPPA. There are lots of great reasons to join the Professional Photographers of America and plenty more to join your local affiliate. The problem is that I think people don't talk about one of the very best reasons to join. It's not the education, it's not the competition, it's not really the networking.
It's the fellowship.
After World War II, a generation of Americans returned from the war. They had been in the military for years. They had been in regiments, battalions, units, platoons... they were always being put into groups. So, when they came home to the states, they joined groups. The Elks Lodge, the Masons, the Lions Club... after World War II there were hundreds of social clubs. Everybody was a member of at least one. Ralph Kramden of "The Honeymooners" was a member of the Raccoon Lodge. Fred Flintstone was a member of The Loyal Order of Water Buffalo.
But not anymore.
Now, we get all of our social interactions online. Facebook is the new social club. In some ways that's a good thing because it's better to have an online social club than no social club at all. But it's also a bad thing because people just don't join anymore. Especially young people. I know because I never join anything. I hate to commit.
After three years in TAPPA I have dozens of friends who are photographers. I went to Imaging USA for the first time this year and met even more photographers. Here's what I notice: My Facebook friends who I've actually met in person interact with me a lot more than the people I've never met. There's a connection. There's value in face-to-face interaction.
Now, every month when I go to a meeting, I look to see if there's anyone new sitting at a table and that's immediately the table I want to sit that. I want to meet them, I want to talk to them and I want them to feel welcome. There are photographers who have been shooting since I was in elementary school and yet there they are, every month, meeting new people. They have a fuller and richer life because of it.
So, if you haven't joined your local PPA affiliate, do it. Set a goal for yourself that you're going to meet someone new every month. Go to the meetings, go to the picnic, go to the Christmas party. Do something with people who share your interests. Do something with photographers.
And, if you don't have a local affiliate, start one. Kevin Newsome started TAPPA in his studio back when they had this thing called, "film" and he's still there every month. When I got a chance to bid on a big event job, I called Kevin for advice. When I needed to hire some extra photographers to work the gig, Kevin told me who to call and what they would expect. When I decided to start competing, Kevin helped me pick out my images.
At Imaging USA I ran into a TAPPA member on the first day, around lunch time. When I said I was going to eat lunch by myself, Melissa said, "I've already eaten but I'll go sit with you." Suddenly I wasn't all alone in Atlanta. My affiliation was there.
When the "Photographer of the Year" asked me to lunch, I thought, This is great! I'm really making friends! Then, over bread and pasta he asked me to photograph his wedding. It's the only wedding I've ever worked where I knew a lot of the guests. They were fellow affiliate members.
When one of our members had a robbery at his studio, he had more replacement equipment than he needed within 24 hours. When a member called me from a wedding and said he was feeling sick, I volunteered to come take over. I recently called a member just to chat on a long drive back from a gig and he said, "I'm on vacation and I usually don't answer my phone but I wanted to make sure it wasn't a photography emergency."
I can pick up the phone and call any one of a dozen photographers... just to talk. I couldn't do that three years ago. I was all alone in the wilderness.
One day I turned around and realized, I have a lot of friends. That's the benefit of joining your local PPA affiliate that no one ever talks about. And for me; it's the best benefit of them all.
About the author:
Booray Perry has been a member of PPA since 2008. You can view his original story on his Google+ page and on his blog.