Tuesday, February 01, 2011

John's Talk: Photography with a Difference - Touching Lives Through Photography

January 31, 2011

Today, John faced a tough challenge – how to make his topic, "Photography with a Difference – Touching Lives Through Photography” interesting enough to get delegates out of bed for a very early morning (8:30am) talk.  Participants in this year's Photoworld Asia Convention came from all over the Philippines and some Asian countries and as far as Qatar, and paid to learn photo and digital imaging techniques. But there was John, getting ready to get them to do photography that John himself says requires no skill, and no special equipment.

This is not the first time for John to be invited by the organizers of this annual event, but normally, they put him in the first slot after lunch. Unlike most speakers who represent a specific expertise or style, John has been called a serial specialist. He is as adept inside the studio shooting food, products or cars, as he is outside, doing aerial photography or photographing buildings, interiors and industrial sites.  He shares whatever he knows, and after almost 40 years in his profession, his reservoir of tips and techniques that he readily shares with fellow photographers is very deep. More importantly, they know that his honest and irreverent sense of humor, his booming voice, and many tricks up his sleeve would wake up his audience any time.

He brought, for example, a few bags of Super Lemons, and had them distributed to everyone in the audience, with the instructions that they may pop the candy into their mouths only when he gives the signal.  But wait - maybe I should not tell you about this trick, in case you have never listened to John give a talk.

He also brought a lot of goodies, and thankfully, Canon is one of the sponsors. John has been named a “Canon Ambassador,” together with a select group of professional photographers, so yesterday, John approached their marketing department for corporate premium items to give away. He was like Santa Claus today, giving out Canon books, luggage tags, coffee mugs, folding canvas stools and magazines – to early bird attendees, those who asked questions, and at the end of his talk, when he still had leftover gifts, to anyone who happened to be within arm’s reach.

John is very passionate about the topic assigned to him. To ensure that his audience would be enticed to learn about Photography with a Difference, he gave an unsolicited and un-scheduled mini-presentation, and posted a few photos on the wall during the first days of the conference. And even though he had prepared his talk and audiovisual presentation several days before today, he spent the whole night perfecting his presentation, providing more “success stories.”

To establish credibility with those who were going to listen to him for the first time, he started by very briefly introducing our company and presenting our portfolio. Then, he narrated how “Photography with a Difference” as an advocacy was born, after which, one by one, he showed pictures from more than 25 workshops and photo exhibits that have been done so far.  He told the stories of how many workshops were started without any funds, and how they were built on the strength of dreams. He spoke of not having any organization, and on running this entire advocacy on Facebook. He shared the story of his “magic notebook,” where he wrote his wish lists, and dream projects. He reminisced about his meeting with the advocacy partners or sponsors - SM Malls and Canon Philippines. That they had no memorandum of agreement, no written proposals, no contracts – just shaking hands to seal their agreement and resolve to continue with this advocacy. Already running late, he ended his presentation by playing a touching video by Joel H. Garcia, one of the regular volunteers of Photography with a Difference.  In that short but heart-tugging video were pictures of visually impaired children who were having the time of their life exploring the zoo, and bonding with their parents and their photographer-partners.

There was no more time for questions, so he invited them to follow this advocacy on his Facebook, or to email him. At this point, we could not gauge how well John had succeeded in arousing his audience’s interest in this advocacy, until the audience stood up to give John a standing ovation!

To give way to the next speaker who had been patiently waiting for his turn to speak, we quickly gathered our materials and moved to the side of the room. Not a few photographers rushed to John to ask him to sign their books, flyers, photos, notebooks, papers – anything they could get where John could sign. Then they followed him still when John left the room, to ask how they could join, or how they could lead such advocacy projects. Two of them were Filipinos living in New Zealand, a couple of Filipinas from the U.S., a Filipino who lives in Guam, and a recently retired military man who himself has a special child. Others were members of local camera clubs. We exchanged business cards, as we promised to send them more information on how they can participate in reaching out to persons with disabilities through the “Photography with a Difference” advocacy.

Like a tireless evangelist, John has planted the seed of his advocacy once again. We will wait to see where the seed will grow, and hope it spreads to other parts of the world.