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Every winter, South Florida gets an influx of retirees, sun-hungry snowbirds, and... world-renowned photographers. Each January, the Palm Beach Photographic Centre in downtown West Palm Beach hosts FOTOfusion, a weeklong event that brings together photo industry leaders for a series of more than 200 workshops, lectures, and community events.
The FOTOfusion Festival of Photography and Digital Imaging began in 1995, when founders Fatima and Art NeJame and Arnold Drapkin decided to create an international photography forum in which professionals could meet to give back to their industry while students of photography could take notes, receive feedback on their portfolios, and mingle with distinguished experts and peers.
What has set the festival apart since its inception is its emphasis on technology in the creative process. It was early to recognize that the future of photography was a digital one, and it always offered a range of classes and lectures that helped photographers at any level. Expert shutterbugs showed up to learn the most advanced Photoshop techniques while Granny came for advice on picking out her first digital point-and-shoot. Now attendees flood into Palm Beach from across 28 countries to get updated on new technologies.
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"At the time FOTOfusion began, digital was still very, very new," said Fatima NeJame, who serves as director. "Ninety-five percent of photographers were still shooting film. When we started, we placed as much emphasis on digital as we did on film. We always continue to be on the forefront of digital."
Now in its 18th year, the festival opens on Tuesday, January 22, with a special reception honoring Life magazine staff photographer Bill Eppridge and continues through January 26, offering a five-day schedule of rigorous programming, from beginner seminars and labs to hands-on "FOTOshoots" with master photographers at exotic South Florida locations like the Everglades, Busch Wildlife Sanctuary, South Beach, and Fairchild Gardens.
Each year, FOTOfusion presenters range from award-winning photojournalists, fine artists, and photo editors to top-level industry consultants and ad agency directors. Among the most prominent for 2013 are Joyce Tenneson, a fine-art photographer who was recently voted among the ten most influential women in the history of photography by American Photo Magazine; and James K. Colton, a former photo editor of Sports Illustrated.
Other noteworthy presenters include controversial nude portraitist Jock Sturges, Pulitzer Prize-winning photo editor and consultant Stella Kramer, and internationally recognized digital photography pioneer Vincent Versace.
If you want a "passport" to the whole five-day shebang, those range from $645 to $895 and include access to most lectures and seminars and reduced pricing for FOTOshoots, portfolio reviews, and other special programming throughout the festival. If that's too big of a hit to your wallet, you can pay for the sessions you want à la carte; most dubbed "community events" only cost $10. NeJame picked out a few sessions she says represent "the absolute best of FOTOfusion":
On Wednesday, January 23, Canon USA representative and lecturer Barbara Ellinson will lead a community seminar on alternative printing methods, going over everything from substrate choices to display methods. The hourlong $10 seminar begins at 9:30 a.m. and takes place in the Library Auditorium at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre. Stay until 1 p.m. for Joyce Tenneson's community presentation in the same location, which will include a slideshow of her latest works as well as an opportunity to ask questions about her working process and how she is able to engage her subjects to create her signature "intimate portrait" style.
For an in-depth look into one of photography's emerging frontiers, Thursday's programming offers two $10 community seminars on the art and practice of iPhone photography. In the morning slot, avid Instagrammers won't want to miss Dan Burkholder's "iPhone Artistry" presentation, covering image capturing and stylizing techniques. Stay later for "iPhonography: New Technology and New Mediums" by Benjamin Lowy, a preeminent photojournalist whose Hurricane Sandy iPhone image became the first camera-phone image ever to grace the cover of Time. This presentation will go over some of the benefits and drawbacks to this uncharted medium, with a focus on its application to photojournalism.
Also on Thursday, NeJame recommends a special onsite photo shoot by fashion photographer Douglas Dubler. From 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the PBPC Museum, Dubler will demonstrate his techniques for capturing his iconic images of dancers from the NYC Ballet, including how he treats the images in the computer to achieve his striking style. Cost: $50.
Friday's $10 community events get more hands-on, with seminars on everything from how to use Photoshop to mimic darkroom techniques to quick tips on improving your digital photographs. For those photographers looking to expand their talents to shooting motion, international imaging consultant C. David Tobie will lead a lecture on videography for photographers, including an overview of cameras, lenses, equipment, formats, studios, and software, as they apply to videography.
NeJame's community event pick for Friday is New York Times staff photographer Stephen Crowley's presentation, "Smoke Filled Rooms: Beyond the Bunting of the Modern Presidential Campaign — 1996-2012," taking place from 1 to 2 p.m. in the Library Auditorium. Crowley will fly into the festival directly from the White House, where he will be photographing this year's presidential inauguration, and he will include some of the images from the historical event as part of his presentation.
Afterward, head over to one of the few free events during the festival, the opening of 2013 FOTOmentor Bill Eppridge's exhibition at the Palm Beach Photographic Centre Museum. The exhibition highlights 50 years of the photojournalist's remarkable career, including iconic images from the Robert F. Kennedy campaign, the Beatles' first U.S. visit, and the Woodstock music festival.
End your festival presentation circuit on Saturday at "2012 — The Year of Anonymous," a powerful multimedia presentation taking a look back on the year in photojournalism, presented by award-winning picture editor Scott McKiernan.
If you have a little more money to spend, look into tickets for other individual events, including workshops, FOTOshoots, master workshops, computer labs, and portfolio reviews. Individual workshop ticket prices range from $100 to $300 for nonmembers, and if you just feel like rubbing shoulders with the elite, $45 will get you entry into the festival's opening reception and closing bash.
For $95, portfolio reviews are available Wednesday through Saturday; those offer an opportunity for one-on-one critique with top photographers, picture editors, and other pros.
"If someone were to try [on their own] to get an appointment with the editor of the [New York] Times, good luck," said NeJame. "Here at FOTOfusion, a photographer can bring their portfolio and actually see all these editors, curators, museum agents. Many of them get [hired for] assignments."
NeJame advises registering early if you have a specific artist or mentor in mind for a portfolio review or master workshop, as sessions fill up quickly. Wednesday's "Everglades Cattle Ranch Photo Shoot" lecture with Carlton Ward has already sold out, as has Tuesday's "Portraits of Flowers" master workshop session with Vincent Versace (although an additional session may open up to accommodate the high demand).
Festival programming will also feature a variety of "mini" FOTOshoots, interactive panel discussions, photography and digital art exhibitions, book signings, gallery walks, a Shutterbug magazine talent search, and nightly "fuse and schmooze" parties. Phew!