Hundreds of students, artists, professional photographers, and individuals interested in the craft of photography packed into Brick at Blue Star Arts Complex to network with one another, listen to distinguished panelists, and exchange photo prints during the inaugural 4×5 Photo Fest.
"We ran out of 600 lanyards by 1 p.m.," said 4x5 Photo Fest volunteer Julia Grizzard. "We thought we ordered too many."
Grizzard estimated that around 750-800 people made it out to the event that took place from 10 a.m. to after 9 p.m., followed by an after party at Frank.
The overwhelming amount of people that showed up throughout the day was something unexpected for the three creators behind the event; local artist Shannon Gowen, editorial and commercial photographer Josh Huskin, and Rivard Report Photo Editor Scott Ball, who decided to organize the free event over a cup of coffee.
"My personal goal was 500 people and we hit that before lunchtime." Huskin said. "I was blown away by that. The response from the community shows that this type of event is necessary. There's people that want to celebrate photography, hear other people talk and hear about their process, and just share work."
4x5 Photo Fest got its name from the four events and five educational talks with nationally-acclaimed photographers on the day's schedule. The fest started with a print swap, then segued into a long form documentary workshop with photographer Liza Krantz, a talk with artists Michael Friberg and Benjamin Rasmussen, and panel discussions on building relationships in the editorial world and how emerging photographers can define a unique style in their work.
"It's really cool that it was free and accessible to different levels of photographers," said attendee and photographer Angela Michelle. "It's important to reach people and bring awareness."
Photographer Anthony Gauna told the Rivard Report his focus is on wedding photography, but he believes it's important to expose oneself to different forms of the craft.
"I feel that it's the same with music," Gauna said. "You shouldn't just expose yourself to the form you play, but everything really."
Several photographers signed up to set up booths around the room, where they displayed business cards, framed personal work, and accessible photo prints. Many said they ran out of business cards and that they were able to network with a diverse group of people.
"I've seen so many diverse and eclectic people come in an out," said artist Sarah Cooper, who set up a booth with postcards, pins, and magnets of her photo work. "I'm thrilled to be in a creative space with other artists that share the same passion."
As to the caliber of the panels, a large amount of attendees expressed appreciation for Rasmussen and Friberg's artist talk and project "By the Olive Trees," a collaboration that documents the lives of Syrian refugees living in Jordan.
"That was my favorite," Michelle said. "I liked how they talked about the importance of trying to reach people where they're at ... and being able to produce something that can reach the most people as possible in order to bring awareness to something ... You're not just doing it for the people who think like you, you're also doing it to reach a broader audience."
The day culminated at 6:30 p.m. with headliner and photographer Dan Winters, who showcased his extensive and diverse body of work and hosted a book signing afterward.
Winters has won more than 100 awards for his work. His portraits of famous people such as Will Ferrell, Leo DiCaprio, Helen Mirren, Michelle Williams, and even President Barack Obama have made him an industry icon.
"Every human being possesses the entire range of human emotion, so there's not a right way or wrong way to represent someone, but I like the unguarded, pensive approach," Winters said of his portraiture style. "I like to give the viewer a quiet experience. I make the kind of photographs I like to look at – think about your image and consider it a stepping stone."
Winters talked about the detailed process behind his photographs and said that artists can "get very myopic" about their style, so it's important and pivotal to appreciate and explore other genres of photography.
The photographer also got raw and personal, sharing pictures that he's taken of his son over the years and even a photo series of a close friend who suffered from cancer and recently passed away.
"Limitations of understanding materials or genres hold us back," Winters said of his passion for exploring broader forms of expression to expand his field of knowledge. "The more we study and experience life, the more secure we become in our own beliefs, in our confidence.”
Late into the evening, attendees participated in a photo walk and enjoyed an after party at Frank Restaurant, where they enjoyed food and drinks among curated projections showcasing work from featured artists. Prize giveaways and music by DJ Cortez and DJ Flo kept the festivities upbeat.
At one point during the fest, before Winters came up to speak, Ball spoke to the audience about the great turnout and expressed his appreciation for everyone involved.
"This really wouldn't have happened without everybody's help," Ball said, after personally thanking Huskin and Gowen. "We will do this again. It shows that the community needs this and wants this. As long as you guys keep coming, we're gonna keep doing this."
Disclosure: While our Photo Editor Scott Ball is an organizer of the event, the Rivard Report is not an official sponsor of the 4×5 Photo Fest. Gowen and Ball are in a relationship, but The Southwest School of Art, where Gowen works, is not affiliated with the festival. For a full list of festival partners, click here.
Top image: A collection of photos submitted for the print swap. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone.