The Workshop of a Lifetime with Elizabeth Messina in France

As I sit alone in my Paris Hotel, Hotel Apostrophe, anticipating my mouth watering breakfast in bed, I have to chuckle at my little exchange with Roman, at the front desk, who just said "no wonder you are always glowing". Ha! A week ago I thought I was near death. My creative fire was nearly extinguished and I only knew that I had come to France with some small hope of rekindling it. An experienced photographer heading to a photography workshop? My friends asked why. Good question. This was not an inexpensive whim. I think I just really needed to feel inspired again, and Elizabeth Messina's work truly inspires me. It is so different from what I do, and I love different. If I were an agent, I would want to represent her. Selling the talent of someone whose work is so beautiful is easy.

I am only beginning to reflect on this workshop that ended yesterday at our lovely chateau in Poitiers, France for 18 lucky-to-be-included photographers from all around the world (USA, Switzerland, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Japan). My life will never be the same after meeting Elizabeth, and her powerful circle of friends, particularly Leah Macdonald. Every person I meet after today will benefit because I have met these women.....and the many others who worked so hard to make this workshop the unbelievable success that it was: Kristen Bliss, Yvette Roman, Kim Bamberg and her husband Adam of Junebug Weddings, Ulrica Wihlborg from People magazine, Jacqueline Tobin from Photo District News, our gorgeous models Julie Falconer and Gina Moore, our makeup artists Erin Skipley and Lauren, and our amazing set designer Eden Rodriguez, plus many more behind the scenes working hard on our enormous feasts and endless need for amazing french bread and cheese.

It was an enormous undertaking a year in the making by Elizabeth. No doubt it was well publicized and over-subscribed on her "Kiss The Groom" blog. I happened upon it quite late and almost by accident. I saw a tiny mention by Elizabeth on Facebook about Waxworks, a company I had always wanted to try out, and Leah was going to teach her encaustic wax painting technique. Between that, and a chance to meet Jackie Tobin, I was determined to attend. Jackie wrote an important book on wedding photography,Wedding Photography Unveiled that explored the evolution and look of the current wedding photography and highlighted the work of twenty top wedding photographers. Though I was sad not to be a part of that project, I was really looking forward to meeting a woman who deeply understood and appreciated the work of wedding photographers all over the world. For nearly two decades, I have been waiting for someone to write about all of the incredible women who have changed the way that we all look at wedding photography. I know that "wedding photojournalism" is the big buzzword of the decade, but I would have to argue that an equally important, though less obvious trend has been the contribution of the feminine perspective. Jackie seemed to get that, without necessarily calling it by name. I wrote to her about this "trend" if you will, and learned much later that she was afraid to meet me because she thought I wrote her a "scary letter". Geez. Sometimes email is not your friend. I was the one who should have been scared. She is the photo editor of the best photography industry magazine out there: Photo District News.

For me, Elizabeth's workshop, and her work, embody this theory. You can be a woman, shoot like a woman, see like a woman, and it can be different, and it is ok. It is powerful. It is beautiful. Sixteen of the eighteen attendees, and all but one of Elizabeth's team were women. Girl power! I wished I could have experienced this 20 years ago, when I felt deeply alone in a world of male photographers whose perspective and opinions couldn't have been more different from my own.

I love to learn new things, and I love Elizabeth's photography, so while I had "no business being there" (Elizabeth's words, spoken with kindness and a wink) because I have been shooting stunning weddings all over the world for the last 20 years, I had a lot to learn about being kind to myself, and finding my own voice, and doing things that I wanted to do instead of things I felt expected to do.

I'm not sure I took many good photos at the workshop. In fact, I was so frustrated (plus jet lagged?) after the first day, that I thought I should quit and go home. I didn't like the pictures I was making, and wasn't sure why I was making them anyway. I was disappointed with my portfolio reviews, because we were all so tired and honestly no one felt I needed any help with my photography. But I did. I wanted direction. I wanted someone to tell me what to do or how to do it better. Something. Anything. I went to bed in tears, and sent a sad little text message to my wonderful man at home who was looking after my son for ten days so that I could do this workshop. As I reflect, I can't believe I had the nerve to complain. He reminded me I was in France. Sleep was my only option. I decided to wait for the church bells in the morning, and try to have a better attitude about everything.

The next day, my life changed forever. All the usual cliches about death and rebirth apply.

But if I don't get to the marche down the street soon, I'm going to feel like a real bum for sitting on my computer in a hotel room in Paris all day.