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    It was May 31, and the Henry Clay building was abuzz with the sounds of chatter, excited shrieks, models jumping off chairs, camera clicks and a cameraman whizzing by on a scooter.

    Local filmmaker Blake McGrew shrugged off an ankle injury and wheeled about on his medical knee scooter to capture behind-the-scenes footage of 10 of Louisville's top photographers trying to bring a single vision to life. It's uncommon to find so many competitors working in such close proximity (even sharing teammates or resources), but this photography event is not what one might call "common."

    "It’s complete creative chaos," said Clay Cook, one of five organizing photographers preparing for the grand unveiling on June 19. "Organizing a shoot with nearly 50 people is not easy. It requires constant communication and a lot of work. It’s a thrill ride from start to finish."

    Last year, the founding photographers of this project (Clay Cook, Antonio Pantoja, Joey Goldsmith, Joshua Eskridge and Steve Squall) formed a board of directors and decided to make an annual event that would bring creators together in a collaborative rather than competitive environment. Those board members were asked to nominate five up-and-coming photographers who are considered humble and talented with strong followings and professional brands. Those five nominated participants are Jenni Harper, Bernadette Newberry, Jacob Roberts, Brandy Fulton and Staci Marie. The photographers are from Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati.

    “We want to create a culture where people work WITH each other and not against each other,” Antonio Pantoja added. “We want to bring people together, not divide them. We are hoping that this event does just that!”

    “Each of us takes on all of the responsibilities in organizing the event and the shoot, getting sponsors, getting the location, booking the music and bar,” Pantoja said. “Everyone gets along perfectly, helps each other, and we’re all working toward the same goal. We aren’t competing. We all want each other to win big and put out the best image that they possibly can.”

    This year's project is called "Metanoia," which means a life change resulting from penitence or spiritual conversion. Last year was the first time photographers got together around a different central theme ("Oneiric"- relating to dreams or dreaming) and spent one day shooting in a shared location before releasing their images at a large public event that drew over 400 people.

    “Metanoia, like Oneiric, is one of those words seldom used in the English language," said photographer Joey Goldsmith. “When people hear that our project is based on something they will likely have to use Google to understand, then you know you are generating interest.”


    Pantoja said his inspiration for the project was a childhood fear of religious imagery that changed his desire to become a priest, while Cook translated the concept as personal drastic change, which represented some of his own struggles. Steve Squall focused on the forging of something new from the broken pieces of something old.

    “Each of our images will hopefully translate exactly what our individual visions are for Metanoia,” said Joey Goldsmith, who would not share his inspiration for his work. “I encourage people to come to the event and find out.”

    Joshua Eskridge agreed with him. “I used some powerful symbolism and surrealism, but I’d rather people come out and see it.”

    A lot of planning went into the shoots before the shoot date. Squall had a prop custom made for his shoot.

    “I actually contacted a local wood carver a few months before the shoot date to create a prop for my image,” he said. “Once we had the teams in place there were a few weeks of messages back and forth discussing direction, inspiration, hair, makeup, wardrobe and location - not to mention all of the planning that goes into scheduling, finding a location to shoot in and planning the event. This project has literally been months in the making.”

    “There’s a lot of waiting for photographers who would pre-light their scenarios once they found a place in the building they wanted to shoot," Goldsmith added. "Models and creatives are usually in one large area getting ready, and that’s a popular place to be most  of the day. We don’t get to see a lot of what happens, because people are everywhere in different parts of the building. Clay uses radios to stay in contact with his team members and assistants. Others use phones. My team stayed in one area, luckily, because I happened to be shooting right next to where hair and makeup was happening.”

    Other communities have started taking note and creating similar projects to bring artists together.

    “I know for a fact we have also inspired other cities,” said Cook.

    The images will be released at the same venue as last year, but the team expects an even larger turnout at the Ice House on June 19 at 8 p.m. The event is free to attend, thanks to Murphy's Camera, Iris Pro Imaging and Angel's Envy. All of the the art auction proceeds will go to the Fund for the Arts.  

    “The event will be a wonderful opportunity for photographers, models, hairstylists, makeup artists, wardrobe designers and stylists, artists, art lovers and weirdos of all types to get in the same room, shake hands, have a drink and maybe talk about making some stuff together,” Squall said. “Maybe some of them will be displaying work at next year’s event.”

    Music will be provided by DJ Andrew Kim, who is known for performing at Downs After Dark and many fashion runway shows around Louisville. There will be a cash bar and a short documentary by Blake McGrew and Justin Gustavison featuring interviews with the participants and all of the work that went into the images that will be up for auction. 

    “I know a lot of people will be coming as a gesture of support,” Eskridge said. “I think another great reason to come is for networking. If you’re involved in the arts, fashion or creative scene in any way, this is a great opportunity to meet some talented people in those areas. This is not something that was injected into Louisville by Hollywood or NYC. These are local artists putting their heart and soul into something that they believe in. I think that’s a powerful message.”

    You can RSVP via the Facebook page for the event.

    Photography by Gary Barragan

    Jessica Lynn's picture

    About Jessica Lynn

    Jessica Lynn has been writing for since fall of 2010 and has also been published in LEO, Velocity, Voice-Tribune and others after serving as Editor in Chief of The JCC student newspaper, The Quadrangle. She has also served as columnist or contributing writer to an array of online publications.

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