by Paul Stanek
For the sixth year running, ASMP NY hosted its annual Commercial Portfolio Review. This year, they were kind enough to invite me to participate as one of their reviewers. I was thrilled to get up to New York and mingle with such a fine crowd and review some books.
My trip was off to a peaceful and contemplative start—I gazed nostalgically at the changing leaves while gliding smoothly along the rails towards my home state. NJ Transit seemed to recognize this profound experience, and blessed me with an extra half-hour to soak in the scenery as my train lost power while coming up on Secaucus.
Upon eventually emerging from Penn Station, I resisted my generally unstoppable urge for thin crust, and instead, opted to stop for an infusion of nutrients at a corner juice stand. I ordered the “Parsley-Broccoli-Spinach-Celery-Cucumber-Green Apple” smoothie (or “#32” if you’re in to the whole brevity thing). Now feeling the awesome power of 1,000 gardens coursing through my veins, my wits and vision felt properly sharpened for the hours to come.
This year’s event was held at the Calumet Photo Gallery in Manhattan. The gallery was presently hosting the Altered Reality Exhibit, providing a rich backdrop for the review with photography by members of Professional Women Photographers lining the walls. Midway through the evening I received a comment about how similar I looked to the image behind me (“Andromeda” by Karen Cohen), and someone even offered to dump a bottle of water on my head to seal the deal. Tempting, but for the sake of the surrounding print portfolios, I graciously declined.
Within moments of my arrival, I was shaking hands and making new acquaintances. I was thrilled to find that “Wonderful Machine” is a well-known name among both reviewers and reviewees alike. There was a great deal of interest in what we’ve been up to lately. I gradually made my way into the “VIP reception,” where reviewers were snacking on tasty treats, loosening their tongues with a taste of wine, and chatting about all things photography. I struck up a conversation with Forbes Senior Photo Editor Michele Hadlow, who was quite familiar with our CEO Bill Cramer from hiring him for environmental portraits. Our topic of discussion migrated towards the challenges of finding photographers on short notice for assignments in unfamiliar locations. She was very happy to learn about our growing global internal database of over 11,000 professional photographers, a resource that we’re happy to utilize in times when we might not have a WM member available for an assignment.
The time had come for the main event (that being the review, although the after party is a close second). I had received fair warning during the reception that as Wonderful Machine’s representative for the night, I was about to get “mobbed.” And mobbed I was! A queue of photographers lined up for review was a consistent sight throughout the event. There were many “Aha” moments and notes taken, and I’m happy to report that I’ve already received several emails letting me know that they’ve made the changes I suggested.
There was a wealth of excellent photography passing before my eyes. A few highlights: Evi Abeler’s superb food photography was presented in an excellent edit with a charming chalkboard motif reoccurring throughout—providing a nice thread to tie the book together. Also, the stunning fashion photography of Michael Dos Santos was augmented with a beautifully produced video entitled “Lovers.” After the final bell had tolled, I was fortunate to have stuck around for one last review. I was presented with a brand-new book from Justine Reyes featuring work from her “Vanitas” series, which creatively mixes elements of still life, food and fine art photography to produce an eerie and captivating reflection on “memory, familial legacy and the passage of time.”
Murmurings of the after-party at Zio Ristorante started to pick up as gifts for the reviewers were distributed (my Jacques Torres chocolates were shared and thoroughly enjoyed at WM headquarters quite promptly the next day, although I resisted the temptation to crack into the bottle of tasty Tempranillo rioja until a more appropriate dinner setting).
Upon entrance to Zio’s backroom, we were greeted with glasses of wine, carafes of Blue Moon and Stella Artois, flat bread pizzas, delicious quiches, and what I can best describe as “fried cheesy rice balls.” Spirits were high, and some pretty serious and thought-provoking discussions about photography were mixed with much more lighthearted and friendly banter. Personally, my conversations involved topics like my experiences with Wonderful Machine, the best angles for portraiture photographers moving into motion, potential Halloween costumes (I received encouragement towards “spatula”), and Hans Neleman’s fondness of my hairdo.
At the stroke of midnight, the after party began to wane, and I made my way back to Penn Station for the train ride home. This time the power didn’t give out, and I steadily approached a deep slumber filled with dreams of water-doused heads and cheesy rice balls.
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