Confluence Magazine is truly delighted to become a Media Partner with the upcoming Focus on the Story ‘19 Photo Festival, in Washington DC, May 29 - June 2, 2019. That means here in the Editor’s Journal you’ll see interviews with FOTS leaders and also with some of the speakers and teachers featured in this year’s festival. it also means that Confluence can expand it’s reach to more dedicated photographers and photo industry leaders, which gets us closer than ever to our goal of providing space for emerging documentary photographers and getting the eyes of publication gatekeepers on their powerful, skillfully told stories. It’s a match made in photo heaven. My first interview for our media partnership is with Kirth Bobb, a Washington DC-based wedding, street and portrait photographer. Kirth is also Festival Coordinator for FOTS ‘19. You can find his social links and website at the end of this interview, as well as info to register for FOTS ‘19.
Katie: Hi, Kirth! I’m really pleased that you’re the first of several interviews for Focus on the Story 2019, because you're in the world of family/wedding photography like many Confluence readers are. What's your photography background?
Kirth: I'm glad we're doing this interview Katie, it's funny how things happen, but I've been a fan of your work for quite some time and I remember reaching out to you via email long before we even got a chance to meet. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.
Photography background. That's a heavy phrase, I don't have much of a background, but so far in my career, my work has focused on wedding and family photography that is influenced heavily by storytelling and photojournalism. I've also recently begun to focus more on , and I'm an avid street photographer. At some point, I decided that I would take photography very seriously, and I began to study "The Masters" past and present. This shift drove to take my camera with me everywhere I went and to making photographs every chance I got. So naturally, I delved into what some might call "street photography." I like to think that I'm merely Riffin' with my camera. Like when a musician belts out random notes just because, practice. At least that's what I tell myself. It all boils down to the fact that I love making photographs and telling stories.
As far as my wedding photography goes, it took a different direction once I got connected with the Fearless Photographers group. I've also been lucky to have some of my street photography published and featured by a few notable publications and organizations. As I've grown as a photographer, I've also met some of the best people who also happen to be some of the best photographers in the world.
Katie: I ‘m glad we’ve connected too, and you know I’m a big fan of your work and your approach. You and I finally managed to meet in person at the FOTS festival last year - the first one! You were running the 2-day workshop with Andre Chung and others, which I was in (and it was killer!). If you recall, I was hoping for a chance to chat with Andre and Pedro after the first day of the workshop and you were trying to usher them out to lunch to keep things on schedule, and you just casually said to me, Why don’t you join us for lunch and continue the conversation there? You might not know this but that moment, and saying yes to your offer, made a huge impact on me - not just in how I felt at the festival (super welcome, freer to talk with anyone, and comfortable approaching the speakers to talk more) but it also empowered me to bring up this little idea i was toying with at the time for a magazine… so, thank you for that!
I want to know, how did you come to be connected with the fesitval?
Kirth: To be completely honest, me being at FOTS was one of the best things that happened to me last year. I was introduced to Joe Newman, the Executive Director and head honcho, by a friend I met in a camera club and the rest is history I guess. I ended up volunteering last year, and this year I'm the festival coordinator. I remember being there and thinking, man this is different but RELEVANT to the work I'm doing in all my [various] photography endeavors. The festival featured some of the best photographers on the planet and beyond that, the attendees were pretty damn kick ass as well. I learned so much and met so many great people that it's still too early to fully grasp all the great things FOTS facilitated.
Katie: I really feel the same way about that first festival, Kirth - one of the best things that happened to me last year. And this year, you're the Festival Coordinator! How did that come about and what do you actually do in that role? I know you're recruiting speakers, workshop teachers, portfolio reviewers. I am curious: how you make those connections and what kind of things you want to bring to the FOTS ‘19.
Kirth: As Joe puts it, if the festival sucks, it's my fault. He said that jokingly, but I take this role very seriously. This year, Joe was even more intentional about how the lineup should come together and we're poised to give our attendees so much more than they're anticipating. As far as the connecting to some of the great folks in our lineup goes, it all happened in different ways. Some of the connections were from relationships that I had with other photographers or people who work in the industry. And some of the folks we have coming down are people whose workshops I've taken personally, and I felt that more people at my stage of photography and beyond could benefit from the teaching and exposure. My experience last year provided me with so many game changers in the way I practice photography. I now go into covering a wedding with a little bit of Maggie Steber, Andre Chung, Carl Juste, and Martin Parr, and I now sequence photos from my sessions with a little bit of James Estrin. You may have to look some of these folks up, but the point is that FOTS allowed me to be around the best and that has been tremendous for my growth as a photographer.
Katie: Everyone should definitely look those folks up. Like, as soon as they finish reading this interview! What have been your successes so far, in terms of a speaker you landed or other element that worked out? What are your "big dreams" for this festival, in terms of the work you're doing? And what are you most excited about for the festival this year?
Kirth: Our lineup is the best lineup of any photo festival. The diverse perspectives that we're bringing together for FOTS ‘19 make it impossible for our attendees to leave without experiencing a game changer. I'll take personal responsibility if that happens. Big dreams for the festival - I like to think that dreams and expectations are small, but what I do know is that this festival will change the way photography festivals are put together. One of the pieces of feedback that were consistent from last year's festival was that everyone, attendees and speakers alike, felt like the experience had a strong element of community. People felt great being at FOTS. This year, I'm just excited to be there and to meet more great people like you.
Katie: I felt that element of community too. One day I had lunch with a group of 8 or so attendees, we just spontaneously decided to eat together in order to continue a great conversation that sprung up in the lobby between speakers. And every day of the festival, the very high profile speakers could be found chatting in the lobby or in the exhibit hall, welcoming and approachable. Maggie Steber introduced me to a friend of hers, and then referenced something we’d talked about in my portfolio review in her keynote. That’s crazy and wonderful. And I have a photograph of Martin Parr - taken with his permission, as he was hanging around waiting for his Uber. It was a warm and collegial conference and I’m so glad everyone felt that the way I did. So tell me - what can a family or wedding photographer expect to get out of this festival?
Kirth: Different perspectives that will be game changers. After FOTS, I began to look at my work differently. Yeah, I saw how far I have to go in terms of how I make photographs, but I was also inspired to take the work that I'm currently doing even further and to explore more. This year we'll have some programming around the business of photography. I think every photographer under the sun wants to be better at the business end of things. I can't just be me! A few of my friends who are established and successful wedding and family photographers were the first to sign up this year because they know that FOTS will give them an edge.
Katie: I agree that getting those different perspectives, and seeing the enormous potential in good photography, is inspiring and challenging in all the right ways. What about someone looking to expand their work into more long-term projects, documentary or photojournalistic type projects (like those we feature in Confluence) - what can they expect to get out of this festival?
Kirth: They'll get so many answers. From - How do I begin a long term project? How do I fund a long-term project? I, like many of your readers, have suffered from project stall out for quite some time. We all have these great ideas that we'd like to pursue, but time and funds are significant hurdles for most of us. We specifically designed this year's festival to address this and so many other areas around getting your work out to the world. When you told me what you were doing with Confluence, I was elated! I can't wait to see what's next and I'm looking forward to installing and getting some work over to you.
Katie: Wow - thank you! Like I said before, a HUGE portion of the huevos it took to launch Confluence came to me during last year’s festival. I’m beyond excited that Confluence is a Media Partner for this year’s festival (and full disclosure: I’m on the Board of Directors for Focus on the Story, too). And I truly hope that attendees at this year’s festival are inspired to create work that can be featured in Confluence. And you mentioned the business of photography earlier, so to that point (as a person with a photography business) I'm big on ROI when I invest in a conference/festival/education. How can an attendee make the most out of their investment if they come to FOTS 2019?
Kirth: What if I told you that RIO for FOTS was automatic? Okay, maybe it's not automatic, but I suggest that if you're considering attending, you take a long hard look at the lineup and see which of our workshops, speakers or presenters will get you to that next step towards a personal goal, and then focus on those workshops, speakers, and sessions. However, my best advice is to come ready to be filled, and ready to have new ideas planted. I like to say that I don't know what I don't know - FOTS is designed to be a lot of things, but most importantly, for me at least, it showed me what the possibilities were, and I left with so many new ideas that I'm now cultivating and executing. Also, I have a FREE photowalk scheduled, so that's a low investment that's guaranteed to yield a great ROI (I just did that personal guarantee thing again...)
Katie: That’s a pretty enticing guarantee. Based on my experience of last year’s festival, I have to say the ROI has been pretty damn satisfactory. My own world expanded exponentially, my networks grew, and so many opportunities flowed out of a handful of conversations that happened at the last festival. I’m really pleased to introduce more people to this festival, and to that end, readers: PLEASE make use of the discount code for Confluence fans when you register. The code is CONFLUENCE15 and it will save you $15 off the registration fee. Do that here.
Kirth, thank you so much for talking with me!
Born and raised in Georgetown, Guyana, Kirth Bobb migrated to the U.S. in 1999 and now resides in the Petworth community in Washington DC with his wife and three children.
Though “formally” educated in the computer sciences and cyber security disciplines, his journey into photography has been one filled with discoveries and is driven by an endless curiosity about the human experience, light, shapes, color, the creative process, and everything in-between.
Kirth’s wedding, family documentary, fine art and street photography has been featured in several internationally recognizable publications and has been awarded very high honors by the photography community. His work has also been exhibited galleries in Washington DC, and he is a member of numerous Washington DC and international art and photography collectives.
@kirthb | www.kirthbobb.com