My Time at the Society for Photographic Education National Conference

By Courtney J Skolka | February 1, 2019

“Thank you @Uarts @uartsphoto2018 @spenational@annemassoni @phila_photoarts for amazing exhibitions last night!! Time now to support SPE and buy raffle tickets!
See you soon on this beautiful sunny day. 2018 Society for photographic education” -@jeann8888

The Society for Photographic Education (SPE) is an inclusive group for photographers, educators, and students. The most recent SPE conference was held in Philadelphia. Students and teachers travelled from all over the world to take part in many opportunities, including sessions with active photographers and teachers, volunteer experiences, and portfolio reviews.

The first session was hosted by Mary Virginia Swanson and Susan Kae Grant. The session was a complete rundown of how to make it as a professional photographer in the business world. Since students comprised a majority of the audience, the information included topics such as “how to represent yourself,” and by the end, everyone in the room was given both peace of mind and packets of information to take home. Along with the student session, other sessions included topics such as how photography portrays community. Each evening, a keynote speaker was invited to talk about their personal work; the second night Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa—a photographer, writer, and editor of The Great Leap Sideways—hosted a fascinating conversation on stage with students about how to represent and talk about diversity in group critiques when there is no or little representation.

SPE members travelled from all over to talk photo and eat cheesesteaks. “‘inspired to create’ mini philly cheesesteaks…”-@temporama

Throughout the sessions, a force of students worked with the volunteer coordinators to set up sessions, direct members, and coordinate portfolio reviews. Volunteering for SPE is only open to students and financially helps with offsetting the ticket cost after completion of volunteer time. During my first volunteer shift monitoring technology and assisting as needed, I had the opportunity to sit through sessions and take notes. My second volunteer shift was to check in students for their portfolio reviews. Along with volunteer work, I also was able to take part in a few extra portfolio reviews at the end of the session. All the time spent volunteering also allowed me to make connections with other students that I have stayed in touch with through social media. I even got the honor of introducing a group of students from the University of Kentucky to the real Philly cheesesteak!

“Student portfolio review with #spephilly. Had the pleasure to meet my reviews Olivia Parker, Kim Harkins and Byron Wolfe. Thank you for giving me awesome feedback and advice.”-@jamediaart

Portfolio reviews were set up in advance, giving people a chance to see the list of reviewers ahead of time and find artists they related to at the conference. Student portfolio reviews were conducted by professors and members of SPE. It was an amazing opportunity getting to see the perspective and initial reactions to my work from faculty across the country. Feedback I received has worked its way into my current work and thesis ideas!

Overall, the opportunity to spend time with my peers and gain feedback from educators and active photographers was invaluable, and I look forward to the 2019 national conference in Cleveland, Ohio.