A few weekends ago Midwest Photo Exchange, or MPEX, celebrated the grand opening of its new location in Columbus, OH. Ordinarily, I wouldn't give a shit. Don't get me wrong, the new store is great it's large, has a wide range of products, a friendly and helpful staff, and overall feels very welcoming. But, this store is roughly 250 miles away from me so if I wanted photo gear I'd go to my local camera store, the wonderful Murphy's Camera, or order online perhaps from MPEX. This remains true despite the cool giveaways and special deals they were having on Saturday and Sunday that is until you throw David Hobby and Gregory Heisler into the mix.
There's two main reasons David Hobby and Gregory Heisler is worth taking a 7 hour round trip for. First off, I live in Louisville and no one comes here or rarely anywhere within spitting distance. I really don't know why this is as there is a thriving photo community here and its location is close enough to bring in crowds from stops like Chicago and Cincinnati. Even Indianapolis sees more high profile photographers visit than Louisville and that's close to Gary, Indiana and who wants to be closer to that? Sure, there's only one photographer I can think of that's visiting Indianapolis this year but that's still one more than is coming to Louisville. Secondly, these are two photographers that I've been endlessly inspired and educated by. Heisler's book 50 Portraits was the first photography book I bought and it's been the most influential in my photographic life. Hobby's site Strobist is the best source for information on using strobes. I basically learned how to use a flash through this site and definitely would not be where I'm at now without it. So 250 miles is nothing if it means meeting two people who've impacted me so much.
So I spent 3.5 hours in my car with Marc Maron and whatever guests he had on WTF and made my way to Columbus, Ohio. I arrived a few hours earlier than Heisler's slotted time to speak and roamed the floors of MPEX. Again, it is an impressive store and the staff was friendly and surprised that I had traveled from Louisville, KY (they must not have gotten the memo on Heisler and Hobby being there). There were a considerable amount of vendors there for the space and along with the usual reps from nearly every camera manufacturer there were also reps from Black Rapid, Zeiss, LumoPro, LowePro, Westcott, Profoto, and others that I've forgotten. The point is there was a lot of gear out to play with and each seemed happy enough with having people look and listen without the push to buy. Honestly, I didn't spend a lot of time talking with the reps. I have a decent grasp on what gear is out there and what I want or need but, more importantly, I've put an embargo on buying gear for a while and after staring at corn for 3 hours I would have bought anything to bring excitement back into my life.
I did finally settle around the Hasselblad table as the rep had brought the X1D along with him. This was my first time seeing and handling one in person and I have to say that I'm impressed. The camera feels great in the hands and its design is beautiful. It is a bit slow to work with as there was considerable lag between pressing the shutter and seeing a picture and some features seem locked behind firmware updates but these are more observations than issues really. Not that it matters as it does carry a $9000 price tag which is just ever so slightly above my budget. I did get the rep's card just incase my bank misplaces a comma one day.
Heisler was the first to speak and my initial impression of him was that he's a lot taller than I imagined. I can't trace what initially gave me the impression that he was short but he's just as tall as I am even with his bad back. His talk focused primarily on stories found within his book 50 Portraits and while I've read these stories before it was great hearing them from the man himself. What was more surprising then his height is that he's hilarious and a great orator. Recounting of long published stories can be boring and disappointing but his ability to add humor or go off on a slight tangent and finding his way back to the subject kept these stories fresh and interesting. I did later catch Heisler in the store and shook hands with the intention of complimenting the nice sports coat he had on which appeared unconstructed with soft shoulders, pick stitching, patch pockets, 3 roll 2 lapel, and the surgeon's cuffs of which he classically had 2 buttons undone on. Yes, I was unabashedly going to try to impress him with my knowledge of menswear to maybe, just maybe make an impression. Instead I blubbered out a thanks for being an inspiration and the impact he's had on my photography and quickly excused myself by wishing him a 'good one.' Nailed it!
Drowning my embarrassment in Raising Cane's, I later checked into the hotel to find my room unready. Receiving an upgrade to a suite was a nice consolation to not winning any raffles at MPEX which I believe was rigged in favor of people that aren't me. I headed back to the store to hear David Hobby talk about traveling. Seeing Hobby was a bit different than Heisler as I haven't quite boosted him up to mystical status in my mind like Heisler. Perhaps it was also because I consider Hobby an old friend ever since he liked one of my tweets to him even if he did so by accident. This friendship was proven solid after introducing myself to him multiple times with each being met with a complete lack of recognition. To be honest, I went to his talk on travel more so to meet him than to get insight into the subject itself. I don't travel too often so it's not terribly relevant to my situation but his approach to the subject was emotional and poignant. He talked about family and how to balance one's time between photography and family and a regret for not having found this balance earlier in his life. It was truly a great speech on a subject that I don't often hear discussed in photography circles.
I finished the day off by stopping at the local eatery, Harvest Bar+Kitchen. They had a good beer list and their dinner special was a plate of friend chicken that looked amazing. The fried chicken arrived looked delicious until I cut into it and all the breading separated from the chicken. This was my second meal of the day with fried chicken as the main course so perhaps it was the universe telling me something (besides that the chicken was overcooked). Hushpuppies were on point though so it wasn't all bad. Regardless of Columbus's inability to fry chicken correctly the Saturday spent at MPEX was excellent. I saw and played with a lot of cool gear, met two photographers I look up to, and overall it was great to be surrounded by people who share the same passion. So far, the trip was a success and then Sunday happened...