Thank you, guys. (clears throat)
This is gonna be hard. I never thought that this workshop, for me either, would have been this, you know. I knew I was gonna share some stuff, but I didn't know how much I was gonna share. But, I really feel like I reacted to everything you all gave me. And it made me feel comfortable and safe, and then I said, "What the hell, let's just do it." (laughs) So, thank you. This to me is how, it's the place I operate from when I make pictures. It's how I react to other people. So, I'm giving you what I've been given. And that's everybody here, everybody behind the scenes, and everybody online. Everything I've read has been positive and supportive, and I'm completely blown away. I want to tell you a little bit about me, that I didn't tell you in the beginning because I wanted to wait 'til the end. Because I felt like maybe it would begin to say something, or maybe have a little more weight. When I was going to graduate school... Sorry, undergra...
d, and I was on my way to school and I was gonna go into this photography program. And I was nervous, I had butterflies in my stomach. My heart was just in knots. And I was driving, and I had stopped at my brother's, who was in college, also, spent the night there. We were talking and I looked at him and I said... We were talking about what my decision was and me going to pursue photography. And I just looked at him and I said, "Man, Gemini." That's his kid name, Gemini. I said, "Gemini, what if I'm not good enough? "What if I get there and I suck, and I'm the worst one? "What if I'm not good enough?" And he looked at me and he said, "Pen, what if you are? "What if you are good enough?" And, like, those words right there were just like, it was just like, I was taken aback by this really wise person. And I got in my car and I drove to school. And I haven't ever thought... Forgotten that moment, ever. So, I started to dream, what if I was good enough? So, then I got out of undergrad, I assisted photographers in Dallas, first, and then I went to New York. And then I needed a break, and I saved my money in New York and I went to travel in Guatemala. And I paused for a little bit. And I thought I wasn't gonna pursue photography for a while. And then I came back from Guatemala and I was lookin' for a job. I needed a job, I had to support myself. And I was thumbin' through the papers and I found this little ad that said they needed a part-time photographer at a community newspaper. And I thought, you know what, I could probably just do that until I figured out the next stop. At that point I was thinkin' maybe I can go to architecture school, or something. I was seriously considering something else. (laughs) And the ironic thing is I called the editor, and I was like, "I'd like to apply for this job." And he said, "Well, come on in." I go in to show my pictures and they're art pictures, right? And he was like, "Well, honey, "I love these pictures. (crowd laughs) "But I can't hire you with these pictures." He was like, "Do you have anything that's journalistic?" And I remembered I shot for the school newspaper. So, I was like, "I do, but I don't have 'em with me." So I drove the next day to the university I went to. I went through their microfilm, and I made Xerox copies of pictures that I made in the newspaper. I think I took like 10 copies, and I took 'em to him. And he hired me, on black and white Xerox copies. It was... I didn't get paid well, it was awful. I walked in the door the first day, and my first assignment was to shoot a construction site. That was an incredible assignment. That's the worst assignment you can get, ever. (crowd laughs) I mean, at any point in your career, that's an awful assignment. And I loved it, I loved every second of it. I shot the hell outta that construction site. (speaker and crowd laughs) But I stayed there for a year and a half, and I realized I needed to get better, and I needed to get better quick. And I decided I needed to go to graduate school. I wrote this crazy letter to National Geographic because that was my dream. And I said, "Tell me where your photographers go to school, "because that's where I wanna go." And much to my disbelief, I couldn't believe that someone wrote me back. (laughs) And they said, "Here's where they go. "And here's how they come "into this tradition of photography. "Not all of 'em go to school, some of 'em are biologists, "and some of 'em do go to school, "and some of 'em go to journalism school, "and these are the schools they go to." So I checked those schools and I applied to three of 'em. And I got told, "No," to all of 'em. I didn't get accepted at all. It might have been the construction photographs I sent. (crowd laughs) I'm pretty sure it was. But I was pretty heartbroken, you know, I wanted to be a photographer, and I was being told 'no'. So I called 'em up, I called up the one school that I really wanted to go to, Ohio University. And I called the director, and I said, "What can I do better because I'm gonna reapply." And he said, "Hold on, let me call you back." And he called me back, and he said, "You know what, your pictures just weren't there, "and we can only accept a certain amount of students "because we fund everybody. "But, if you're willing, I talked to the committee, "and we'll bring you on, "but you won't be a scholarship student. "And you'll have to go through a bunch of other classes "that the other graduate students "are gonna have to go through. "If you're okay with that, we'll take you." Of course, it was the biggest punch in the gut. But I was like, "I'll do it." And I started that program, in a second grade, basically, I wasn't with the rest of the cool kids. And that was probably the best thing that happened to me because I worked harder than I've ever worked. I spent more time just really thinkin' about what it meant to be a photographer, for me, and accessing that place. So, I just never took 'no' for an answer. I actually left that program getting probably the biggest award anybody in school, nationally, can get. I won this huge national award, called College Photographer of the Year. And it launched my career. And from there, I did that body of work in prison, which got me my first opportunity with National Geographic. All that from being told 'no'. It's a long journey, you know? It's a really long journey. I have one final assignment for all of you. (laughs) And I hope you'll trust me enough, and take it. Because I've trusted you, I've entrusted you. I've entrusted you with everything I have. If you're not doing what you love, why not, why are you not doing what you love? I was lucky enough in my life to grow up with two people, my mother and father, who told me everyday for as many times as I can remember, "Whatever it is you wanna be, you can be it. "Whatever it is you wanna do, you can do it." And I was crazy enough that I believed 'em. So, I'm gonna tell all of you, whatever it is you wanna do, you can do it. Whatever it is you wanna be, you can be it. So, go do it, that's your assignment. I'm honored that I got to be here. I'm seriously humbled that I got to spend this time with all of you. Thank you for walkin' with me for a little bit. I hope that you always remember it's not about you, but it's about the other person on the camera. I hope that you never stop looking as hard as you can look. Find mentors, look as much as you can look. Practice. But, above all this, believe in who you are. Trust in what you're supposed to be doing. We only get to do this once, guys. (laughs) Thanks for being with me. (applause)