I’ve been in a creative rut. Those who know me or work with me, know that this dates back to around a year and a half ago. Nothing, in particular, happened, I just got exhausted with photography. I’ve tried trade shows, talking to inspiring photographers, and seemingly everything else, and nothing seemed to help me climb out of my rut. That is until I went to Adobe MAX.
I’ll start by saying two things – this isn’t my first trade show. I’ve been to dozens of them, spoke at many of them, and have met so many people that I love dearly at trade shows. Secondly, this isn’t a paid endorsement or anything of the sort from Adobe. While I have been to Imaging USA, WPPI, PhotoPlus Expo, Stand Out Forums, PhotoCon LA, Cinegear, Photoshop World and so much more, I’ve never given Adobe MAX much thought. However, I was offered the opportunity to attend Adobe MAX last week in San Diego, and I left refreshed, motivated, and with new insight into the creative process.
The new feeling is unlike what I’ve felt before at trade shows, because for the first time in my experience, photography wasn’t significant. The vast majority of the attendees were graphic designers, painters, illustrators, and 3D renderers – using photography only as a tool to help create their work. And that feeling of being irrelevant in the grand scheme of it all, was exceptional.
For those who are unaccustomed to Adobe MAX, let me try my best to explain what it is. First, it’s not a trade show – or not really. While it does have a community pavilion, the amount of vendors is limited, and quite a bit different from what you might expect in a photography trade show environment. For one, Nikon was nowhere to be found – in fact; all professional camera manufacturers were gone, with the exception of Panasonic. The brands there were far more hands on that what you’d see somewhere else, like showing off brainwave activity on a screen through the use of a headset, or highlighting how VR will shape the future of art on a 3-dimensional scale.
And the speakers are nothing short of incredible and influential in their mediums. Keynote speakers that include Lyndsey Addario, who works as a photojournalist for the New York Times, and walked us through the emotional feelings being kidnapped while covering the civil war in Libya, and still maintaining a hopeful outlook on the world. Or graphic design rockstar, Aaron Draplin, who talked about the blood, sweat, and tears poured into making a book about his life’s work. Or this up and coming director by the name of Quentin Tarantino, whom you’ve probably never heard of.
While at Adobe MAX, I met so many creative people who influenced my passion for art, even if our meeting was just brief. I was able to hang out with Frankie Cihi, a muralist and painter in Tokyo, Japan; listen to Janet Echelman talk about how she develops large art installations all over the world using nets that move with the patterns of the wind; speak to Zac Posen, a passionate fashion designer and judge on Project Runway, and discuss how he finds new creative ways to blend technology with fashion; and have impromptu lunch with graphic designer Mike Gorman, who is always challenging himself with new styles to keep his ideas fresh. With the exception of the familiar faces I know of Benjamin Von Wong and Erik Valind, I spent all of Adobe MAX meeting people who have nothing to do with photography.
And it was so refreshing.
Because all this photography talk gets too mundane and too routine at times. When you spend your professional life in a field, it’s easy to over chatter, and burn yourself out – and lose sight of what’s most important – art. And cultivating artistic expression is exactly what Adobe MAX is doing while others are not. While PPE, WPPI, and all the other trade shows are shrinking year in and year out, Adobe MAX is growing – by 25% to over 10,0000 attendees this year alone. Where one side pushes the over discussed new products and new lens we all need, Adobe MAX pushes creativity, giving us inspiration over the process.
The community is what is going to help us grow in our art. Community, something that is too far neglected in the art world, pushing us out of our heads and into the heads and inspirations of others. And Adobe MAX does just that. Offering lectures and workshops in all fields of art, having a meal hall, all too familiar to a cafeteria – encouraging you to branch out and meet others who share that same love for art. Adobe MAX feels less like a conference, and more like a retreat or summer camp. A place where people are encouraged to get out of their own safety bubbles, and meet people who they would never have the opportunity otherwise.
And, sure, Adobe MAX has gotten quite a bit of flak this year, by not giving a prize of grandeur to the attendees. Two years ago, all participants received a Microsoft Surface Pro 3. Last year, a Fujifilm X-T10. This year, a baseball cap and sweatshirt. Many have grown to expect a gift for attending, which left many sour about the experience. But not all gifts are of monetary value, and the unseen gift at Adobe MAX was left to the community there teaching, learning, and experiencing the event on the ground floor.
So, if you have the opportunity to go to Adobe MAX next year, I encourage you to do so. And if it’s beyond your budget, I understand. But regardless of your attendance plans for next year, I invite you to talk to all creatives, whether it be in your field or otherwise. Thinking and working creatively isn’t exclusive to just your field, and you may find a painter, graphic designer, retoucher, or storyteller who can inspire you, provide insight, and motivate you to create something unique again.