Yes.

It’s a small word with humongous power. Three letters with the potential to unlock a world of opportunity.

I believe it was Sir Richard Branson who first encouraged people to enthusiastically reply “Yes!” to every opportunity in front of them. My version of Sir Richard’s mantra is “Sure, why not?” Why not open yourself to new experiences? Why not push yourself beyond the self imposed boundaries you’ve wrapped your life in? Just say yes. You have a 50-50 shot of the experience being a positive one.

I’ve lived this philosophy throughout my life, embracing it even more fervently over the past decade. I’ve had a few “Nope. Not doing that again.” moments and a wealth of “That was fun/interesting/educational.” moments. I’m still torn where on that spectrum riding a seesaw in the middle of a Cabo San Lucas bullring lands.

Most recently, this strategy created an opportunity to push my photography and storytelling experience to a new level. My friend, Veronica, runs a significant part of PayPal’s retail business. She’s ridiculously smart, wildly creative and an overall good human being. Her name popped onto the screen of my phone as it vibrated on my desk one Friday night a few months ago.

“Would you be interested in doing something a bit different for a big executive conference I’m hosting next month?”

“Sure, why not?”

In the blink of an eye, the ring of a phone, the utterance of a few short words, my world changed. Because I said yes.

That something different was Veronica commissioning me to shoot five limited edition images focused on the theme of transformation, showcasing large format prints of those images in a solo exhibit at the conference’s opening reception, infusing each image with augmented reality and, post conference, sending signed and numbered versions of the prints to each attendee.

After I hung up the phone that Friday night, I googled the word “transformation.” Butterflies. Not the stomach kind. The literal kind. My search returned page after page after page of pictures of butterflies.

“What did I just get myself into?”

Working with Veronica’s creative team, we built a shot list. Time was tight and it meant several pre-dawn mornings to catch the right light, a below freezing night in the shadow of an iron foundry, a half marathon’s worth of miles walking around New York City with my trusty volunteer assistant and friend Derek, culminating in a trip to Death Valley for a sunrise shoot amid the sand dunes of the Mesquite Flats.

The world around us is in a constant state of transformation. Our physical environment changes, whether as a result of nature’s forces or our own doing. The economics of our global society are in a continual state of flux. Culture adapts to changing societal norms. Sociopolitical changes reshape the way people around the world interact. Amid all this uncontrolled transformative chaos, the one constant throughout mankind’s history is the transformative journey each of us takes as we go from birth to death.

A driver met me at the gate when I landed in Phoenix. We made our way to The Phoenician where I unpacked, took a quick hike partially up Camelback Mountain, and awaited the arrival of the large 20×30 inch fine art prints that would make up the exhibit. As Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part.

While I waited for my shipment, the production team was busy building the exhibit space in the main reception lobby of the conference. I’ve had my photographs hang on walls before, but this was a first. A gallery built just for me.

The prints arrived late in the afternoon. I opened the shipping container and took out the first print. It was flawless. Brian Wells and his team at my printing partner, FinerWorks, did a world class job bringing my images from digital file to printed paper. I can’t say enough about the quality of their work and their commitment to customer satisfaction. I laid the prints out along the newly constructed exhibit walls and the production team went to work.

As the guests arrived for the opening reception, a violinist provided background music. I mention the violinist because it wasn’t my only brush with music at the event. Ben Zander was also on the agenda. He’s the conductor for a little musical group called the Boston Philharmonic and the author of “The Art Of Possibility.” Also on the agenda was an up and coming singer who went by the name of Jewel. And a NASCAR driver named Jeff Gordon. And me. My dad said it best when I texted him the agenda and said “One of these things is not like the other.” Upon which, he responded, “It’s you.” Can’t argue that fatherly wisdom.

The exhibit itself seemed to go well. It was hard to tell because I may have been in a bit of an “Is this really happening?” fog. I spoke with many of the attendees and their reactions to the images were positive. I really enjoyed seeing them interact with the augmented reality features PayPal’s Josh Byers and the Holotats team created for the photos.

I’ve attended a lot of conferences throughout my career. The best ones find a way to make the event memorable beyond the conference itself. What Veronica and her team did was unique. It set a very high bar for other events.

What follows are the images I created for this assignment, along with some that didn’t make the cut. If you download the free Holotats app (Apple download / Android download), you can hold your phone up to each of the limited edition images to watch behind the scenes videos from each shoot. Each limited edition image is available for sale until their edition is exhausted. If you’d like to invest in one, please send me an email to inquire about availability, pricing and sizes. Once the editions are done, these images will no longer be available for print.

It is rare that a Broadway show reverberates across culture, politics and society the way Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” has. To me, it’s a multifaceted example of transformation, changing how we look at theater, history and our own lives.
A century ago, the city of Bethlehem, Pa., was the pride of industrial America. It pumped out steel that made many of the iconic structures we marvel at possible. Today, the smokestacks of the past have been transformed into a popular venue for the arts and an example of the city’s resiliency.
New York City isn’t just the city that never sleeps. It’s also the city that never stops transforming. That constant transformation is most visible in the city’s ever changing skyline. I wanted to freeze this ongoing evolution in a single frame, capturing the light of the rising morning sun as it woke the concrete jungle at the start of another day.
Take some barley, some hops and some water, add a little yeast, and you create a work of liquid art. That art, and the artisans who create it, transformed the economics of the industry and the culture that surrounds it.
The wind constantly shifts the shape of the sand dunes in Death Valley. The sun does likewise with the shadows it casts throughout the day. It’s a never ending transformation. Yet, among the changing desert landscape, solitary trees remain rooted to the solid earth below.

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