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Photo by Mantas

So, it’s the last night in Vegas, the awards ceremony has started and Isil and I have 10:15pm flight to Dulles…it was going to be tight to make it. Jerry Ghionis is on stage in front of hundreds of industry peers and photographers dressed all fancy like and engrossed in his every word. He says let’s get to it and on the screen is the first category… informal albums. We start to make our way out and Isil turns to me and says “maybe we should wait”.. Jerry announces third place… then second… Roberto Falck… Roberto is a master of that category and his work is just beyond… but based on the scores given, if he is being called second means that I might be getting first. Jerry says “the winner for first place… this was a gorgeous album…Kristi Odom…” I stopped in my tracks and walked on to that stage in front of so many people I admire that I feel light headed.

WPPI brings in thousands of photographers from around the world, and I’ve been a grateful attendee for the last 5 years. This year they gave me my first opportunity to be a speaker. For years I have been inspired by talented photographers on their roster that teach, tell their stories, and win big awards. This year, I got to join them, and things happened fast for me. I went from being on the sidelines to being a speaker and giving 4 presentations, 2 of them on the Nikon Theater stage! What a whirlwind.

I am in the process of applying to live in Australia, and I had entered WPPI’s album competition with the hope of getting a few points to give me a master’s accreditation to add to my visa application. Never did I think I would be getting an award for my personal work. Before I arrived one of the judges told me that “my album wouldn’t do well, because it lacked story”. Thanks to my friend Andrew Funderburg from Fundy Software Inc who encouraged me to do an album of my nature work, I had taken a risk, and thanks to his amazing software I had designed my album in mind blowing time. While the print judging was going on my friend Katya messaged me and asked if I wanted to hear the score, I said sure. 90… what? Then she said, it had been just challenged by Bambi Cantrell, and it moved to a 95…now I am in disbelief. I was with Isil at the time and we looked at each other and laughed… seriously…. I was so excited I couldn’t do anything else but head over to the print judging room, we had just arrived at the MGM. We made it to the room right when the judging let out. I saw some familiar faces and got a few smiles from people. Then, someone I know well, got very vocal about the fact that they thought my score was bull and cursed loudly outside the judging rooms. I turned to Isil, “let’s go”… and we left. Later that day I started to hear stories of chatter about people posting on forums… “Nikon only has established speakers, what in the world are they thinking having her”…and other put downs about my success. My first night at WPPI, I was so sad I cried. It was hard because part of me worried that these guys are right, maybe I didn’t deserve that print score, why did Nikon call me? I guess we all have that self doubt every once in a while, and it all hit me that night.

While day one was hard being full of the critics, day two definitely wasn’t. I met the Nikon team and they immediately greeted with open arms and smiles. Their speakers are so beyond amazing, not just as photographers, but as people. These stars in the industry… and I was on stage with them..was I dreaming….When I got off the stage at Nikon, I got the comment… “hold on, things are just getting started for you”.

Back to the awards night…when I walked up to the stage, with my work on the screen, to get my first place trophy I knew that so many people were right, I worked hard and earned my way to be there…even as I passed people who had been vocal about me not deserving it (no applauds from them, but that is ok). Although their comments have hurt me they have also helped to make me be better. If they only knew how much their voices fuel my fire to succeed…I thrived after my divorce, thrived in my work, thrived in living a crazy life of adventure, and in my health (I am down 10 sizes and 40 pounds). It’s is funny, you can have so many amazing and supportive people in your life, but the second someone tells you an insult… the second someone tells you that you are undeserving, or that you shouldn’t be a speaker it hurts, and it also inspires.

At the airport I gave Isil one last hug, “was that just a week?” I asked her. I was holding so many emotions after that rollercoaster… but in that moment, I just felt overwhelmed with gratefulness. Grateful to Isil who taught me how to put others first and show love and support to those around. Grateful for WPPI and what they do for our community by giving us opportunities to shine and learn. Grateful to Jason Groupp and Jacqueline Tobin for all of their brilliant hard work. Grateful to Jerry Ghionis and Melissa Ghionis, who made the print competition unbelievable. Grateful to my mentors, Arthur Levi Rainville, David Anthony Williams, and David Beckstead for helping me believe in myself. Grateful to my amazing business coach, Blair DeLaubenfels who has steadily guided my to new and better opportunities. Grateful to my parents for dropping everything when I needed them most. Grateful for Andrew Funderburg and his amazing team. Thank you for your encouragement, support and awesome products. Grateful to Huy Nguyen from Fearless who gave me my first big industry speaking gig. Last but not least, I am grateful to Nikon (Chad, Mike Corrado, JC Carey, Mark Suban and the rest of the team). Feeling like part of your family, and being on your stage is something I will remember and love forever. You guys have given me the tools to live this crazy amazing life and travel to all corners of the world. I love being part of your community, and this ever growing community of people who help me to be the best that I can be (haters included).

If you have goals that you want to reach, surround yourself with people who believe in you, and stay thankful to the detractors who light your fire.

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Photo by Mantas

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