Philly Creative Guide

Guest Columnist

Kate Barden

Thrill Yourself
by Kate Barden, 1 Apr 2009

kbpictures is the collaboration of photographers Kate Barden and Bruce Cramer. The Philadelphia based team produces compelling images of people for editorial and advertising, shooting both assignments and stock.

Check out to see some of their work.

I didn't hurl myself out of an airplane at 12,000 feet or take on Mt. Everest but Bruce and I just got back from spending eight days and nights fully immersed in the world of chainsaw carving at the largest annual gathering of these amazing artists in the world. Talk about a thrill! It's been more than a week and I'm still reeling with creative renewal and doing everything in life faster and with more enthusiasm.

Photographing chainsaw carvers with their artwork is a personal project we started last summer. Making these portraits provides a necessary creative release but it's sporadic and slow going because the artists are scattered all over the country. When we catch wind of a major event called the Ridgway Rendezvous taking place in February right here in PA and attracting up to 200 carvers from across the globe, we decide to jump on it.

I meet Bruce in the event parking lot next to a massive Incredible Hulk sculpture at noon on February 21st. Within three hours we get the lay of the land, introduce ourselves to one of the most respected and shy carvers, convince him to be photographed as if underwater, and make the image here. The rush is on but can it possibly last another seven days?

Kate Barden, kbpictures

Set up like a typical outdoor art and craft show, each carver has a tented area to carve in, some with tiers of scaffolding, and most with finished artwork on display and for sale. The raging buzz of so many saws in close proximity gives the feeling of being inside a life size bee's nest. Everyone is busy carving, hauling logs, unloading sculptures and shoveling snow. It's just plain wild.

The five-degree temperature is reason to keep moving. Opportunity is the other. It's everywhere we look and the cast of characters is unreal. We need to do everything we normally do, but much faster, in order to take advantage of having access to so many carvers in one place. Fitting in, gaining trust, and generating ideas is the norm but working conceptually amidst organized chaos is our real challenge. We can't take a day to mull things over or to search for wardrobe and props. Locations will have to be found onsite or nearby.

We troll the carving grounds relentlessly for subjects, stay at the carver motel, eat at the carver dinners, and hang out until all hours at the place to be. We meet and photograph one artist after another at an intense rate throughout the week and concerns over bad weather, continuous noise, and lack of Wi-Fi are long overpowered by the excitement of repeated cooperation and success.

Kate Barden, kbpictures

I could have cried when I got in my car to drive home at the end of the week but I was too tired. I'd been blindsided by my own passion for what I do and didn't want it to be over. Bruce and I set out for a week of self assigned hard work and ended up experiencing creative exhilaration. Many of us let too much time go by without indulging in personal exploration. If I could formulate a plan for someone else who creates to have a similar experience it would go something like this.

Commit. This is half the battle. Make a decision to do something that you love and set aside a serious chunk of time in advance. Set it in stone as you would a vacation and don't let anyone weasel their way in. As you schedule around it, it gains value simply by being protected.

Challenge yourself. Know what you want to accomplish with this cherished time and set high expectations. Take something about your process that you find difficult and force yourself to face it repeatedly. Have an intense agenda and welcome spontaneity.

Focus. Lose the crackberry and other distractions. This is easier said than done but truly refreshing if you can pull it off. While your senses are heightened don't keep pushing them back down.

Enjoy the ride!

Kate Barden, kbpictures

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