Community: Getting to Know You

In Community, Inspiration, Manifesto

Viewfinders manifesto:  We believe that photography is a solo pursuit made much more enjoyable when practiced with the support of a community.

The photography community is unique in many ways, one of them being that we have the unusual chance to peek into the lives of strangers and get to know them (and their families and friends) through their images.  In most other areas of social media we connect exclusively with friends and loved ones, or people with similar views or interests, but we know very little about the private lives of strangers.  Not so with photographers.

The Viewfinders originally met online through flickr, Instagram, photography workshops, and blogs.  Some of us connected as original members of Mortal Muses or The Hours. Most of us have never met in person, but we know the intimate details of each others’ lives — births, deaths, new loves, breakups, illnesses, moves, sorrows, and joys.  The only thing missing is to meet in person, face to face.

And so when we travel anywhere near where another Viewfinder (or member of the Viewfinders community) lives, we plan and plot and scheme as we try to fit our schedules around a meetup.  To us, those meetups are just as rich and heartwarming as meeting up with a faraway relative or an old friend, and at last we get to hug and laugh together and talk in person.  Oh, and of course take lots of photographs.

We’re sharing images of and thoughts about these meetups today.  We hope you’ll share your stories and links to your own meetup images in the comments.  And contact one of us if you think you’ll be in our area in the future.  We’d love to meet you!

In 2015 my partner Dan and I had the wonderful pleasure of meeting fellow Viewfinder Kirstin McKee and her children Ella and Miles for a stroll on Primrose Hill in London and lunch at a great local pub.  It was a fantastic day.  But three years prior to that I had my very first meetup with Flickr friends — Linda Silva Palleschi, Heather Halotek, Deidre Malfatto, Gail Ornstein, Rebecca LaFlamm, and others — at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Connecticut.  We’d come to see a Wyeth exhibit, but ended up laughing, talking, and shooting more than we looked at art.  I hope we can do it again someday soon.  — lucy (who lives on Cape Cod in Massachusetts)

I’ve been incredibly lucky over the years to meet so many of my dear flickr friends. Living in London, I am lucky to be able to catch up with many photography friends when they visit England or they are en route. My flickr friends are different from others; they are tech savvy unlike most of my other friends so we have surprisingly intimate relationships on social media. We’ve grown, finding out more about one another along the way and it is always a joy to meet up in the real world. We have witnessed one other learn photography from the very beginning. But my most epic meet up was one in New York in 2011 where we gathered at Grand Central Station in New York. It still makes me smile and will do for the rest of time. Thank you. — kirstin (who lives in London)

20130330-_MG_7390 One of the first big photo meet ups I participated in was in San Francisco, California. It was right before I was asked to start writing for Mortal Muses and I got to meet so many great people. Fellow ViewFinders, Kim and Holly were in the gang that I spent the day with wandering around Chinatown.

Line it up ladies! It would be a few years later, but after a year long self portrait class called, NowYou, a group of us living on the west coast decided to gather. We met in a small town on the Oregon Coast and bonds were made. These ladies have become a tribe to me and I love how they not only push me in my photography, but as a person and a friend. I have met with so many online friends since and between these two big meet ups and I couldn’t recommend it more. I love my online community “IRL”.  Vanessa (who lives in Tacoma, WA)

Vanessa at the Henry Art Gallery (photo by Deb Achak)There is no question that in-person meet-ups have been and exciting development for me the last few years.  Fellow ViewFinder Vanessa and I live just an hour from each other so we see each other fairly regularly, like the time in 2015 we took in the extraordinary Ann Hamilton exhibit at the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle (above).    But one of the biggest events I have experienced was in June of 2015 when 25 women from all over the world gathered in Connecticut for a four day meet-up (below). We met through the group Vanessa mentioned earlier, the NowYou self-portraiture class.  It was a year of digging deep —- creatively and emotionally —– for all the participants and we became uniquely acquainted over the course of that year. Perhaps because self-portraiture has a way of revealing a person, it was remarkably comfortable to be in the company of women I came to know on-line.  There was ease and intimacy, like any gathering of old friends.

Now You Gathering, Buffalo Bay, CT, 2015 (photo by Deb Achak)It might seem daunting to take a social media friendship from virtual to flesh and blood ( and truth be told I always get a little nervous at first ) but I think it’s really worth the time and energy.  —  Deb (who lives in Seattle, WA)

I’ve been so lucky to meet up with many amazing women from Mortal Muses, Shutter Sisters, Flickr, and other online platforms. This past fall, I had the great fortune to meet up with TWO fellow Viewfinders, Vanessa and Staci, at Firefly Institute (a rad photocamp for women–you should come to our second gathering this Fall!). As you can tell, we hated each other 😉 It was so great to spend real time with these two phenomenal women and to see them make their magic of photography and connection. Meghan ps–blue eyes FTW.

When you do your best to get everyone in focus AND in the shot! Meetups are THE. BEST. My first meetup with someone IRL was from the community in 2007 and then again in 2009. After that, I’ve had photography meetups from my various communities every year since 2010 from Philly to Frankfurt, California to Beijing, and I’m looking forward to many more in the future. Get with your peeps, and you’re guaranteed a good time! ~ Holly (who lives in Philadelphia)

I don’t bother to explain to my 90+ year old grandmother that, yes, I am flying across the country to where I’ll be picked up from the airport and staying with people who I’ve only ever met via written words and shared images. I know just what she’d say, “I’ve lived too long.” But, I promise, if she were able to see how incredible and genuine the relationships that I’ve built with my “internet friends” are, she may change her tune. Through a series of travels, I’ve been so lucky to have been able to meet up with a number of my fellow ViewFinders, along with other photo friends along the way. Each time, as Deb said, I’m ridiculously nervous, but without fail, these meetings become touchstones in my memory and my life. As I looked back on my photos from these meetups, I was struck to find the images above, and ones similar to it, from most encounters. It seems that even when given the chance to see people’s faces for real, I still find myself wanting to remember them and to shoot them in a way that is perfectly natural to how we met in the first place. – Alison (hailing from the great state of Minnesota)

I am an introvert with very 20th Century notions of privacy, so it’s pretty shocking that I’d be willing to meet people I’d met online in person – let alone bring my kids. But photography friends are different. I know what they love, I’ve watched many of their children grow up and I’ve supported others through grief and struggle. Most especially, through a self-portrait group I participated in on Flickr a number of years back, I got to know a bunch of women, some of them now fellow Viewfinders, at the heart and soul level that you often don’t plumb with those who populate your everyday existence. Holly and her beautiful companion, Major, and Audrey, her family in tow, were my very first meet-up. So cliche, but it was exactly like meeting old friends for the first time. I got up before the crack of dawn to travel from Washington DC to NYC for that epic meet-up in Kirstin’s photo, and last spring I got to hug my dear West Coast friend Tracie in real life. She was chaperoning the whirliest of whirlwind middle school Eastern seaboard trips and we weren’t sure if she’d have even a few hours off duty while she was in town. She did and on a really exquisite spring night we walked around Georgetown and talked a lot, and took a few pictures – including a few outside Blues Alley.
Debbie (who lives in Arlington, VA)

We’d gotten to know each other virtually through a series of online classes but the 3 hour car ride from the airport to Camp Shutter Sisters in 2011 solidified our friendship that has lasted over the years and the many miles in between all of us.  Kim (top left) , Holly (top right), Tara (bottom left) and me (bottom right).  –Angie (who resides in Houston, TX)


  1. Serious chills reading this post. Gosh how I adore you all so much! So glad to have met so many of you off the screen. My life is infinitely better, fuller, and more interesting because of ALL of you!

  2. I couldn’t agree more! I have met several,of the wonderful people here and am willing to meet the rest! Photographers are good people who appreciate beauty and peace, as well as color and feeling. Rite on to continued meet-ups!

  3. chills here, too. there is NOTHING like meeting women you have come to love and adore in real life. at first, watching them move is so amazing!! and then, just like that, you settle in like old friends. THE BEST.

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