I was invited to give an 8 minute “lightning talk” at The MIT Women’s unConference in Cambridge, MA on March 10, 2018. Many friends wanted to see the talk but were unable, so when I returned home, I gave the talk once more, this time for YouTube. Many people also asked me for a transcript of my lightning talk. You’ll find that below. There are 49 stanzas, one for each photo in my presentation.
QUEST FOR JOY
Paige K Parsons
MIT Women’s unConference March 10th, 2018
Hi. I’m Paige.
I am many things –
I’m an MIT grad, I’m a mom, I’m dyslexic.
But, for the purpose of this talk, I’m a photographer and an artist.
I try and capture what it is like to be human,
to be alive, to love. to feel joy.
To be present.
When I photograph,
I am always searching for moments of vulnerability and authenticity.
Joy and connection.
Empathy is my currency, a camera is my instrument.
Serendipity is my muse.
Whether it is for rockstars, academics or toddlers,
by putting my art in the world,
I create physical memories that I’ve imbibed with meaning.
The skill and craft of my art combines with my beliefs
To purposefully shape people’s attention and memory.
To focus that attention on JOY and CONNECTION.
I want to promote messages of
courage, compassion, joy and kindness
in a world that normally doesn’t focus on these core aspects of being human.
Through my photography I try and shed a compassionate light
On our shared humanity.
AND On our need for connection.
I didn’t start out with this goal in mind.
When I was younger,
I didn’t even know I had a choice to choose my own life’s goal.
I was shy, I was timid.
I was brought up to believe
that a MODERN young woman should be educated primarily
so she could support herself and be independent.
Everything else good in life flowed out of this independence.
As it happened, I studied a semester abroad my junior year in Florence, Italy.
For the first time, I was exposed to traditional photography and darkroom techniques.
When I returned to the states, to MIT
I began photographing and writing concert reviews for The Tech.
I continued with photography class at the Media Lab.
As much as I loved photography,
it never crossed my mind that photography could be my career.
Photography and music were an aside,
an amusement that filled my soul,
but not my bank account.
After I graduated Course IV,
I went on to use my visual and analytical skills
to design some of the first web-based user interfaces
for companies such as Apple and Netscape.
I might have continued indefinitely on that path
if it weren’t for the birth of my children,
Emma and Gus.
They cracked my heart wide open,
They gave me the gift
of feeling truly vulnerable for the first time in my life.
As is the case with many proud parents,
I wanted to document their early days.
My timing was fortuitous.
The digital camera revolution had just begun,
and I have always had a penchant
for cool digital toys and tools.
For better or worse,
my kids and their classmates
have some of the most extensively documented childhoods
of the early 2000’s.
So how did this lead to being a rock photographer?
If there has been one constant in my life,
it has been my love of live music.
Concerts are where I have always felt the most connected to the world.
Since I was a teen not a month has gone by
where I haven’t been at some kind of concert.
The synergy of
my love of music, photography and digital tools
finally came together in my late 30’s.
My real “ah-ha” moment happened in the summer of 2007
That is when I crossed paths with Matt Allen,
AKA “The Ice Cream Man”
at The Lollapalooza Music Festival in Chicago.
What is Ice Cream Man?
The Ice Cream Man organization was created
with the goal to give away a half a million free bars of ice cream,
Most often at music festivals.
Why free ice cream?
It was a small, simple, ephemeral act of kindness.
Ice Cream Man wanted to show the world
you can follow your dream – no matter how crazy –
and that through small acts of kindness
you can inspire others to be kind and to follow their OWN dreams.
His message and his philosophy resonated with me.
Thus I began photographing music festivals and concerts
(and giving away ice cream) with the Ice Cream Man crew.
No, I didn’t leave my family and start living on an Ice Cream Truck,
but I did being to listen to my heart
and transition my career from UX design to photography.
I am the house photographer for the iconic Fillmore in San Francisco,
as well as several other venues and music festivals in the bay area.
I often shoot at night, and edit photos during the the day.
I love this schedule!
It allows me to be at home after school
And to be present for my kids.
Some of the most common questions I’m asked are
What’s your favorite show?
What’s your favorite picture?
Honestly, these aren’t the things that stick out for me.
The most memorable things are when I’m able to have a connection.
Sometimes it’s with an artist, sometimes,
it’s with the audience, sometimes it’s with friends.
If I had to pick one thing that brings me joy in shooting
it would have to be when I hear from the parent of a performer.
Twice I have been contacted by parents of musicians
who wanted a print because they felt
I captured the essence of their child.
To me, there is no greater honor, nor better judge of an image
than someone’s parent.
And no – I haven’t yet heard from Madonna’s dad,
but I’ll be excited if I ever get that call!
Rock star’s parents aren’t the only parents that motivate me.
Over the past 15 years
I’ve taken over 20,000 images at my children’s school.
It is a progressive school that was founded in the 1920’s.
There are 200 preschool – 8th grade children involved in
without grades, without shoes,
and with genuine respect between teachers and students.
It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.
I love being able to document
the unique place that is Peninsula School
for the kids, the parents, and the entire community.
Over the past 10 years I’ve also taught several short courses on photography
to the middle school kids at Peninsula.
It is rewarding to see the passion for photography develop
in so many of these bright young teens.
I consciously choose the types of clients I want to work with.
In addition to my live music photography,
and volunteer work with schools,
I am the house photographer
for The Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford,
documenting the work they do on behalf of gender equality.
I also photograph for the non-profit Challenge Success.
Challenge Success partners with schools, families, and communities
to promote a broad definition of success
and to implement research-based strategies
so that ALL kids are healthy and engaged with learning.
By documenting the work of these non-profits,
I am helping to spread my beliefs in in equitable society.
by making and spreading art that features passion, joy, and connection,
I am drawing attention to their importance.
I want my photography to remind you:
You are not alone.
I hope that when you see my pictures,
you feel connected to others.
I focus on music
because music cuts through our cynicism
and breaks down the barriers that we erect between ourselves
and the rest of the world.
I also want my photography to remind you:
I believe kind people are brave people.
Brave isn’t just a feeling – it is a decision.
A decision that compassion is more important than fear,
More important than fitting in,
More important than following the crowd.
As a woman, I have found out late in life
that one of the bravest things you can do in our society
is to be kind to yourself.
Finally, I want my photography to remind you:
To listen to your heart – your intuition.
Especially as MIT grads, it’s all too easy
to try and shut down our feelings
and make decisions purely based on logic.
I want to challenge you to be open to listening to your heart as well.
It’s not an “either-or”. It’s a “both AND”.
By listening to BOTH your head and your heart
you are being both a brave AND a responsible person.
When you are authentic and true to yourself,
you can bring your singular uniqueness to the table.
you can also serve as example,
for your kids, for your mentees, for the many women around you.
We all have a choice about where we put our attention and effort.
It is through our shared empathy and action that we can change the world.