Industry News

Why Sue Bryce’s Second Portrait Masters Conference Blew Us Away

September 26, 2018

By Jacqueline Tobin

Photo © Walter Van Dusen

As summer was wrapping up a few weeks ago, there was no better way to get into a “back to school, back to work” mode than with The Portrait Masters conference by Sue Bryce that I had the honor of attending in Phoenix, Arizona, in early September.

With an illustrious lineup of photo speakers, including true portrait masters Platon and Joyce Tenneson (who, at the time of this writing, had just been selected as the 2018 recipient of the distinguished Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Portraiture), attendees were thrilled to come together to learn and network, as well as pose for individual photos with their hero and mentor, Sue Bryce herself, during a very mobbed meet-and-greet registration opening (complete with swag bags, model shoots and a chance to reunite with dear friends we had all met during the inaugural conference in 2017).

If you weren’t one of the 500 attendees who turned up at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa (despite 105+ temps all week), no problem: Sue Bryce Education (owned with Bryce by George Varanakis, Craig Swanson and Aaron Anderson) live-streamed the conference on the SBE site (in partnership with Digital Product Studio) to give photographers and enthusiasts anywhere in the world an opportunity to learn from the best of the best. In addition to Platon and Tenneson, attendees were thrilled to see genius-in-the-making talks and on-stage demos from Zack Arias, Felix KunzeLola Melani, Parker Pfister, Richard Israel and Richard Wood, as well as Bryce.

Keynote speaker Platon kept us enthralled for almost two hours. (Photo courtesy of Sue Bryce Education)

Featured keynote speaker Platon, known for his compelling, stripped-down portraits of U.S. presidents and other world leaders, kicked off the week with a “POW.” Before he even began speaking, he received a standing ovation, and by the time he wrapped up with the last ever image taken of Stephen Hawking—in his wheelchair, looking like a rock star with sunglasses—there was not a dry eye in the audience. The anecdotes and stories behind each image that Platon showed were riveting—including learning that Russian president Vladimir Putin’s favorite Beatles song was “Yesterday,” and that Donald Trump was “one of the most extraordinary people” Platon had ever met.

As an image of Trump, taken before the 2016 presidential election, loomed large on the projection screen, Platon engaged the audience with the type of questions and chit-chat he often employs to create a connection between himself and his subjects, which was invaluable advice for a room filled with portraitists intent on breaking the ice with every sitting. “How do you weather the storm?” Platon described asking then-presidential hopeful Trump. “I am the storm,” Trump replied. Insider gems like that kept audience members fully engaged as every famous and important person you could hope to meet entered the room—in spirit, anyway—for those two hours that Platon graced the stage, leaving us with these parting words of insight: “Be honest, be courageous, be you, don’t be me, because you’d be a second-rate me!” Giggles and jokes aside, it was a perfect way to spend a morning, and that was just Day 1!

Sue demonstrates her posing and lighting skills during her Portrait Master conference. (Photo © Walter van Dusen)

Bryce came on stage and had a live demo, going over what she likes to refer to as the foundations of her art, posing and lighting. Having first met her at WPPI in 2010 when she was winning numerous Print Comp awards and doing more and more speaking gigs in the U.S., it was refreshing to see that after everything she has learned (and then turned around and taught the rest of us) about posing and photographing women of all shapes and sizes in her 29 years, she has still managed to maintain her humility and graciousness in spades, and she continues to educate photographers from all over the world.

And just like last year’s conference, there was a definite Oprah show vibe in the air all week as the tireless crew wheeled out dollies of what felt like endless product giveaways from on-site tradeshow vendors and sponsors—even I shrieked as 500 Light and Motion Stella Pros, GraphiStudio gift cards and Sue Bryce Posing Card books were distributed throughout the audience!

In addition to Bryce and Platon, seeing someone as genius as Parker Pfister work his magic on stage in front of a live audience was the icing on the cake. (Photo © Walter van Dusen)

But beyond the giveaways, amazing speakers and much-coveted one-on-one time with Bryce, attendees seemed to take simple pleasure in knowing that, at the end of the day, she was just like them. Wedding and portrait photographer Rochelle Wilhelms, who herself has attended WPPI and who won six awards there in the past, perhaps summed it up best: “Sue has established herself as someone willing to be vulnerable. She allows you to come behind the curtain and see it all—the complexities and challenges of what it’s like to be a photographer. It’s a vulnerable craft, and Sue allows all of us to come and all take our masks off with her.”

Sue Bryce (front row, far left) and George Varanakis (front row, middle) with their tireless crew at the end of The Portrait Masters conference. (Photo © Walter van Dusen)

Want more on Sue Bryce? Check out our feature “The Evolution of Sue Bryce’s Portrait Style,” which appeared inside and on the cover of the September Fashion, Beauty & Style Issue.

Related: Ready, Set, Reveal! Sue Bryce’s Print-Selling Phenomenon

The Power of Print: Sue Bryce’s Large Scale Portraits

Empowerment Through Print: Lessons Learned From Sue Bryce

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