Why Meet In Real Life?

I am planning on attending the Toy Photographers meet-up that is planned on the Oregon coast at the end of May of this year.   To accomplish this I am leaving my wife and kids behind, flying across country, and staying in hotels for a week. That is a lot of time, expense and bother to hang out with a bunch of folks I have never met.

So the question you may be asking yourself right now is this:  Will it be worth it?

My honest answer right now is this:  Maybe? Maybe not? However I have high confidence the meet-up will be worth it.  The reason for my certainty lies in a fundamental truth that I have learned over the past few years.  That truth is that real world in-person relationships for an artist are vital, and can be life changing.

How do I know this?  Because I have lived it.

The Scavenger Meet-up

So for the past 6 years I have been participating in the Chrysta Rae Photography Scavenger Hunt.  It involves getting a list of words, and making photographs based on those words.  Since all of the scavengers hung out in a G+ community for each hunt,  online friendships were inevitably created.

A few years into the hunt Chrysta Rae decided that we should have a real life meet-up. Everyone who ever competed in the hunt was invited.  So off we went to Las Vegas to meet up with 150 perfect strangers.

Now before we all left, there was a lot of talk in the community about our various fears of meeting strangers.  Fear of forgetting names, of not fitting in, of social awkwardnesses and anxieties.  The usual mix of introvert angst.  All the things one expects from a bunch of artists who prefer to hang out online instead of in person.  Personally I didn’t even want to go.  At the time I didn’t consider myself an artist or photographer. I mainly went because my wife wanted to go (and secret hopes of the famous Las Vegas seafood buffets).

So on Thursday we landed in Vegas.  The meet-up started Friday morning.  By the following Tuesday I left Vegas with tears in my eyes. The reason is that I found my tribe.  For the first time in a long time I found a group of people who I really felt I could be myself with, and they could be themselves with me.  It was family, and it was awesome.


The Meet-up Never Really Ended

Since then those friendships have continued, and it changed me.  Previous to that I would have never allowed anyone not my wife and kids to join me on a road trip.  However that summer I ended up kidnapping one of them and embarking on a road trip across Canada. Along the way we joined up with another Scavenger from Wisconsin, and we drove for a couple weeks to Alberta, and met up with a dozen scavengers along the way.

My wife, Paul Howard, Liz Kaeterhenty and Ron Clifford at a meet-up in Red Deer Alberta
My wife, Paul Howard, Liz Kaeterhenty and Ron Clifford at a meet-up in Red Deer Alberta
A bunch of scavengers at Lake Louise in Alberta Canada
A bunch of scavengers at Lake Louise in Alberta Canada

The following summer we hung out with a bunch of Scavengers in Alberta. This past October we had the second official meet-up in Vegas.

I have travelled a lot since then, and at almost every location I’ve had a Scavenger friend to hang out with when I got there.  Zurich, New York, Toronto, Chicago, San Francisco, Orlando… everywhere.

From those relationships I have grown as an artist.  In fact it was the person I drove across Canada, Ron Clifford, who became my mentor in The Arcanum, and who I credit with really kicking off my journey as an artist.   I can draw a direct line from the artist I am today straight back to the decision to show up in Vegas and meet a bunch of strangers.

Other Meet-ups Proved Valuable

I have seen the benefits of this in other things as well.  One of my other hobbies is geocaching.  Geocachers have many events as a matter of course. It has been thru those events that I met other geocachers Those new connection given me other new opportunities, like being a podcaster.

As a working professional who works in a remote office on a distributed team, traveling to meet other team members proves invaluable in strengthening relationships.  It is much easier to work with people from a distance once you meet them in real life.

Wrapping This Up

So that is my reasons for wanting to attend this meet-up.  Will the magic I have experienced in other meet-ups translate to this one?  Maybe, maybe not.  At worst I expect I’ll get to walk along a beach on the Oregon coast and catch some magnificent sunsets.  At best I’ll walk away with new friendships.  Either way, it will be worth the trip to find out.


If you are interested in attending the Toy Photographers meet-up in Oregon from May 25-28, 2018, check out the details and sign up.  While you are waiting, you can get more Toy Photography information from our amazing podcast.



  1. brett_wilson

    Dave, I think I’ve got you beat on the time and expense outlaid for this one!
    But like you, I too know that there is no substitute for real life connections made.
    I’ll be meeting the flesh versions of some I’ve virtually known since I first dipped my toes in the toy photography waters. And I’ll be meeting and making a lot of new friends too.
    With every day I cross off the calendar at work (25 more work days!) I get more and more excited for the #ORToyPhotoSafari.
    Looking forward to hanging out with you mate!

  2. Stefan K / fubiken

    Been to a few toysafaris here in Europe and it has been a blast! meeting old and new friends, see new places and taking a ton of images. Always having a great time 🙂

  3. There is something about meeting your tribe that nothing else compares to. And it’s not that we only have one tribe out there — there might be a half dozen. The people who deeply share your politics or religion. The people who have gone through similar remarkable (or traumatic) experiences. The people who share your fandom passions (Whovians, Browncoats, Trekkies, etc). The people who share your profession.

    The more “connected” our society gets online, the more our IRL relationships stand out, I think. Or at least they can. Much of my life, it was the people I found online that understood me far better than those around me IRL. But now I’m finding that deeper relationships can be cultivated near or far, and sometimes it involves stepping out and meeting people in the flesh. There’s such joy in hanging out in person with those you’ve been close to online. It enriches everything.

    A great post, Dave! You’ve provoked thought, and a fresh appreciation for my own experiences with this. Thank you.

  4. JP

    I doubt I’ll ever make any of the US meet ups, but have high hopes of attending a UK one. As an ‘older’ photographer, great to see a good mix of ages and sexes in the group above.. always worried you’ll be the fossil in the corner amoungst the youngsters.
    I do think we all worry about ‘will we fit in’ at some point and that’s why we’ve found each other online initially, but for what i reckon i would get from meeting up, happy to try and get myself outside my comfort zone….

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