Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Florida Renaissance Festival - A Life Changing event.

I just wrapped up another six weekend season at The Florida Renaissance Festival in Deerfield Beach. The last of the 15,000 photos I took are now sifted through and the ones that made the cut are loading as I write this. The vast majority of the folks in my photos are people I know - somewhere between very well and outside of the festival to just a conversation or two during the event. There are a few that I don't know at all but I've been having friends get the photos to them. My style is a little different than most. I do my very best to capture the life within the faire. I shoot for free. I give them all away. They do no good just hanging out in my computer. They belong on someone's wall or Facebook page.

Casey Martin - 2009
I've been attending for nearly 20 years but I was not born the friendliest of people. Truth be told, way back when I first began bringing my young daughter, I was a workaholic that made other workaholics look lazy. My social skills where similar to a pound of plutonium. Sort of a stay back 10 miles kind of thing. I came to see the shows and knew all the performers by name but that was about it. 

Since I had such difficulty with social interaction and yet a strong desire to not be confined indoors, I would often be found at some of the lessor known and not well attended attractions in Florida. I would tell my friends and family what I had done the past weekend and there would always be a flurry of questions and interest. Since I hated to tell the same story twice, I started a blog in 2009. The South Florida Guy was created as a joke really. I never expected a following or any attention. I opened my Flickr account the same year to post my photos to go along with the blog. Exactly 35 of them for the 2009 Ren Fest. Until a few years ago I was very successful at being completely unnoticed. Now with 2,000,000 hits on Flickr - I think my cover is blown. 

If you would like to add to my success and see my photos [click here]

For my brand new (like a week old) YouTube video channel [click here]

As I have often found in life - It is a lucky combination of circumstances, if you allow the flow to happen, that will catapult you to heights in your life you can scarcely imagine. I took a few photos and wrote a small article about this fair, which was then picked up by a very well known blogger in Miami who blew up my hit counter. That article was noticed by the fair promoter. On the very year I decided I no longer had time to visit the Ren Fest as it had moved and the drive seemed long, I got an email offering a free ticket. I took many more photos and wrote a way better article that was picked up by the 300 or so people who work at this fair - none of which I knew - The next year I was confronted by one of the cast who asked why I took such nice photos and never spoke to anyone. 

Hmmmm - That was a tough one. It was hard to explain to a live theater stage performer that I needed to sit in the parking lot for at least 30 minutes each weekend just to walk in the gate. I fought fear of heights by zip lining in the jungles of Costa Rica. (I call that my one day cure). I had no idea how extreme my level of claustrophobia till a wild cave tour with my daughter. I still have nightmares about that regularly. Happily they always end with coming into the light, gloves and a hard hat, covered in mud and soaked to the skin, fist bumping my daughter in front of a horrified crowd taking the normal walking tour - just as it was in real life. 

But this was something else entirely. How does someone who can't make full sentences in front of strangers talk to them - Well, by finding out that many of these talented performers and street characters have the exact same affliction. They got past it with practice and in this wonderful place I have too. Nothing motivates me more than a challenge right in my face. From there I've moved to actual conversations, friend making, following my new friends to the shows, events and performances they do the rest of the year, or just lunch, dinner, maybe an evening out. 

It has been quite the life altering experience for me. I still get a knot in my stomach whenever I venture into something new but it's no longer crippling to the point I just turn and run. I have found myself in recent years sharing this story with different folks in various need of making a change in their lives. In a few short years I've seen those changes manifest and now those folks are sharing their stories. I suppose in some small way I like my minor photographic celebrity at this fair. The only thing I really take pride in is saying to people - if I can do it, you certainly can - then watching the magic happen. 

As my retirement rapidly approaches, I will no longer be the South Florida Guy. I will be taking my personal little show on the road. New places, new people, new experiences, maybe a photo or two. I owe a lot to the caring, kind, and understanding folks at this show and I will be seeing them again on my journeys.