I was newly out of undergraduate school with a B.A. in English/ minor in Photography. Mary Ellen was invited to speak at my alma mater Penn State, a lecture not to be missed. She had recently completed her "Streetwise" book. My former professors insisted that I come and invited me to a graduate class portfolio review. "And just in case," they said, "bring your own work... you never know"
Well, at the very end, when there was still some time left, and her back was turned, I placed my 2 portfolios on the table. One was my school art work. The other my photojournalism. I was earning a living as a newspaper photographer (and feeling quite unfulfilled I might add).
When she turned around she assumed the portfolios belonged to 2 different people. When I shyly spoke up and told her they were both mine she ruthlessly shred the photojournalism work to pieces. "You have no idea about the worth of your vision... Your work must be your work... get to Graduate School"
And here I am now, a Photography Professor at SCAD with 21 years of enthralling commitment. I found my worth. I have shown her work in nearly every class I have taught. I continue to make and show the fine art photographs that delight, infuse and enthuse me. I understand and value my personal photographic vision and how that fuels my dedication to teaching. My vocation and avocation are the epitome of "your work should be your work".
Decades later I did have the fortunate opportunity to express my gratitude. Sadly she passed away last Monday. I have a hole in my heart.
The moral of the story: go to every lecture; go to every portfolio review; appreciate criticism... you never know!