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  • Writer's pictureJen Bertrand


This year, I got the opportunity to do something I had wanted to do for awhile – photograph SXSW. I had attended the festival as an Austinite many times before, but I had always gone with the intention of seeing all the free shows I possibly could in about a four day span. This time, though, it was different. Although I had already moved to Dallas from Austin, I spent 11 days crashing on friend and fellow photog, LISA HAUSE’S, futon. Yes. ELEVEN DAYS. We spent eleven long, 10-12 hour days together shooting the festival from beginning to end. It was exhilarating and exhausting all at the same time. And to top it off, my body decided to revolt and succumb to a gnarly head cold 4 days into it. Coincidentally, this was the week I discovered that Mucinex is apparently made of rainbows and baby giggles, because it was a miracle and the only thing that provided ANY relief to my poor sinuses. But, despite the long hours of hard work, it really paid off when I got to photograph ….drum roll, please…my hero, Dave Grohl.

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I met him briefly on the street the day before his keynote speech for SXSW (which is a story for a different day and post), but I knew I had to be there to watch his speech from beginning to end. There was nothing that was going to keep me from being there. Events like this typically come with restrictions, so it was no surprise that all media was limited to photographing only the first 2 minutes of his speech. Part of me was a little irked, but then I realized that it forced me to stop, pay attention, and become fully engrossed in his every word.

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Grohl's speech focused on embracing your own voice ("I liked my new voice. Because, no matter how bad it sounded . . . it was mine. There was nobody there to tell me what was right or what was wrong, so . . . there was no right or wrong."), making the most of what you have ("We practiced in a barn. Every day. It was all that we had. There was no sun. There was no moon. There was just . . . the barn. And those songs."), and never trading in your true self to be the person you think others want you to be ("But, I like to think that what the world heard in Nirvana's music was the sound of three human beings, three distinct personalities, their inconsistencies and their imperfections proudly on display for everyone to hear. Three people that had been left to their own devices their entire lives to find THEIR voices. It was honest. It was pure. And It was real."). It spoke to my very core - to the young girl who used to sacrifice her true self for a failed sense of acceptance, who always wanted what she didn't have because she was told it wasn't good enough, and most importantly, to the young girl who wondered if she even had a voice.

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This past week, I was challenged to move beyond a boundary I felt existed in my life. The truth is, it only existed because I said it did. And that realization took me back to this moment in March, crammed into a ballroom in the Austin Convention Center listening to my hero tell me, "It's YOUR VOICE. Cherish it. Respect it. Nurture it. Challenge it. Stretch it and scream until it's f#%$*!g gone. Because everyone is blessed with at least that, and who knows how long it will last . . ." I ended up with some, in my opinion, pretty mundane shots that day (very similar to everyone else who was hunched down in the media pit for those two minutes). Nevertheless, I left inspired, full of gratitude, and with a memory that will never leave me. Okay, and some photos of my hero shot from only my perspective (if you said, "Total fan girl," you nailed it). But in the end, that's all that really matters. No matter how similar my photos may be to the rest of the media, it's my unique memory of that hour that will be mine and mine alone.

You can check out the full speech here.

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