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A surprise tour is an  excursion, (usually by bus?),  for people who possess a spirit of adventure.  I have never heard of an “surprise tour” before last week, when I was commissioned to spend a day with a group from Stillwater, MN.  The participants did not know where they were headed for on a 3 day outing.  They ended up in the Fox Cities as their destination for fun and discovery.

These were senior citizens, who surrendered their time and money to a tour company in exchange for a unique vacation experience.  I met them at the historic Octagon House in Neenah.

We all remember grade school field trips and the excitement of stepping out of the daily routine of a typical school day.  The anticipation of the trip weeks ahead of departure, the jockeying and positioning of who would sit with who on the bus, the audible volume of the joyous conversation throughout the day,  these were all memories I retained from those school trips to museums, concerts, nature preserves and zoos.  All those characteristics were in evidence with these seniors on this trip.

As I followed the group from place to place in the Valley,  I  experienced the same sense of wide- eyed, joyous excitement that I remembered as a 6th grader on the way to Chicago to visit the Museum of Science and Industry.  The difference was obviously age and with age comes knowledge of the world,  contentment,  and  wisdom.  Laughter and humor, eagerness and spontaneity were mirrored in abundance from childhood to the present.

The comparison of a surprise tour and how life works  could be made, (albeit only as an observation and not a lesson!).  I try to take life as it comes, live in the moment and work at not controlling  what I can’t.  An activity where joy is found in unexpected places is a risk and it might not pay off…but then again, it might.  Taking that chance and surrendering to what life sends my way and being open to it, is a personal aspiration of mine.  It’s not easy.

I tried to capture the spontaneity and enthusiasm of the group throughout the day.  My first task was to gain a little trust, quickly.    Trust is important as is radiating a sense of fun:  “We’re all in this together” or  “I’m one of you” .

Lifestyle photography’s art comes from not seeing how it is done.  My objective is to get people  relaxed to the point where they don’t care I am there.  When I need to move that process along because of time limits, my candid, honest “best side” needs to be working at full tilt.  People are willing, I have found, when I don’t want anything from them except for them to forget nor not care that I am in the room.

By the end of the day, after synchronizing myself with the rhythm of the event and capturing many images,   I am spent.  I have often felt that the variety of projects I work on is what I like most about working as a professional photographer in the Fox Valley.  Shooting product or buildings, (they don’t require acknowledgement) is just as enjoyable to me as mixing with a group of adventurous vacationers, with their endearing eagerness and energizing spirit.

Young and old, with an open, attentive mind, ready and willing to welcome the unexpected, life can be exciting at any age.  A gathering of golden agers reminded me of this last week.

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