As a specialist conference photographer it is an assignment I find myself doing a few times a year. Sometimes they can be fun, often they’re boring, but every now and then I do a conference for a company that pulls out all the stops and puts on an event that staggers me. The 2016 Edward Snell & Co conference was one of those rare events. Wow. All I can say is that watching this company treat their staff like royalty over a period of three days in the Drakensberg’s Champagne Sports Resort gave me renewed faith that there are still companies out there who genuinely appreciate the value of human capital. And they showed that in abundance. This company spared no expense in showing their staff a good time and how much they were appreciated. As I am often prone to do, I found myself talking with some of the staff informally and the respect that they have for their employers is even rarer than the atmosphere in the Drakensberg mountains.
The first evening of this conference saw a fully fledged indoor soccer tournament going on inside one of the huge event rooms at the resort, complete with stands for spectators, big screen TV’s, a proper astroturf field (indoors) and even a guest appearance from Bafana Bafana star player Majoro (who is an ambassador for one of their brands, First Watch Whisky). The next day included the usual company presentations during the day, but also some amazement from South Africa’s own “Mentalist” Gilan Gork, who entertained an enthralled audience with some baffling intuition and reading of people. Later that night there was a hip-hop evening sponsored by Russian Bear Vodka in the room that had the night before hosted the indoor soccer tourney. It was, however, completely transformed into a performance stage with lighting worthy of any international act. The artist who took to the stage was Riky Rick, a home grown rapper who has begun to make a name for himself on the international front. I cannot profess to being a fan of hip-hop music, quite the opposite, but the conference attendees were loving it. Some of the young ladies who had been hired to work the stage and the people were a little over-awed when he took to the stage. I don’t think they were faking it either. :-)
The final day included a talk from a man many South Africans know as a presenter on the conservation TV show 50:50, but who has also accomplished many other truly amazing things in his life, including running the entire length of the Great Wall Of China (4218km) in just over 100 days. His name is Braam Malherbe and I believe he is a superman. He supports so many worthy causes but the one he shared with the audience on this day was about Operation Smile, which is in my eyes one of the most humane endeavours I have ever encountered anywhere. Basically they provide free facial reconstructive surgery to children (and adults) who were born with cleft lips, cleft palate and other facial deformities. He first spoke about Operation Smile and why he has become involved with it, before showing us a video of before and after footage of the recipients of the program that had tears streaming unashamedly down my face. Again, just wow. This kind of inspiration is what the world needs and I felt truly uplifted and motivated to help in some way with what these guys are doing to change the lives of people who would otherwise lead a truly miserable existence.
Later that day there were field activities and team building exercises designed (I think) to try and help those still groggy from the night before’s hip-hop evening return to some semblance of normal. I am not convinced it worked, but a lot of fun was had regardless. Then there was the finale, a black tie dinner and awards evening where after all my work was done I finally got to sample, for the first time, Glenfiddich’s 18-year-old single malt whisky. Enough with the wow already, but gee whizz, that stuff was nice!
The highlight of the conference for me was being personally thanked by both the MD of Edward Snell & Co. and the owner of the agency I was working through for the work I had done on the conference. One of the support crew on the A/V side had put together a 5 minute video of the photos I had taken over the three days and this was played throughout the evening, so people could see what this fellow with the cameras was doing lurking in the shadows. They loved it. In total I shot over 3000 images at this conference, which is a record for me as a conference photographer, I managed to whittle that down to just over 1000 shots which I sent to the client. Below are some of my favourites.