A Sit-Down With Jason Groupp
by Jacqueline Tobin
January 09, 2013 —
It’s official—WPPI has a new director: New York City-based wedding photographer, Jason Groupp. As director, he is responsible for overseeing the growth of membership and education, setting up speakers for the annual WPPI Conference and Expo, and maintaining speaker relations for the conference, WPPI U and WPPI On The Road. What better time than now to better get to know the man behind the bowtie?
Jacqueline Tobin: Congratulations! What compelled you to quit your “day job” as a full-time wedding photographer for a desk job?
Jason Groupp: I’ve been shooting weddings for a very long time… I’ve never done anything else besides photography. So the change is not too traumatic because I’m staying in the same industry. And I’ve had other “9-to-5” jobs before this one—I’ve worked in photo studios for companies like J. Crew, Conair and Cuisinart, so I am familiar with more corporate atmospheres. But as far as doing something completely unrelated to photography… I didn’t think that I would ever make that kind of a change. That’s why this is such a perfect job for me. By doing all the of speaking I’ve done over the last seven years and getting to know the industry on the inside—from the vendor’s perspective and from a business standpoint—I had thought this would be a great transition and a way for me to move out of shooting weddings full time. Because at a certain point, I think the physical aspect of being a wedding photographer would not allow me do it anymore. That said, I probably have another ten years left in me!
JT: You know the whole WPPI crowd and they know you, but give me the Cliffs Notes’ version of your photography background.
JG: I started shooting weddings when I was 17. I grew up in Rockland County, New York and worked for a local photographer as his assistant. I shot my first Bar Mitzvah when I was a senior in high school and started shooting small weddings in my freshman year of college [FIT, class of 1989]. So I’ve been shooting weddings for 25 years! I do want people to know that I haven’t stopped being a photographer; I’m going to keep the studio going for as long as I can, and I have a phenomenal studio manager, Karen Seifert, who is also starting to shoot for the studio. I want to brand Karen as her own entity with her own style. She’s been shooting for seven or eight years, and has been with me for two. I don’t want to give up my studio in Chelsea—I’ve been there for 13 years and I would never be able to have that again if I give it up.
JT: There have been so many changes at WPPI in the past year. What do you think is the biggest challenge for you as WPPI moves forward?
JG: When WPPI was purchased, there was some controversy attached. Any time a company purchases something that is already successful and then tries to bring it into their realm, obviously there are going to be transition issues. WPPI is a unique conference in that people have grown up in that culture; WPPI is it’s own culture. I hope to bridge the gap between what I term the “West Coast” and the “East Coast.” Two-thirds of people [at the conference] are from the western half of the U.S. My goal is to increase the number from this side of the country (East Coast) to travel to the show in Vegas. I also want to grow the international aspect of the show, because, as I’ve learned since I started here, a lot of people come from China, Australia and Europe …all over the world, really. I definitely want to look into ways to make these attendees feel more welcome, and to have WPPI be all-encompassing.
JT: In my experience, wedding photographers are a breed all their own. What about WPPI makes it so unique?
JG: I’ll explain it by sharing my first time at WPPI: It was about eight years ago, so I’d been shooting weddings at that point for 18 years. Some friends were going to the show and they convinced me to join them and “just have some fun.” I wasn’t into it at first, but I went with a good attitude. Long story short—I landed at 11 p.m., took a cab to the Hard Rock Hotel, and upon walking into one of the penthouse suites, I heard bowling alley pins crashing. Then I see a photographer high-fiving the entire crowd because he had just bowled a strike. That was my first intro to WPPI. All I could think was, “Wow, these people are having so much fun!” My experience with most wedding photographers prior to that wasn’t super positive, but I think the culture of WPPI is what has changed all that. Not only is wedding photography something we do to make a living, it’s also a lifestyle.
From that trip, I made tons of friends and came back totally jazzed about what I did as a wedding photographer. I learned so much about how to be a wedding photographer from a personal perspective. That completely transformed my career. WPPI isn’t just about the platform classes and everything else, it’s about that Mecca we go every year to meet up with our friends. It’s those bar room discussions at three o’clock in the morning at Rouge until they kick us out; it’s meeting someone you’ve never met before on the Starbucks line at the MGM Grand; it’s going out for dinners; and, of course, it’s about developing all these great relationships with the vendors. They throw awesome parties, and then we get to actually party with them. That’s a great way to see them, but it also lets me get to know the people I am buying from—I want to know what they are all about. That’s important to me and it’s important to my peers.
JT: Do you see ways to improve the show experience? Everything can always be improved, right?
JT: So you want to bring more fun to WPPI. Can you be more specific?
JG: I have lots of ideas and I love to push the envelope. Like I did when I embarked on my “Most Camera Flashes Ever” record for the Guinness World Records two years ago.
That was fun for me. Adding the fun component is what the conference has always been about and learning can be fun. Going forward, I want to add more hands-on education, and also bring in some new speakers, new blood.
JT: As you settle into this role, will it be hard to go from best mate to man in charge?
JG: A bunch of my friends told me that with power comes great responsibility. I think it is definitely going to be hard for me because most people naturally want to favor their friends, but I’m going to work really hard to make sure I don’t let my opinions judge my decisions. I’ve got lots of friends in this industry who—as they told me—are going to keep me on the straight and narrow! And that’s fine, because I do want to hear from people about their complaints. But I also want to hear from them when they have something nice to say!
JT: So…why bowties?
JG: When I was in my mid- 20s, I had my hair going really long down my back. I was the typical Nirvana, 90s grunge rock guy. As my wife and I started getting invited to a lot of her friends’ weddings, everyone started asking her if I was going to show up at their weddings with my long hair and goatee. As a protest, I started wearing bowties, just to take it one step further. But it backfired on me because everyone loved them. I started wearing them after that, and now they have become my signature accessory.
JT: Do you wear bowties on the weekend?
JG: I do not; I never wore one consistently every day the way I do for work here. At weddings now, my clients expect me to wear one, and here at the office, it’s expected. I want to see how long I can keep it going. I have about two or three dozen but it’s been tough finding winter bowties. (I have a strong feeling about men not wearing clip-ons.)
JT: Any last thoughts?
JG: I would like to do something to dedicate this year to Jen Burgess Thompson [diagnosed in 2011 with ovarian cancer at age 36], so keep tuned on that. She lived the entire process—from diagnosis to death—with us [on her blog, www.amistillagirl.com]. And that experience truly explains the people that make up WPPI. We are a family.
Photo by John Michael Cooper
Jason with his son Eli, his wife Elizabeth, and his daughter Phoebe.
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