I had my idea worked out for the photo essay, Anti-Social Networking. But how do I make photographs that don't look like all of my other photos taken in this essay/workshop? Is that even possible? It was at that time that I realized that there is a whole lot of research I need to explore on my essay topic. What other photographs would express this topic? I began to think that I'd have to explore other ways to photograph. Would I need to learn indoor lighting, get people to pose for me? I've never really liked that kind of photography, but maybe this would lead to someting else for me? More questions than answers. I began to think, "What right do I have even approaching this topic?" The more I thought about it, the more I realized I didn't know much about my essay idea. These are not very productive thoughts halfway through a workshop on the Photographic Essay, especially when I'm shooting film and have all this work in front of me. Press on! Something will come out of this!
When we were doing our morning photo reviews in the morning with David, he talked about "finishing" the shot. Never heard that term before so I was immediately lit up. He showed us by example, which he is so good at. He showed us his contact sheets from a recent book he did. How we got the shot that he wanted by getting into the position he needed. And that he might take a few shots to get there. "Sometimes you have to take the shot that you don't want in order to get to the place you need to be for the 'shot'." David gave us examples of shots that he took in dangerous situations where a requested shot led to permission to take others. Plant yourself there. Don't move. Let the action come to you. "Ownership" came to my mind; own the shot, own the spot. Pursue it, don't just take one shot. Yeah, take the shot, but then look at what didn't work with the initial shot and try to get in a better position for it. I'm not talking about "chimping" the back of your camera either. In street photography you usually don't get a second chance for the shot, and there's no room for a chimp here.
There was a shot that I brought to class that met this criteria, not finished. There was an element to the shot that David critiqued, "Man, this is a great shot. Too bad you've got this huge section of wall in your shot." If I had finished the shot, I would have noticed the wall and moved in closer, but then I wouldn't of had the glance back by the guy passing by. It would've been a much different shot. I still like the photo, but it doesn't work totally. But that is chalked up to the hazards of street photography... you deal with failure more often than not, and that's the challenge of it all.
That afternoon I shot until about 7pm, got home, and immediately hit it. Develop film, eat some dinner, dry negatives, print contacts, edit from wet contact sheets, and make prints. Had a crop of about 15 photos. Dry them with a squeegie and hair dryer, scan them and put on a USB memory stick. Got to sleep about 3am.
Here's a word about comparing digital to film. I queried the people in the workshop shooting digital and they too were going to sleep around 3am too, and they brought the same amount of photos to class. Hmmm...
Hey, you've gotten this far on my blogposting and I appreciate you sticking with it. Thanks for all the kind words and feedback.
Special thanks to those that have sent me spelling fixes; Susan Catherine Weber, and Frank Brinsley! Thanks for helping me out!
OK, enough with the background, I can tell that some of you are getting restless to know more. And thanks to those that have left me some comments here. I am really quite flattered that you've come around to check in.
All participants were required to post ten to fifteen photographs that represented their work and style of photography, to give David an idea of what each participant was capable of. The most memorable to me were from someone that submitted some amazing Holga shots of Coney Island. She even had some superwide stitched together in-camera shots. David asked her http://www.flickr.com/photos/deborahsmith/ if she was going to use the Holga for the class but sadly it would've been too consuming for her. Needless to say I was very impressed with most of what I saw. David selected a few photos from each portfolio for later review against what we shot during the workshop.
David looked over my photos that I submitted prior to the workshop and commented "I can see your influences, Winogrand and Friedlander. You have a firm grasp of street photography and know what you are doing. Are you going to continue shooting street in this workshop, or focus on a specific topic?" I had never had my shots in front of a workshop critque so was very nervous about this how my shots would stand up against the rest of the participants. It was great to get them in front of someone that understands street photography (for lack of a better term).
We got out of "class" around 1pm. I brought my lunch with me each day of the workshop in order to save time for shooting. The last thing I wanted was to wait for the check or be dependent on someone else to finish eating. I wanted to spend time talking with the group out of class so I ate my lunch with them, finished early, and left to go shoot on my own.
I had been shooting at SXSW 2010 the weekend prior to the workshop to see if I could come up with an essay; something that would be of interest to me. Even just prior to the workshop i wasn't at all sold on the idea of "creating" an essay. It still seemed foriegn to me; forced. I decided to be open to it nevertheless.
I should point out that Austin Center for Photography arranged for David to give a lecture to the public at the Blanton Museum on Wednesday evening of the workshop (Day 1). We weren't required to attend the speech, but how could we miss it? I have to say that one of the selfish reasons to take this workshop was also to meet and get to know more of the photographers in Austin. An expensive way to network, but also a way to show them my photography.
After lunch, I headed for the action. My turf was going to be 6th Street between Congress and Red River. This is where the action was. Bands playing in 20 minute stints and rotating between clubs. Indie rockers on street corners playing for anyone that might listen. Film people waiting in line to attend debuts of up and coming documentarists, and movie makers. There were private parties put on by sponsors; free booze, eats, etc. If you've never been to SXSW (South By Southwest), you might want to check it out some time in the future.
I never felt so alive in Austin. The amount of people on the streets exhilerated me. I couldn't believe what I was looking at. It was at this point that I let loose. I didn't really care about my "essay," I just kept shooting what was in front of me. I ran into several from the workshop, and expressed to them that I felt so free, free from my essay idea, almost as if selecting an essay set me free from the restrictions of it? The burden of it? I wasn't sure how this would pan out, but at this point I didn't really care. I never had this feeling in Austin before while shooting.
I didn't want to leave the streets but knew that if I didn't get home soon I wouldn't be able develop my film and get to the lecture on time. I got all seven rolls developed, gave them a once over glance to see if I had anything, grabbed a quick bite to eat (salad and a piece of steak) and headed to the lecture.
The lecture was great and I'll comment on this later. More free food after the speech, book signing by David. Several people were heading out for drinks, I headed home to my darkroom. I was excited to see my shots for the first time. I never know what to expect from my shooting. I always approach this process as if nothing has come out. I probably didn't expose properly, or didn't focus sharply enough. I printed contact sheets and while they were washing, selected the shots I wanted to print. I found about fifteen shots that I thought represented my essay and printed those. Once done printing, I dried them and then scanned them in order to digitize them for class.
I didn't want to stop printing but thought that a crop of 15 prints was enough to go on for the first review against my essay idea. When I was a teenager I can remember thinking that I had taken all the shots I can think of and was done with photography; nothing else interested me. I was done. I had this same thought with my photo essay idea. I had what I thought was 15 solid shots that exemplified my idea and wanted to move on to something else. I would tell David this when I reviewed my shots with him at the next day's review. )
A lot of you know by now that I was filled with anxiety about taking the DAH workshop in Austin. I had never taken a photography workshop or class for that matter, and was filled with apprehension.
Would this change my vision?
What's a photo essay?
Would my photography measure up?
Why do a photo workshop in Austin? Why not someplace else where there are actually people?
Would I get along with the other people in the workshop?
How could I keep up with digital shooters while I was shooting film?
The title of the workshop was the "Photographic Essay." Sounds like an easy concept to understand; Simple! you tell a story with your photos, right? Well, not exactly.
David encouraged us to pick a topic that we could get started on during the workshop. Something we could attain; something we were passionate about. Truth is, the idea of a Photographic Essay had been something that I deal with all the time. Not in the traditional "Beginning, Middle, and End" sense, but in the telling a story through the photos with each photo having all the elements of the entire story. Best way I can describe it might be like holography. If you were to split a hologram in half, you'd have two equal representations of the original hologram. Split it again and you'd have another replica of the original. Point is, each photo should tell a part of the whole essay but should be the whole at the same time.
Photo Essay's are something that I've been excited about since I started shooting when I was 8. In fact, it was the reason I started to take pictures in the first place. However, the idea of beginning and ending a photo essay in five days sounded counter-intuitive to me. My approach to photo essays has been to evolve them organically through what I see in my photos only after the act of taking pictures; not to go after them with a preconceived notion. This workshop would be a 180 degree shift to my approach. Needless to say, my thought process started immediately upon hitting "register" for the workshop. What would my essay be about? I just knew something would hit me.
I shot the first day going after my essay, then went home to develop film, print and scanned my shots at the end of the day, to come in the second day of the workshop ready for review. I was convinced that I had finished my essay. I was done! I had shot everything there was to shoot around this topic. I wanted to move on. This is when I had my first "Aha" moment of the class! As David pointed out as he reviewed my shots in front of the rest of the workshop participants. "You've got some nice shots here." David selected four of the 20 shots I brought in for review. David again, "You're done with this essay? Man... you've got a serious case of ADD (Attention Deficit Dysfunction) my friend. You haven't even started yet!" (Chuckle from the other participants) It was at this moment that I realized I have so much more to go with my essay; so much more to explore, so much more to research and learn.
more on this later... I gotta get back to my day job now! Lunch break is now over!
Born and raised in New York City. Lived in Warsaw, Poland, and Portland, Oregon. Now living in Austin, TX, for the past year.