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. )
My first blog post started into Day 1, so I thought I'd go back to the beginning. In fact, this isn't really the beginning of the workshop for me, since it started when I hit the "register" button on the www.visitacp.org website. So let's go back to the first evening/get together...
The workshop kicked off on Tuesday night with a get together with the other workshop participants; David, some Austin Center for Photography board members, people from the Austin area that knew David from other workshops, and Eli Reed. Eli is a UT professor and Magnum Agency photographer with David.
There were a total of 13 participants in the workshop and several people to help the out-of-towners find their way around Austin. People came from San Diego, Israel, London, and other places too. Two of us were film shooters and were going to shoot film throughout the workshop. Turns out the two of us, Michael and I, had a lot in common. We both shot with Leica's, black and white film, and have a penchant for street photography. Michael was going to develop and scan his negatives in his hotel room and I developed my films, printed and scanned my prints for the workshop in my darkroom. The rest of the participants were shooting digital cameras to which I thought was would have been an advantage for them... more on this later! Here's a link to Michael's photography: http://photomh.weebly.com/.
After mingling for an hour or so, talking with a few of the workshop members, David pulled us all together. We each had a chance to say something about what we were looking to get out of the workshop, where we were with our photography, what we like to shoot, etc. David let us know what to expect from the workshop.
Some of the participants wanted to pursue photography and make money at it. Some said they were doing weddings on the weekends and that sustained them to pursue their own work the rest of the time. I was slightly skeptical of this since I've always thought there wasn't really any money in photography, and the situation had gotten worse with all the on-line photo websites.
It was my turn to give my schpiel. I told the others that I wanted to find my eye in Austin. That I have a difficult time finding anything to shoot. The architecture is boring, there are no people on the streets, and it's Texas! Home of the right-wing nut-jobs!!! I explained that I travel in order to shoot what I want. I was hopeful that I might find my eye in this city. I could have done this workshop in NYC and been better off from a photographic sense. David asked what I did for a living, and after explaining this, David said that he would be most interested in seeing my portfolio. He thought they would be "formal" and "scientific." I told him that he would be surprised since I don't think my shots are that way at all. I was excited to prove him wrong in this way. And I think I did surprise him the next day at the first portfolio review.
What I found most amazing about David, and still do, is his commitment to each and every person in that room. You don't just take a DAH workshop and walk away. I suppose you could, but David insisted that once you take his workshop you are his student for life. We could count on him to review our portfolios and give us edit advice. If you are willing to keep at it, he's willing to find you a publisher if that is the way you wish to go. David was serious about this.
I gotta get some sleep... more later!
Born and raised in New York City. Lived in Warsaw, Poland, and Portland, Oregon. Now living in Austin, TX, for the past year.