In photography it is really easy to churn through gear (GAS) in search of … something? But seldom do we see people talking about the workshop experience. I had decided that part of becoming a good photographer is seeking out experiences with other photographers in the workshop setting.
My first workshop this year was with Eric Kim in Portland. The workshop topic was “Conquer your fears in Street Photography.” Eric can have a really aggressive in your face style on the street. He hunts the street seemingly staying in motion constantly shooting street style portraits. He could range miles in a day shooting. My sense is there is seldom a quiet moment; always in motion. He translates that style into a workshop and through excersizes enables a student to learn how he does his photos. When I look at his work there are contemplative elements to the composition not just luck, this doesn’t translate into the workshop though. From Eric you learn that there is no pain in approaching people to ask for a photo. In fact most people will not only allow you to make a image of them, they will participate following direction readily.
My second workshop was in LA with Ibarionex Perello a Los Angeles based street photographer. His workshop was a two day affair. The focus was on the basic elements needed to construct a good photograph. Ibarionex’s teaching style is contemplative, zen like, in the study of light & shadow, line & shape, color, gesture. His photographic world for a day may only consist of four square blocks or even a single street corner. After attending his workshop, it is clear that a small world is totally satisfactory for a street photographer. He doesn’t worry too much about the social interaction; it’s expected that you will conquer that interaction as needed.
Both workshops bring the style of the teacher into sharp focus and couldn’t be more different. I realize that I needed the Eric Kim workshop to just get on with shooting photos. At the same time, the style of working doesn’t interest me too much. Emphasizing the sudden glance, the quick motion, the hunt for action. It reminds me of Bruce Gilden somewhat. It’s fun at times to just shoot, shoot, shoot, images, but ulitimately I find it unsatisfying. It feels too dependant on luck. The psychology (mine and the subjects) of photographing people on the street aside, I’ve not found that anything else from the workshop really stuck with me. Once the wall interacting with subjects is broken, the addition of direction is a natural outcome.
Working with Ibarionex is a much more contemplative affair. Since that workshop, I have revisited my notes and the mantra (line/form, light/shadow, color, gesture) many times over. I use these tools to review my work, to photograph on the street, and even more importantly inform all my photos. I’ve been going through my old images and archiving them; I see the method in that work now. Less formed but still there.
It makes sense that the Ibarionex workshop resonated so strongly with me; I had already worked incorporating the mantra I just didn’t have the vocabulary. The difference between before and after was an intellectual basis for the photo. Prior it had been organic feel for what looked good. Organic work is fun but difficult, so unpredictable in the seeking and making of good images. Organic work involves many days or weeks of images that fail to resonate in any way. But worse yet, images that do resonate (are successful we’ll say) are elusive. The organic process (mystical) left the photographer unable to repeat the results. Post-workshop, while the true keepers are still rare, the overall level of misses has improved dramatically. Even more importantly, I can evaluate the misses for what should have happened for improvement. This puts me on the road to becoming a better photographer.
It’s easy to buy photo equipment. The latest greatest camera won’t help though. You’ll have to do the work. You’ll have to seek out education; the changes that improve your work. Set aside the price of a couple lenses and take a workshop. Fly someplace away from home to do it. Take it seriously and learn something. Be careful, it could change your photographer’s eye!