By Stephen Rosenblum (Continued from Part I)
...During one of the first sessions at Peter's apartment we were each asked to tell the group a story, either true or fictional. We then went around the room, each telling a story, and they were all pretty affecting. He then asked us to try to see a story in each of the photos that we made, and to try to tell a story with a series of photographs taken during our week at the workshop. A preconceived story was not required; rather, he said that as the week progressed we would all be able to see a story in the kinds of photos we each made that would hang together and could be presented on the last day.
Each day we were asked to bring in 50 to 70 photographs that we had taken the day before for class review. First, all of each student's photographs were quickly reviewed in order. Then Peter went back through each one on screen selecting keepers, saying "yes" and "no" to each image. In the first few days he would add a quick comment about why the photograph either worked or did not work and made suggestions on how we might improve. By the end of the week that became unnecessary, as we all had incorporated his vision of what made a successful photograph and what did not. This process was very effective at teaching us how to edit our own work, and by extension, how to see good photographs better when we were out on the street looking for them. Everyone got much better as the week progressed.
Turnley moved to Paris in the mid-'70s and boldly sought out his heroes. He worked as an assistant to Robert Doisneau, and either got to know or became friends with many of the leading photographers of that era—Boubat, Ronis, Cartier-Bresson, Frank, Smith, and others. In his career as a photojournalist, he recorded some of the most dramatic and tragic human events of our times. Between assignments he always came back to Paris where he wandered the streets photographing life-affirming moments. I suspect that street photography serves as a kind of therapy for Peter, a way to integrate all of life as he has experienced it, both good and bad, and to share it with others. He has relied upon the many close relationships he has formed through the years to inspire and sustain him. Many of those people are now gone. I think that Peter views himself as a bridge between the humanistic photographic tradition of the mid to late 20th century and the present, and teaching workshops is one way of making those connections for others.
One afternoon, the master printer Voja Mitrovic (pronounced VOY-a MIT-ro-vitch) came to Peter's apartment to meet with us. Voja first told us the story of his life, which is quite compelling. Then, he opened a box and began to pull out prints, each one an iconic image that he had printed for Cartier-Bresson, Koudelka, and others. In his right hand he held up the initial work print and in his left hand he held up the finished print. He then described what went into getting from the first print to the second print. Being able to see original versions of those legendary photographs was by itself an amazing experience, but hearing a master printer describe his own process was extraordinary.
Another afternoon we took a walk over to the Gallerie Agathe Galliard, where we were able to meet Madame Gaillard, who opened the very first photography gallery in Paris in June, 1975 and who helped convince the world that photography should be regarded as a serious art form. Her stories about the world of photography and the people in it were fascinating. We also viewed the gallery's latest exhibition of photographs by Elizabeth Prouvost, who was on hand to meet with us as well. This visit served as another link between the past and the vibrant present in the world of photography.
The group visited the Roméo Martinez Library at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, which contains more than 24,000 photographic books. There we were able to look through dozens of first editions such as Cartier-Bresson's The Decisive Moment, Frank's The Americans, and many others. We sat at long desks in a quiet room that felt more like a book cathedral than a library.
Friday was dedicated to each of us having a one-on-one editing session with Peter in which we selected 12–15 of our best photographs from the week as well as assigning a title/theme to the "story" that we thought the photos conveyed. These photographs were presented as a show on the final morning and were also compared with a portfolio of our previous work that Peter asked us to bring. Most of us thought we were going to be asked to show our portfolio on the first day as a launching off point, but reserving it for the last day was a better way of seeing our own growth.
On the last night of the workshop, we walked over to the apartment of John Morris, the eminent photo editor (and the author of the great book Get the Picture —Ed.]. John has been involved in almost every important photojournalistic endeavor since the 1930s; he's now 93 years old. After inviting us into his living room, he stood and gave a one-hour lecture illustrated by slides describing the "behind the scenes" stories for many of the most important photographs of the last seventy years. Afterwards, he joined all of us for dinner.
My wife and I agreed that meeting John Morris was worth what the workshop cost.
Attending this workshop was a wonderful growth experience for me. I enjoyed it immensely. Peter is a great teacher and a remarkable person. I learned some things about photography and about myself and made some great friends, while having a wonderful time in Paris. Did I mention the food?
(My friend Steve Rosenblum is a cardiologist and healthcare IT consultant who enjoys flyfishing and photography. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Breckenridge, Colorado. Peter's next workshop is the New York Street Photography Workshop, Aug. 14–20. It's sponsored by Leica, and participants will have opportunities to use the Leica M9 and Leica lenses during the week. —MJ)
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.