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Wednesday, 04 August 2010


Mike, I'd still recommend taking a workshop if you find yourself stuck. Some of the the people I know who've gotten the most out of workshops were teachers "sitting in" on others' workshops. It's nice to see different ways of approaching the same problems, or completely different problems.

Almost 20 years ago I attended a workshop in Vermont with the now late Fred Picker. Fred had his detractors, but he was an excellent teacher. Besides learning a lot about large format photography, I honed my darkroom skills enormously, and developed some disciplined techniques that served me well for many years thereafter.

An unexpected benefit of the experience was that I met many nice folks, one in particular who has remained a good friend for all those years. Good friends are harder to find than good workshops...but photographic exploration provided the initial common bond.

The best workshop I ever attended was a long weekend with Michael Smith & Paula Chamlee at their home in Bucks County.
Our techniques are completely different. They use view cameras on tripod for landscapes, develop by inspection in Pyro, and contact print with Amadol. I use a hand-held 35mm SLR for dynamic subjects, tank develop by time/temp, and enlarge onto VC paper. Yet their presentation of the essence of the photographic art was absolutely exhilarating!
Sometimes, however, the most important thing to be learned from taking a workshop is that it is not the path one should follow.

I have a hard time thinking about "conceptual" classes -- those that would suggest ways to be creative. However, I've taken two technical workshops (at Santa Fe) and learned a lot in a very short time. Well worth the effort. The night photography class sounds interesting...


Years ago, I attended a John Sexton darkroom workshop. Inspiring? Yes. As I drove home, I was seeing better, finding photographs at every turn. Educational? Unbelievably so.

Before the workshop, other experienced photographers had often complimented me on my printing skills. I was pretty good, but . . . .

I came back and the first print I made was more than head and shoulders better than anything I had done before. It was uphill from there. There is always more to learn, but the workshop enabled me to "shortcut" an awful lot of learning time and propelled me to a level I did not think was possible for me.

All in all, one of the best photographic experiences I ever had.

The first workshop I took was in India with a photojournalist. We shot every day, developed our film each afternoon, and critiqued our work each evening. My initial impressions of what a workshop would be were realized, and I can't measure or use enough superlatives to describe what I learned.

The second workshop I took was very different. I went with no expectations because the work I would be doing (somewhat abstract) was different from what I usually do (ethnographic portraiture). The photographer did not work alongside us. We received assignments, but critiques were limited to what was good. Negative critiques are necessary! It helps to know what we've done wrong. I left the workshop thinking I'd learned little. But in hindsight I was inspired. Because I was doing different work from my norm, my point of view was changed, and the way I was looking at subjects to photograph took on a new light (no pun intended).

My interests, that is, what I want to photograph, have not changed, but I find that my work has expanded as my world view has grown. I received a lot from the other participants in the second workshop. Going to a workshop can offer far more than technical knowledge.

I'm taking two workshops next year, each vastly different from each other and from the workshops I've taken in the past. I already know that I will gain a lot from them. Just what I don't know yet... but workshops are great!

It is funny that while I've never been to a workshop per se, I do get together with other rail fans to rent some railroads for the weekend and do a lot of photos. Here's a link to some old pictures...


While workshops can offer some valuable technical and aesthetic insight, they're real benefit is in providing a vast amount of INSPIRATION. New places, new subjects, new faces....all the ingredients necessary to break out of old habits and explore beyond our usual physical and artistic boundaries.

Facts and techniques are great to learn, but inspiration can change your life.

This fall I'm taking my fourth workshop, this time with the amazing trio of Bruce Barnbaum, Jack Dykinga and Jay Dusard....all for the cost of a typical single-instructor workshop. Inspiring.

I think it's always good to do such things, I went to Cuba with Light & Land, a few years ago and it was an amazing experience.

More recently I have participated in a couple of one day workshops with Nigel Green in Sussex and they have really helped me rediscover my enthusiasm for actually getting out and practising photography rather than being in rut where I just seemed to be collecting Canon FD gear and photobooks.

Somehow the discussion about going to workshop reminded me of the excellent book by Pierre Bayard, Comment parler des livres que l'on n'a pas lus?, or "How to talk about books you haven't read."

Bayard's key message is that if you read too many books, your own imagination is stilted. But if you just browse books, or discuss them without reading them (!), you imagination has freedom to develop.

So, can you do much looking at other's photographs - and should you avoid going to workshops as well?

I'm running one in a few weeks. Excited! Hope to learn as much myself :)

I've created a non-technical workshop about photography aesthetics. You don't even need a camera to attend, but because i'm not teaching any technical stuff it hasn't been too popular. I believe that we should train our vision even before starting to pick a camera and take pictures.

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