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April 8th, 2009

Ed Kashi: Why I teach workshops

Posted by Ed Kashi

Ed shared passages from his travel notebook with us after his last trip to India, to teach a National Geographic Photo Camp in Rajasthan. In March he returned to India to lead a workshop for European and American adult students. Here he talks about the differences and similarities between the two teaching excursions and how he makes both into positive experiences.
©Ed Kashi

One of Ed's images from his recent trip to India to teach a workshop. ©Ed Kashi

After wrapping up a National Geographic Photo Camp in January, teaching young Indian students to use cameras for the first time, I returned to India in March to teach a workshop for American and European adults who want to become better photographers — some to make it a profession, and others, who are already professionals, to gain a new perspective that refreshes their work and attitude. The workshop students ranged in age and background: an American in her 60s who is a retired doctor and environmentalist but has been using photography for 40 years; an Italian professional photographer in her 40s who mostly does commercial work and wants to break into photojournalism; a young American just starting out as a photographer; an Italian photography lover in his 40s who is an Alitalia pilot; a German psychotherapist in his 50s who also loves photography; a British journalist in her late 20s who wants to improve her photography to be a double threat.

Occasionally during these workshops, it can feel uninspiring and frustrating when leading a clutch of prosumers, many of whom you know will not become photographers. But I cherish the NG Photo Camps and most of them won’t become photographers either. In the end, anything that allows me to teach, to impart my experience and passions, is satisfying and ultimately useful to my students. If one truly loves photography both as a craft and a profession, whether you want to change the world or just want to learn how to better enjoy your creative process, then it’s all good in my eyes.

As with any workshop, this recent one had a distinct arc: the beginning, always rocky, with people jet lagged, not sure of who is who, what they should be doing and maybe nervous about exposing their work to strangers. Then, just like with the kids in Udaipur, the experiences, breakthroughs, and imagemaking gives them strength, confidence, and joy that reaffirms their desire to be photographers. Both groups of students also come to the initial classes with varying degrees of confidence and creativity — most with timidity and all with the need for guidance, the fear of getting close to subjects and the desire to learn and improve that marks all beginners or intermediate photographers.

Often the teens have never picked up a camera before, so the camp is new, exciting, and overwhelming. For them, becoming a photographer is not a goal, or even a possibility, while the adult students are already photographers who may want to make it their profession. The outcome of their extra experience may come as a surprise, though: The adults bring more neuroses, habits, and fears, along with their more developed talent and purpose. They are hampered, in a way, by their photographic baggage, their professional dreams, or their desire to emulate or outdo other people’s photographs.

For these reasons my adult students are as much in need of guidance as the kids, but in certain ways they also present a greater opportunity for growth. One major challenge for the adults specifically is not being Indian. Photographing in a foreign culture reveals to them the difficulty of getting beyond the surface, and it requires the foreign adults to achieve a different level of inspiration and discovery than the teens from India. I also can be more candid in my critiques with the adult students than the teens and center my comments on their photography. If I know an adult photo student wants to make photography their profession, then I’ll take a more critical approach to their images as well as their approach, behavior, even dress sometimes (especially with females), and I try to get them to express their intentions so they become clearer and stronger about why they want to do this.

The amateur who just wants to improve their photography requires a different approach. To me it’s important to help them grow while also preserving their love and joy for the craft. We all know people who are wonderful in some art form yet drop it because they lose the joy when they realize they’re “not good enough” to “make it” professionally. In fact, many very talented people just don’t have the stomach to handle the pressures, rejection, and bullshit involved with being a professional in something that is so personal and subjective.

The teen, who is being asked to use photography by outsiders to tell their stories, requires a yet another approach. In these cases, I am not trying to cradle or soften my approach for the teens, but what I don’t want to do is snuff out their enthusiasm or courage. And given these NG Photo Camps are not designed to make the students into photographers, my role is one of support and encouragement, to help them tell their stories and open their minds to the possibilities of photography, writing, self expression, and life!

So what do I get out of these workshops? Exposure to other photographer’s concerns, ambitions, ideas, and inspirations. An income stream to make up for a loss of work for serious documentary photography. I can’t deny it also soothes my ego to be, for a short time, among photographers who respectfully listen and appreciate what I have to say. In this subjective profession, we often flourish or fail according to others’ whims and the uncontrollable fortunes of fate (others might call that luck!); the break from that provided by teaching is refreshing and rejuvenating. I also love sharing my work with others and, especially, the chance to help shape photography’s future, teaching human values and creativity by sharing my passion for the craft and my commitment visual storytelling.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: What experiences have you had teaching or taking part in photography workshops and classes? Have you found them fulfilling, frustrating, or something else?


One Comment

  1. August 27th, 2012 at 2:57 am

    Tiarles

    Sara Knoedler – John, once again, I’d like to thank you on behalf of Corey and myslef. I keep looking at the photos and cannot figure out which ones i love more you did an incredible job and will highly recommend you to anyone i know! Thanks so much!

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