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Photography workshops are one of the most important things to attend in order to continue your education as a professional photographer. The ability to gain new skills from the best and brightest in the field plus make invaluable contacts from all over the country (and the world!) is essential for the longevity of your own business.
There are literally thousands of photography workshops that happen around the world each year. How do you choose one that’s right for you? Read on, because we’ve compiled a list of traits to look for and tips to help you when deciding on a photography workshop to attend.
Figure Out WHAT You Want to Learn
With the plethora of choices out there, it is important to first decide what type of workshop you are looking to attend. Are you wanting to do something more hands-on, such as a photo-tour or expedition? Or do you want to learn more technical skills? An editing class to help with your digital workflow? Or maybe you want something more focused, such as learning how to shoot macro, or increasing the sharpness of your photos. Whatever you decide, when you figure out what skill you are most looking to acquire or perfect, that will automatically narrow down your choices of workshops.
Make a List
Once you’ve narrowed down your focus, make a list of what you want to learn and the things you want to leave the workshop knowing. While the internet is a powerful tool, once you begin your search for a workshop it can be very overwhelming. Having that hand-written list of what is most important to you will help keep you on track. Writing down your goals will also give you an idea of how much time you need to commit to a workshop or class. Workshops typically span one to three days on average, while a class will last over several weeks or months, with each session being a couple of hours long. If you find that your list is getting long quickly, maybe enrolling in a long-term class would give you maximum benefit.
Start Your Search
Once again, the internet is an extremely powerful tool. Use it to get you started, but don’t limit yourself to it, especially because not all classes or workshops are well indexed by search engines. Check around for local photography clubs who may be offering a class for non-members. Check out websites for community colleges and local trade schools. Utilize your network! Ask around for recommendations, especially if you know someone in your same field or specialization or if you simply admire their skill or style. Know who the top dogs are in your field and check out their personal website to see if they are teaching any workshops.
Once you’ve selected a handful of classes or workshops that are interesting to you, start digging deeper on the class and instructor. Getting a copy of the syllabus is a given (so you can see exactly what the class covers) but here are some other things to think about when making your final decision:
Ultimately, all the research on a class or instructor can only take you so far. What’s really important is that you take the opportunity (finances allowing) to learn in multiple types of settings and from a variety of teachers so that you can best determine what type of structure is right for you.
Are there any other tips you’ve discovered from attending workshops? We’d love to hear about them!
Here are some additional resources for choosing a great workshop:
Momenta Workshops offers a variety of workshops from one-day business skills seminars, to personalized multimedia training, to their popular Project Series: Working with Nonprofits workshops in collaboration with Leica Camera. By helping storytellers expand their skills, Momenta explores how to harness that passion into social change. The workshops seek to train attendees to witness the world in a new way and use their camera as a force of change.
Jamie Rose is Founding Partner and Director of Workshops for Momenta, which specializes in photography, video, and multimedia workshops around the globe. Prior to the founding of Momenta, Jamie worked as an international photojournalist on five continents, won awards and grants for her documentary photography, and was contracted with some of the world’s largest media and nonprofit organizations, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Global Fund, and Doctors Without Borders, among others.
JR: The Momenta Workshops staff has wrapped up our 2014 year with our final workshop on business skills during the FotoDC festival, and our lineup for 2015 is going to be outstanding! If you are interested in nonprofit photography, we have two domestic workshops in 2015: Project New Orleans in April and Project San Francisco in September. Over the course of these five-day workshops, we assign each student to a different local nonprofit to create a photo or a multimedia piece about the organization’s mission. Project New Orleans fills up to capacity every year and is held in the most rollicking city in the US. This is the first year for our San Francisco workshop, and interest is very high for working with the city by the Bay. Additionally, if you want to get out of the country and work with international nonprofits next year, our two very special workshops overseas are Project Colombia and Project Sierra Leone. Each student will work with a deserving nonprofit and use their photography as a force of social change. Throughout the two-week workshop, students will have life-changing experiences, make powerful visual stories, and create connections with their subjects in foreign countries that will last for years to come. If you just want a quick boost of business skills, we recommend The Business of Nonprofit Photography one-day workshop series, where we explore the ins-and-outs of making money working for nonprofits. These workshops will take place at Leica stores in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2015. Finally, Leica sponsors all of our nonprofit workshops, one of the best perks of our Project Workshop Series. Students may check out a Leica camera to work on their nonprofit photo story. And truly, nothing beats the Leica M system for documentary coverage. Our students create beautiful photo stories with Leicas every year during these workshops.
Q: Are your workshops geared more toward being creative or improving one’s technical skills? Or both?
JR: I’d say both, plus one extra. Yes, we focus on storytelling and the creative process. However, many of our students are looking for a deeper learning experience with Momenta than just shooting tips. Many established professionals come on our workshops strictly for the one-on-one feedback during their daily, one-hour editing sessions with an instructor. They seek an environment where they can network with like-minded peers and dive into concepts with editors to help them find a fresh outlook on their work. However, Momenta’s model doesn’t just stop at the creative and technical. We also have a series of lectures on building business skills necessary to work with nonprofits and be sustainable in today’s competitive marketplace. We want students to learn to be successful in both their craft and their business.
Project Colombia instructor Charlotte Kesl – www.
Q: What are some of the unexpected benefits one might get from attending these workshops?
JR: Three things: Inspirational instructors who are excellent mentors and coaches, extended lectures on developing business skills and a supportive alumni network after the workshop ends. I could add that we have a gang load lot of fun too, but that’s a given!
Project India student Chuck Cecil – www.cecilimages.com
Q: What are the most important things for the attendees to realize when they participate in a workshop, to help them get the most out of the experience?
JR: Whether it’s a Momenta workshop or another company’s workshop, an open mind and good attitude is the key to a great experience. We encourage every student to get ready to put in long hours and have a willing approach for creative exploration. One of our founders, Seth Butler, encourages students to “embrace mindfulness” while on the workshop and when shooting in the field. That mindfulness can create great leaps with their work. A Momenta workshop is going to be an intense, exciting experience because students are packing a hefty amount of learning into a short amount of time. However, the payoffs are incredibly rewarding. We remind students to stop, breathe and take a moment to truly soak in the experience and allow themselves to be enlightened by it.
Project India student Robert Dodge – www.robertdodge.com
Q: Was attending workshops instrumental to help you become the photographer that you are now? If so, how did they do that?
JR: I still attend workshops! I wouldn’t be where I am today without a commitment to my education, and that isn’t just defined by college. When I was starting out, I took weekend workshops, attended the Northern Short Course every year, and went to specific skills building seminars. The workshops I have attended in the past helped me to grow my knowledge base, network with other photographers, and learn new skills to further my career. Whether you attend a Momenta Workshop or any other learning experience out there, I would encourage photographers to make continuing education a priority every year. It’s a big world, and there are great learning experiences to be had. We’d welcome any of your readers to join us on one of ours!
Project India student Frank Rohrig – www.frankrohrig.com
To learn more about Momenta’s workshops line up, please visit www.momentaworkshops.com.
Networking is one of the most important things you can do for the success of your business as a photographer. The perks of a successful network range from learning from your peers, gaining referrals, collaborating to build portfolios, and even getting discounts on new gear. While networking may be one of the best things for your business, it isn’t always easy getting started. Let’s discuss some basic tips for successfully building your professional network.
Simply put, as a photographer you are your brand. And while you are selling your work, ultimately you are selling yourself. People want to work with awesome people – and networking is the best way to truly show off who you are and what you’re about in the most cost-effective way possible. Beyond that, networking gives you the opportunity to learn from each other. Whether you’re tipped off about a new gadget, or need advice about how to handle a certain situation with a client, exchanging ideas and information with people that do the same thing you do every day is extremely beneficial. Plus, not only can other photographers end up being a referral source, but working together truly does raise the bar for the photography industry as a whole.
Go to seminars, conventions, and workshops. There is no better way to network than to physically be in a place surrounded by other photographers all learning together. Make sure to bring plenty of business cards and follow-up with those that you connected with afterward. Maybe call and invite them to grab a coffee, lunch, or drinks, or send them a handwritten note letting them know you enjoyed meeting them. Putting in the time and effort up front to develop these new relationships will pay off in spades later.
Perhaps the easiest and least-intimidating step of networking is connecting on social media. Figure out the photographers that you specifically want to target and start visiting and liking their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, etc, – but be genuine about it. Remember that you are working to build a meaningful relationship that will be mutually beneficial, and simply throwing a bunch of “likes” and comments on their content will probably not get you the outcome you are hoping for. Show that you can provide value and meaningful contribution and above all – showcase your personality!
Join online forums, groups, and discussions. Not only is this a great opportunity to learn, but you will have the ability to provide advice and knowledge on different topics. Bonus tip: many forums allow you to have a link in your signature, so make sure to take advantage of this and link back to your website or portfolio.
Networking events can be tougher to find depending on where you live or if you are new to the industry, but here are some good first places to start:
Much like a gym membership, when it comes to networking the best thing to remember is that you get out of it what you put into it. The more time you spend cultivating real relationships with people, the easier it will be to make new contacts and build your business.
Check out some more great resources on networking:
Interested in learning about sports photography from one of Sports Illustrated’s top photographers? Join Peter Read Miller April 13-19 in Denver, Colorado, and get access to a variety of action packed sports from mountain biking and college football, to high school basketball, and amateur boxing during this weeklong workshop.
In addition to capturing the action on the field, a portion of the workshop will be spent on learning how to shape the light in both studio and on-location, arena lighting with strobes, and the set-up and use of remote cameras.
For maximum learning potential, participants of this workshop have the opportunity for their work to be personally reviewed and critiqued by Peter each day at one of Denver’s top commercial photography studios.
What you will learn:
Workshop fee: $1,995
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to gain a better understanding of how to turn good images into outstanding ones!
Learn more: www.peterreadmiller.com
Looking for a hands-on workshop that will connect you with the roots of landscape photography? Join award-winning photographer Craig Varjabedian as he takes you to the California Coast, the place where landscape photography as we know it was born.
This is not just any workshop. You’ll explore and make photographs along the California Coast from Monterey to Big Sur, where Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, Wynn Bullock, Morley Baer and many other important photographers made their homes, honed their craft, and created their most significant work.
In addition to making photographs, you will visit with the families of Edward Weston and Wynn Bullock to learn more about their photography. These are the artists and places that inspired Craig most when he was just starting out, and he will take you to where Morely Baer and other esteemed photographers took him.
For Craig, spending time with these artists at these beautiful locations was a turning point for him. It’s where photography began to make sense. The light came on. He hopes that by recreating some of the most significant experiences he had early on in his career, it will influence your work and improve your image-making abilities.
This workshop takes place October 4-9, 2015. For more information or to request an invitation to this one-of-a kind photography workshop visit http://eloquentlight.com/photographing-the-california-coast-workshop.html.
Craig Varjabedian’s photographs of the American West illuminate his profound connection with the region and its people. His finely detailed images shine with an authenticity that reveals the inseparable ties between identity, place, and the act of perceiving. Visit Craig’s website to see more of his work and learn more about his workshops.
Ron Haviv is an award-winning photojournalist that has produced images of conflict and humanitarian crises that have made headlines from around the world since the end of the Cold War. Haviv is also the co-founder of the photo agency VII which is dedicated to documenting conflict, both violent and non-violent, to produce an unflinching record of the injustices created and experienced by people caught up in the events they describe.
Ron is teaching a workshop about what it takes to work as a photojournalist. It will take place from June 17-23 at the Maine Media Workshops. You can register here.
Melissa Dubasik: Would you tell us about your upcoming workshop?
Ron Haviv: The workshop is an intense 5 day course designed to help develop a personal style of photography. By combining a shooting assignment, class edits and one on one time, the photographer’s vision will rise to the next level. In addition we will discuss the business of photography – how to get to places and how to get your work published and seen among many other things.
MD: Why and/or how you have come to focus on documentary work?
RH: To be able to tell stories with images whether it’s in your own back yard or across the ocean is an amazing way to spend your life. Understanding the work that photographers do can have an affect on the world is something that keeps one motivated to working every day.
MD: Is this workshop geared more towards being creative or improving one’s technical skills? Or both?
RH: The workshop emphasizes the visual voice above all else but having the technical skills is something that everyone needs.
MD: What differentiates this workshop from others?
RH: This workshop is designed to get the photographer to the next level by learning from my experiences in the field.
MD: I’d love to get a little background on why you host workshops and what you hope others will get out of them?
RH: I’ve always seen the world of photojournalists as always being concerned with the next generation. You see it in the field all the time with the more experienced people helping the newer ones. This workshop is in the same spirit but benefits from being together in an intense environment where we are all focused on becoming better.
MD: What are some of the unexpected benefits one might get from attending this workshop?
RH: Many people thinking about being or starting out as a photojournalist feel it’s an impossible task. We will demystify the world and show a path that will allow you to make photography a part of your life.
MD: What are the most important things for the attendees to realize when they participate in a workshop, to help them get the most out of the experience?
RH: To come open and ready to learn. All else will follow.
MD: Was attending workshops instrumental to help you become the photographer that you are now? If so, how did they do that?
RH: I never took a workshop and had I taken one like this a lot of wasted time and mistakes that I’ve made would have been avoided.
Photographer and writer Jay Goodrich’s work focuses on architecture, nature and adventure. In addition to writing and creating imagery he leads workshops and photo tours. Those who attend the workshop come away with a better understanding of photography and mastery of images, and they have a greater appreciation for the locations and peoples they have visited. His upcoming workshop takes place in Hilo, Hawaii November 5-12. Jay tells us about his workshops and his experience teaching them as well as attending them.
Melissa Dubasik: I’d love to get a little background on why you host workshops and what you hope others will get out of them?
Jay Goodrich: Teaching workshops just grew out of my love for photography. I wanted to share my experiences, my passion for this creative medium with others. In addition to that I think what is most important about my workshops is the communal experience. Everyone who is there is completely into photography and learning about photography, so it becomes not only a learning experience for the participants, but for myself as well.
I truly hope that all the people who attend walk away with a better knowledge about how to create a stronger image. I am somewhat of a gear head, but I really want people to understand that you only need your iPhone to be a creative photographer. Idea, concept, and composition first, how you record it to show the rest of the world is secondary. I do teach a lot of equipment and software based techniques as well because the era of the digital capture has opened up the boundaries…actually removed them completely.
MD: Is this workshop geared more towards being creative or improving one’s technical skills? Or both?
JG: I would say more emphasis on creating, but there is a lot of technology that gets talked about. I even teach software specific workshops on programs like Lightroom.
MD: What are some of the unexpected benefits one might get from attending one of your workshops?
JG: Traveling to amazing destinations and at times getting access to special places and locations. In our up-coming Hawaii trip, I have a friend who owns property there and he suggested that we stop by to photograph the stars over the lake of lava in his back yard one evening. I also try to focus on including luxury accommodations when possible. One of our previous trips to the Altiplano of Chile had us staying at an all inclusive five star spa. I try to give my clients a little something extra whenever I can. Even if it’s just a ride to the airport or a private critique of what they created after the workshop. I want to build relationships with my clients and I get really excited to watch them progress as photographers during the course of a workshop.
MD: What are the most important things for the attendees to realize when they participate in a workshop, to help them get the most of of the experience?
JG: I think they really need to understand, that it isn’t amazing everyday. There are days when sunrises don’t materialize. Weather changes. Miscommunications happen. Cars break down. People have gear troubles. We do our best to help everyone and fix all of the issues, but sometimes, it will just rain for a week straight. We will make the best out of it though. This leads to: they should also come with an open mind. Be open to a new experience and new people because everyone has a different perspective to offer.
MD: What differentiates this workshop from others?
JG: With this Hawaii workshop we are taking a little bit of a different approach. We are showing participants how we look for everything and anything while traveling. How our eyes are focused on multiple disciplines, multiple subjects, and ever changing light. This allows us to create a large portfolio of images, which in turn gives us a stronger market base, better coverage for a location, and makes us better photographers overall. If I just focused on photographing birds, I think I would have given up on photography a long time ago. It is the experience of what resides around the bend that keeps me going day in and day out. Focus on a great composition and it doesn’t matter what your subject is, you will walk away with a great image.
MD: Was attending workshops instrumental to help you become the photographer that you are now? If so, how did they do that?
JG: I have only attended two workshops in my life. One was taught by John Shaw about selling your work and the other was taught by my really close friend Art Wolfe. One sent me off in the professional direction and the other sent me off in the creative direction. Although, as I have grown my business over the years, I have been lucky to work with some of the top level pros in the industry and this has helped me realize what works and what doesn’t along the lines of instructing. I also have a wife who is a teacher, so she beats the knowledge of two masters degrees in education into me on a regular basis.
This has made me focus on smaller group sizes and on more client one-on-one time in the field. Typically, I never teach more than six individuals by myself and never more than ten when there are two of us. I also want to spend less time lecturing to participants and more time in the field showing them what works and what doesn’t work.
As sponsors of the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop for the third year, liveBooks recently got an update about the lineup of instructors for this year’s workshop happening from June 20-26 in Istanbul, Turkey.
We have to admit, it’s an impressive list: Maggie Steber, Ron Haviv, Andrea Bruce, Stephanie Sinclair, Ami Vitale, Guy Calaf, Kate Brooks, Tyler Hicks, Kael Alford, Adriana Zehbruaskas, Jared Moossy, David Guttendfelder, Rena Effendi, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, Jon Vidar, David Bathgate, Tewfic el Sawy, Henrik Kastenskov/Bombay Flying Club.
You can read all about the Foundry Workshop in our interview with founder Eric Beecroft from last year’s edition in India (year one was in Mexico). The workshop began in 2008 as a more affordable workshop option that international and emerging photographers could afford.
With such a prestigious list of instructors this year, we thought it would be good to hear from a few of them about the Foundry experience and their advice for workshops in general.
Miki Johnson: What is your favorite thing about being involved in the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop? Do you have a favorite moment from past years?
Ron Haviv: Watching the growth of the students in such a short period of time. The realization from many that this is a great way to spend your life. Seeing that moment on students’ faces is inspirational to me.
Ami Vitale: The collaboration and working with fine photographers and fun people. It’s always a great experience and I’m always inspired by my students and colleagues. Last time I left feeling full of inspiration and ideas. Watching students grow in the short span of the workshop is incredible.
Tewic el Sawy: My favorite take-home sentiment from participating in the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop is the mutual camaraderie and unfettered sharing of knowledge, information, and support between instructors and students/attendees. As for my favorite moment: during the final screening of the students work at the Manali workshop, learning that Dhiraj Singh (one of my class attendees) had deservedly won the top photography spot/prize of the workshop.
MJ: What is the most important things for students to realize when they participate in a workshop, to help them get the most out of the experience?
Ron: To open their minds to the knowledge that all the photographers, both students and teachers alike, are sharing with them.
Ami: To have fun and not to be too hard on themselves. I think some people come into this and put so much pressure on themselves to succeed. This should be an environment of exploration and learning — and making mistakes is part of the learning process.
Tewic: The most important lessons that students will learn is to leave their ego at home, to help each other, to collaborate, and to be optimistic. Speaking for my class, they will realize that the more they know of multimedia, the more they’ll progress in their careers.
MJ: Was there a class or instructor that helped you become the photographer that you are now? How did they do that?
Ami: Rich Beckman. I’m back in grad school with him again! He’s always been ahead of the curve when it comes to finding new paths for storytelling. I’m studying Multimedia and Film with him now.
Tewic: I took a class in Havana with Magnum photographer Costa Manos and he told me that my photographs were “too simple.” He was right, and I’ve been trying to complicate them ever since.
Miki Johnson: Tell me a little about what you learned when you were teaching, photographing, and writing all at once. It seems that your work at TCI brings all those skills together.
David Bathgate: The short answer to this is that it’s improved my own communication skills with a camera and in words. Mentoring students draws on skills I’ve acquired and brings things I’ve learned through experience to a more conscious level. From here, I can better analyze what I see in student images at TCI and thus be more constructive in the critiques and advice I give.
MJ: What was your initial goal for starting TCI and where do you see it going?
DB: My initial and continuing aim is to offer an alternative to increasingly more expensive “on-location” photo and video workshops. One of things that will be changing soon, however, is the temporal format for courses. Instead of continuing with our original and current four- and six-week offerings with a set start and end date, students will be able to enroll and begin their course immediately — whenever they want.
Our new “subscription” system will provide students with two, four, or six months (Mentor Program) to complete each course’s six assignments and upload them to the TCI website for instructor comments and critiques. Additionally, students will have course-related access to their instructor throughout their subscription period and be able (for an additional fee) to obtain a full portfolio review of their work and arrange an hour-long Skype appointment to discuss their course progress in full.
TCI’s new approach is designed to take optimum advantage of the internet’s on-demand convenience and real-time capability. We are confident the change will add great functionality and robustness to our already proven “virtual classroom” experience.
A strong social networking component is also in the works. With this, both those establishing a free on-site account with us, as well as currently enrolled and past students, will be able to upload photos and/or video to a personal gallery and communicate with a group of like-minded people.
What the future holds for the TCI depends to large degree on the evolution of the internet itself. Our goal here is to make our classrooms as real as possible and to have our courses deliver not just a valuable educational experience, but and enjoyable one, too.
Still another avenue we are pursuing is that of accreditation. To this end, we’ve already opened discussions with several universities in the U.S. and Europe and hope to add “college credit available” to our brand soon.
MJ: Were there other online classes when TCI was launched? What are the advantages to the students and instructors of online classes?
DB: We actually began with a “beta” version of TCI in mid-2005. At that time there were a couple of online schools offering photography courses of the “basic” kind or not involving instructor interaction at all. The TCI groundstone was laid to offer instruction not only to newcomers, but also to serious amateurs and aspiring professionals. These are our roots and from this we continue to grow, as technology and the internet offer ever more fertile ground for our evolution.
For TCI students this means guaranteed educational value, as well as an enjoyable experience void of the cost, scheduling, and time-consuming hassle of making one’s way to a distant photography or videography course or workshop.
For TCI instructors, the venue and its rich functionality means being able to teach a course successfully and interactively from just about anywhere on the planet. Instructors can access their courses while on assignment or from the comfort of their very own studio. No need to allocate large blocks of time for teaching.
For example, I can critique student assignments and answer questions from a wifi hotspot in Dubai’s International Airport while in transit. Then when I arrive at my assignment destination in Kabul, Afghanistan, I can connect my laptop to a guesthouse ethernet cable and continue the process of running a “classroom” in an effective and efficient manner. For everyone — students and instructors — online, interactive teaching as TCI does it is a great alternative for anyone seeking quality, professionally-led photography or video production learning experience.
MJ: What are a few of the most important things for visual storytellers to understand about the market right now and in the near future?
DB: The most important thing as I see it, is to begin thinking beyond the traditional outlets for visual storytelling like magazines and newspapers. It’s becoming nearly cliche, but it’s true. Costs of production and evaporating advertising revenues are driving these long-established venues to extinction. By consensus, the internet is the “new frontier” for publishing — and rightfully so. Its speed, its expansiveness, and its accessibility yields far more room for all sorts of publication and exposure potential. This is where I want to take The Compelling Image into the future.
Miki Johnson: Please tell us about the [OR]EDU project.
Liza Faktor: [OR]EDU is a new project for talented and highly motivated young photographers and photo students that was launched in 2009 by our foundation, Objective Reality. The project came from my personal experience directing a photo agency, editing an online magazine, and running offline workshops in Russia and CIS. Through it all I felt a growing frustration at the impossibility of doing business on the international level in this huge territory.
The idea of [OR]EDU is to find young photographers (from Russia, CIS, and the Baltics for now, but with a plan to take it international very soon) and connect them to the working professional photographers, editors, and curators around the world. Photographers are chosen by a competition, and then go through the series of thematic workshops where they are coached by “masters” through a blog where assignments are made and critiqued. Our goal is to help emerging photographers develop and maintain a personal vision, and to market that vision as a product.
So far, we have produced two seasons of the workshop. In 2008-2009 we received a total of 472 workshop applications. Originally intended for Russian photographers, the program gained much wider attention and drew participants from Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. The first 55 workshops participants created photo essays and produced their own multimedia or exhibition projects.
Looking back at the start of the project, it seems like a scary and exciting adventure. We were programming all the interface ourselves and we had to work with limited resources. I’m very grateful to all the masters who joined the project at an early stage and struggled with the software — many of them taking on blogging for the first time. Among our masters were award-winning photographers Lucian Perkins, Alexander Gronsky, and Rena Effendi, and editors Michael Regnier of Panos Pictures, Andrey Polikanov of Russian Reporter, Barbara Stauss of Mare, and Rebecca McClelland.
MJ: What is a typical Objective Reality class like?
LF: Each workshop lasts for one or two months, during which the students are given two or three assignments from a “master.” Once they’ve completed the assignment, they upload it to the website, where it becomes part of the class blog, where they receive comments and critiques from the master. The whole process is open to the public, but only members of the class can write and comment on assignments.
For now we are able to run no more than three or four workshops simultaneously, otherwise our small stuff would not be able to keep track of everyone. The workshop themes are usually organized around a certain market sector, like editorial or art, or a particular kind of work, like a personal project or multimedia production. Assignments include daily life editorial, developing virtual exhibitions, multimedia technique and storytelling, and producing a documentary project.
MJ: Why was it important to you to offer photography classes online, not just in person?
LF: We started to concentrate on the workshops in 2005 and produced them in quite a few of the Russian regions over the next two years. By the end of 2006, we came to the conclusion that it made no sense to continue the workshops in their existing format. Out of 10 or 15 students, only one or two were ready to move on to higher level classes. Not to mention the travel costs photographers had to pay to travel from their hometowns to the regional workshops.
We decided it would be much easier to mobilize promising photographers on the internet. Most photographers who want to move beyond the limits of their local region are already actively using the internet, which is their only source for self-improvement and information. Plus the online format allows us to work with masters from around the world with no added cost for their travel.
MJ: What have the results of the workshops been so far?
LF: In addition to satisfying a pure desire to learn more, the workshops offer a real professional motivation to young photographers; many students are now working with the leading Russian and foreign magazines and agencies they connect with through class portfolio reviews. We have also realized that we are becoming a repository for high-quality stories by workshops participants. They are documenting important social issues and everyday life in our largely under-reported region: life in small towns; ethnic and sexual minorities and members of subcultures; health care; internally displaced people; homeless children and orphans; migrant workers.
These stories are being told less and less due to the global media crisis. It struck us that the work our students were producing could be as important as what they learned while they were producing it. We decided to develop a new media component on the website, which presents photographic projects by the workshops participants and provides a platform for contributions from other professional photographers and citizen journalists as well.
We are also working to integrate the workshops with other exciting internet projects. We engage with social networks and bring in interesting blog posts from resources like RESOLVE (only available in Russian) to draw in new traffic and help the images produced by the students be seen outside of our website.
MJ: Having worked for so long with photographers in Russia and CIS, have you found common problems that these photographers face? Is there style or philosophy of photography that has emerged from this region?
LF: Generally, I do not sympathize with the “national” idea or division of photography. Really exciting and original Russian photographers are not dramatically different from American or French photographers. If you looked at the work and personalities of Yuri Kozyrev or Alexander Gronsky or Rena Effendi, it would be hard to tell their nationality.
What is typical for most of the post-Soviet countries today, and what led me to start a foundation and take on the educational projects in the first place, is the lack of context, on many levels. By that I mean a poor or almost absent photography market infrastructure. Support for emerging photographers in the forms of academic schools, workshops, and grants is inconsistent; job opportunities with publications, agencies, and galleries are slim; and the criteria for judging photography are vague in the absence of national-scale contests and critique. As a result, there’s a very limited number of real professionals.
Naturally, these problems are not uniform across the whole territory — the situation is better in Russia and the Baltics than in Tajikistan or Moldova for instance. But in reality there is almost no serious photographic discourse going on, which makes it difficult for young photographers and editors to develop their careers.