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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.
Miki Johnson: How many editors would a participant in the NYCFotoWorks Portfolio Review potentially get to see?
Marc Asnin: You’ll see 14 if you sign up for two sessions. Our thing right now is that it’s an incredible list of editorial people. Last time we had one of these sessions, most of the people came from out of town, which I thought was very interesting. I think they realized that if you’re paying $399 and you’re getting to meet with seven editors — you can’t FedEx your portfolio for that. And how many people are going to look at your portfolio online? Does it get through the spam filter? All the editors are really into it. It’s refreshing to see that you can get 50 editors to participate. Even in this difficult time, they still want to see new work.
This year, meetings are during the day and into the evening. So let’s say you come in the morning and you have three sessions out of your seven, you’ll be able to hang out. So maybe you only got seven minutes with someone from Vanity Fair, but then you could also talk to them during the intermission. We will also have a wrap party so that the participants can all get to know each other. It’s good to hang out with your peers, too. When I taught at SVA, I always told the students, you can learn much more from each other than you can ever learn from me; you’re the same age, you’re in the same world.
One thing we did last time and we’re doing again is making sure that there’s a certain quality of photography we’re showing. It’s not like I’m expecting everyone to be Annie Leibowitz. But we wouldn’t ask photo editors to give their time to look at work that’s not on a professional level.
We’re also not pigeon-holing people. So if you’re a reportage photographer, that doesn’t mean you can’t see Vanity Fair. That’s an important thing for photographers to understand. For instance, I’ve worked with Bruce Perez at Redbook. If you don’t understand the magazine world, you might wonder, what would Marc ever do for a woman’s magazine? Well, I did a story on breast cancer and another on a boy with brain caner. So you can get interesting reportage work at a woman’s magazine. I used to work a lot for Good Housekeeping and did some other incredible stories there.
MJ: What tips do you give photographers about their meetings with editors? More »
Miki Johnson: Why did you decide to participate in this year’s Foundry Workshop?
Dhiraj Singh: I had heard about the Foundry Workshop on Lightstalkers and was even more keen after I read the list of tutors for this year. However, a huge concern was finances. Since I’m a freelancer and work is sporadic, gathering finances for the workshop was nearly impossible. I had almost decided to give the workshop a pass. As a last resort, four days before the workshop, I emailed Eric Beecroft. I told him frankly that, even though I would love to attend, it would not be possible because of financial constraints. He replied immediately, suggesting I come as an assistant and be a part of the workshop. I was in Manali 48 hours later!
MJ: What was the most beneficial part of the workshop for you? What did you learn?
DS: For me, the basic multimedia approach and nuances that I picked up from Tewfic El-Sawy was the most enriching part of the workshop. The other tutors, such as Hendrick Kastenskov from the Bombay Flying Club, Ami Vitale, and Ron Haviv, also shared a great deal of experiences, which helped me reach a deeper level of understanding of photojournalism and its current stage of evolution. How to take print-based photojournalism to the next step and preparing for the online aspect of the field has been an important lesson from the workshop.
MJ: Tell me about the multimedia piece you created at the workshop.
DS: In My Name Is Dechen, I photographed the inner mind of a woman who wasn’t quite in her senses. When I saw her on my very first walk in Manali, her moods, emotions, and communication with her environment captured my interest. I bonded with her instantly. I wasn’t sure what kind of project it would turn out to be, but I just couldn’t walk away from her. She had such a lively spirit and a sort of melancholy that touched me deeply. I spent time with her for a couple days and kept shooting and recording whatever I could. At the end, editing it down was simple — with huge help from Tewfic of course!
MJ: How was the community at the workshop? Did you meet people who you’ll continue to be in touch with and who taught you important things?
DS: I certainly hope to keep in touch with the people I met at the workshop. Photojournalists are a dying breed, and keeping in touch with the few that you meet is important, especially as for me as a freelancer. These people become your motivation and your best critics. The lessons stay with you even when the camera doesn’t.
I’m from Tampa, Florida, and worked at the St. Petersburg Times there. I quit my job to come to India and pursue freelance work. I’m currently based in Delhi and mainly work in multimedia. I make short documentary style projects combining video, sound, and stills using the new fancy Canon 5D Mark II.
A few months back I was reading PDN‘s 30 about photographers to watch in 2009. One of the photographers, Jared Moossy, mentioned the Foundry Workshop and how he made some good contacts there. I had never heard of it so I Googled it and it turned out that it was going to be happening in India about the same I was going to be there. It also turned out that the Bombay Flying Club guys, whose work I am in love with, were going to be teaching. It was pretty much a done deal from there.
At the workshop I met a lot of amazing photographers and saw some work that really inspired me. I learned a lot about incorporating sound into multimedia from my teacher Henrik Kastenskov of BFC. It was really great to hear what he had to say about the changing media marketplace. It was a tough week and I really felt like I pushed myself the entire time. I was working frantically right up to the deadline to get my project done. It was a challenge for sure, but in the end I was really proud of what I managed to complete.
Miki Johnson: Tell me how you’ve diversified from what you were doing before to a lot of workshops and teaching.
Jack Picone: I was based in London in the ’80s and ’90s, and worked mostly for European magazines and the supplements for the UK papers, The Independent, the Observer, The Guardian; or the usual suspects in Germany, Spiegel and Stern; and in France, Le Republic and Liberation. In the ’90s, I covered about eight wars over a decade, including Yugoslavia and the breakup of Russia and conflict on the African continent. Then I lived in Tanzania for a year, and came here to Bangkok after that.
Those magazine assignments were my backbone when I was in London, and it was a much simpler existence. All I did was go off on assignment for them, or I would have a guarantee. Now I just let those assignments come to me by osmosis. I still get work trickling in from Germany, France, UK, and a bit from Australia, where I’m from. People ask me why I still do occasional assignments. I tell them: “When you go on assignments, it takes you to places and puts you in situations that you would never be in. You meet people you would never meet otherwise, and that’s good for your creative spirit and soul.”
I realized in the early 2000s that I would have to start diversifying because it wasn’t financially viable to continue as just a photographer. That’s when I started teaching photography: at other people’s workshops, for the World Press, or I’d get invited to universities to do workshops and critiques. Then I realized I really enjoyed teaching; it was interesting and it still involved photography. I kind of got the teaching bug. It’s quite electric when you can impart some experience and knowledge to people who want it, and then actually see them improving. So I started diversifying into teaching, at first other people’s workshops and then my own. I still do both, along with other things like fine-art exhibitions. Teaching, like photography in general, is not a very stable marketplace. It’s so mercurial, you can’t bank on it 100% either.
MJ: Walk me through a workshop week. Do you have help putting it together?
JP: It’s pretty much just me most of the time, but then about a month before the workshop starts, I bring people in on a freelance basis. For instance, the last big workshop, in Katmandu, I had someone doing the administration stuff and then I flew in a photographer from Australia who’s a friend of mine, Stephen Dupont, to work with me full time. Then I flew in about five other photographers as guest lecturers. Normally I just pay their air fare or their accommodation or do some sort of contract deal.
For the workshop, the students turn up and there’s an introduction. The first night the instructors will show some work to inspire the students. Then normally I give them a word, like “hope,” with a brief, something vague — they’re not meant to be spoon fed. Then they have to interpret the word, find their subject, and start shooting it.
We usually get into a pattern where they’ll go out and shoot early in the mornings or late in the afternoon when the light is best and work the other part of the day in our computer lab. We critique and edit in the afternoons, and then go into the night sessions, where we start showing their work and critiquing it in front of the other participants. And then, of course, each night is peppered with the photographers I fly in, who do a formal presentation each night. There’s a lot of stimulation.
Finally we critique and edit all their work from the week and then put together an A/V presentation that we project during the final night show. On that final night, because the workshops migrate, we will invite locals to come and see the show, so it’s a real community thing. Whatever country we hold the workshops in, we also give a couple places to local photographers who can’t afford the fee.
The best thing about the workshops is the cross-fertilization. And not just between the tutors and the participants, but among the participants themselves. They learn a lot from each other and from their own work — what they’re striving for and what they’re failing at and what they’re achieving. Lots of people from the workshops become life friends and stay in touch, with me and with each other. Some of them have gone on to be very successful, like Jean Chung and Richard Humphries. Jean was on one of my first students, in Laos, and she’s doing amazing things now, has won all sorts of awards.
There was another young guy, in Katmandu last time, named Solendra. He was basically a news photographer covering all the political problems in Nepal and Katmandu. And my course is very documentary, not news or hardcore photojournalism — although we will have photojournalist tutors because it’s a fluid edge between the two. The workshop was an epiphany for him because he discovered this documentary way of taking pictures, and he hasn’t stopped practicing it since he left. He’s so appreciative that he got the chance to be exposed to that, as well as a whole lot of other photographers.
That cross-cultural fertilization is very important, too. The local photographers are great to have on the workshops because a lot of the other students are mostly Western or European. The locals can help them out with local knowledge and help them really experience the local culture.
Over the years there’s been more than a few bird photographers who have said, “Look at Artie, he’s getting 15 people on a tour at $999 a person — do the math. And he does three tours a row in New Mexico. I can do that too.” But with the exception of people who really enjoy being around people, they pretty much all failed. It comes back to the principle of hard work. I think the most important thing to make a successful workshop is to put your heart and soul into it and to give a damn.
Ask yourself, “Am I a people person?” “Do I want to work 17 hours a day?” “Do I want to put every ounce of effort I have into finding a good situation for these people?” I’ve seen other instructors who will go to a spot that’s traditionally good, and if it’s terrible, they stay in the same spot and waste the folks’ time. On a typical morning at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, I often move the group up to five times in the first one-and-a-half hours. If you’re lazy, workshops are not for you. Likewise, if you don’t like people, you’re not all of a sudden going to become a people-person because you’re running a workshop.
I don’t know how the template for BIRDS AS ART Instructional Photo-Tours (IPTs) came to be, but they’re not much different now than when I ran the first workshop with one person. The formula came to me naturally: tell people what they will be doing, get up early and go photograph, help them in the field, and then review the images.
We still do an introduction on the first night. We show the students what we’re going to be photographing and talk about the various techniques that we will be using. The second evening we do critiques, and the third night we take a close look at composition. Each year we put more emphasis on the photography itself. We always find time for some Photoshop lessons. Many good photographers make their images look worse in Photoshop rather than better. That’s why we came up with the Digital Basics File, a PDF that we send by e-mail.
Originally we took as many as 15 people out, but now we’ve reduced the group size to 6-10 and raised the prices. It took me a long time to realize that if I take two groups for three days I have to do all the ground work twice. Now that I’ve started doing these longer trips there’s much less pressure with regards to the weather and the really great photo ops; I feel much more relaxed throughout the trip.
People always comment that I’m one of the few leaders who eats almost every meal with the students. Most of the big-name tour companies have professional leaders whose primary job is to open the door of the van. I have my laptop on and I’m teaching pretty much all the time except when we’re chewing. An IPT is pretty much total immersion.
My mother will ask me, “Are you going to retire?” And I say, “Ma, I love what I do, I love every second of it.” Even when I’m working 16-hours-a-day, I love it. People often ask if I take a vacation without a camera and a big lens, and I just laugh. Why would anyone do that if they’re doing what they love?
I think that most folks who are starting out in photography, whether they come from another career or not, their goal is to not have to go back to their first career. There was one guy who worked for me early on, he was working for IBM and they were offering him a buyout. And I said, “I’d take it in a heartbeat. If you can make it on your own, even for a year, that’s one year you didn’t have to wear a tie and sit in a cubicle. And now, 15 years later, he’s taking people all over the world teaching photography.
You gotta be yourself. You can fool people for a little bit, but not for long. I’m opinionated, and I’m not humble. Some folks are going to be rubbed the wrong way by that. (My people skills have improved dramatically over the past decade and I try never to be arrogant.) I like to say that 80% of the people love me and 20% hate me — nobody is neutral about me. And many of the 20% have never even met me. You gotta love that. It’s commonplace for people to say, “Oh my god, you went on a tour with Artie Morris? He is arrogant and he will push you out of the way to get a picture, he doesn’t care if you learn anything.” When someone asks, “Have you ever been on one of his trips?” the person always responds, “No, but that’s what I heard.” I never take it personally.
Call me nuts: I am one of those rare folks who would rather be out photographing with a group than be out by myself. I just love leading IPTs. (P.S. Most of my seven BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year-honored images were created while teaching.)