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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.)
You don’t always have to leave town to attend a top-notch workshop — Dane Sanders’ Fast Track Road Show Workshop might be coming to a town near you. This traveling workshop is visiting two more cities in the coming months, with more engagements added regularly. Expanding on the principles outlined in his popular book, Fast Track Photographer, Dane’s workshop helps photographers implement his Fast Track Philosophy and discover the strategies and tactics that work best for their business. Also emphasizing community, the workshop wraps up with an informal coffee talk with Dane and the other photographers in the class.
Where & when: Chicago: June 15-16; New York City: October 20-21
How much: $750
The speaker list — and the guest list — for this “luxury wedding business summit” is always a who’s who of the wedding photography world. By careful cultivating an atmosphere of effortless networking that encourages an open exchange of ideas, information, and inspiration, organizers Rebecca Grinnals & Kathryn Arce cultivate candid discussions of the issues and opportunities facing members of the luxury wedding industry.
Where: Grand Cayman Island, British West Indies
When: June 21st – June 23rd
How much: $2,000
If I Had Just One Wedding with Garrett Nudd
Garrett Nudd’s short-but-sweet workshop may only be one day long, but he promises to cover the full specture of topics that wedding photographers are most interested in, including, marketing, branding, goals and business planning, how to get published, the value of positive vendor relationships, destination weddings, identifying unseen opportunities in a challenging economy, and creating photographic art that commands attention and sets you apart.
Where: Indianapolis, Indiana
When: June 15
How much: $99
Italy Workshop with Gene Higa and Jose Villa
In the highly competitive wedding market, there is never just one right answer to any question. Students at the Italy Workshop will benefit from the synergy of two dynamic instructors, Gene Higa and Jose Villa, who will share experience from their different points of view, different shooting styles, and different marketing approaches. And as far as destination workshops go, it doesn’t get much better than Tuscany.
Where: Cavriglia, Chanti – Tuscany, Italy
When: October 27-29th
How much: $1,950
In this economy, distinguishing yourself from the competition is more important than ever. This week-long photojournalism-focused retreat in Cape Cod helps photographers become stronger visual storytellers with group exercises, editorial assignments, and a staff that nearly outnumbers the students. ShootQ has also teemed up with ROOTS (a.k.a. Emilie Sommer) to offer a $500 scholarship to one lucky photographer.
Where: Cape Cod, Massachusetts
How much: $3,200
The Wedding Summit, run by Frances Marron and Kristy Chenell, helps photographers adapt to the ever-changing market by focusing on individual business branding, vision, and goals. The Summit strives to provide students with the tools they need to generate maximum revenue in creative, simple, and effective ways.
Where: Orlando, Florida
When: Aug. 24-27
How much: $2,000
Miki Johnson: Tell me about how the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop started.
Eric Beecroft: I was thinking a few years ago, I’d been doing photography for about seven years and I wanted to take a workshop. I looked around and there were some great ones, but they were all impossibly expensive, particularly for students. I’m also a teacher, and they were too expensive for teachers too. Then I wondered, how could a local photographer from Latin America or Asia take one of these workshops? They could never afford it. So I thought, let’s just put one on ourselves. I teach photography and history at a small high school where I lead a lot of international trips, so the organization wasn’t that hard.
What has been really amazing is that it wasn’t hard to find people to teach for free. I think instructors are drawn to the notion of doing a workshop for people who are passionate and who they normally wouldn’t reach. The students aren’t all young — last year they ranged from 16 to 65 — and they’re not all trying to be professional photographers, but they’re passionate.
Another of our original ideas was to bring a lot of instructors together for one workshop. Most workshops are several thousand dollars for just one instructor. By having a dozen or so, we can offer a range of classes, lower the cost, and, best of all, create a mini-community that is almost like a festival on top of the workshop.
It was really important to me to create a community where everybody is really accessible. I remember reading a blog by a student last year. She wrote, “I walked into the opening party, and I went, oh my word, there’s Andrea Bruce, there’s Stanley Green, there’s Ron Haviv, and they’re all sitting there just drinking a beer and talking like human beings.” There’s a lot of God factor in photojournalism, and we want to take that away. We want to remind students that photographers are just people.
One thing I’d tell students is, don’t come to the workshop with preconceived notions. And don’t be scared to talk to the instructors. They don’t want to give autographs; they don’t want to be on a pedestal. We start the workshop off with an opening party where everyone’s just hanging out. That always blow student’s mind. If they can get past being star struck, they have the opportunity to build relationships that will last long after the workshop.
This year is going to be even more intimate because we capped the number of students at 100. But slots are still assigned on a first come, first served basis. I want it to be open rather than something you have to apply to. I thought, if a photographer is at a level where they’re going to Eddie Adams or they’re getting chosen for World Press Master Class, then they’re already pretty advanced. There’s this intermediate ground where you’re a beginner or you’re intermediate, you’re coming along, maybe you’re a hobbyist. And there’s nothing out there for that level of photographer that’s affordable.
MJ: So what kind of schedule can a new student expect at the Foundry?
EB: You’re taking one intensive class that is six days long. There are several specific classes students can choose from, and the end goal is to show your work to everybody at the final Saturday night show. That might be an individual story or it might be a collaborative effort, like Stanley Green’s class last year that created an amazing group project called Blood on the Floor.
We tell all the students to research stories before they arrive. Bring pictures if they’ll help; get access if you need it. It’s really hard to show up cold-turkey without any story ideas. Some people do anyway, and we try to help them. But the most successful ones either arrive a couple days early, or they get online and do a lot of research to develop a well-honed idea.
I don’t know how they did this, but two women got access to the women’s prison in Mexico City last year. I could not fly from Mexico to the United States and say, I want to go to the prison, give me access. And we had other people riding around with the ambulance drivers.
We like students to think of the workshop as an international photo assignment. A lot of people have this dream of being an international photojournalist. So we say, okay, here’s your shot. Come in, internationally, and do a story. Some students say, well, if I was professional, I’d have a $5,000 budget, and I’d stay in a five-star hotel. We have photojournalists like Andrea Bruce, a staffer for the Washington Post, and Mike Chavez for the L.A. Times, and they just stand up there on the panel and laugh. They tell the students, “I’m lost half the time. I don’t know what the heck’s going on. People won’t talk.”
Or the students will say, “You’re Ron Haviv, people never say no to you. Ron says, “Are you kidding me? People say no to me all the time.” It’s so important for aspiring photojournalists to see the reality versus their ideas of glamor. You know, we’ve ruined a few photographers. People have said afterward, I don’t want to do this.
But if you’re serious about becoming an international photographer, the Foundry can be like a halfway house. We’re here to help you with the first steps. Student who haven’t traveled, or they’re scared of travel, or they’re scared of shooting internationally — this can bring them to the next level.
As an example, last year some of the students struggled with story ideas. They came in wanting to shoot things like the president of Mexico. You can’t just show up one day and get that kind of access. So we said, let’s ask around. We met a man from Syria who was an orthodox monk stationed at a Catholic monastery in Mexico, because I think they’re running out of monks. He wasn’t even Catholic; he was Eastern Orthodox. It’s a great story. And he let four students stay at the monastery and document their lives. They ended up producing a great piece from that.
MJ: Why was it important for you to bring in a significant number of local photography students?
EB: This year we’ve got a lot of South Asian photographers coming, and last year we had quite a few Latin American photographers come — that’s what we want. We want them to get access to inspiration, to communities, to slideshows, to classes they normally wouldn’t get. And we also want non-local photographers to learn from the local ones. We tell all students, bring business cards, share them around. I know the connections students made at last year’s workshop haven’t stayed online. People have made friends. People have started dating. There’s kind of a huge web of people now.
We also wanted to help photographers understand what it’s like to work in an area, South Asia this year. We have panels with different photographers and points of view. So if someone is thinking about becoming a stringer there, they can find out what it’s like to work there, what challenges they might face.
We’ll also have one night where we show only work by South Asian photographers, where we try to get them some exposure that they wouldn’t normally get. We had a lot of good things come out of that last year. One amazing photographer ended up getting work with some major agencies, because of meeting people, networking, and showing his work at the workshop.
Then we had a couple young Turkish photographers in their early to mid 20s. They’re amazingly talented, so I won’t say the Foundry made all the difference, but since then, one is shooting for the Wall Street Journal, others are freelancing for the New York Times. One is in Afghanistan right now. They’ve met a lot of people and they’re jump starting their careers.
David White: Innocence, duckrabbit’s feature about child soldiers in Sri Lanka, just sort of emerged organically. I shot the photographs a few years ago now, whilst there was still a ceasefire. It was a very difficult and at times dangerous job, but one that I desperately hoped might make a tiny difference.
Recently I was sitting up very early in the morning when I saw a report on the news about the escalation of the war in Sri Lanka. I just started to write about how that made me feel. For once I was not worried about how other people would interpret and dissect my thoughts — I just needed to get my feelings out.
I posted my thoughts on the duckrabbit blog, and from there Benjamin picked up the baton, unbeknown to me.
Benjamin Chesterton: David is someone whose photographs have always moved me. His great big generous heart comes across in all his work and never more so than in the beautiful pictures he took in Sri Lanka. I’ve long wanted to turn them into a piece of multimedia, but what can you do with just 10 photos?
I got up one morning to find that David had posted about that experience on the duckrabbit blog. He captured the artist’s predicament in a really simple and powerful way. The desire to make a difference because some cause has embedded itself so deep into you. The feeling that if you don’t do something, it will suffocate you from the inside out.
Pretty much all I did was take his words, grab some screenshots off news sites on the web, use a song that never fails to move me, and mix it all up with his original photo’s. I didn’t tell David I was doing this. Just banged out a rough copy in a day, sent him the link and held my breath.
David: I have scanned, printed, and reproduced those Sri Lanka photos many times. I like them, I think they’re strong, but they’re not new. The words were a few lines I hammered out when I should have been sleeping. Yet, when I saw the finished piece, I cried, as did my wife, Jane.
Since then, that has been the many people’s reaction.
It still amazes me that such simple content can be reworked into something so strong. I could never imagine those stills in a magazine story having the same effect. Imagine going back to a set of pictures you have taken a while ago, that you know intimately, and having them move you to tears. That intrigues and excites me. That’s why I think multimedia offers amazing opportunities for photographers, to get their work out to new audiences, and to use it to reveal the world in new light.
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.
World-renowned conservation and fine art photographer Art Wolfe is in the process of reinventing his business model — upgrading to a liveBooks website and selling his stock images directly through a Photoshelter account that is linked to it. Art will be contributing to RESOLVE regularly, but we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to record a few words of wisdom while he was visiting last week. We shot the short interview below with Art and Jim Martin, executive director of Art Wolfe Inc. and an accomplished photographer himself, near our San Francisco office.
When Art started to see diminishing returns from stock sales years ago, he reworked his business around selling images himself through his website. Understanding that “fur and feathers” stock photography was not sufficient to keep his business afloat, he also did what many photographers are now learning the value of — he diversified. On top of stock and print sales, Art is also reaching millions of viewers through his TV show Travels to the Edge and is reworking his workshops for more intimate, challenging classes.