Workshops are a crucial ingredient for a photographer. They formed my sensibility as as photographer early on, when I was a student at the Sun Valley Center for the Arts in Idaho in the late 70's. I still draw upon the lessons I learned from Sam Abell, over a decade ago, at the Santa Fe Workshops. I thought the pinnacle I would reach as a photographer was when I would start leading workshops myself and join that august company. Little did I realize that I would find that fulfillment at a contra dance camp.
“How To Take Dance Photos That Don't Suck,” was the ambitious title I gave to a workshop I thought to throw into the BACDS American Week schedule, in an effort to boost enrollment (I'm on the planning committee). It seems everyone takes pictures at contra dances now. Most of them are awful.
I have a few ideas on how to make them less awful, to the point that I'm self-publishing my second calendar of contra dance photos. That particular body of work appears destined to become my legacy as a photographer, if I acquire any degree of fame at all before I die. I've been photographing this subculture for over 25 years, which is as long as I've been a dancer.
What I found out is that I really like teaching. I'd never done this before, at this sustained level, meeting every day for a week. And I had a blast. My students had a blast. They grew as photographers, before my eyes. I like sharing what I know, which is apparently a lot. I like supporting these budding documentarians and photographers, regardless of the level they are when they come to the table.
Mostly, I infected them with my bias toward imagery, which is that form is as important, if not significantly more crucial, than content. That you exploit what the technology you have can do, and revel in its limitations. We had two people who shot with iPads. Four shot with their phones. I shot one night of dancing with my iPhone to demonstrate what was possible, as a kind of eat-what-you-kill exercise. There were just two DSLRs in the bunch. Only one person knew what RAW capture meant.
Obviously, this was not a technical workshop. It was a how-to-see workshop. It was a how to be conscious of the moment workshop. It didn't matter what camera you used. It was about finding the photograph. I started each session with a brief talk about an issue, in which I mostly talked extemporaneously based on what my students were coming to grips with, and then we looked at each other's work.
My biggest fear was that people would copy what I did. After the second day I ceased to show my own work. As it turned out, I had no need to worry. What was illustrative for everyone was how individualistic their work was. I believe that every photograph is, in some measure, a self portrait. You respond to what inside yourself is mirrored in the outside world, and the compelling drive for coherence is what drives your growth as a photographer. It certainly showed in the work. Everyone grew as an image maker during the week.
I couldn't be more proud of my students. Here's what they did: