Friday, October 22, 2010

Eddie Adams Workshop XXIII

I first found out about the Eddie Adams workshop from a couple of friends living in New York: Daniella, a freelance photographer away at the workshop last year when I dropped in the city and, during lunch on that same trip with Brenno, a photo producer who attended the workshop in 2003, the last year that Eddie was present. I really wish I could have met the man. I decided to apply the following year for a number of reasons. First, I made the switch to photography fairly recently and I'm not getting any younger while my lack of knowledge and contacts in the industry is putting my career in limbo despite my recent awards; second, I'm self taught and there must be gaps in my education that I'm not aware of; and third, I wanted an excuse to go on a road trip and have an adventure with my friend, Claire Martin. The following year, I put together and sent in a portfolio and convinced Claire to do the same.

Portfolio: Based on what I hear from other students and reviewers, here is some advice. Send in something with a strong sense of visual style and consistent aesthetic. Lots of pictures that, although being vastly different, are easily recognized as being taken by the same photographer. They must have content, a sense of place and they must tell you something. If the image is weak, then cut it. Have someone else go through your set to avoid choosing an image based on your own emotional trappings. If it's a series, then make sure you have something to tie them together. If the series is a narrative, then make sure that you're telling a story...take them for a ride. Open up strong and let it flow up and down and also end on a strong note. If you're adding single images as well, then make sure that the images are different and of different things but again, it should be obvious that they are taken by the same photographer.

Anyways, Claire and I found out that we both were accepted into the workshop, but were afraid of disappointing the other person if they hadn't gotten in so we sent each other cryptic messages such as, "so, heard from any workshops lately?"

And not only that, but we found out that we were both on the same team!

And not only that, but we found out that our team leader, producer, and editor consisted of people from the AP!

Okay, another small digression here. About three or four years ago, I had attended a photojournalism lecture sponsored by the local photography club in Vancouver and brought a couple of my images for some comments by the guest speaker. The speaker turned out to be Alain-Pierre Hovasse who use to be a supervising editor back in the day for, you guessed it, the AP. We started talking and exchanged contacts and got together on occasion to discuss photography. A little later he helped me with an edit that won me the International Non-Professional People Photographer of the Year award at the Lucies. No cash prize, but it sounds super good on the resume. As a mentor to both Claire and me, he has been second to none and has really helped us go forward into developing our photography into a viable career choice. He was from the AP and the fact that our team was also guided by members of the AP bode well for us and we weren't wrong.

Now there was a little bit of trepidation. We were told, in no uncertain terms, that (and let me be euphamistic here) Santiago Lyon is a very powerful and fearsome man and that we, as a result, should be flawless in his presence. Get that thought out of your head. I will say that he is very approachable and remarkably warm with a wry sense of humour and he will bring the best out in you. He will help you become better and you can tell that he gives a shit. You know that he's there for you.

Stacy and Mike are just awesome, there's just no other way to put it. I love them both to bits. You cannot meet better people to both help your career and have beers with.

so anyways, we got into NYC a few days earlier to get the much needed rest, and trust me, you WILL need it. We stayed in an apartment with Daniella (2009 alumni) and her boyfriend, Josh.

Daniella (2009 alumni) in her apartment which was our home for several days.

Daniella and Claire.

Friday morning, we picked up Nicole Franco (who is also attending the workshop) and drove to the Howard Johnson in Upstate New York. We got there early in order to avoid the mad rush of people and calmly and leisurely filled out some forms and picked up our bag of swag. The $375 for the room and board is more than offset by the gifts we got. Thank you, sponsors, very kind of you!

We took the bus to the farm and I must say, it was overwhelming. Walking up the hill with 99 other students and having so many people clap and cheer for you was a little unexpected.

We congregated in the barn and gathered around our table, all of us in our pink bandanas.

Stacy did the smart thing, she used our break in between speakers to hold a meeting and handed out assignments. So back at the hotel, while all the other teams are handing out assignments, we wrapped up some details, had some beers, and left early to get an extra hour or two of sleep ahead of everyone else.

Now the speakers. They were amazing and what they say will have relevance. They were inspiring and hopeful, they were intelligent and informative. Some were all that and also very...umm...attractive *cough* World Press *cough*...

...anyways, a photo of Claire getting her portfolio reviewed.

...and a photo of Claire at dinnertime.

...and speaking of dinner, a photo of someone enjoying the marvelously delicious food provided at the barn.

...on to the workshop.

I was assigned the Monticello Fire Department. It was pretty disasterous. The building was non-descript, the atmosphere was bleak and sterile, and the fluorescent lighting was flat. Nothing happened. There was a firefighter there on call and he spent most of his time working in front of his computer except for a brief moment where he cleaned the floors and drove the firetruck into the garage. There was a volunteer there, a latino kid who wanted to be a firefighter. Finally some drama! I had convinced him to let me follow him around and meet his family and since nothing was happening in the fire department, I had him take me to places where fires had occurred. Then he got a text from his mother and had to leave to drive her out of town. At the end of the day I had several snapshots of the fire department and a few portraits that I managed to capture in a nearby field that had nothing to do with the Monticello Fire Department. This is where panic should be setting in. I'd show you some samples, but I don't have them currently and they're not all interesting.

So end of the day, I drove to the diner where Austin was working and Brian showed up as well. Now, I had paid attention to the speakers and having done so I followed some good advice given the night before. ASK FOR HELP. Earlier, Stacy had texted me out of the blue with a simple statement, "sense of place." Brian suggested that if it's quiet there, then "shoot the quiet." Tim Rasmussen, in his talk (although this was kind of after the fact) hammered over and over again the importance of following the story no matter where it leads because you never know and in fact, you could have a stronger story than what you had envisioned. Okay, you know where this is going...

I decided to shoot the emptiness and desolation of the firehall. The next day, Stacy came by with a lighting specialist and we fired off some shots and got at least one working portrait (which wasn't easy given the location) and she made some suggestions. Santiago wanted a way to show the passage of time and suggested I find a clock to photograph at regular intervals. There was a clock but it wasn't working. There was another one that was just ugly and wouldn't show the time very well. Then I saw the microwave which provided the perfect balance of clarity and banality.

I came back with a set of utterly boring images and crossed my fingers and hoped that I didn't embarrass myself too badly.

Later that night there was a bonfire. Enjoy it, have fun, and chat up. But leave a little early to get to the 11:30 club before everyone else and sneak in one or two portfolio reviews before everyone else gets there. Carefully choose who you want to see, if you are into sports, then meet with a sports editor or if you're a daily shooter, then meet with someone from Time or get the idea.

After the 11:30 club, we went to the bar nearby to chat with other students and faculty, drank a bit, and showed our work.

Rachel and Brian.

After our usual two or three hours of sleep, we woke up and returned to the barn for our final edit. Let me tell you, I thought I was a pretty good photographer. I thought I could walk in there and showed everyone up. That wasn't the case. I learned a lot and still have a lot to learn. It was humbling.

We had a memorial service later in the afternoon for those who have lost their lives, both recent losses and the losses in Vietnam. It was beautiful and somber and dignified.

The workshop presentations were shown later that evening. Everyone's work were impressive to say the least. As for my own work, Santiago took photos of nothing and crafted a series that was much funnier and more interesting than anything that I could have come up with if something had happened at the firehall. I was floored at how well it worked out. The prizes were given out and at the very end I won a Nikon D3S, two VR Lenses, and a speedlight. Yeah, didn't see that coming did you? Neither did I. I have to thank Nikon for that. So I did. They told me to thank the team leaders. I am, right now. Thank you.

As much as I love my little Pentax, it's starting to fall apart on me. It now no longer focuses on low light, the body has a hole in it that is currently plugged with electrical tape, and the lens has something rattling inside it that causes the zoom to get stuck in the most inopportune of moments. This couldn't have come at a better time.

Anyways, I tried to say something clever on the stage, but I think ended up only confusing people. At least it was memorable or so I hope. I thanked Alyssa Adams and gave her a hug, then started crying. It was pretty emotional.

We drove back to New York the following day to crash at the very generous Brenno (2003 alumni) and slept until the morning after. I played with my camera a little and took this shot of Claire sleeping at iso 6400 in light that was just a step above pitch black. I don't know how I could have survived without this level of low light performance before.

Claire sleeping in the dark.

claire illuminated by the ambient light of a small window across the room.

There was some problems fitting in all the gifts and prizes she received at the workshop, so Brenno offered Claire his suitcase. She refused it as a gift instead opting to buy it for all the money she had left, $8.

We went across the street to a diner for breakfast and, having heard that I was too tired and overworked to score with any honeys in recent days, Brenno in his infinite wisdom left a little message for the waitress.

That's my real number, but seriously, I prefer can feel free to ask me anything about the workshop and I will reply.

Be memorable.

I dropped off Claire later that day at the airport and we told each other, "I love you." You never know that what you say can be the last thing that the other person hears. So tell someone that you love them today.

The Overseas Chinese Farms

The Overseas Chinese Farms - Images by Lung Liu