Called Out

In my workshops the focus is on making creative and personally expressive photos that go beyond merely literal recordings. To that end I discuss the rewards of photographing ordinary subjects and elevating the mundane. During a workshop of mine last year we were photographing one morning at one of the most iconic locations in the Adirondack Park. I observed that one of my students seemed a little displeased, and when I approached her about it she politely called me out for essentially “talking the talk, but not walking the walk.” She found visiting such a grand and iconic locale to be incongruous with my teachings. The nerve! Actually, I had to hand it to her, it was a fair and shrewd observation. It also made for a wonderful learning opportunity.

One of the most important and at times difficult tasks of a workshop instructor is dealing with expectations. The objectives of those attending workshops can vary greatly. Some are there for trophy hunting and look to the instructor to take them to places that offer the biggest bang for their buck, reducing the role of instructor to that of a tour guide. For others the focus is on learning, although there is still an expectation of visiting iconic locales and the hope of returning home with at least a few very high quality images. In time I hope to cultivate a reputation such that people who attend my workshops understand that it is more about the creative experience in nature and expressing oneself through their images. If they go home with a handful of great images to boot then that is a bonus, but not the objective. For the time being I try to manage expectations as best I can.

I explained this to her, but more than that I pointed out that just because we were visiting an iconic location doesn’t mean that one is obligated to get the iconic shot. In fact, seeing beyond the obvious first (or second, or even third) impression can be a great exercise in learning to not settle for the first thing you see. Often the first thing that catches our attention doesn’t make for the most creative or expressive photograph because it’s not the thing that makes us feel. Art is more about feeling than it is seeing. If you stand at Zabriskie Point in Death Valley the first thing you will see is what everyone who visits there sees. Brooks Jensen, artist and editor of Lenswork Magazine, advocates for first capturing the iconic shot just to get it out of your system so that you can begin to see other things. Whatever your way of working the important thing is to see and consider multiple opportunities for photo making and not be blinded by the glitz of the obvious. The best photographs are made with our heart, not our eyes.

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