Five days seemed like an eternity to spend with ten strangers. How would I keep everyone focused? What would they be like? Where would we go for our field shoots? Would the light work out? I'd done my prep work, but still felt the anxiety of anticipation. If I were climbing, I’d have stopped to shake out, focused on breathing, smiled, and put my head back together. But I wasn’t climbing, I was preparing to teach a photography workshop in Incline Village at Lake Tahoe’s Sierra Nevada College.
The jitters of the first day quickly subsided and the group settled into a nice groove. After orientation and introductions, we had a couple lectures, and the first of many delicious lunches in the cafeteria. By late afternoon we were in the field photographing near Sand Harbor. Next morning we were up early to shoot sunrise along the north Shore. Group dynamics are always an interesting part of the workshop experience. You want a mix of women and men, ages, and experience levels, and a healthy sense of humor. This class certainly had that. Of the ten participants, four were women, and there were four climbers. This was great and added an instant sense of brotherhood to the group. The age range varied nicely, with the youngest being seventeen. Of all the workshops I've done over the years, the energy of this group was among the best I've seen. With fifteen hours of sunlight, it quickly became apparent that sleep deprivation would be part of the program. The sun set at about eight thirty and rose at five. We were out late at night, up and out the door again by four or four thirty each morning. My philosophy for field sessions is to put people on location at the right place and right time so they have the opportunity to make exceptional photographs. I try to be available to help folks with their gear and equipment, answer questions, creative advice, and offer one-on-one time as participants work. I roam the area seeing if anyone needs help, but of course, also want to make some great images and feel obliged to bring quality work back to the critiques. So as the light begins to peak I’m often running from one location to the next, trying to bag my shots.
After our morning shoots we ate breakfast, downloaded and edited our photos and prepared for critique. The critiques are probably the most important part of a workshop. It is here that what we discuss in lectures, see in the field, and capture in-camera all come together to be evaluated. There are always amazing and unexpected images. You can put folks together at the same place in the field but will never see two images alike. In evaluations, people always say that they learned the most from critique, not just of their own images, but in observing and participating in the critique of what everyone else did as well.
When I was in college I was often frustrated by some of the soft-ball critiques art teachers would give to work that was obviously crap. Then, while working with Galen, I saw a whole different method. In his workshop critiques, he was always encouraging, never cruel, but dead honest in evaluating images. He would focus on the potential that an image had to become a finished piece. In this way, he found a positive way to give a tough critique that would inspire rather than intimidate a young photographer.
As we got deeper into the workshop, the participants really hit their artistic stride and the quality of their work increased with each critique. We all got accustomed to working creatively on limited sleep.
One direction I’ve been pushing is digital storytelling, and how we use photography as part of the way we tell stories and document our lives. So as the end of the workshop neared, we each worked on a final assignment to tell a story in pictures. I wasn’t sure how this would work, but with the mounting pressure of final critique, everyone went deep into the “zone” and came out with amazing projects. (I'll have to post some of those at a later date). All too soon, the class was over. Someone produced a case of Fat Tire (thanks Carol!), we toasted our new friends and parted, each in our separate ways. Over the five days we had a profoundly bonding creative experience. I want to thank all of the participants for a great workshop. I hope to see you again some day and will always cherish the time we shared chasing light on the shores of Lake Tahoe.