Updated 7/13 — see below
Just spent a week at Santa Fe Photography Workshops. Heard about it when I was at Maine Media Workshops last summer: the director at Santa Fe used to be the manager at Maine. The two places are similar, and some instructors teach at both places. My workshops at both places were excellent.
I took a workshop on photographing people with John (JJ) Weiss. I chose this one in part because, looking back over my own work, I realized that I enjoyed taking pictures of people — some of the images from my travels that I find the most satisfying are of the people I met or saw. But I knew that I could definitely improve. I had also heard good things about Weiss.
Here is our closing slide show, with work from all the class. Be sure you have the sound on — it has music.
First we took pictures of one another. Then we went down to the main plaza in Santa Fe and asked strangers to pose for us. (The scariest thing in taking pictures of people: asking for permission, or getting “caught” taking pictures without their permission.) We learned how to engage with strangers and get pictures in which they were alive. Then we did street photography, where people don’t know we are taking their pictures, in a small town, at an amusement park, and around Santa Fe.
Updated 7/13: There’s something indefinable, but recognizable, about images in which the person is present, and those where they’re not. With experience looking at images, we got better at it — and better at seeing our subjects slide in and out of that state. (One way we learned to get them into that state: ask them to move. In the instant of moving they usually let go of that “I’m being photographed” look, if only for a moment.) It reminded me of when I took an improv class, and we came to be able to see when people were operating out of their gut and not their head (the only way I can think to describe it) — to feel it when we did it, and to recognize it in others.
We weren’t there to do Photoshop, and didn’t take the time to do much manipulation of our images. But in the critiques we also learned a lot about how to work with our images, and make them better after the fact.
I learned a tremendous amount, and my images improved by orders of magnitude. All the students were good photographers to begin with. John said that we were one of the less experienced classes, maybe because none of us were professional photographers, but I was blown away by my fellow students. And John is a terrific instructor – as shown by how much we all improved that week.
I would recommend both the Maine and the Santa Fe workshops. I discovered when I got there last summer that the Maine workshops had been through a rocky time, but they had a change of leadership and an infusion of capital and last summer all was well, as far as I could see.
Best of all was spending a week immersed in photography with a bunch of very skilled, hard-working photographers under the guidance of a terrific photographer and teacher.