Saturday, August 15, 2015

On Workshops and Pedagogy

Occasionally, less and less as I interact with fewer and fewer people, I get grief for presuming to educate without sharing many of my own pictures. This is, I feel, a curious thing. What does it matter if I can take a good picture or not, if the point is me teaching you to take a good picture?

Consider the workshop-giver. Google "photography workshop" and click around to your heart's content. You should easily find, quite literally, 10,000 workshops available. Usually, it seems to me, you spend a couple thousand bucks to go to some photogenic place and to have your portfolio reviewed by... well by some guy who posts a lot of his own photos.

Imagine, if you will, Sally Mann rolling in to your average Fine Art Landscape workshop with her Southern Landscapes portfolio. Imagine, if you will, Robert Frank or Garry Winogrand rolling in to your average Street Photography workshop. Imagine, if you will, Andreas Gursky bringing 99 Cent II to Ming Thein. Just mull on that for a while. Of course, I selected the artists carefully. Ansel Adams would do fine in a contemporary Fine Art Landscape workshop portfolio review, and so on.

One of the things you do when you put your own work out there in the context of education is that you set the expectation in your own mind, and the mind of the students: I will teach you how to shoot this sort of thing. While all workshop givers go on about helping you find your own style, while they all imagine they're teaching photography in the broadest sense, while they feel they have some insight into helping you find your own vision, they betray the truth when they post their own work. They know how to do this thing, and they can help you do that same thing.

The results of workshops seem to bear this out. The before portfolios strike me as "some guy who shoots a bit like so-and-so" and the afters "some guy who shoots more like so-and-so." Given that so-and-so has so little to do and say that he's spending time giving workshops, that's kind of sad.

I am interested in process, in the way ideas evolve and get realized. I do one thing, I do another thing. What I do is completely irrelevant to your pictures. My pictures are not your pictures, and looking at my pictures as such, analyzing my pictures, will not help you one whit. Indeed, if I as the Teacher show you my work, I influence your idea of what you're supposed to be doing. You're paying me $2,000 or $10,000 or even $100. Your tendency is going to be to copy me.

Therefore, I try to teach how to find something to say, and how to develop the skill to say it.

If you really want to know how to shoot like me: set up your camera for black and white, think the saddest thing, and underexpose by 2 stops.

It's pretty simple, really.

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