Magnum Workshop Lessons (Illustrated): Shooting How It Feels, Not What It Looks Like

As I've been looking back through old images, I've found a pair that I think would make for a good example of what I've learned through the workshop I did in Tokyo with Magnum/David Alan Harvey. I'll just put them below and let you take a look at them first, and then tell you what I think after. 20150609-L8904861 Kyrgyzstan

20150609-L8904858 Kyrgyzstan

When I did the initial edit of my work from Kyrgyzstan, I chose the first image over the second, simply because the horse being cut off in the corner of the frame really bothered me in the latter photo. I seem to remember thinking at the time "it's not perfect, therefore cut it".

This workshop has really made me reconsider how I select my work. I realized not long after Kyrgyzstan that I have a really hard bend towards "perfect" composition when I shoot. As someone who is highly left brained, and had up until this point been unable to accept anything other than frames that balanced well geometrically, I had been choosing images largely based on composition first. Rule of thirds. Shapes inside the framelines. Level horizons. If it can't be fixed with a crop or rotation, toss it. However with photographs of people I find that emotion is ultimately what makes for a better photo, and that was something that I became even more aware of as the week progressed in Tokyo.

To my eyes, the second image is definitely more emotive and complex; it really grabs my attention much more than the first. Everything from the horses head driving into the snow, to the shepherds leaning into the wind, to the snow moving more right to left, communicates on a much deeper level just how rough it can be out there in the mountains as a shepherd. I feel like this image really is a better moment, and although the physical composition of the first photo is more even and balanced (what I was initially using as my criteria for a good image), it's boring in a lot of ways.

Evaluating how good a photo is really is a tricky subject. I realized in Tokyo that I had been evaluating my images based on how they looked, rather than how they felt. My left brain was grasping for something concrete and obvious to quantify the quality of the image. I grasped composition first, because it was easier to make tangible.

But in the end, that's not what photography is really all about, is it? It's ultimately about what we feel when we look at the image, not just what we see. And that small nuance is what to me separates the two images at the top of the page. The second one has a much more complex and emotive feel to it than the first, something that transcends the technical imperfections. A small nuance that I initially didn't understand when David was evaluating the work from the class and told us there was no way to explain why he was doing what he was doing. It was just the feeling that he as an individual had when viewing an image.

It's this intangibility that drives me absolutely nuts a times, but is all the more satisfying when I finally let go of that need to make it concrete. It's the thing that I feel sets a good photograph apart from a great one, and the thing that I think makes this pursuit of artistry so worth it.

Traveling on the DL

2015-05-10_0007 It can be a big headache to spend days on a train or a bus when a 6 hour plane flight is available to the same destination. To stay in hostels, with 6 roommates and a lack of personal space, when a hotel room is available. Personally, I'd never do it any other way though, unless I'm pressed for time.

I set out across China on the train and it took me a week to get from Shanghai to Bishkek. Along the way, I made stops in Kashgar and Osh. Traveling in this way feeds my idea engine. It gives me greater opportunity to interact with locals and travelers alike in an organic way, all who have interesting perspectives on the world around them, and may have suggestions on interesting things to see and do. My project with the shepherds here in Kyrgyzstan grew out of this travel method, which in turn has inspired another project I will shoot next year. Had it not been for my friend I met in that Mumbai hostel, I would have likely never traveled on horse, and never had ideas for either that project or the one I am currently out photographing.

Travel is so much more about who I meet wherever it is I go. People and their perspectives inspire me, and for that reason, I prefer to stay on the ground as often as I can, looking for ways to interact with the world around me. It's a privilege to have the time to travel slow, but it's also a choice. I find that personally, the rewards far outweigh the discomfort and extra time.

Below is a selection of my favorite images from my stop in Kashgar on the way to Bishkek (and one from the drive across Kyrgyzstan from the Chinese border). I'm currently in the town of Karakol (Kyrgyzstan), to photograph the animal market here tomorrow. It opens at 5am before the sun rises, so it'll be an early one. Next week, I'll be setting off into the mountains for a month, to ride horses, live with shepherds, hear their stories, and photograph their lives. It's really a dream to be out here doing what I love; photography, the outdoors, adventure, travel; I'm grateful for the support of VSCO and the Artist Initiative to make this happen. I'll be putting more updates out as the summer progresses, here on the blog and also my VSCO Journal.

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VSCO Artist Initiative

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 3.00.03 PM Well, I'm really excited to finally be able to share this news, as it's been in the works for some time now. My work in Kyrgyzstan this summer has been awarded a grant through the Artist Initiative fund created by Visual Supply Company (VSCO). The announcement is posted here if you would like to read it! I'm really grateful for their support and for the opportunity to do this project fully.

Last year, I really wished that I could have spoken with the shepherds that I lived with and met along the way during my journey. This year, I'm taking a translator along with me to help bridge that language barrier, and in the process hopefully gathering first hand accounts and stories from the shepherds themselves about life in Kyrgyzstan. The grant from VSCO has made this possible for me to accomplish this piece of the project which is so essential to what I want to achieve with my work there.

For those that are not familiar with VSCO and the platform they have created for the art community, go check out the Grid and the Journal. The grid is a collection of images from artists around the globe and the journal is a platform for sharing stories. In addition to my normal outlets for sharing my journeys and travels with you (this blog and Instagram), this year I'm also going to be sharing my experiences and project updates through my personal VSCO Grid and Journal as well. Follow me there to get updates about my travels and how the project is going!


Summer 2015: Kyrgyzstan Round Two

scan11 I sat down yesterday and realized that I'm only two weeks away from starting my adventure this summer in Kyrgyzstan. I could not be more excited to get on the road and get after it! I've been somewhat quiet with my plans for the summer, though most know where I'm headed. But I wanted to tell you about what I'm planning to do out there this year.

The idea formed as I traveled through the mountains last year. Traditionally, the Kyrgyz have been subsistence shepherds, meaning that they have been living solely from their animals and trading them. If you haven't seen it, take a look at the article about the Afghan Kyrgyz that National Geographic published back in 2012. When the USSR fell in 1991, Kyrgyzstan fell into economic turmoil, as the country struggled to transition to post-Soviet existence.

A predominantly rural and agricultural economy, Kyrgyzstan has been slowly recovering over the past two decades. As I rode among the shepherds in 2014, I learned how they have turned their history as such into a means of living beyond pure subsistence. In many ways, while they are still self sufficient much like they have been for thousands of years, the shepherds are also small business owners, making an income through the sale of their animals and associated co-products like wool, milk, and meat. This shift to small business in addition to a subsistence living has been successful in combating some of the worst poverty within the country, while helping to sustain the legacy of the Kyrgyz as a people group.

So in early May, I'll be heading to Bishkek to start doing research on the ground, gathering data, testimonies, and first hand accounts from the shepherds themselves. From there, I'll head to the mountains, and photograph their lives as it reflects their heritage in modern day Kyrgyzstan, and the issues that exist in land management and livestock rearing as a business and economic driver for the country. Hopefully I'll get to visit many of my friends from last year, and make some new ones along the way.

Additionally, I have several other stories that I'm going to document while I'm there, including documenting an arts festival (largest in Central Asia) and a chicken farming small business initiative.


Finally, late in August I'm going to be leading a week of trekking out in the mountains. I do this kind of stuff because I love it first and foremost, and Kyrgyzstan is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. If you are interested in seeing this incredible country, this is a great opportunity. I'll share more on this a bit later, but if you are interested, don't hesitate to contact me for more information.

(PS-it seems that I'm using Instagram more and more these days as my blog. If you're interested in what I'm up to on a more regular basis, I'd recommend adding me there using @stturn. I keep it up to date with my whereabouts, micro adventures, and thoughts. Add me there!)

Learning To Ride-Maptia

Screen Shot 2015-02-11 at 1.23.31 PM One of my goals for 2015 was to write more, and along with that, contribute to something greater. As I've traveled this year, I've found a love for story telling, through the use of both photographs and words, and coincidently, I also just stumbled on an amazing platform to share both, called Maptia.  It has a great editor that allows you to tell stories in a clean and organized fashion, and with a community that is passionately sharing their experiences. Not to mention contributions from big names in the photography, writing, and adventure world as well.

The thing I really like about Maptia the most is the passion for story, and the belief that stories matter. That stories can make a difference. That they can inspire and empower. That they can change the course of one person's life or history. I've found these things to be true for myself, and I'm really excited about finding something I can use to combine both my writing and photography effectively and share my experiences in a more complete way. I can think of a couple more stories I want to share already!

I'd been looking for a way to share my experience from Kyrgyzstan, and well, I think Maptia is a great way to do it. So my journey through Kyrgyzstan is now up on the site in one complete story! This experience has really taught me that I'm capable of any thing I put my mind to, and that at the end of the day, it's not as much about doing it correctly as it is simply going and doing it in the first place. That first step to GO is the hardest sometimes, when fear of the unknown grips tight, but the reward for taking that step is often a beautiful journey we didn't expect.

If you are at all interested in travel, story telling, great photography, or just interesting thoughts and experiences across the globe, you need to check this site out. It is inspiring and thought provoking.