Magnum Workshop In Review

Scott12 I've just returned from Tokyo and from the Magnum Workshop with David Alan Harvey. What an incredible experience first off. Second, what a challenging workshop it was! Four solid and intense days of shooting, editing, and critiquing.

I learned a ton. As I've been telling myself and others, I'm more or less hell-bent on shooting editorial work and telling stories with my photographs. I went into this workshop hoping to get real constructive feedback on my existing work and also in the work that I shot while there. I was also looking for insight on how to function within the world of editorial photography. I did, but not in the way that I expected actually.

I often find myself (as many photographers do at one point in their lifespan), comparing my work to those who are already successful shooters receiving assignments and commissions.  There is a lot of uncertainty during the stage I'm in with my photography, because I want some way to guarantee that the personal work that I do will be well received somewhere and ultimately will set me on a path towards establishing me as a photographer in the editorial world. I want some way to know that ultimately I'm not wasting my time and efforts and money working on something that has no potential to be published or won't be received positively. So I hesitate a lot with my ideas. I'd prefer to let someone else initiate the idea, because I know that if the idea is concrete, I can bring it to completion. I'm quite good with execution if I just know where I'm going or what I'm aiming for. Otherwise, I fear I'll be left throwing a ton of resources at something that has little value.

But, honestly, I think that was the beauty of this workshop. David pushed us to read literature and photo books in the future, with the goal of helping us to be visually and culturally literate, so that our work has deeper impact than just being a set of pretty pictures about a place (if our intent to make deeper photographs that is). He pushed us to understand why we should study photo books, not to copy or imitate, but simply to expand our "visual vocabulary". As a friend of mine here in Shanghai said the other night, "in order to improvise, you have to know the classics." I've got a list of books I want to buy already as a way to deepen my understanding and my images. I think I've gained a new drive to be a better idea initiator, rather than just a conduit for conveyance of someone else's concepts, and also have the courage to pursue my ideas without fear of failure. As he said throughout the workshop, the photographers who are really doing well these days are the ones who are have their own ideas and are driving them to completion.


The most important thing I learned though about my images was that in the end, there really is only one way to define what is "good" work. Or rather, there is an order in which the work should be defined as good. David has a style. He has an artistic bend, and in fact, we all do. He gave his perspective on my work, but at the end of the day, that is only one perspective, and it is not necessarily the perspective that should be considered first. Satisfy your artistic drive first and foremost; you have to do this no matter if you are world renowned or a starving newbie working odd jobs to survive. Sounds elementary in many ways, but really, this is a hard concept to take to heart for someone who wants to live from their art. It requires serious humility, because the response to our work will have an impact on our paycheck. Honestly, it's more about finding the audience that likes your work than it is finding out how to make it objectively good.

David basically told me my work was very, very good for what it is: didactic, direct, and descriptive; "very publishable" and "American photography" as he put it. I showed him a selection from my time in Kyrgyzstan this past summer, and it was encouraging but also hard to hear, because I want my work to be more complex and emotive. I wasn't looking for someone to stroke my ego, and while he acknowledged that it was good work, which was actually something I needed to hear from a well respected source within the industry, it also directed me towards a path for improvement. Because I don't think we ever really arrive at mastery.


Actually the coolest part of the workshop was that though David pushed us to study the works of others through literature and photo books and was putting his own perspective into the workshop, but he didn't try to make us like him or anyone else. Each participant really walked away with something completely different. While initially I found myself trying to copy his style of working, something that I actually didn't realize until later in the week, David really didn't spend much time talking about composition, light, or telling us how to shoot our projects. His critiques were pretty simple and subjective: "this is good, this isn't" and "this photo dissolves into that photo well".

At first, I was scratching my head wondering WHY??? but as the days progressed, I stopped asking (even to myself) and just started watching him and the others, eventually beginning to see what he was talking about. How photos dissolve into one another, why images were weak or strong in context. The expectation was, that we were presenting what we thought was best already based on our artistic preferences. He was just adding his perspective to ours and helping us see how to fit it all together. The cool thing was, as I began to understand how to sequence, edit, and critique my own work, I walked away with a deeper vision on where I could improve my own photographs while shooting.

I wasn't really pleased with the work I did in the workshop itself, but honestly, I wasn't really there expecting to make great images. I kind of look at workshops like creative spaces to learn, not a place to perform. But, I find that every time I try to shoot a project, or something that is a concept, whether a story or an idea, I learn new things about how to execute, and I'm glad that was the core of the workshop. Could I have produced something great in those 4 days? Certainly, and after doing the workshop, I realize where I didn't quite hit the mark on the execution; where I could have done it differently, and how to approach it in the future. I didn't really end up shooting what I had planned going in, which was the younger generations and how they perceived happiness. Instead, I found myself wrestling with the time that I had and a little unsure of what I wanted to accomplish, and ended up with a photo essay on Shinjuku night life more or less.


There were many other things, like the business of photography, that we discussed. But honestly, I began to care less about that stuff as the week went on. I'm more interested in doing the work, shooting what moves me, and getting it in front of the people I want to work with. There really is no other way, even at the highest level, because this business is so subjective it runs you in cirlces sometimes. I think finally I'm comfortable with just leaving it at that for the first time, and when I'm ready to shoot full time, I'll know.

All things said, I left this workshop with exactly what I wanted, but even more so, I left with exactly what I needed; a push off the plateau I felt like I was on with affirmation that my existing work was good for where it is currently. And a direction to move in. How I view my work has shifted drastically, and will continue to as I digest everything from the workshop over the following months. I've already been reviewing my older work and finding images that have much greater pull than I had originally thought. I think this is a good sign that the time, effort, and money was very well spent.

Keep your eye on for a selection of work from the workshop participants.



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.


2014-01-18_0001.jpg After much anticipation, I'm finally in India. I've wanted to visit this country for years, and now I"m finally here, with 3 whole months to explore. I can see a plan forming for my time, which will be driven by some work that I am planning to do with a few non-profits, but will include plenty of personal time to explore the various regions and people of the country.


I feel like India is almost a right of passage among travel photographers. Just about everyone I know who has traveled and is a photographer has spent some time here. I've not been here long, but I can tell, this is going to be fun. Colorful, busy, crowded, wild, this place will be an adventure.

I'm heading to Kolkata tomorrow via overnight train, meeting with an organization that specializes in doing what I want to do with photography for a week. After that, I'll be in Chennai with another organization who works very broadly across all of India, and from there probably back to Mumbai for a week with a third that I got connected with while I was here. After that, I'm planning to head north, to Rajasthan and Punjab for some personal work, and then back down south through Dehli, Agra, and Varanasi (I've decided Sri Lanka is next after India, and I'm also going to take a week in the Maldives to do some diving). And of course, it's all subject to change :)

I've been taking some time to chill in Mumbai, and haven't picked the camera up as much as I had planned. I'm trying to pace myself, I know I could shoot a million photos in this place and burn myself out quickly. There is literally a photo possible on every street corner, and I feel like slowing down to make sense of it all is the best thing I can do, before I really start shooting. I've got the time, after all.

That's all for now. See you in Kolkata!


More From Istanbul

2014-01-14_0019.jpgFerry boats (Feribot in Turkish) are everywhere in Istanbul. I mean EVERYWHERE. And they are cheap to use. You can get a ride across the channel for $1.50 (USD, 3TL). I got on one thinking I was crossing, but in fact it was a tourist boat that just did a big circle around the city for sightseeing. It was significantly more expensive, but thankfully I was able to transfer to a boat that was going to Uskudar (the Asian side) for free.

I found a nice spot on the Asian side that was basically a cafe on the water front and spent half of my day there sipping on tea and photographing the bustle around there, waiting for the light to get soft and gorgeous (which it did in epic fashion). I took the boat back over this morning there to enjoy the view (and a Turkish coffee...) while I read.  It was worth it.

I head to India tomorrow. Here are a few more that I haven't published yet from yesterday on the Asian side of the city. Enjoy! 2014-01-14_0015.jpg 2014-01-14_0009.jpg 2014-01-14_0012.jpg2014-01-14_0020.jpg2014-01-14_0013.jpg


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Houston, We Have Lift Off.

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Well, I'm on my way to Asia! I spent the night in a youth hostel in Toronto, after getting in at nearly 2am. I shared a cab ride into the city from the airport with the guy I sat next to on the plane, (his company was paying, thanks Capital One) and got some understanding how to navigate back to the airport via public transit. I was so tired that I slept through my alarm this morning that I forgot to turn off. I'm sure everyone else in the dorm room was pleased with me.

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I've had the afternoon in Toronto, which I spent tracking down a few miscellaneous items that I forgot to get (like a lock to secure my bag in a locker when I'm out and about in the city....) and wandering around by Lake Ontario. Istanbul is the next waypoint, and unfortunately, I won't be able to go out in the city. I don't have enough time. But, maybe another day!

On a slightly more nostalgic note, I'm realizing just how much I will miss Chicago. It's strange: the urge to travel the world is so strong for me, but if I'm honest with myself, I've never found a city that I like more than Chicago. The people, the food, the summertime, the L rumbling overhead. It's wedged itself in my heart and has really become home. I'll be back Chicago, I'll be back.

I forgot to say this in my post announcing that I would be embarking on this journey, but if you are ever planning to travel somewhere near me, shoot me a message and let me know. I'd love to meet up with you, share a meal, see some sights, whatever.

Anyway, gotta run. See you in Mumbai!

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The Big Leap

20131128-_Z0A0535 untitled shoot I'm just going to blurt it out up front: I'm quitting my job and traveling the world to build my photography portfolio and hopefully, business. Why?

I believe whole-heartedly in social enterprise. Using the power of the economy to provide help for someone is simply brilliant. Because it's sustainable. Spending time in Pakistan last year made me realize just how powerful it can be. So what I'm planning, is to use photography to tell stories to investors and donors for social enterprises. I want to create marketing materials for companies that are changing peoples lives on the ground around the world. To do that, I need time to build a portfolio and gain experience.

That's my long term goal. How am I going to do this? I saved up some money, sold the house, my two week notice is in, and I've bought a one way plane ticket to India. I'm going to spend a year building a portfolio of imagery that has soul and see where it takes me. Specifically, I'm going to build a portfolio of stories, of places, and cultures that intrigue me, that I can finally take the time to document. Places and cultures that I have always wanted to visit and explore, not for any other reason than to be there and experience it. And hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to work with some really cool companies and organizations that are doing some amazing things.

Something that is really important to me is having you, my family and friends, partner with me. The beauty of photography is that it can transport us to a place we are not. Good photographs give us a window into another world or moment.  And the amazing thing about the digital age is that I can share what I am up to over the internet from anywhere in the world. I want this blog to be a record of several things: my personal journey and the lessons that I'm learning, the people I meet and experiences I have, and practical advice on travel and photography. So with that in mind, Here's how you can journey with me:

  • Follow the blog: See the box on the right where it says "Want to have my latest post delivered directly to your inbox?" Put your email address there, and you're signed up! You'll get the latest posts and updates right in your inbox. I won't spam you, and I won't post everyday (that's time I should be exploring!)
  • Comment on posts: Tell me what you think (constructive criticism as well as attaboys). Ask questions about the places I've been, things your curious about, whatever. I want this blog to be a source of useful information for travel and photography as well as a record of what I am up to.
  • Share contacts abroad: If you feel comfortable, and you know people living in Asia (central Asia, east Asia, and the South Pacific), please send them my name and my email address (and vice versa). I'm looking for local contacts to get in deep with the culture and build relationships. Locals or expats.
  • Pass my name along to people you think would be interested: If you know someone working with a non profit, social enterprises, etc., or someone you think would be interested in just seeing my work and reading about my travel experiences, send them my name and website!

Whew! That's all out on the table finally. I've been working on these plans for a full year. It's exciting to finally be here, ready to make the leap. My flight leaves on the 8th of January, so I'm not leaving for several weeks. I will be posting a couple more times before I'm up and away, but for now, I'll leave you with this quote for inspiration from Daniel Burnham that has gotten me inspired to embark on this journey:

Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.

Daniel Burnham, Chicago architect. (1846-1912)