At the last minute, I signed up for the Michael Gordon/Guy Tal photography workshop on Creative Landscape Photography. I needed a “big think” about where I’m going with my photography now that the Highway 89 project is finished, and being around other photographers who wanted to focus on their own creativity sounded like a good environment for some introspective pondering.
One thing I didn’t want to do was push. No “must-get” photos. No expectations to come back with a trophy shot. No expectations at all, except to show up on time and participate with the group.
Michael and Guy put on a well-organized, well-delivered series of sit-down talks, alternating with time in the field to make pictures. They did an outstanding job of selecting and scouting locations for various times of the day, and improvised with an entertaining option when the weather conditions ruled out the evening shooting plan on the second day.
The idea of teaching creativity is daunting. Michael and Guy shared a lot about their processes to get into a frame of mind to be creative. Some suggestions were quite simple, but hard to practice, like not raising the camera to eye until the mind had framed out the picture. And to enjoy the moment in the landscape, regardless of how the picture-taking was going.
My post-processing chops are pretty well-honed by now, but I picked up some tidbits while watching Guy step through his Lightroom moves; the lessons seemed well-targeted to the needs of the other participants, who were no raw beginners themselves. One of the most illuminating things Guy did was deconstruct a few of his own images.
Our pre-workshop assignment was to make several prints to share with the group. I decided to bring only work I’d done since finishing the shooting for both books. Just the process of selecting images for those prints gave me some huge insights to my gnawing dissatisfaction with my pictures this summer. No outdoor work, very little work undertaken for myself, after such a long period of shooting so exclusively for the stories I was telling. I made lots of pictures at and for photowalks and classes, other people’s celebrations, and even my own milestones with Sagebrush Press, but with a certain randomness of subject. And I hadn’t made an outdoor expedition since October of last year. That’s way too long.
The famous quote by Minor White, “all photographs are selfportraits,” can actually be a challenging idea, and one that I had never adopted as a tool I could use. As I pondered and listened to Guy and Michael over those four days, I shifted closer to the idea that the picture is as much my story of that relationship as it is of my subject. A deeper acceptance of that idea is bound to result in more satisfying (to me) pictures.
So with all that energy and insight from spending four days doing nothing but thinking and doing photography, I went home to repack for a second trip to southern Utah. And if I could recommend one thing to people thinking about doing a photography workshop, it is to make a plan before you go to get back in the field as soon as possible upon your return. Knowledge comes from repeated experience, and you want to reinforce all those new good thinking-habits right away.
On the second trip, I made fewer pictures, and for one whole day, I didn’t make any pictures at all. But I am pleased with what I brought back, more so than in a long time. All the fresh air and exercise certainly helped keep my senses clear. More importantly, I had a stronger purpose in mind when I was making photographs. Regardless of outcome of any particular photo, finding my own path forward was worth the investment of time and resources. Workshops will work if you show up, check the ego, and let them. Thanks Michael and Guy for making it such a productive and delightful interlude in my life!