This past September, I was one of 40 lucky photographers selected to participate in the 64th Missouri Photo Workshop in Troy, Mo. While we constantly strive to create intriguing pictures, the workshop’s mission is to promote “research, observation and timing as the methods to make strong story-telling photographs.”
With a 400 frame limit for the story’s we end up photographing it’s no wonder they tell you it’s more of a thinking workshop than a photography workshop. In addition to the 40 photographers are 10 faculty instructors — leading newspaper and magazine photographers and photo editors. The photographers are split into groups with 2 faculty members acting as the editors of our stories throughout the week, guiding, criticizing and approving our stories as they develop throughout the week.
Going into the workshop you really only know one thing: Your going to get your ass kicked. But that’s the point of this workshop. We aren’t there to make pretty pictures. The point of the workshop all rests on how much you’re willing to challenge yourself. That’s what makes the workshop such an incredible experience for those who’ve participated.
Some quotes from the week:
Kim Komenich: “A good photograph is not a collision, it’s an equation.”; “Anticipation of the moment rather than the reaction to the gesture.”; “Keep an active working hypothesis rather than I’ll work on it later.”; “Do the pictures have purpose and can they stand alone?”
Peggy Peatie: “Put yourself in a situation and let the drama unfold. Think backwards.”
David Rees: “We don’t want to hear about your adventures. Tell us what the story is.”
Lois Raimondo: “Disappear yourself but never completely.”; “Think ahead and simply hang on.”
Chris Wilkins: “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” — referencing Alex Garcia on this quote
Kathy Moran on portfolio critiques: “Be guided by the critique and exit gracefully.”
This year my group was Team Stryker — named after Roy Stryker who managed to Farm Security Administration photographers. My faculty instructors were Lois Raimondo and Kim Komenich, which I had an incredible time working with. With their personal opinions aside, both Lois and Kim gave critically honest remarks about the story ideas and images we presented them with. Yeah, it was definitely a little unpleasant at times to hear the brutally honest questions and remarks at times, but you just have to take them for what it’s worth and push on. I know, after coming to them with a couple of ideas that could work for stories they ultimately told me to start all over again. See, the problem they saw I had was that I was looking for stories to basically fall in my lap (going around and hoping to find a “good subject” by going up to people with no precursor for why I wanted to meet them). They told me I needed to connect with the community to lead me to other people for stories (talk to people in town to find other people, instead of just walking up to people). My idea was to look for people in the immigrant community in Troy, so after talking with an official from the visitors bureau, I was lead to Main Street Elementary which has a fair amount of ELL (English Language Learner Students) students. I went to the school and talk with one of the ELL teachers, telling them about my interests and asked if they had any students in mind. This is how I came to find 10-year-old Luke Akalu Gambill — adopted from Ethiopia just two years ago — and ended up with my story Luke’s American Life.
While I learned a lot especially from Kim and Lois, I would also like to thank all the other amazing faculty members, faculty directors, and other photographers who were invariably inspiring to me through out the workshop. It truly was a profound week that I will never forget.
While you can view my story on Luke on the MPW website, here is a sample of the outtakes from the story: