Well here we are again on yet another airplane and as usual have an hour or two to kill….

Giving my lecture

Teaching at DINFOS

This summer has been a blur of constant travels, and it has been hard to keep everything straight. One of the things that I have been putting off mentioning here on this blog was the DINFOS photography workshop. (for what its worth… most of these photos were taken in “community” cameras floating around, so no photo credits…sorry)

Ken Hackman addressing students

Ken Hackman addressing students

Over the past couple of weeks, I have had the privilege of being able to catch up with (and even hire as assistants – Luke Pinneo will you please stand up) some of the students I had the chance to work with during that week in May, and have been rethinking several of the lessons taught, as well as lessons learned at the workshop.

Eli show his work

Eli show his work

Chip and Eli at dinner

Chip and Eli at dinner

The photo workshop was the brain child Ken Hackman, and for those of you who are unfamiliar, The DINFOS (or Defense Information School) Worldwide Military Photography Workshop, sponsored by the DOD, is designed to provides advanced instruction on how to communicate more effectively using the visual media of photography and photojournalism. It gives top military photographers the chance to interact with working professionals in order to hone their craft.

There's Luke (right)

Luke Pinneo (right)

During the 7 day workshop, aprox 30 hand picked military photographers are split into teams of 5, who are then teamed up with working professionals. This past spring, I had the fantastic fortune to share the stage with amazing names such as Joe McNally, Eli Reed, Skip Ivins, Earnie Grafton, Preston Keres, Chip Maury, and David Hobby. I was also blown away by the level of talent represented by the DINFOS staff and military mentors who were assigned to work with the teams. (there are too many to list, but you know who you are…you guys rock!)

David Hobby

David Hobby

Joe McNally

With the exception of Mcnally’s and Hobby’s group who focused on advanced lighting techniques, the remaining students were each given subjects to explore. At the end of the week, students were expected to submit their top 10 images to be judged by an independent jury.

Nikon at DINFOS (Ann and Volker in background)

Nikon at DINFOS (Ann and Volker in background)

I don’t like shameless plugs, but one of the really cool parts of the week that cant be overlooked is the participation of Nikon. Every year, the camera company sends down several large cases stuffed with really cool new gear. During the week, students are allowed to try out what seemed to be almost every top level Nikon bit of kit. I saw all my favorites…. D3’s, fisheyes, and long long glass. Kudos to Nikon, as well as Anne Cahill, Mark Suban, and Pat Nugent!

As I have said in the past… I honestly believe that being able to teach ones craft is the true measure of success. I have been having many conversations this past summer with my mentor Mike Weymouth about this, and it is truly an important aspect of any artists career. It is for this reason, that whenever I am asked to participate in a workshop, or teach a class, I jump at the chance.

Showing the contents of the "travel case"

Showing the contents of the "travel case"

One of the most interesting aspects of the teaching experience is that it is actually a two way street. During the time I had to work with my students, I think I was able to walk away with just as many nuggets of wisdom as they. To illustrate this point, I want to quickly talk about two photographers whom I had direct interaction.

The first of these photographers is called Tom Sperduto. Tom was attending this years workshop not as a participant, but as a past graduate, and military mentor. Tom is a very good photographer, and is doing really cool, raw, and edgy work. In spite of his insane work load with the Coast Guard, Tom finds the time to dig deep and work harder on his portfolio than most of the working professionals I know. I cant say it enough…Tom has an amazingly energetic vibe and is completely off the hook when it comes to being enthusiastic about his art.

Tom in action

Tom in action

The point that I wanted to illustrate with regards to Tom, is that Tom’s enthusiasm made me re investigate my own passion. I think the trap once you arrive at a certain level of success, is that you can sometimes run the risk of becoming removed from the original allure of the art. When he gave his presentation, I sat in the back of the room and drifted back to a familiar place. I was suddenly reminded of my beginnings, and my personal infatuation with shooting photographs… I slid back to a place where I really worked hard at proving my images could be commercially viable. I was reminded that during these early days, I would hit the road every chance I got. During these periods of creativity, I would sometimes shoot literally 50-60 rolls of Fuji Velvia at a time. I wasn’t worried about content, intent, or cost. I just shot……..

Cammo-d up for Tom's photo

I listened and watched as Tom presented iterations of his current work, and was really inspired again. And when Tom, in his ever nutty pursuit of interesting portraits, insisted on shooting our team photo, I thought, oh shit…here we go. But what ended up happening was really quite fun.

Ernie Grafton out of control

Ernie Grafton out of control

Within seconds of my agreeing, Tom (already after a full day at the workshop) had convinced the lifeguard at the hotel to stay past 10pm, splashed us in the pool, painted our faces with camouflage, trimmed all of us with wild red gels from a host of hand held SB800’s (thanks to David Hobby’s influence I would imagine,) and forcing us to make God knows what kind of faces into the lens. It was a very fun, organic session.

Getting into character

Getting into character

My group picture shot by Tom

My group picture shot by Tom

Ernie's group picture, also shot by Tom

Ernie's group photo, also by Tom

What Tom made me realize, was that it is important to take a break every once and a while from the business of photography, and try to re tap that keg of zany-ness. Thanks to Tom, we have set up a new policy whereby everyone in the studio is required to do at least one new creative crazy project each week. Richard has begun experimenting with micro documentarys surrounding poetry slams, and I have been trying to further explore ever more technical rigs for mounting cameras in off the wall locations. (see the post on the MTB rider we did in Wompatuck State Park)

The opportunity to teach

The second photographer I wanted to talk about was Etta Smith. Etta, (another Coastie and a fellow Bostonian) was given a tough subject to shoot. She was assigned the Washington Nationals baseball team. In my opinion, out of all the subjects one could be asked to cover, this was probably the hardest. Now I know what you might be thinking….sure, baseball has lots and lots of fantastic icons to capture. I agree! In fact, shooting great photos of baseball is actually very easy. Long long glass, access to the first and third baseline, and wammo! Nice action photographs

Ettas winning photos

Ettas winning photo

Ettas winning photos

Ettas winning photos

The problem with shooting baseball, is that because it is such a strong part of our national identity, it is almost impossible to beat with the conventions surrounding the sport. Approaching baseball photography any way other than the accepted norm can be very dangerous as an artist as you run the risk of being ostracized and run out on a rail.

Ettas winning photos

Ettas winning photos

What made Etta’s project so interesting, was she was determined to try to show baseball in a different light. Furthermore, Etta was thwarted at every corner with access denied by the park officials, canceled games, and heavy rain.

Ettas winning photos

Ettas winning photos

For me, the take home lesson from working with Etta was perseverance. In spite of all the obstacles that were put in her way, she would not quit, and kept at it until she was able to present a body of work that not only told a different story than we are used to see with respect to baseball, but won her second place overall in the competition.

Ettas winning photos

Ettas winning photos

Even though I too am a relentless lunatic, Etta reminded me, and I think showed our team that never giving up is often an important ingredient in the recipe for success.

So kudos to Tom, and to Etta! Congrats to both for great work! I thank you for bringing old lessons back to the forefront of the textbook.

Ettas winning photos

Ettas winning photos

Oh an one last note: We cant have a post about the workshop without mentioning the overall winner of the photo competition. (whom I can also not-so-humbly boast as one of my students) The very wacky Mr. Volker Ramspott from Germany!

Contras to Etta for her second place, and to Volker for his first place victory. I am certainly very proud!

Advertisements