David Alan Harvey Puerto Rico Workshop
In March, Kate and I travelled to Puerto Rico for a photography workshop with photographer David Alan Harvey. David is an incredible photographer… one of the most pivotal photography voices of our time really. I’ve had the chance to visit David at his home on the Outer Banks, and we talk shop. He’s someone who doesn’t look at me funny after an hour or more of straight photography talk… like, “When are we going to change the subject..” He gets the way I want to shoot, and he has a never-ending insight, vision, and drive to shoot more, be more, do more. I want to be like that. The goal of the workshop was to learn more about art of the photo essay. We felt like this would be something that would help me to take my projects to a new level and a step closer to publication.
Coming from starting off the year with an incredibly structured technical exam in Atlanta, and an intense documentary wedding photography workshop in Texas, I was really looking forward to focusing on my personal projects with David’s workshop. In all honestly, I thought that in some way this would be “easier” than the other experiences. But, there was nothing easy about it. Exploring the creative has no limits… it isn’t pass/fail test. There are no limits to what you can do and how far you can push yourself. This week became all about pushing the limits way beyond what I had been comfortable with.
The week was set up in a schedule of shooting, critiques, and discussion. My expectation was that we would sit down on Day 1, and he would hand out assignments for us to shoot. Not so. He wanted us to work for the story, so the assignment was, “go out and find the story.” Photograph what is happening around you…. That is where the intensity hit the roof.
Sounds easy enough…..hahaha, not so much. Why? Because for the majority of my work I’m given assignments. I’m given creative freedom, but I have guidelines on the intent and subject matter.
So- to look for an assignment, create it, envision and portray a story… well, it’s a lot more complex than it sounds.
I found myself just wandering the streets the first evening having no clue what to shoot. I was shooting the most random stuff, no cohesion what so ever… My comfort was that it seemed everyone else at the workshop was in the same situation.
The next morning before critiques I sat down by our apartment in Old San Juan feeling defeated. Then I looked up, and for the first time, began focusing on what was happening around me. (You know like when you just sit still for a minute and your senses get alert to what is really going on around you… the sights, smells, sounds.) It was a fairly busy city block with a school right across from us, detoured traffic that had to pass by, and a corner store. I just sat, watched, waited, and when a moment lined up, I was there ready to shoot. By the time I had to be at the workshop, I ended up making few photographs that I was kind of happy with, and that would at least get me through the morning critique…
Telling a story through photographs is very similar to writing with words. You start with a idea, go through rough drafts, and have to work at it until you fine tune it. The photos I took that morning on the block were good enough to point my essay in the direction of what was happening on the block…but it was still sort of “blah.” The photos were good. Maybe some were great. But this wasn’t just about great photos. It was about narrating a story through great photos. Not just “pretty” photos… photos that had meat, depth, and mine just didn’t have it yet.
So, here is where I began really understand the importance of taking time to work a scene and to put events into motion that lead what you want to communicate.
This is where “for better or worse” really found meaning for Kate, who was supposed to be on working vacation (working all day but enjoying the evenings.) After she had already worked all day, she ended up modeling for me for hours every afternoon after I got back from critiques. I was able to create scenes by throwing Kate (and her wine glass) into the mix of what was happening on our block. It became a story in itself, and the center of my essay.
The photos I’ve included here are a mix from the week: some made it into the essay, some didn’t. I wanted to show sort of this progression of the essay as it moved from being a general “about the block” assignment to a story about this girl in the corner apartment. I’m really grateful that David worked very hard with me to push beyond safe boundaries. Why shoot everything safe when anyone can do that? I know the rules, and I can break the rules.
I could keep writing and rambling… but let’s face it no one wants to read what I write… I do much better communicating with images.
Thank you David, Michelle, and the whole team who worked so hard to keep us all focused, sane, and out of our comfort zone.