Last month, I attended photographic workshop put on by Ted Orland and David Bayles. The title of the workshop was “Finding your work”. The workshop content was aggressively nontechnical: the discussion was focused on how to make art. In fact, much of the workshop could have applied equally well to painters, sculptors, or any other visual artists, except that the homogeneity of the attendees made the examples more relevant.
David and Ted were great. The workshop was an immense success. But that’s not why I’m writing this post.
It had been 20 years since I had been to a photographic workshop where the participants met day and night, ate communal meals, and slept on site. I had forgotten the power of such a format to deepen and enhance the quality of the interactions between student and teacher, to provide opportunities for student-to-student learning, and leave the participants with new motivation for new or continuing photographic projects and new joy at the prospect of making more photographs.
I’ve never been to a sleep-away workshop where this magic failed to happen (most of my experience is with workshops put on by the Friends of Photography in the early 80s). I suppose you could imagine a workshop with a toxic mix of students, arrogant and rigid instructors, lousy bedding, faulty plumbing, and terrible food; in this situation the concentration that magnifies the intensity of wonderfulness when things are going well might turn a workshop into hell on earth. I’ve never seen it happen, and I think that, given reasonable diligence on the part of the people who set up the workshop, the chances of this appalling perfect storm are low.
Passion is infectious, but it needs time and intimacy to get passed along. Extended workshops provide the close contact and the relaxed circumstances for the enthusiasm of the workshop participants – both instructors and students – to build. I’m looking forward to more.