My journey to Foundation Workshop took a few years in the making. This is, after all, THE workshop for wedding photographers who want to take their skills to the next level. It is also known to be the toughest, most challenging photojournalist workshop. A lot of the students were already rock stars in my mind, and the staff list reads like a Who’s Who of the photographic world. Yet my desire to be a better storyteller finally won over the fear of embarrassing myself, and with the support from Mark, I eagerly and nervously head out to Glen Rose, Texas.
And OMG what an experience it was! One week later, as I sit and try to reflect on it, I still can’t believe it’s all over! It still feels a bit surreal.
Since I have been following the workshop for years, I thought I knew what to expect when it came down to the assignments. I would probably be documenting a small business or a family, following them around and attempting to tell their story. First lesson I learned was there are no expectations. Our team’s assignment was the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, one of the busiest places in Texas this time of the year. I am not sure how assignments were decided, but somehow it was brilliantly designed to push me out of my comfort zone. I was already thrown off before it started. And so it begins…
I approached the assignment like how I do weddings – reviewed my written notes, checked off the gear preparation list, reviewed the event schedule and tried to form a plan. Arriving at the stock show, I immediately did a tour and started shooting different things. Then I was bored with my photos and decided to start shooting what my heart was gravitating towards – bonding moments between the cows and their owners. After lunch Sergio and David came and told me that my official assignment is the carnival. I was rattled again. The carnival was even more overwhelming because so many things were going on. On a typical wedding day, my focus would be on my couple and telling their love story. However, at the carnival with so many things happening and so many people moving along, I did not know where to focus. Once again I was back to scouting the area and looking for ideas, and occasionally getting what I felt like were evil looks from people when I got too close. I tried a few ideas and quickly moved onto the next one because I was so worried that I won’t even get one good photo. It was brutal. I was exhausted and frustrated as I met up with my teammates for the ride back to the hotel. I was surprised to find everyone equally frustrated. As we vent out our frustrations, laugh at our miseries and listen to awesome Dutch music, the ride became a great therapeutic bonding experience that prepped me with the strength to face the upcoming critique. We were in this together. By the time we got back, we were all ready to get grilled with a smile.
The critique session was extremely helpful. Of course I felt frustrated and embarrassed too, but this is the necessary road to improvement. Leave your ego at the door – check! After all, Tyler said, we were here for critiques not high fives. I need to continue to work on cleaner compositions, mastering highlights and working the moment. I need to stop “pulling a Tammy.” Very good to know.
Day 2 shooting started with a clear mind and strong desire to follow all the feedback I received. I pulled out notes to watch out for, and I actually felt I was shooting better. As the day went by, I was so serious about applying what I learned and trying to make that great picture, I forgot to have fun. I was getting more frustrated without even realizing it. I didn’t take breaks and it was taking a toll on me. Then my teachers came to the rescue. The later part of my day was much more enjoyable. I had fun chasing the light, finding moments and learning how to make unique and meaningful photos. I was able to enjoy it once I realized it is not about the final slideshow, but the mindset and process of getting there.
What I learned was something I wasn’t even really aware of. I had set up mental barriers that hindered my shooting. Like how I worry about getting in other people’s way. Or how I am being too serious and I would actually do better when if I can also enjoy myself. But most of all, learning how I don’t verbally express myself enough was the toughest one to swallow. I can be talkative and I did not think I had problems connecting with others. Somehow Sergio was able to cut through my bullshit and detect it. It was Sergio, David and Gulnara’s joint effort that helped me realize this issue. I was so touched by how genuinely caring and supportive they are. How when being asked “how do you feel today”, I never got away with answering “I’m fine” without really reaching deep down and exploring how I felt. It’s not just random chit chat, everyone really wants to know how I feel and how they can help. It was not just within our team, but this was consistent with everyone there at the workshop. We all openly discussed our experiences, learn to listen to others, and try to grow together.
On the last night, I was trembling inside as I waited for my slideshow. I saw the amazing work from my peers and worried that mine would be too plain. And then Gulnara hugged me as my slideshow was being played. I heard loud cheers from all around me and felt so proud. I really did it! We all did it! At the end of the night, Kelly said “welcome to the family” and it really hit me hard. During the welcome dinner on the first night, I saw a room filled with top photographers. During our last night, I saw a room filled with friends. It is so humbling to realize how everyone is really there for you – to teach, inspire, guide, and give out tons of hugs. Seriously, I’ve never been hugged by so many people! There is really no ego here, just a lot of love. And then it hit me, they are amazing photographers not just because they have mad skills, but it is this love that gives them the ability to connect, have empathy and tell a story. That last night, I felt so much inside that I just had to go hug it out as well. I guess when you are able to open up, to show emotions, to care and exchange endless hugs to the people you literally just met a few days ago, you truly have become family. Thank you my foundation family. Without you I wouldn’t have been able to do this.
Now I know. Now I understand. When you are able to open up and not be afraid to express yourself, amazing things happen. When you don’t have the mental barriers, you are able to focus on telling the story. This is something that I will continue to work on, so I can connect better and be a better storyteller. I am so excited to return to shooting with this knowledge and experience. I went to Texas to be a better photographer, and came back with so much more.
PS: Sharing with you two images I took & a picture of me working it by JVS and Derrick. Also including our awesome Team Sergio photo by JVS – Sergio, David, Gulnara, Evert, Axel and Ralf – miss you so much!
Click here to see the awesome FW12a slideshow by JVS and Derrick.