Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Roots: The Saga of an American Photographer

Where do I even begin?

Last week I attended the Roots workshop on beautiful Cape Cod. I have been to my share of workshops in my two years of biz but this was unique in both it's mission and purpose. While I appreciate past workshops that were offered up by successful photographers sharing their craft in a group setting, this workshop was unique in that it focused on the Photographer developing their own craft. No packaging, marketing, sales etc. While that most certainly all has it's place, it was not the focus of the last week.
Strictly photojournalism and developing that specific art.

Attendance for me was based on my quest to become a better photographer and ultimately a better storyteller. Who would have known it would change in me in ways that extended beyond the specified mission?

14 students and 5 mentors (hailing from prestigious platforms) made for an intimate setting of information osmosis. I would liken the experience to taking a class in improvisation. There are comedians with scripted performances and then there is Improv....entirely different. Perhaps they are simply the same foundational skill set except one is on steroids? Anyway, I liken my tendency towards fashiony photos to a scripted and controlled performance while Photojournalism is akin to improvisational styling. Since we are only as strong as our weakest link, I needed to be challenged in this area.

Day 1 was a welcome BBQ and group discussion of our strengths and weaknesses as a photographer. The mentors then chose our assignment based on our weaknesses. Since I explained that I love to interact with people and have a hard time sitting and observing, they gave me the toughest feat of all (for me anyway).... shooting a golf course. Seriously? a Golf Course? How the heck am I supposed to interact with my subjects on a GOLF COURSE?

exactly the point.

Once the assignments were divvied up, our job was to go find a story.
[inner monologue: "a golf course? seriously? what kind of story will I find at a GOLF COURSE"]
Needless to say I was not too inspired. That seemed to be the theme running through the camp though. Assignments ranged from a Lobster Boat, to ice cream shop, a transgendered night club and even a nudist colony. (that story you definitely want to check out here) each designed to challenge our weaknesses and balance out our strengths.
So I go to the course... and had no direction in mind... found no real story... and I was finding myself to feel a little defeated..

Then through my interactions with course staff, I heard about little Jalen Griffen. Jalen is a 12 year old linksman who golfs every single day for the past 4 years, and is said to be the next Tiger Woods. This kid often beats the adults he is paired with.
That was it... I found my story!
Following him around for 3 days [in near silence, mind you] taught me so much. I found the praise to be in the process, not the finished product. Just like in life, they say it's about the journey, not the destination... the same rings true for anything we study/practice diligently. The prize is in the daily discipline as Jalen was showing me (in non verbal ways).
To delve too deeply into all I learned would take too long, but like myself, I believe each and every one of the attendees learned more than photographical prowesses... proving that we are more than occupational artists. Who we are is our m├ętier and everything we create shapes that.

This workshop my friends is well worth the investment...and I do not just speak of monetary investment but rather the investment in yourself and your craft.


The last night we all shared our visual stories. Some were moved to tears and emotions ran high but in lieu of recreating that setting, allow me to share what I saw... three days in near silence and 12 year old Jalen.

Jalen Griffen... Highland Links Golf Course


Dustin Steller said...

I love what you did to bring his story to life. If I had no background information on this, I would have come to the conclusion that this is the new Tiger Woods. Amazing job, Shyla. You should be proud of yourself.

emilie inc. said...

Shy! What a beautifully written account of your amazing transformation last week (last week?! Doesn't it seem like ages ago?!). You worked this assignment and found a brilliant story. Congratulations!

eric said...

that kid's a total hack. We all know that you really hired some good looking kid to come around the course with you and pose. No one gets pictures looking that good pj style. give me a break.

ps. nice music.

Nancy said...

Hey Shyla,

Great work!! You did a fantastic job, and I really saw the narrative from picture to picture. It flowed and communicated well. I look forward to seeing how you incorporate this into your other work!!


Josh said...

Gorgeous story and beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing!

Shyla said...

Dustin- Thanks buddy! I honestly didn't do anything but observe :)

Em- Last week? seriously?! Can we just go back in time and freeze it? Im thinking Friday Night on the porch with the guitar and lightening storm is my new 'happy place'.

Eric- SHUSH! you are about as fun as a rock. Quit spoiling my secrets.
But you are right, that music IS pretty awesome.... who knows where I get my musical taste??? ;) ;)

Stephen said...

If this is an example of your weakness as a photographer, I'm just going to quit now. :)

I loved how you were able to pull this perfect little story out of such an open-ended assignment. Great job!

Your friend,

Margo said...

I discovered this trick when I was studying for an exam that was on a really large range of material, but it works on a lot of things - just pick the part that you're worst at and improve that until it's not the worst any more. Then work on the next worst part. Rinse, repeat. From what I can tell, you've done a great job on improving your observation skills (I imagine I would have seen a lot more glaring if you were talking to them all the time - I know, because my husband is a golfer). Great job!

carla ten eyck said...

really killer picture story with a less than killer start! Golf? UG!

But wow you really got some great stuff!

Next year... I am SO there!

J Sandifer said...

Great account...that truly fits the experience! Thanks for being there and making it such a great time! Friday night was a blast :)

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