Feeling pretty ragged from the beer and tequila the night before, I nursed a quick breakfast and headed for my morning session with Marion Patterson. I had never heard of her before, but she had worked extensively in color slide film, and to my amazement, she photographed many of the subjects I loved and photographed myself: closeups of flowers and leaves, landscapes, sunsets, sunrises, reflections in water, clouds. She showed us a slide show with two projectors, synced to classical music, something I had been wanting to do with my own work. I was stunned...and a little overwhelmed. The first three days for me was spent learning things that were new and mostly foreign to me, like the Zone System, which required a large format camera (in those days) and all its accessories, a myriad of tests of papers, films and developers, a hand-held light meter, a densitometer and a knowledge of archival printing and matting...none of which I had, had access to, or really understood. I felt like I was being educated on how much I didn't know...and in reality, I was. But suddenly here was Marion Patterson showing her work and in effect, saying to me, "What you're doing, and what you know now, can be enough." I found myself reeling from the validation and empowerment her work and words brought me. I recall walking out of her workshop thinking that I might actually find this art form within my reach, if I chose to grasp it.
A side note here, for Marion Patterson taught me something I have never forgotten, and still use to this day - I did it just this week photographing daffodils growing inside pampas grass: she said that when she photographs her subject (or her subject picks her), after the exchange - the exploring and discovery that the experience of engaging the subject brings, whether it's a rock, a flower or an animal in front of the lens, she stops and thanks the subject for the sharing. That struck a chord with me. It may sound all "woo-woo" to you, but consider what you take away from such an experience - a learning, a growing, a new way of seeing...a seeing not only of the subject, but of those pathways inside your own mind, heart and vision that, had you not engaged that subject, you would never have discovered. Is that not worthy of the respect and the honor a simple 'thank you' transmits? I have always thought so.
My afternoon session was with Roy DeCarava, who actually looked through the pathetic portfolio I brought with me - cheap, drugstore prints on multicolored, cheaper craft-store mats. And without either of us knowing it at the time, he taught me how I was going to teach photography to my students for decades to come: he complimented me on my images, the vision I had, what I was trying to accomplish. Then he suggested how I could make it more effective. He tried to understand what it was I was trying to do, and from inside that context showed me how to do it better in a variety of ways - composition, matting, focus, depth-of-field. I walked away educated, but mostly, I felt respected and acknowledged. And that was huge, and left me wanting more. I just now looked at my notes from his session, and the last thing I wrote was, "What is your motivation? What are you trying to say?" Indeed.
Whew. What a switch from the previous three days of technical input. Just as I was saying, "My brain is fried," the coin flipped to be more about why we photograph rather than how we photograph. But I wasn't done with the journey yet. This, as potent as it was, was just the setup. The punch that landed hardest was thrown by fine-art photographer Paul Caponigro at that night's evening lecture.
Caponigro was unknown to me before the workshop. My new roommate George, however, was very familiar with his work and his reputation. George told me Caponigro was a master at fine art black-and-white, large format works, on par with Ansel in terms of his stature in the field. Caponigro also photographed nature, but was drawn to places and subjects that held spiritual power, such as Stonehenge and the stone circles of Ireland. He was known to be extremely intense, occasionally reclusive, and had been fighting a spell of ill health. Some of his half-day sessions at the workshop had been canceled because he was not feeling well, but George was determined to seek an audience with him if it was at all possible before the week was done, and I was welcome to come along. Needless to say, I was once again a bit intimidated by another daunting figure, but I had no idea what was about to happen as George and I finished dinner and headed to the lecture hall early so we could get good seats.
Next time: A Lecture for a Lifetime. Stay tuned.