My bus arrived in the late afternoon, and I soon discovered that the camping area was a good mile from anything else. I set up my tent in the dimming evening summer light, listening to the Merced river running by and watching the shadows work their way up the granite cliffs in the distance. It was the first week of June, and I came to the quick realization that even though class hadn't started yet, I had already made a terrible mistake: thinking I could save some money, I intended on camping for the week. The problem was that the campground was a good fifteen-minute hike (minimum) from everywhere else I needed to be during the workshop. This meant getting up an hour earlier than everyone else, and it also meant hiking a mile at the beginning of the day, and then again at the end, in the dark, lugging my camera bag and tripod with me both ways. Not the best plan. Plus, even in those days bears were an issue in the park. I had a very restless first night.
Still, day one came, and I hiked to my first session, feeling a bit sheepish that I was the only workshop atendee, as far as I could tell, that had no transportation and no room to stay in. By the time I got to the lecture hall, I was wringing wet with sweat. Did I forget to mention that the hike was all uphill from the campground? I put my gear in a corner where everyone else had dropped theirs, and sat in a folding chair, hoping Ansel was going to speak. Instead we got a workshop staffer, probably someone important and famous today, but I can't for the life of me remember who it was. He told us we were going to be divided into groups of twelve, and our small groups would rotate to different instructors throughout the week. Each day we'd have two sessions: one in the morning, one after lunch, with a keynote address each evening. We'd get a half-day with Ansel, plus his lecture. But we'd also get half-days with photo-legends I wasn't yet familiar with: Roy DeCarava, a street photographer from Harlem; Jim Alinder, a photo-historian; Al Weber, a photographer proficient in color printing; Alan Ross, Ansel's assistant; and Marion Patterson...I'll get to her later.
The first day of class I met and made three friends: Jim Mulvaney from Virginia, Ray Tocco from L.A., and George Akerley, a professional pianist from Oaklyn, New Jersey. Over the course of the week we became inseparable. We somehow connected in that crazy, electric and heady atmosphere, and all we knew was when we'd finished with our class sessions, our heads were full and we all needed to debrief with people who understood what we were going through. We'd head to the lodge for beers and pizza, staying late each night, talking, telling stories, rehashing lectures, soaking it up. Only after we'd emptied our heads of all we'd heard and seen did we finally collapse and head to bed. It was a long walk in the dark back to the tent.
So that this post stays relatively short, let's divide the workshop in half: the first half of the sessions were head-based for me. It wasn't by design; it just worked out that way. I learned about color printing, the Zone System, large-format photography, f-stops and shutter speeds, ways of "Pre-Visualizing," testing materials, developers, paper, films. It took a few days, but I remember complaining to my new buddies that my head was getting so full I thought it would explode. We were all relatively young, and Jim, George and Ray had more knowledge of the fine-art world of photography than I did. I learned as much from the three of them as I did from my instructors. It was an immersion experience in photography, photo-history, photo-process and technique, and I was getting saturated. We stayed up late that third night, and I got a little too drunk. It was while I nursed a hangover the next day that everything changed. More on that next time.
Like I said, let me know if you like this stuff...