Travel Class!

This week’s travel class at Newspace Center For Photography was a blast! It was filled with wonderful participants and we discussed ways they can finance their travel, how to create a project proposal, tips for traveling to sensitive areas, lighting/composition and how to work with NGOs.

We even got to do a bit of street shooting so they could test out what they learned about engaging subjects!

Check the Class section of my website for upcoming classes.

(iPhone photo)

Critical Mass: Portfolio Pre-Screening

In the last several years, I have been asked to perform portfolios reviews, consult one-on-one with individual photographers, and judge various photography competitions. In each case, I feel honored to provide this service.

And while I try to make some adjustments for each situation, I can’t help but uphold a standard of criteria when I look at photographic work. Sometimes this upsets people greatly, and they defend their work ferociously, even within an entry level photography classroom. This is fine. Others express gratitude for an honest assessment and helping them move into another phase of the development of their work.

I don’t pretend to know everything about photography. I am only one person, with one opinion. However, there are several themes that do seem apparent to me:  Photography has no rules, never tells the entire truth, is bastardized frequently, and love is in the eye of the beholder. I have seen weak work garner stellar awards, and strong work pushed aside.

The truth seems to be that there is more to the picture than the picture.

This month, I am in the process of pre-screening 756 of this year’s Critical Mass entries. Each entry includes ten images and an artist’s statement.  I am halfway finished, and after viewing 387 entries, I am starting to see a pattern regarding how I “judged” the entries. And often, very often, I wish that the artist is sitting right here next to me so I could ask them some questions.

Here are some of those questions. I hope this helps when editing your entries for any competition. As I reflect upon these questions, I realize many things about my own work and how I can alter my approach.

What were you thinking when you came up with this concept? Did you clearly state this in your artist statement?
If you’ve seen it before, are these images similar?
Does your work look strikingly like (blatantly derivative of) someone else’s work that you admire?
What are you really trying to tell your audience?
Do all photos form a song?
Do any of the images feel insincere?
Who is more prominently in focus: your content or your self?
How are these photos surprising?
Is your artist statement descriptive, and not overbearing or self-righteous?
How is your point of view different from others we have seen?
Did you take risks with the subject matter, execution of imagery, post processing?
Does one weak image take the others down?
Even though you captured important subject matter (cancer, crime, death), are the images interesting and different?
Have you gone too far just to be considered “different”?
Is the group of images cohesive?
Is the group of images repetitive?
Have you told anyone to blankly stare into the lens?
Are you trying too hard to solicit emotions from the viewer?
Were you engaged with your subject matter? How so?
Are you trying to please someone?
Have you taken a photo of a photo (or painting, or design) and if so, how have you made this your own image?
Do the images tell us something without having to read the artist statement?

Again, there are no right and wrong answers when creating a body of photographic work. It is yours, and should reflect your voice. But if we present the portfolio to others, especially within a competition, there seems to be another layer of pondering that might be useful in presenting something that is unique and therefore more aptly noticed.

Yoga For The Larger Woman

One of the most gratifying assignments I have had in 2012 is the series of images I created for the “Yoga For The Larger Woman” calendar and video, commissioned by The Yoga Project.

In a country where the beauty norm is often associated with ultra thin bodies, it is inspiring to see these women transcend stereotypes and show the world how they honor their bodies and minds within the practice of yoga.

Many thanks to Lloyd Lemmermann who captured sound, and Nina Johnson who was on hand to offer technical assistance and digital file management. Their support and energy toward the project was profoundly appreciated.

Contact The Yoga Project to order a calendar.  Your support and nod of encouragement means the world to these women who have lowered their blood pressure, discontinued anti-depressants, stopped needing insulin and have enjoyed a variety of other health benefits via their practice of yoga.

An added bonus: Angela Farmer wrote a poem specifically for this project.

View news story here.

 

Workshop: Teaching Students From The Middle East

Mercy Corps International asked me to teach a photography and storytelling class to 22 students from the Middle East.  Seven countries were represented, and the class was highly energetic and inquisitive.

I was amazed at how quickly the students incorporated various lighting, composition and subject approach techniques into their imagery in such a short period of time.

(Photos by Brynn Opsahl)

2012 Px3 Competition: Gold + Bronze

Today the Px3 competition in Paris, France announced their awards. My series, “The Market Workers“, won a Gold Medal in the Professional Portrait/Culture category, and my image “Abera” won a Bronze Medal in the Professional Fine Art/People category.

It is an honor to be included with such esteemed photographers. See all of the work, and vote for your favorite images for the People’s Choice awards here.

Most of all, I am thrilled to be able to present the beauty of Ethiopian people.

1859 Magazine: Dive Bars, Rodeos, & One Very Interesting Man

I just took a peek at 1859 Magazine’s Summer 2012 issue and it is a beauty!  I had great fun working on the Dive Bar assignment, as well as capturing images of Mike McMenamin, founder and owner of all of the McMenamin breweries, restaurants and hotels.

They also ran a story about rodeos, from buckaroos to clowns to cowpokes.  I love shooting at rodeos, and have a great collection of images from various events. 1859 Magazine included some of my shots from the 2011 the Pendleton Round-Up. And here is an opportunity for you! During this year’s PRU, I will be conducting a photography workshop. Sign up, and buckle up for a wild ride!

Father’s Day Musings

This Sunday, fathers of all monumental and diminutive sizes and backgrounds and mindsets will be celebrating Father’s Day. Some will have their children in tow, perhaps golfing together or throwing a line into some river in hopes of snagging The Big One. Some will be confused, frantically trying to find something at the last minute to do that will take away the sting of picking up their kids from the ex-wife they are still in love with. Perhaps he will take them to dinner at some diner, with ice cream afterwards, and this will suffice as he nobly tries to mask heartbreak and regret in front of his children on this, His Day.

Some of the celebrants will be mothers, deliberating how they can best celebrate this day, when no papa is in sight. Some will be old men, their children long moved away focusing on children of their own. Some will be “kinda dads”, as my daughter calls step-dads.

This is a tribute to all Fathers out there. Those who love well. Those who try their best. Those who feel shame because they can’t pay child support. And yes, even to deadbeat dads, because deep down, we all know you love those children you fathered, even in your cowardly ways. I occasionally see you, sitting at some event, eyes flickering more rapidly, your body braced slightly backward toward the exit as you look at someone’s family photos that have been brought out before you.

I have had my share of relationship difficulties along the way, with some situations brought about by my own hand. I too have regrets regarding my own behaviors, especially toward the father of my three children. We still remain strongly bonded, together, for our kiddos, continuously seeking better ways to parent them, looking for ideas regarding how to support all three of them now that they are in college, and wondering if the worry will ever end. I love this man like no other, and have learned so much from him, still do, even though we parted as marriage partners many years ago. I still photograph him, in the same t-shirt, flipping pancakes every Christmas morning. Haven’t missed a December 25 morning in twenty-five years. Some of my new relationships could not accept this. Those faded away.

Last month, I encountered a young boy crossing the park as I was photographing subjects in my outdoor studio during a street photography event. I saw his downtrodden face, and normally I never seek out someone to photograph who appears down and out, but something drew me to him, and since I’ve long ago learned to act on my instincts, I started talking with him.

He told me that he was homeless, has had significant troubles in his twenty-something years of his life, and was just, well, he was just wandering. No where to go, really.

He then told me about his quest to see his son again one day. It has been many years since he last saw him. He pulled out a battered and frayed photo of a child that looked to be around six months old.

“He’s about four years now. Bet he’s walkin’ and talkin’ by now. Maybe one day she will let me see him again,” he said through a mouth full of broken teeth.

I gave him my card and offered a free photo session in my studio if he ever does get to see his child. I doubt I will get that call.

This boy still haunts me.

I started writing these musings because today is the start of a little miracle journey. Three years ago, as I sat on my couch with my boyfriend from high school days and his then girlfriend, we looked at the images I recently brought home from Ethiopia. Many faces peered up at us, each one with a more loving look than the other, with a depth of eye contact we rarely see here in the USA. Cecil and Sonya looked at each other and asked the question, “Should we adopt a child one day?”.

That was then, and today is now, as they board a plane to Ethiopia this morning, as husband and wife, to go meet their new nine-year-old son. They will meet each other for the first time this weekend, on Father’s Day. This story is a miracle because Cecil was instrumental in his teenage days in pulling me out of the depths of an insanely abusive household to stay with his family on their farm twenty miles away so I could find my way to a happier life. And ultimately to secure a family role model that I count on to this day as I parent my children.

Ah, the cycles of this life!

Cecil’s father, who I considered to be my own fatherly role model since my father could not perform his, died last Fall, a mere few months after his wife of over 50 years passed away.

Ahh, the cycles of this life.

We are human. We make mistakes, as parents, friends, siblings, co-workers and in every attempted role. I like to think we try to do our very best, each day. And maybe that is just enough. I have a theory that, upon knowing we are at our last breath, we all will hastily look back and say “WAIT! My life wasn’t so bad! I want one more minute of it!”

This Father’s Day, I will think about this little Ethiopian boy who has waited for nine years to be united with his family. I will celebrate my ex-boyfriend and my ex-husband as they live their new lives with their lovely new families.

I will think about my father, who never started out thinking he would create a lot of harm in his path, but he did, and he is still my papa.

I will give thanks to Cecil’s father, who steered me well with words such as “As soon as you learn to make strawberry jam, Joni, move on to something else. Don’t rest your laurels on past accomplishments. Just stay steady and curious.” I imagine he had a hand in steering his son from afar to adopt a child from the place I finally feel is my true home.

I will revere all of those fathers who struggle hard to put food and water in front of their children each day, all over the world.

I will think of my good friend Daniy in Ethiopia, who at twenty-three years old is capable of being a father to his father.

I will think about the fathers who never had a child, but always wanted one.

And I will wonder about my sons. What kind of fathers will they be, biological or pseudo?

Happy Fathers Day, to all fathers of all flavors and kinds. I bet you are loved far more than you realize.

Ahh, the cycles of this life.

 

Cecil and I, photo taken by Cecil while we were in high school

 

My two sons, Aaron and Ben, with their papa, Marty in jammies I bought for them

 

Marty, flipping pancakes, December 2011

 

A Malagasy father, caring for his chlidren

 

An Ethiopian boy, around the same age as Cecil’s new son

 

An artifact representing a young father’s quest to see his son again

 

My papa, during the Korean War, before alcohol took him down

 

Cecil, Sonya and Addisu

Sonia, Addisu & Cecil in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (November 2012)

 

 

Workshop: Venice Beach Street Portraiture

Just had a deliciously super dig dag BLAST teaching a street portraiture workshop as part of the Julia Dean Photography Workshops. We focused on Venice Beach and found many great subjects.

We also built a mini outdoor studio….but the winds were so strong, we had to have body weight to hold down the sides of the black velvet material, which only added to the fun.

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