I chose a sunny Thursday afternoon to duck into Sam Abell’s classroom, a cool respite a couple flights of stairs below Maine Media’s Gallery overlooking Rockport Harbor. My timing was perfect. As the group settled in after indulging in the lunch spread served back on campus, the Nat Geo veteran prepared his students for a collaborative crescendo culminating the past sever
al days of shooting.
After reviewing a few housekeeping items, including plans for a ferry trip from Port Clyde to Mohegan Island the next day, Sam dove into the essential theme of his class. It was time for each photographer to display the fruits of their efforts and edit them down to a five-image poem, complete with a succinct title to introduce its essence to audiences at the weekly Friday night show.
“Epic enterprises are largely out of fashion. We are past the time of showing a trip to Italy with 60 slides,” explained the renowned documentary photographer. “Poetry is an idea for our time, and a poem can be visual. But the idea should be strong-minded and heartfelt, a poetry-sized expression of an idea, person, thing or object. The Coast of Maine, for example, is not a poem, but a cemetery on the coast of Maine could be.”
A Maine Coast cemetery did in fact inspire one of Sam’s students to create a photographic poem called “Grave Gardens”. Clicking through the series, Sam advised that the first photo should be the one that’s a suggestion of the grave with the back layer of fog, adding that fog is your friend here. The second should be the grave peeking out of the trees. And so the critique went on
from there until the final five images were selected and refined into a lyrical sequence, hanging tightly together just like the poetry-sized expression Sam had discussed.
Other poems explored included “Not Here” depicting life in transition; “Day Drinking” complete with a photo of PBR, Tabasco and a drink umbrella; and a rich autobiographical story called “My Journey Thus Far.”
“Yes, no, no, yes,” Sam said, selecting images as he clicked through each series. I sat down scribbling notes as fast as I could, while he generously imparted words of wisdom to his students.
“A poem can’t be redundant. We can’t be slammed by the fact of it. I’m looking for the intimacy of a poem. It needs to be delicate. Keep the maintenance of tone or the spell is broken. The visual tone needs to be true throughout,” Sam said.
He came to Paola’s photographic verse, “Everything She Touches Changes”, about a local woman weaver. Sam suggested “Song of Susan”, while Paola described the songs the artist sung while she wove. Then an image popped up on the screen, which Paola said was a recreation of a dream the weaver had.
“In the dream a ghost told her she could weave masks. I wanted to take the idea and make it real,” Paola said, pointing to a picture of the woman in a white woolen hand-loomed mask.
That image made Sam's cut.
During the class, Sam also reminded the group that they are here to disallow creative burnout. “How will you keep your love alive?’ he asked the accomplished photographers, some who even earn their living with a camera in hand. Sam then shared a secret of how he maintained his passion over a 30-plus-year career with high demands and constant deadlines—he kept a diary, a daily personal photo diary, used for his own creative expression.
“Think outside the box,” he advised. “Pick up a color Holga some weekend, and I promise you it won’t be Groundhog Day.”
Watching Sam teach, with a quite confidence, warmth and genuine interest in his students, I certainly didn't fell like it was Groundhog Day.
That’s just how it is here, working side-by-side with the giants of photography, film and other media arts, without feeling like your standing in their shadow. Time and time again, I hear that the most meaningful experiences students have during their week at Maine Media is finding out how approachable everyone is, no matter how long they’ve been in the business.
– Jennifer Cook, 2014 MMW+C PC Graduate in Visual Storytelling
Entering into the last week of July, we have a full spectrum of visual media workshops. Aspiring filmmakers are getting hands-on experience and skills in Directing Episodic TV with Peter Werner. This workshop walks students through the experience of directing high-quality episodic programming by taking a recent network show and breaking down all of the stages from pre-production through shooting and into post-production. In the new course, The Portrait as Doorway to Creativity, with Sean Kernan, students will learn to make authentic portraits by learning to look with their eyes, mind, and heart. This workshop is an intensive investigation into the art of making a penetrating and exciting portrait through investigating and practicing creative photography of people. In Stretching Your Frame of Mind, Joe Baraban helps students strengthen their photographic vision by showing them how to incorporate elements of design and composition into their shots. Baraban demonstrates how adding tension, patterns, perspective negative space, texture, and a vanishing point to the frame will allow students to create powerful and memorable photographs. Our young photographers are also on campus taking workshops like Media Mash Up with Andy & Alex. This new course allows students to explore a variety of artistic mediums including narrative storytelling, photographic technique, filmmaking, graphic and sound design, and way more. Additional workshops range from Digital Media for Teachers with Brandon Koons to Advanced Digital Photography with Alan Vlach and from Feature Film Lighting with Jacek Laskus, ASC, to the new course Shooting the Cinematic Documentary with Sid Levin. For a full schedule of workshops, click here.
Maine Media Workshops + College is seeking to hire a GALLERY MANAGER to be responsible for two galleries: one at 132 Washington Avenue in Portland (Pho Pa), and one at Central Street, Rockport, Maine (MMW + C Gallery").
For further information and how to apply click here.
MMW continues to expand its creative offerings this week with a range of new classes from Refining Your Darkroom Practice and Introduction to Visual Effects to Experimental Photography and Introduction to Letterpress Printing in the new Book Arts Lab. We are so proud to have award-winning DP Amy Vincent, ASC on campus teaching a Camera Operator Workshop! Her workshop prepares new camera assistants, operators, filmmakers, and videographers with practical and theoretical experience necessary to collaborate with professional crews on set. All forms of filmmaking, whether shot on film or digital video, will be covered. Bob Sacha is also in town. The renowned photographer and multimedia producer, known for his work at National Geographic, Life Magazine, and MediaStorm, is teaching a Multimedia Master Class in MMW’s state-of-the-art computer lab. The class is designed to help journalists and documentarians diversify their skill sets necessary for today’s ever-changing media landscape. Students will learn from Sacha’s first-hand experience of gathering photography, audio, and video in the field. Whether you’re new or seasoned photographer, filmmaker or visual storyteller, there is a class for you. Click her to see a full schedule.
This week Maine Media workshoppers immerse themselves in everything from portrait photography to landscapes and from fine art printing to screenwriting. Documentary photographer Sam Abell is on campus sharing 40 years of expertise, including three decades at National Geographic. Abell’s fully booked Moving Forward in Photography workshop is designed to help students answer two essential questions: "What is a well-lived photographic life, and how do I achieve it?" Working side by side with participants, Abell will help them edit existing portfolios, generate new work, and move careers forward to the next level. In The Intimate Portrait, fine art photographer Joyce Tenneson will guide and inspire image makers to create elegant, insightful, and memorable portraits, as well as master ways to use available light. In The Color of Light, award-winning photographer Arthur Meyerson will demonstrate how to strengthen students’ sensitivity to the effects of light, color, composition, texture, and design through daily shooting assignments, critiques, and discussions. Workshops in alternative processes, film production, and camera basics are also in the mix. Thanks to Arri for bringing the Alexa and Almira on campus for our Camera Assistant Workshop this week. Click her for a full schedule.
“Magic” was the key word echoed by students this week, whether they were focused on learning 19th Century photographic processes from our resident expert Brenton Hamilton or contemporary lighting techniques from one of the world’s most renowned magazine cover photographers, Greg Heisler.
Yesterday, I walked into Greg’s Light Work workshop. The class was taking place in a cavernous barn-red boat storage facility turned high-tech studio for the summer—think Maine meets Manhattan. I sat riveted as Greg effortlessly choreographed different lighting configurations, and compared it to my own clunky bull-in-a-china shop approach. He swiftly arranged a set of Dynalites to the front, back and side of the model, even using his hands to shape highlights and shadows on the model’s face. After each image was shot, he then projected the results for students to compare. My favorite set-up was a reverse U-shaped trellis-like-structure with a top light and two side lights set against a black velveteen backdrop, all sitting behind the model, who was much closer to the camera. Front fill was used, and the effect was stunning, a soft rim light around the model’s hair and shoulders brought both drama and dimension to the portrait.
“I’m learning to trust my instincts and create light based on my individual perceptions,” said Sharona, a professional portrait photographer from Boston. ”It’s not formulaic. Greg teaches different recipes seasoned to taste.”
While Greg is known as one of the industry greats, what I found even more impressive was his genuine passion for teaching. He seemed so at ease sharing his years of knowledge and experience with photographers of all levels. I watched him give example after example of how to craft a look, while also teaching students how to employ what’s right in front of them.
“Greg’s amazing. I met him in Dubai at Gold Photo Plus. Everyone said if you want to learn lighting, this is the guy,” said TJ, a student from Chicago, who started shooting a couple of years ago, explaining that he came to Maine for Greg’s workshop to expand his lighting capabilities. “He has taught me how to motivate light and think of my environment. Now I think more cinematically and don’t just put the light on a stick and fire.”
Whether shooting low-tech with available natural light or in a studio using thousands of dollars worth of equipment, Greg encourages his workshoppers to really see and engage with what’s around them before snapping the shutter. “Motivate the practical,” is the mantra Greg often repeats.
“Greg is a magician with lighting. He’s an intuitive lighter and an individual lighter, who totally caters to the subject rather than to his particular style,” explains Chris, Greg’s teaching assistant from Maine Media. “On top of it, he’s a really well spoken, sweet guy. I’m honored to watch his process. “
Earlier in the week, I decided to escape the humidity and duck into the cool comfort of our newly minted AltPro lab. My timing was perfect. I walked in the door just as Brenton began a Salt Printing demo. It was the first alternative processes class in the new space, and the anticipation among the group was palpable—lots of questions, note-taking and videoing Brenton’s every word and every step. Brenton stood beneath sheets of paper with hand-painted emulsions, drying on clothespins. He had a specified brush in hand and began applying a historic chemical concoction of silver nitrate. He directed the workshoppers to paint “luxurious” amounts of the emulsion onto the pieces of artistic paper pre-treated with a sodium chloride solution. He also warned them not to make puddles on the paper so that uneven emulsion thicknesses or brush strokes would distort the final image.
I learned that each formula has its particular behavior and requires its own special brand of brushing. Ziatypes for instance are a saturate and coat technique. It’s something that needs to be learned by doing, a kinetic process where you simply have to experience and feel your way through, from the back-of-the-hand test to tell if your paper’s dry to how long to let your image develop in the sunlight. Yet that’s the fun of it all. Rolling up your sleeves, getting your hands wet, seeing the image slowly emerge when exposed to light. It’s the hands-on gratification of making something real, a tangible link to image creation that’s just different from moving Lightroom sliders back-and-forth on the computer for hours.
“I entered into photography during the digital age,” said Amy, one of the workshop participants, who owns a portrait studio in Ohio. “I think there’s a little something magical about the idea of using historic processes.”
Over the week, the students learned a total of nine different historic photo printing techniques including Cyanotype, Salted Paper, Kallitype, Albumen, Platinum Palladium, Ziatype and Gum Bichromate.
“It’s making photography magic and fun again,” said Skip, who travelled to Maine from Baltimore. “I’m excited to play.”
– Jennifer Cook, 2014 MMW+C PC Graduate in Visual Storytelling
Our campus is in full summer swing this week and bustling with directors, cinematographers, photographers, animators, and screenwriters. Click here for full schedule. Best known for his more than 70 cover portraits for TIME magazine, Greg Heisler is teaching this week, greeting photographers from around the country who have come to learn his innovative and distinctive use of light; award-winning photographer Cig Harvey leads students to delve into personal experience and emerge with visual images full of color and gesture; and Emmy-nominated Alan Myerson guides future movie directors to realize their creative vision through inspirational leadership of cast and crew. All this and more while our Rockport Gallery hangs its new show, A Maine Media Legacy, to raise scholarship funds; and our staff gets ready to host its annual bash this Saturday evening. Come join us and bid on a private photo session with one of 11 internationally claimed photographers who have photographed a stunning array of Hollywood A-listers, world leaders, cultural icons, and sports heroes. Click here for event info.
This summer, photography celebrates its 175th birthday, and Maine Media honors the medium by highlighting one of its most iconic practices-portraiture. Illuminating identity, celebrity, description, and memory, portrait photography captures the idea of society and culture-and our place in it.
"Portraiture is one of the great themes of photography. It's central," said MMW instructor Sean Kernan, an award-winning fine art and commercial photographer, who has captured haunting portraits of the famous as well as the marginalized. "What interests me are the ways that the portrait can be stretched and adapted to the photographer's response to the subject. My feeling is that photography and art of all kinds, still life, landscape, etc., are a way of explaining humans to humans, and few things take us deeper into the human than portraiture."
Sean is one of 11 portrait masters that we'll be celebrating in our upcoming Portrait Session Auction on July 12. Joining fellow luminaries Sam Abell, Marco Grob, Cig Harvey, Greg Heisler, Connie Imboden, Douglas Kirkland, Patrisha McLean, Greg Miller, Joyce Tenneson, and Michael Wilson, Sean will offer a private portrait session to bidders at our sparkling summer fundraiser. These artists have photographed cultural icons like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Andy Warhol, Barack Obama, and Bono. Just imagine what they will capture about you. With sittings that can take place in the crafted light of an artist's studio, at a colorful county fair, or even underwater, these sessions will reveal an incredible range of photographic style. The cost of admission to the auction is just $45, but your portrait session will be priceless.
If you haven't yet enjoyed a portraiture workshop here at MMW, this is certainly the summer to do it. Many of the artists participating in our auction will be teaching here, and many others as well, including Newman Prize winner Steven Laxton, celebrated documentarian Debbie Fleming Caffery, and rising portraiture star Lydia Panas. As we hear from our students week after week, one workshop with masters like these sets their work light years ahead. Even the instructors themselves come here to learn from their contemporaries. "The campus at Maine Media has always been my favorite because in addition to teaching here, I learn here," says Sean Kernan. "There's a kind of anthill atmosphere that excites me and makes me want to try new things."
We're hoping many of the creative and emotional risks taken by both our students and faculty will be on display in submissions to our newly launched contest, Character. Running through September 7, the contest seeks portraits and stories that reveal the human condition. We've got an impressive line up of jurors and over $13,000 in prizes in this contest especially suited to the photographic portrait. More than any other art form, portraiture's complexity has the power to articulate both emotional and physical impressions, and to reveal depths of character far greater than the limits of their dimensions. Portraits have the power to capture, transform, and transfix not only the viewer, but also both subject and artist. We look forward to seeing how 175 years of photographic portraiture has inspired you, and where you will lead the genre in the months and years ahead.