The Long-term Project








For any serious photographer nothing is like working on a personal long-term project. If you want to develop your photography, make your creativity bloom, increase your energy and boost your self-esteem and confidence as a photographer, a long-term photo project will do all that for you. Such a project doesn’t have to be exotic at all or take place in a far-away-country. In fact the closer to your home-base the easier it is to follow through and use spare time whenever there is a chance. A personal long-term project can be grand and it can be small. It can be limited to your own backyard, like the project I have described before in the post Backyard Abstraction, or it can be a project about the world’s manual labourers as the famous photographer Sebastião Salgado has devoted a life time to.

The important thing is to devote yourself to a project you feel is important or speaks to you in some way or form and then stay devoted over a longer period of time. I mean keep going back, keep shooting, keep finding new ways to express the theme you have chosen, keep adding new images to the story. And keep doing it consistently even when at times it feels exhausting and nothing comes out of your attempt of shooting. Gradually you will merge into the project, it becomes you, and that’s when things start to take on a development of its own. By devoting yourself to a project over time you start to feel real ownership for the project, you will gradually relax with the subject—and the subject will relax with you, you lose all pretensions and any performance anxiety you may have. It all becomes about you and the subject and expressing that relationship.

“Pick a theme and work it to exhaustion… the subject must be something you truly love or hate.” This is according to another famous photographer, Dorothea Lange.

For a professional photographer as myself, long-term personal photography projects are the spice of life between the humdrum of every day life and shooting. It brings meaning and joy into my work. I can only recommend any photographer to devote time to a long-term project that feels important or inspiring to you—and it probably works the same way in any of the other art forms, too. The important thing is to start—now. Not keep planning it in your head and saying I’ll do it when I have time, or I just need to plan the project a little more. No, just start.

How long is a long-term project, then? There is no telling what is right when it comes to the time devoted to a long-term project. It can be months or it can be a life time. Only you know how long your project takes, and you probably don’t even know before it’s all done. One of my long term projects have been going on for more than 20 years—and still going on. Cuba has been my longest personal photo project to date. Not many posts ago I mentioned the farm I keep visiting in Cuba, where the members have become My Cuban Family. The farm is but a part of my project. Over the 25 years I have been returning to Cuba, I have tried to portrait and captured the changes is this contradictory country.

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Photo Workshops in Planning

Two of the participants during the Bolivia workshop in 2013
The participants of the 2010 Bolivia workshop

Sitting at my desk here in Seattle, looking out at the cold mist cramping down on the urban scenery outside my window, I can all the more enjoy spending time planning next year’s photo workshops. Honestly, it’s always fun to plan upcoming workshops. I love teaching and planning is part of the built-up.

If everything goes according to plan, next year I will teach four workshops on three different continents. Some of them will be very adventurous while others while be more laidback. They will vary from weekend long workshops to a tour stretching almost a fortnight. There should be a workshop for most aspiration. Maybe I’ll see you in one of them?

Once again, I will teach a photo workshop in Cuba in May. This is my most popular workshop, which I teach together with my friend and colleague, Sven Creutzmann. We have done this since 2007, almost every year. Here on my blog I have written many a post about Cuba, and if you follow me, I don’t need to introduce you to this fascinating country. It’s certainly a country that it’s a dream place for most photographers, colourful with openhearted people and photo opportunities around every corner.

Next year’s photo workshop will take place from May 4th to 11th. If you may be interested, you’ll find more information on Blue Hour Photo Workshops, «Street Photography in Cuba».

For Sven and me it’s extra exciting to re-launch a photo workshop in Bolivia. This will be a truly adventurous workshop, in which we follow the footsteps of Che Guevara, up until he was captured and killed by the Bolivian army. We will travel through small mountain towns and off the beaten tracks in a lush and beautiful landscape. We will meet local people and we will talk with some of those who took care of Che Guevara after he was captured. In all modesty, this is quite an extraordinary photo workshop.

The Bolivia workshop will take place from September 15th to 24th. For more information, once again look up Blue Hour Photo Workshops, «On the Tracks of Che Guevara».

In addition to the Cuba and Bolivia workshop, I will teach yet another weekend workshop in Bergen, Norway in the beginning of June. Next year I also plan a complete new photo workshop in Seattle, USA. The date is yet not settled, but it will take place in the autumn of 2019. These two workshops I will get back to with more info.

¡Cuba Libre!

As a continuation of my post from Cuba last week, I want to continue showing a handful of other images I took during the photo workshop we, my colleague and I, taught earlier in May this year. As I wrote in my last Cuba-post, it’s only now that I have finally gotten around to edit and process the photos from the trip.

Some of the photos I show were captured during the actually workshop while others were taken beforehand. When I teach a workshop, I don’t always get much time to shoot my own photos. My time is dedicated to the workshop participants, either being out shooting with them or lecturing or doing picture critique.

Attending my workshop is always an intense experience, but not the least great fun. I think that’s fair to say. Participants univocally give our workshops the highest rating.

If you are interesting in attending one of our workshops in Cuba, we have just announced next year’s one week photo workshop in Cuba, similar to the one we taught this year and many years before. Follow the link to find more information about Street Photography in Cuba. If you are up for something very special, this autumn my colleague and I are organizing a two week photo tour/workshop in which in follow the footsteps of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara’s revolution. This is the link for In the Footsteps of a Revolution.

Last Week’s Instagram

Once a week—or every so often—I will display one of my photos captured and/or processed with Instagram over the last week. It’s a way for me to show photography that usually is quite different from my regular work. The pictures are displayed without any comments, hoping they will stand on their own. But I still very much appreciate any comments you may have.

My Cuban Family

In May, I taught another of the photo workshops in Cuba, which I do together with my friend and colleague Sven Creutzmann. Before the workshop commenced we took a trip to the valley of Viñales in the western part of the country. There we visit the family of farmers I have followed for more than 20 years—and whom I have photographed ever since, as some of you who follow my blog already know.

First recently have I been able to edit and process the photos from the trip. It’s just been too busy ever since—and then the summer holiday in there as well.

The family of farmers has become my own second family in Cuba. I don’t often have as much time to spend with them as I would like. But no matter how short the visit, I am always feeling at home and welcomed by all the family members.

Today it’s two brothers and a sister who runs the farm, the children of the couple I started to follow first in the 90’s. Both parents are dead now, so the siblings have taken over, and the next generation is about to grow up as well.

The family doesn’t have much, but lives off the land that they own, where they cultivate boniatos, yuccas, potatoes, tomatoes and tobacco, to only mention a little of their crops. In addition, they have a small livestock of cows, some pigs and lots of chicken and a couple of horses.

It’s always a great joy to visit my family. It’s such a peaceful land, albeit also demanding. Their livelihood is full of hardship, but they nevertheless always have time to greet me and make me feel at home. They may not have much, but they always makes sure I can’t get away without eating with them and enjoy evenings around the farm.

These are a few of the photos from this latest trip of mine.

Being Challenged

At its best a photo workshop both challenges each participant as well as give him or her a sense of achievement. Both are important. If you are challenged and don’t feel you can handle the challenge, you will soon lose your self-esteem. On the other hand, if you are not really tested beyond your comfort zone, you will hardly develop or improve your photography.

This idea has always been the basis for any of the workshops I teach, as it is for Sven Creutzmann, my friend and colleague with whom I teach the photo workshops in Cuba. For us it’s equally important that we challenge each participant at the right level. Good photographers need to be put to a harder test, whereas with beginners or less confident participants we cannot push as hard.

When we start a new workshop, we always commence with a desire to boost both ourselves and the participants as hard as possible. It’s a matte of motivation. It’s fair to say that we are very ambitious, both with respect to ourselves as well as on the behalf of the participants. For some participants this may come as a surprise. They might have attended other workshops without having the workshop teachers pushing them much at all. In the beginning when they are met with our determination to challenge, they may actually feel a little uncomfortable, but it doesn’t take long before they start to thrive, particularly when they see some dazzling development in their approach to photography.

I think it’s reasonable to say that over the years we have become good at finding the right balance between pressing each participants beyond their comfort zones and making sure they keep a sense of achievement. I also think our feedback during daily picture critiques have become precise and immensely valuable for the participants. After all, we have taught workshops for quite some years by now.

Although I have organized workshops longer, Sven’s and my first Cuba workshop took place in 2006. Quite a few changes have seen daylight since then. This year’s workshop in May took us to a different location, for instance. In addition to Havana, we went to the beautiful, colonial town of Trinidad. We, as workshop teacher, are also more out on the street shooting along with the participants, whereas during the first workshop we went to the rural Viñales. Particularly photography one-to-one with us has become something our participants value. It gives them a change to see how we work as professional photographers as well as letting us guide them better in their own shooting.

Most notably for this year’s workshop, was a new meeting point for lectures and picture critique the days we were in Havana. At the end of last year, Sven open his own art cafe in the district of Vedado. It’s probably one of the coolest cafes in Havana, displaying a lot of Sven’s photography as well as colleagues’ and friends’. ArtCafe Belview has already been picked up by many travel guides as well as gotten ravish reviews, and is a perfect place for teaching a photo workshop.

Do you want to come to Cuba for a photo workshop? Our next one, In the Footsteps of a Revolution, will take place from Nov 24th to December 7th later this year. Or maybe you’d rather go for an extended weekend. From September 21st to 24th I teach the photo workshop Street Photography in Bath, in England.

The group with participants and teachers during the Cuba workshop this May.

Learning to Live (with a Camera)

It’s always fun to observe participants attending our photo workshops in Cuba; In the beginning they are all quite amazed—and for the most part surprised—about how easy it is to photograph Cubans. This is whether they are being photographed on the street or elsewhere. Not the least are the participants astounded about how easy it is to even get invited inside Cuban homes and be able to photograph their intimate and private life.

For most of us, it’s quite intimidating to approach strangers on the street with the intention to photograph them. Of course, if you have never done it before, it’s almost nerve wrecking in the beginning, but also for seasoned photographers it can sometimes take some extra courage to face some stranger on the street.

The ease with which Cubans open up themselves for strangers is one of the reasons why Cuba is one of the better places in the world to practice street photography. During our workshops, we more than once experience the joy with which participants discover they can do something they never thought would be possible. As each day goes, they approach strangers more confidently and even carelessly. Towards the end of the workshop, they don’t even think about it any more. We have had participants crying in the beginning of a workshop because they couldn’t manage to face strangers on the street—or so they though—only to lose them at sight later on, whenever they ventured deeper and deeper into homes and places that no one else would think about going.

So it was with this workshop in May, too. We saw it once again, the anxiety of having to get close on the street shifting to excitement in the meeting with complete strangers and in getting to know them through the process of photographing them. As the week pass, we—my colleague and friend, Sven, and I—push them to go closer and closer and even closer.

When participants start to play along with Cuban music or dancing on the street, we are far beyond the pure photographic experience. We talk about life in all its beauty and richness.

Pushing participants closer and closer is one think that we always need to do, Sven and I, in any workshop we teach. As we say, you can never get too close. In a street photography workshop, this is definitely one of our major missions. And then to push the participants to keep shooting, and the shoot some more. We see it time and again; most untrained photographers may capture one, two or at most five images of a scene or a situation. This is hardly getting started! Whenever we are out on the street with the participants, we have to keep forcing them to stay with a situation, almost to exhaustion, to make sure they capture enough frames. You simple don’t know when the best image will appear.

Get closer. Shoot a lot. And finally: don’t look at the camera’s preview screen. That’s the last of our three commandments for participants during a workshop. Too often, photographers need to check what they have captured all while the situation continues—and they lose maybe the best shot. All this is about being prepared, getting the most out of a given situation and make sure not lose “the” photo.

In the late autumn—in November-December—Sven and I will organize a new workshop in Cuba. This will be quite a different experience. We will travel all over Cuba for two weeks, following the footsteps of Fidel and Che’s revolution.

Back from Cuba

I have just rounded up my latest workshop in Cuba. As always, it was great fun, both for the participants and me. Cuba is maybe one of the best and easiest places in the world to train in street photography. Everywhere people are extremely relaxed about being photographed, very inviting and friendly. Any inhibition you may feel about approaching strangers on the street will easily evaporate in Cuba. In addition, the colours and the energy of the country make for captivating photos.

So far, I have hardly been able to recap the workshop and the whole experience in Cuba, not the least been able to process much of the thousands of photos I captured during the two weeks I spent in the country. Thus, here and now, I will only show a handful of images taken during the celebration of the international workers’ day on May 1. In later blog posts, I will get back to the workshop itself and of course show more photos both from the workshop and captured on my own.

Let me round up this post by thanking all of you who have commented previous post while I have been away. I have not been able to respond while being in Cuba, simply because internet access is very limited. However, I promise I will get back to each and everyone of you.

On my Way to another Workshop

As I am writing this little post, I am sitting in the airport of Amsterdam on my way to Cuba. I am about to start teaching yet another workshop in this fascinating country. It’s actually ten years since I did my first photo workshop here. Then as now, I am teaching it together with my good friend and colleague Sven Creutzmann.

As with the photography we do, we also try constantly to develop our workshops. The workshop starting up later this week is quite different from the first one we did ten years ago. Hopefully—and I believe it is the case—it’s a better workshop. Of course, that is for the participants to decide.

My flight is about to board, so I have left you with a few photos from last year’s photo workshop here in Cuba. As internet access is really poor in Cuba I most likely won’t be able to post anything again before I am back in Norway.

However, if you find Cuba intriguing, Sven and I are teaching yet another workshop later this year in the end of November and beginning of December. It’s going to be quite a special workshop, following the revolution of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in Cuba.

Develop Your Photography

Learning is a way to both improve and to develop. I believe in lifelong learning—as long as I am willing to learn I stay alive. There are many ways to replenish one’s knowledge and further develop oneself. Personally I find attending workshops one of the most inspiring ways to learn and develop. I try to attend at least one workshop every year. For me there is something about the format of workshops, being incredibly attractive and just evoking pure stimulation. This goes for whether I am a student or a teacher.

This year I am planning to teach more photo workshops than I have ever done in any year before. I am setting up two complete new workshops, in addition once again to organizing two workshops that have been successful in the past. They should cater to any level or interests of photography, whether you are a beginner or already a pro, whether you want to dig in and really develop your photographic voice or just want to have fun while getting a better grip on your photography.

I hope one of the workshops I offer may trigger your desire to further develop and learn. Maybe travel to a place you have not been to before, or maybe finally spending full time immersing yourself in a photographic learning experience. I promise your photography will progress profoundly during any of the workshops. I say so based on having taught workshops for more than ten years and not the least from responses from former workshop participants. As one participant stated: “The workshop was all about constructive critique that inspired to stretch myself to levels I had never perceived before. I believe I am a better photographer today than I was 10 days ago.”

This year I will for, the first time, teach a workshop in England. It’s going to be an extended weekend in the picturesque and distinctive city of Bath. We will stroll around in the historical city, which is built on a heritage extending back to Roman time and beyond. “Street Photography in Bath” will run from September 21th to 24th.

The other completely new workshop is going to be quite an experience. I am really proud to be able to offer a two weeks combined photo tour and workshop in Cuba, where we will follow the footsteps of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara and their revolution. I am teaching the workshop together with my friend and colleague, Sven Creuztmann. We will visit cities with important landmarks for the two revolutionaries fought, we will visit places that most visitors to Cuba never get to see and we will go deep into the mountains where the revolution started. “In the Footsteps of a Revolution” takes place from November 24th to December 7th.

The workshops I have taught before will run in spring. I will once again do the intimate photo workshop about how to develop your photographic expression in my hometown of Bergen, Norway. It’s going to be a very small workshop where we meet up in my apartment, when we are not shooting the streets of Bergen. “The Personal Expression” runs from June 15th to 17th.

Finally, Sven and I are running our regular workshop in Cuba this May. It’s a one week photo workshop, and one of my most popular. We already have a good group signed up for the workshop, but there are still some spots left. “Cuba in Essence” takes place from May 5th to 17th.

Maybe one of these workshops could be something for you? I would love to have you come along.