Find Your Own Way

Do you confine yourself doing what you know your peers like or what is considered “good” photography? Do you show work to get positive feedback instead of giving the rest of the world your take on whatever it is you have photographed—or painted or written about or…? At least talking for myself, I know that is so easy to fall back on conformities and too easy to take the well-trodden path.

Some time ago, I came across a blog post by David duChemin, the Canadian photographer based out of Vancouver. He writes about a village in China called Dafen where thousands of painters make a living by making replicas of world famous paintings. They do this year in and year out, being very accomplished at it. If you can’t pay the millions it cost to get hold of a Picasso, you may get a copy by one of these very skilled painters in Dafen for a just a few dollars.

His point is that however good the paintings from Dafen may be, they are not art. They do not offer anything to the world except cheep copies of something that once did and still do create aw and admiration in the art world. The copies themselves do not. As skilful as these painters in Dafen are, nobody will ever become inspired by them, or boosted by them, or stimulated by them. Crafts in itself is not enough, an artists needs to put some of her or his soul into the creation to touch anyone else.

I know art is lofty and pretentious word, and if you are like me, you probably hesitate a little to call yourself an artists. But it still doesn’t change the point and it still doesn’t change fact that both you and I most likely are photographing—or painting, sculpturing, writing, making music or whatever you do—out of a desire to fulfil a creative desire.

In so doing we want to creating something that at best may touch others or at least be or some inspiration or maybe just result in a smile in another’s face. That is pretty close to art, in my opinion. However, according to duChemin, “if art is more than just technique and imitation, no matter how perfect that imitation, then it requires something more than years of practice. It requires us. It requires interpretation. It requires that we bring something of our own to the table, preferably something that means something to us, something that’s a part of us. It requires vulnerability and soul and thoughts of our own.”

We need to leave Dafen—figuratively speaking. We need to break out of conformity and what is considered the “right way”. Because there is no right way. There are no rules, and if you believe there are, then break those damn rules. Jump out of the stereotype and become yourself in the creative process. As duChemin says; you don’t want to spend your life imitating others, do you?

It takes one thing, though, and that is courage. It takes courage to be yourself. It takes courage to create on your own terms. In takes courage to stand out from the crowd and not be like everybody else. It takes courage to accept your own quirks and oddities. However, it’s from this place you will find your true, artistic expression. You art will grow deeper and become more authentic if you draw the artistic expression from your real self, the one that you sometimes, or most of the time, try to hide—as I wrote in my post Embrace Your Oddities some time ago.

As David duChemin writes in this post: “We’re all trying so damn hard to blend in that we have no chance at standing out. And that’s a shame, because if you just let your freak flag fly, you’d find it was that to which people were the most attracted. The real you. The messy you. The you who had the courage to leave Dafen and try it your way. Not to be different, but to be you. Imperfect, weird, intriguing, fantastically human you. That’s the kind of person who makes art, not copies: someone who is truly him or herself, not a copy of someone else.”

Skills and craft are good and necessary to be able to express ourselves, just like you need to learn your mother tongue to be able to express yourself with words. But take it to the next level. When talking about photographing, don’t just show us where you have been or what something looks like. Show me why it so important for you that you actually took a photo of it.

If you haven’t visited David dChemin’s blog, I strongly recommend to do so. He is full of inspiration, encouragement and a well of poignant thoughts about photography and art. Start here then: Leaving Dafen (From Craft to Art).

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Come Rain, Come Shine

© Erik Lind
© Terry Shoobridge
© Inger Stenstrøm
© Tori Tollefsen
© Mary Shoobridge

Street photography is challenging. Most of us feel like intruders when we shove our cameras into the faces of strangers on the street. It’s intimidating, and most intimidating is approaching strangers asking to take their photo. Even just being a fly on the wall, letting street life pass by unobstructed, capturing it without any interaction, can be daunting enough. We just don’t feel comfortable photographing people we don’t know.

For participants during the extended weekend photo workshop in Bath two weeks ago, they all experienced the challenge of street photography. In the beginning, they were pretty much reluctant to the thought of approaching strangers on the street. Resorting to zoom in and use a long telephoto lens was much less intimidating. However, taking captivating street photos more often than not requires using a wide-angle lens or at least a so-called normal lens.

Over the next three days during the workshop, they were pushed ever closer to whatever took place on the street. And they were pushed to use a more wide-angled approach. They also started approaching complete strangers on the street. To their surprise, they found out that most people don’t mind having their photos taken. On the contrary. With that insight came also more audacity—and in the end amazing results in terms of photos they have captured.

To challenge the participants even more, the weather was far from cooperative. Whereas Bath had been bathed in sunshine weeks before the workshop—and in fact ever since the workshop was done, too—during the extended weekend the rain came down reluctantly most days. However, the participants passed this challenge with blistering energy. Come rain, come shine, they were all out shooting every day.

Here is a small selection of what they came back with after an inspiring weekend in beautiful Bath.

¡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.

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.

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.

Beautiful Belize

As I wrote in my previous post last week, Belize is foremost known for its amazing nature. Last week I showed the beautiful underwater world along the coast of the very small Central-American country. In addition to diving and various water sports, we also got to spend about a week in the interior, in and around the rain forest. Of course, like any other country in this part of the world, ancient cities of the Mayans and the Pre-Mayans have been discovered throughout the country—and until last century hidden in the rain forest. It’s always something special to visit this abandoned cities with their impressive ruins and structures still standing. I have visited many of them over the years, and this time in Belize, we were able to spend time in another two ancient cities. In addition to photos from Caracol and Xunantunich, here in this post I also show glimpse of daily life in Belize. I am just going to let them stand there without further comment.