New Year New Adventure

As many of you know, I hung up my photo spurs at the end of 2010, never to undertake another assignment, ever again. Well, I lied. Kinda. What I am embarking on isn’t your average photo assignment. In fact, I’m not looking at it that way at all because the actual work, and subsequent legacy, will have very little if anything to do with my actual photography. What it WILL have to do with is the education and opportunity we leave behind with the kids we are fortunate enough to work with.
Let me rewind for a moment.

Fred Roberts is a friend from Los Angeles, but lumping him in the “friend” category is a dangerous business because I don’t really know anyone else quite like Fred. You know me, I like to ramble, but when it came to writing a basic “take” on Fred, so you would have an idea of who I’m talking about, I found myself suddenly mired in my online Spanish program. “Los ninos beben leche.” In other words, I didn’t know where to start. Fred is a photographer yes, and he went to Yale and he worked in the financial world, but this does little to educate you about who he really is. Start here.

Sometime last year my phone rang with a “unknown” caller and like I always do when I get that message, I immediately said “Hello, Center Intelligence Agency.” What I heard from the other end was “Danny Boy, I’ve got an idea.” What came from that call and subsequent MASSIVE amount of logistics(undertaken by Fred), leg work, phone calls, fund raising, texts, meetings and incense burning strategy sessions was a plan. A master plan.

Seven days. Twenty students. A new language that will last a lifetime.

The Fredric Roberts Photography Workshops are led by the award-winning photographer as he brings his passion for storytelling through still images to underprivileged children around the world. Each workshop will train a group of 20 high school aged students, half from rural areas and the other half from urban households. Over the course of each seven-day workshop, using a format developed by Mr. Roberts, the participants will take photographs centering on a particular theme, such as the environment, health issues or education.

When each workshop ends, Mr. Roberts will donate two cameras plus computer and photo software so that participants can continue to develop their skills. (He will also work with local partners to secure photographers from each country who will participate in the workshop and will continue to mentor the novice photographers.) He will also use a private website so that students can continue to improve their skills and continue their photographic education.

The guts speak to storytelling, photography and empowering underprivileged children around this magical world. These workshops will be in partnership with the leading development organization Save The Children.

This project, for me, came at the perfect time. Well, seeing as I had a kidney stone and I still have Lyme Disease, which is keeping me off of the team leaving for Bhutan as we speak, it might not have been the perfect time PHYSICALLY, but mentally it was. There are more trips coming and I’m a patient man. But there is something else at work here, at least for me. One of my goals for 2014 was to think about other people more than I think about myself. When I first heard of this plan, this project, my first thought was about the kids. I thought back to the time when I was of the age we will be working with on these trips, and I put an honest eye to the reality. I had everything. Really. I had great parents, all the material things like a roof over my head and food, but most importantly I had opportunity. I was told the world was open, ready and shapeable into whatever form I so desired.

But this isn’t true for a lot of folks, and my first thought addressed this idea. I want to help. I think I can help. I KNOW I can help. I am a true believer in story. We all have them. We all share them, and most of us like to listen to them. What if? What if I/we can help someone else tell their story, share their story and BELIEVE in their story.

Often times, in today’s world of the informational, immediate share, things are discussed, plans are made yet ultimately nothing happens(Discussion is still essential). And this is where I get back to Fred. When Fred says Fred does. Simple as that. There were many requirements to get this baby off the ground and one by one they were ticked off the list in impressive fashion. Now, you KNOW me. I can be a skeptic, healthy of course, but when I first heard what Fred was going after I was thought the odds were slim. But like I said, if Fred says, Fred does, and suddenly the stars were in alignment.

In some weird way I had hit the wall with my own photography, and this workshop series shined a light into the darkness of the creative unknown and illuminated the path toward these places and these kids. You can view the group’s website again here. There will be postings made during the trips, from these locations, which should give all of us a taste of the daily dance. The website was created and is being monitored by friends of Smogranch Flemming Bo Jensen and Charlene Winfred who form the power base of “Coffee and Magic.” A few of the other players on this first trip include Sarah Megan Lee and Mike Sakas. When I begin to wonder about each one of these folks and what they could accomplish on their own my head begins to spin. Add them together and……

I don’t often ask for people to share what I write, but in this case I’m asking (please). One of the reasons I’m asking is I don’t have kids. I photographed kids for seven years but every single time I gave them back at the end of the day. In addition to wanting to hear the feedback that YOU have about this project, I’d love to get some feedback from kids. What does a 14-year-old person in Newport Beach have in common with a 14-year-old in Bhutan? Santa Fe and Managua? Laramie and La Paz? I don’t know. One of the things I LOVED about photographing kids was that they didn’t know they had a “good side” or a “bad side.” Kids were honest. In a thirty-minute span they would laugh, cry and tell me a secret. The honestly and purity was so refreshing, and consequently the imagery felt powerfully real to me. For most children the future is a long, long way away, and often times doesn’t appear to have any landing lights, so to speak. As an adult, and a storyteller, I have the ability to power up those lights, to some degree, with the idea of showing these kids how to do this on their own. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.

I should also note that I am jazzed about aiming my camera at these places. Not to mention my pen and my audio recorder. There will be subsequent publications, posts and potentially films, but they will not be about photography per se. These outlets will be about story, what the imagery means and how we, and they, aim to follow it through.

Well, in the time it took me to write this post the team has made their way to their destination. Check them out at LAX, photographed by security, probably wondering who in their right mind would carry ALL that gear.
What most interests me in this project is the unknown. How can I possibly know what will come from this? But here is the rub. Something WILL come from this. About this I am absolutely sure.

Fotoweek DC Schedule and New Additions

I’m officially signed up to be a part of Fotoweek DC, which is in November of this year. I’ve heard about this festival for years but never had a chance to attend, until now. The organizers are an interesting lot and they have come up with a couple of new programs for this year, including a new contest, education and portfolio reviews, etc.

I thought I would wrap this post in a range of random DC images. I love this town, and I love to photograph there. My goal is to get in early, hit the opening night gala and then take the next day to wander and shoot. Or I could be doing portfolio reviews the entire day, which is more likely! It’s also the PERFECT time to walk. Cold, potentially rainy and just up my alley. There are links below to both the educational program and the awards. Have a look and hopefully I’ll see you there.

Details and Links:

FotoWeekDC 5th Annual International Awards Competition:
Honoring professional and emerging photographers from the DC region and from around the world
Cash prizes totaling $26,000
Winning images will be exhibited during the FotoWeekDC Festival
Great online exposure
New Photo Book Competition – winners exhibited at the Goethe Institut’s Gallery, FotoWeekEDU
New Modern-Vintage category in photo competition – images captured with Brownie, Polaroid, Holga, Diana, Lomography, pinhole cameras and mobile devices.
Deadline: 9/17/12 at 11:59pm PST
Competition Link

Make sure you ping me on Twitter if you are going to be around. @smogranch

FotoWeekEDU – Seminars & Portfolio Reviews:
Leading names in photography share their insights and advice through the all-new educational program
FotoDC and the Goethe Institut partner this year to bring educational programming to the FotoWeek Festival.
Early bird deadline 9/7/12 Seminars & Portfolio Reviews Link:

I also love the fact they are having a book contest, which I would enter were I not working for Blurb. If you get a chance to go to DC make sure you let me know and we can connect. DC is such an incredible city. Every single time I go I find something new. And you have all the museums, openings, monuments, etc.

A Reason To Go To Photo School

“Should I go to photography school, or should I learn by watching YouTube?”

Over the past few years this has been a common debate. Is it worth going to photography school, or should I just use the internet and get started? I can’t answer this question for you, and even if I could I wouldn’t. The answer is something you have to find on your own. I’ve always been a believer that if all you got out of photography school was photography you REALLY missed the boat. All schools are about relationships, heartbreak, success, being judged, passing judgement and also being pointed in a direction or two.

Last week I was invited to a retirement party held in honor of a local photography instructor, Rick Steadry, who has been teaching photography since 1971. I was only two-years-old and he was already out shaping young photographic hearts and minds. I know Rick, barely, but my wife had taken a class with him in 1983 and when she found out there was going to be a party she immediately changed A LOT of plans and said, “We are going.” There was a force in her voice I hadn’t heard in a while and it got me thinking. Really? One class in 1983? That is a long time ago. What was so special? The party was minutes from our house, and frankly I had given little thought to the gathering other than getting to see Rick and getting a chance to see his exhibition. Now people this is Orange County, NOT the hotbed of photographic activity, so when I heard “event” I didn’t get my hopes up(jaded). I rounded the corner at the exhibition space and was SLAMMED by a wall of humanity. I couldn’t believe how many people were packed into the exhibition space and the surrounding area. The faces were old, young and many had traveled great distances to get there. Within the crowd were some well know photography faces, people who unbeknownst to me, had come into contact with Rick at some point in their learning process. One such photographer, someone with three big books to his name, and another on the way, said, “Ya, I thought I was going to be a photojournalist but Rick saw something in my work and showed me what was possible.” “He showed me the way.”

Everywhere I went in the crowd the story was the same. These photographers didn’t copy Rick’s photography. These photographers found photography and he helped them understand it and see the possibilities. The teaching of the actual technical side of photography is not difficult, nor does it become a real part of the conversation after you learn it, so the real teaching, learning, education comes from being able to access people like Rick. Just so you know, Rick has two degrees from Harvard and has been shooting for many, many years, but learning from him, or any other great instructor, goes way beyond these details.

I think great teachers, regardless of genre or focus, leave a life-changing impression. I had two anthropology instructors that literally changed my life…by accident, or at least I THINK it was by accident. For all I know they were working me like a puppet. The didn’t change my life by teaching how to record in the field. They changed my life by exposing me to certain things, in certain ways, and by making simple suggestions. They also made me work extremely hard.

I use YouTube all the time, think it is a wonderful thing, but I personally don’t want YouTube, or the internet, to be my primary learning experience. I have a difficult time feeling inspired from YouTube and I can’t get the kind of critique I’m looking for from the computer(Unless you want the “great work” style critique). Perhaps I’m old fashioned. Perhaps I’m out of touch. We each learn differently, but I see a real positive in the idea of learning photography in person, in group form, with your work exposed and vulnerable. I remember getting ripped to shreds, and I remember handing out my share of criticism, which is almost entirely absent from the online world. I remember NOT wanting to be in school, but also remember the moment when I realized how grand the experience actually was.

Personally, I expect the future to continue to be a blend of the two learning worlds. Online can inspire someone in the far reaches of the Earth to pick up a camera, and the school experience is a great finishing platform. At this point in my life, like many of us, I wish I could go back. I would do things differently of course, and I would pay a Hell of a lot more attention. Plus, I would study overseas, and would also take more classes in the art department, more in the anthropology department and if you have heard my Spanish..well, I’d be there too.

So you might be asking yourself about Rick’s vest. No, it’s not dangerous, and anyone who has every shot a frame of Polaroid 665 or Type 55 doesn’t need an explanation, but just know the vest was for fun and for tradition. At the end of the night the vest, in a short ceremony, was passed along to the “next” Rick Steadry. Lets hope it survives another forty years.

And for those of you who are wondering, YES, we pulled the lid off those canisters and took turns smelling the precious chemistry soaked insides.

“Beyond the Snapshot” Santa Fe Workshops July 18-24

“From Peru in Book Form Workshop” Cusco Peru 2010

I’m still buzzing after returning from Peru and the “Peru in Book Form” workshop, and now I am happy to announce the upcoming “Beyond the Snapshot” workshop in Santa Fe, New Mexico July 18-24th.

There are literally hundreds of workshops to choose from these days, and in the coming years, due to the current economic situation, my guess is there will be hundreds more, but Santa Fe is the real deal when it comes to the workshop experience.

I know this because I have personally taken two workshops in Santa Fe, and have personally taught two more. I also live part time in Santa Fe, and I know what the surrounding area has to offer in terms of subject matter, landscape and the best light of anywhere I have been in the entire world. It is THAT good.

Like a movie location that becomes a character in the film, WHERE you take a workshop can be incredibly important depending on what your goal is. I currently have a long-term project underway in New Mexico, something I have been working on for a year and have only begun to scratch the surface of what this place is really all about.

Being here, phone off(encouraged), email off(encouraged) and fully involved in your subject matter of choice is a wonderful way to shed the distractions of your natural habitat and actually learn to be a better photographer.

Much can happen in a full week of concentration.

My workshop experience in Santa Fe came during my time working at Eastman Kodak. Kodak, at that time, sponsored the workshop, in part, and were given a few free slots for employees. One day, out of the blue, I got an email saying, “By the way, anyone wanting to take a workshop in Santa fe, go ahead and sign up.” I thought it was a joke, but luckily for me, it wasn’t.

My first workshop was with Chris Rainer, a black and white documentary photographer who was a printer for Ansel Adams. We looked at tons of work, studied prints, talked about the thought process behind making great pictures, and spent much time in the field.

“Dar al Islam” shot during my time in the Robb Kendrick workshop at SFPW.

My second workshop experience was with Robb Kendrick, a Texas-based photographer who spends much of his time working for The National Geographic. Not only did we learn about making long-term projects, but we also got much one on one time with Robb(invaluable) and also picked up his favorite recipe for margaritas, which helps any long-term project reach maximum velocity. Robb and I remain friends, and still talk on a regular basis.

I am also still friends with several fellow students who are now working full-time as photographers.

So when I was asked to teach at the workshops, I came into the situation knowing full well what was required, but also what was possible during a week in Santa Fe.

“Beyond the Snapshot” came about for several reasons. First, modern photography is filled with complicated machinery, the cameras, and complicated post-production, the software. I noticed that many of my students were somewhat lost in the creative process because they were spending far too much time on everything except actually making great images.

Sometimes, based on the “ease” we can now make images, we are fooled into thinking that just because an image is made with the latest, greatest camera, and processed with the latest, greatest software, that our images are all the latest and the greatest.

Great images, for the most part, do not happen by accident, and have little to nothing to do with camera or software. Great images come from the right light, timing and composition, and from putting yourself in the position to make them. Doing this requires, thought, planning, vision and the ability to lose yourself in your work.

THIS is what “Beyond the Snapshot” is all about.

Like I said, I taught this class last year, so I have a track record with what I think we can accomplish, but also what I want to do differently. This year, my plan is to have the students dive into ONE project for the entire week. Last year, as many workshops do, we bounced from place to place, topic to topic, in a more random pattern. Doing this provides a certain type of image, and is a great learning experience because as a photographer you are thrown into new situations on a daily basis and forced to make images. This experience was similar to my first getting a job at a newspaper and being given a range of assignments on a daily basis, all different. I learned a TON in a short time. Trial by fire if you will.

But, much of the work that was lasting in my life came from returning to the same people, place or story, again and again, and building a more in-depth body of work.

Often times, when I’m showing work, I get questions about making certain images. How I got into a certain place, or how I got someone to let me into their life at a very personal level. Well, it comes from trust and from spending the time. There is no substitute for time and access.

So this year, in Santa Fe, students will be given the chance to find something they relate to and spend the entire week getting to know the story. Personally, I can’t wait.

So as an example of what you can expect, I thought I would include a few images I made during last year’s take on “Beyond the Snapshot.” We stumbled upon this man, James, and he was kind enough to allow myself, and several workshop students, to photograph him.

Setting the scene, “Beyond the Snapshot” Galisteo, New Mexico 2009

James is a well driller and sometimes uses equipment from the 1950’s. Mud, water, noise, drill bits, a little dog and a daring guy makes for great images.

James, well-driller, “Beyond the Snapshot” Galisteo, New Mexico 2009

All of these images were made within about a thirty minute shoot, perhaps less. So imagine what you can do, as a student, with an entire week to dive into a project.

But Dan, what am I going to shoot? Well, funny you should ask. Both times I took workshops in Santa Fe I had researched the area prior to coming, and had a story ready to go once I hit town. This was a HUGE advantage when it came to producing work. The way I viewed it was that I had near private access to a major photographer for an entire week, so the more work I could produce, the more work I could show this photographer, and the class, and get as much feedback as possible.

So I have a list of ideas for this area, but I highly encourage students to do their own research. One bit of advice I got early on in my career was, “Focus on stories you are interested in.” Sounds simple, makes a huge difference.

So, you know more about you than I do, so if you can make some inquires, study the area and find a few possible stories, I think you will be ahead of the game. And remember, a story does not have to be as specific as one person. A story can be broad, such as color as mood, or as narrow as you want to be, such as the intersection of two country roads, or a local painter.

This workshop is designed to challenge you, and to help you find your voice, your vision and your style. The idea is to explore and expand your mind and your photography skill, all the while having fun, eating chili and looking down the dirt roads of the unknown.