Return to Peru

An Introduction to from Adam L. Weintraub on Vimeo.

Last year I was able to visit Peru for the first time. Not only was I visiting I was also teaching, thanks to Adam Weintraub and his PhotoExperience operation. I met Adam a few years ago at the Palm Springs Photo Festival and he asked, “Hey, you think you might want to teach in Peru?” I think I responded with something slick like “Um, ya.” A few short months later we descended through the clouds into Cusco. Adam met us at the gate and within minutes we were submerged in Peruvian life. As many of you know, I’ve taught a fair amount, from semester length classes at the university level, believe it nor not, to weekend workshops. Teaching is a horrendous amount of work, it really is, if you are really going to prepare, but I truly enjoy it, otherwise I would do something else like clean barnacles of the hull of passenger ships. A few months passed and Adam rang me up once again and asked, “Otra vez?” I again said something slick like “Um, ya.” So come December into January, you will find me back in South America, with Adam, and a small crew of searchers as we follow the light, the dust and whatever lies beyond that corner we can’t yet see around.

I’ve included a few of the black and white images from my trip, but to keep things consistent I’m only going to publish the black and white with this particular post. Last year’s workshop was about shooting, editing, sequencing and bookmaking. In essence it was several workshops rolled into one. One of the things I like about Adam’s classes is that we are in country for a good amount of time. You all know my beliefs about time and access, the more the better, and there is no way to substitute. Well, luck maybe, but it’s hard to count on that. We could have easily spent the entire twelve or so days shoot, just shooting and doing nothing other than shoot, edit, critique, but we did far, far more. We edited like crazy people. We sequenced like crazy people and we made books like…well, crazy people. It made for long days, long nights and several glasses of Pisco to keep our hearts pure.

This year we are going to change things up a bit. You see Peru was a shock for me, in a good way. I was surprised by the cuisine, the culture and the landscape. Now don’t get me wrong, I’d been to South America before and I’d been to the Andes before, but Peru STILL surprised me. I realized it was enough for me to simply EXIST in the culture, quietly studying what was in my immediate vicinity, watching the light, waiting for the light, moving myself to find the composition that felt right. I also shot color on this trip, square format, portraits, and there are many I like, but at the ESSENCE of this trip, like many of the others I take, was the idea of wandering with one small camera, experiencing the food, the people and the culture while quietly making pictures. For this reason I stuck with the black and white representative of this concept. All shot Leica by the way.

This year our trip takes on a different shape. This year we have “Sketches of Perú: A Photographic Exploration with Cultural and Culinary Highlights” If it sounds fancy and slightly outside the bounds of the traditional all photo, all the time workshop…well good because it is. Just to give you a taste…..

Sketches of Perú: A Photographic Exploration with Cultural and Culinary Highlights

Date: December 23rd 2011 – January 3rd, 2012
Fee: $3950
Instructors: Daniel Milnor and Adam L. Weintraub
Amazon Rainforest Extension through January 7th, 2012; $1750

Highlighted by New Year’s celebrations in Machu Picchu, photographers Daniel Milnor and Adam L. Weintraub invite you on a Peruvian travel odyssey set against the backdrop of one of Latin America’s most spectacular cultures. The trip will begin in modern Lima where the world- class flavor of Peru allows a first taste of the Andean way of life and cuisine. From Lima we will venture to the Colonial City of Arequipa where the terraced, white-rock volcanic landscape reveals the life of rural Peru: villages, condors and hot springs in a magical terrain. Next on our path will be the anthropologically rich areas of Cusco and Machu Picchu where participants will walk the well-worn stone paths of the ancient Incan Empire. Finally, our journey will end on the banks of the Peruvian Amazon, along the Bolivian border.

Not bad right……..

As you can see, this year we are going to be on the move more than we were last year, which for me is pretty darn exciting. I’m already looking at maps of the places I’ve not been, secretly studying where I think I can make pictures. I know what will happen. I will do this research and then Adam will say, “Yes, we’re going there.” Adam has been living in Peru for at least 5000 years and seems to know every nook and cranny. And, his secret weapon…he is a photographer too, so when he tells me something is good, I don’t show up and see a plaque with concrete footprints saying, “Tourist area, please stand in the footprints, make your image and move along.” Just to give you an example, during last year’s workshop I found myself near the edge of a lake in the middle of nowhere, in a photo-archive looking at 8×10 glass plates and on my knees in mud trying to get the right angle at a neighborhood cockfight. There were times last year, when the time and location and ingredients were right, Adam and I looked at each other in that way that photographers do when things are good. Nothing was said, just bulging eye contact. That is what a workshop is all about.

Travel is perhaps the absolute best way to learn about many of the most important things in life. Photography, to me at least, is a very important secondary aspect of travel. This class is going to be about more than photography. Yes we will shoot, edit, sequence and design books, but we will first walk through the riches of Peruvian culture, taking visual notes, engaging with those we come across and taking time to just take in one of the most breathtaking places on Earth. I would view this opportunity to travel to this remote land with like-minded people, all sharing their love of photography, travel, cuisine, culture and life. If you have any questions, want to see or know more, please drop me a line. Hope to see you there.

More of the Same

Peru. Cockfights.

Leica with black and white. Blad with color.

This is it people. These situations. This is what being a photographer is all about, at least to me. Foreign culture, something happening, shifting conditions, light rain falling, voices all around, raucous. These are the moments you can disappear into your creative self and just let go, responding to how you feel and the visual buffet in front of you, around you and even that seeping inside you. You leave places like this with a residue, both physical, and more importantly, mental.

There were three or four of us who ventured here, thanks to Carlos and Adam. We landed and split up, even though the space was small and crowded. Beer. Lots of beer. Happiness, friends and a cultural sport. The light was fading fast, so for me it was about making a color theme before I lost what light there was. With the black and white I knew I could go as late and as dark as I wanted.

I began making a mental checklist of what I had and what I wanted and had yet to see. Click, one frame at time, building, searching, watching, waiting, talking, explaining, positioning, nodding, shaking hands. “You are in the way.” “I know.” “You can’t stand there.” “Okay.” “Sorry.” “I’m just trying to get close.” “Oh, okay, you’re fine.” “Thank you.”

A woman from Europe, the only other foreign person here besides us and the local guys are loving it. Asking her to dance, and to the delight of everyone she does. A good sport. Click. A series of pictures. Black and white.
The first fight ends and both birds are wounded but still okay to fight another day. This is MUST have. Walk fast. The bird owners retreat to a place behind the scenes.

Like gladiators returning to their holding area, the pieces and parts of war are on display, held beautifully in custom boxes and polished to a bright sheen. This entire scene is about pageantry and behind the scenes I am able to see a quiet side of this, the personal side. Trainer and athlete. This becomes part of the color theme. The bird, the blood, the blades and the boasting.

“Gallo, gallo, gallo,” the crowd yells, demanding more. Each time the painfully slow procession begins again, the dancing, the anticipation. Money changes hands. Light rain continues to fall. My pockets fill with exposed film. This will go on long into the night.

Soon the Blad is packed away and I’m down to the Leicas. Lenses at f/2 and shutter speeds near that doable level where I’m not quite sure. The edges, this is what I’m looking for. Time to break a few eggs and see what is what. How low can you go? The rewind crank stops abruptly. The final rolls are complete. We are spit out through the front gates and into the Cusco night, into another world separated only by a thin layer of mud and stone yet worlds apart. As we near the gates of home I can still hear the music.

Okay people, you might be wondering my point with all this. Well, more of the same. Continued from yesterday’s post. Shooting black and white and color and how different it is if you are REALLY doing that. For me, the color I’m showing here is very front and center, very in your face. The blood is the key. With color, obviously, THAT is the power point of the image. Had I ONLY shot black and white I would have shot a completely different style of picture. Black and white in this same exact scene requires a completely different tact. I become a suggestive photographer in black and white using form and shadow to suggest what is happening. If I shoot these same images in black and white the idea just won’t convey, and the other issue is the audience realizing what is happening with the bloody bird, the blood on the ground and wondering, “Why not color here?”

So again, when I see young photographers shooting all color then making random conversions to black and white it makes me realize that perhaps this difference in strategy and style isn’t fully understood. Can you have success randomly converting? Sure, but is that what you are striving for? Or are we striving to find our own vision, a vision that is part of us LONG before we sit down to edit?
Another photographer wrote something the other day along the lines of “I know what I want when I go into the field.” I do too, and when you do have an idea of what you vision is…the idea of shooting general images and then deciding on them later, just doesn’t factor in. So give yourself a little test and see what is what. Limit yourself..ah yes, you read that correctly, LIMIT yourself the next time you go out. Only shoot ONE style of image and see where it takes you.

The Decision

This is a slightly unfair comparison but I wanted to forge ahead regardless.

Earlier this year I was working in Peru, teaching a workshop with Adam Weintraub of Photo Experience, a workshop regarding Easter in the Cusco area. During this time there were several processions in the city center, which is where I made these two images. (By the way, watch the video on the homepage of the site above and tell me if that doesn’t make you want to go to Peru. If not, I think you might be dead.)

These images were made seconds apart, but they are completely different in their look and feel. I see so many photographers today, working in digital, who will randomly switch and image from color to black and white, then back again. I find this one of those modern, digital techniques that make me shake my head. Now that is just my opinion, as always, but I think this is a really important point. I started my career in what I would call reverse order. When everyone was shooting and learning black and white, I was shooting color, and by the time all my friends had migrated away from black and white to color, I was migrating back to black and white.

This was, of course, during the film era, and one thing I learned RIGHT away was you don’t shoot color and black and white in the same way. In fact, in many ways it was the exact opposite. I was shooting color transparency those days, so the highlight of a scene was the critical aspect, but with black and white I had the shadow to concern myself with. Color photography to me, in some ways was more about the color than the actual content, and black and white was about form. I loved this transition and I loved challenging myself to find which method was the best for any one scene, story, project or moment. So for those of you digitally inclined, give yourself a test and head out with ONE method in mind. It will make a HUGE difference in your work and will also make you a better photographer in my humble opinion.

Also, I recently had a rather large job to shoot and I hired on a third photographer, someone I had known for a long while, but someone I had never worked with. I asked him to shoot digital because the second photographer was using digital and I wanted to keep a consistency with their images. Now this third shooter is also from the film era, so when he shot he set his cameras to capture what he envisioned the scene to be. His getting ready work was all black and white, then he moved to color location details, and back to black and white for some portraits. It was REALLY nice to see his attention to scene detail and vision. I personally don’t like the always shoot color, then randomly covert to black and white method. I see this all the time in the portrait/wedding scene…me no likey. And yes, I know that his cameras were capturing in color, even though he was showing me black and white.

So back to these images. I much prefer the black and white. Again, unfair here because the moment is different, but I wanted to just let you see the same basic scene in both looks. I prefer the look of the moment in the black and white, the people appear as if they are looking right at me, which gives a more powerful connection. The color to me is about the color and the black and white strips away the distraction of the color and forces the viewer to look at the moment.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Wait, you did shoot both methods on this scene…what gives.” Well, I would normally never work in both color and black and white at the same time. I just find it too distracting, and also, for me, photography isn’t easy, so I need all my concentration focused on ONE thing. But, I was teaching, so I wasn’t working entirely for myself here, I was thinking of everyone else, checking in, watching, etc, and I thought it would be a good formula to be able to show students, eventually, when the film came back, both color takes and black and white.

My point with all this is making a decision, a choice, up front, which I believe will allow you a connection you just won’t get by shooting all color and making conversions. I recently looked at work from a photographer who was shooting color then randomly converting to black and white and I told this person, “Actually I don’t feel you are really shooting black and white unless you are seeing in black and white.”

So, for what it’s worth, thought I would share this. I’ll try to post more examples in the coming days. If you are shooting digital, give yourself a chance to really learn the depth of each style. Test yourself, push yourself.

I have to say, it was interesting to come home form Peru with both color and black and white, but I also wonder how much better my work would have been if I had only done one style? Next year, going back, similar workshop and because I started with both styles, I’ll be using the same rig again.

PS: I’ve had a few people ask me about making these images and about approaching strangers. Well, I was on street level when I came to this corner, but I looked around and noticed that the procession would have to stop here and change direction. Street level, as you can imagine, was chaotic. I looked up and noticed several people on a balcony overlooking this intersection. I waited for someone to look in my direction and I waved, pointed at my camera and then up at the people on the balcony. The woman who first saw me acted embarrassed and went inside. I snooped around the edges of the building to see if I could find anyone. No luck. So, I went back out in front and just stood there looking up. Finally, the woman who first saw me returned with someone who turned out to be the lady of the house. She waved me around. The door opened, I explained myself and she allowed me into their home, through their living room and out on to the balcony. It was extremely generous. I told her who I was, what I was doing, etc, and promised her an image.
So, I did one better. The Peru book, which you can see at the “publication” tab above, has a page of “Thank You Notes” at the beginning, where I listed name and thanked her. And, she has a copy of the book, or will have it soon. People this is critically important. As photographers we can have a scorched Earth legacy if we are not careful. If you promise something, fulfill that promise, otherwise it makes it harder for the next person. I run into this alot, “Oh ya, there was another photographer here before, he promised us such and such and then we never heard from him.” I cringe when his happens, and it has happened a lot. So, keep true snappers!!

Peru In Book Form 2010+2011

Hey Kids,
Wanted to check in with you and let you know I’m gearing up for year two in Peru. We are looking at “Peru In book Form: Portrait in the Andes” so if you have a hankering for travel, for photography and for getting out and searching the great world then think about heading south to explore the Andes. This book is the result of last year’s workshop, so I envision building on this for next year, and also adding in more portraits. Turn your sound on and have a look.


So, if any of this looks or sounds good, keep your eye peeled to the “workshops” tab for more details. We are looking at late April. More details to follow.

New Release: Peru

When I was first asked to go to Peru and teach a workshop one of my first thoughts was about the book.

I knew I would make a book, or several, but really didn’t know what it would be. Most of the time I’m working with a very specific goal in mind, but when I’m teaching my focus is not only myself, but rather on the class and making sure THEY get what they are looking for.

So when it actually came time to make a book from this material I had a different kind of decision to make. At first I envisioned a book with chapters, a table of contents page explaining those chapters, and very concise lines and angles. In fact I began to design a book just like this.

But then I realized it just wasn’t working. I realized what I had was a random set of images, pieces of a puzzle, but not that overall picture. So in the end I decided to create a portfolio book, something I hadn’t done for a long, long while. I found the experience rather liberating.

The only thing I decided on was to make two styles of page, competing 6×6 and black and white. I realize these styles of work are entirely different, but that was really my point. The book has an introduction titled, “Split Personality” which describes this pairing and why the images look the way they do.

Most of the time an editor will tell you to keep your theme to similar images, and I agree, but with a portfolio I felt I had slightly more flexibility to experiment.

My goal is to refine this work, and add to it, hopefully next year when we are planning a follow up workshop. I’ll keep you posted on the details.