Countdown to Peru 2013: Lima Beach

It is official. We are returning to the high lonesome of Peru July 9th-23rd of 2013.

Once again I will be teaming up with Adam Weintraub and PhotoExperience to bring fellow travelers and students a journey they won’t forget. I hesitate to call this a workshop. Yes, we are there for photography, but we are there for so much more. Peru is many countries in one. You have the coast, the Andes, the cities and the Amazon, and they are all exotic in their own way. This trip will take us from the eyebrow of the jungle and Machu Picchu to the steaming mist of the Amazon. This trip is about culture, travel, experience, critical thought, companionship, group dynamics, cuisine, Pisco and the all powerful photographic release. This trip is for people who want to explore, both physically and emotionally.Chanting is optional.

In a two-week time period you will see and experience so many different things, so many different people and so many different photographic moments it’s difficult to put into words. I teach once or twice a year at this point, so when I take the time to do this I make sure I’m doing something that can’t easily be replicated. I am the primary instructor but Adam is the key in terms of finding the heartbeat of Peru. Adam has lived and worked in Peru for fifteen years and simply put, knows everyone. Being a photographer he knows where to be, at what time and what to do if things don’t go as expected. Adam and PhotoExperience are not a factory. He does a few workshops a year, trips that take an extensive amount of planning. Take a look at the names of the other instructors and you will see what I’m talking about.

Last year, after returning from this workshop, I was depressed for over a month. I kept wondering why I felt so bad. My wife and I were both in somewhat of a haze and traced it back to returning to our little world. Peru does this to you. Peru puts the hooks in you and won’t let go.

Over the next few months I’m going to start sharing images from my past trips to Peru providing a little background on what was behind the image or images.

Lima Beach, 2011

This image was made the first day of this year’s workshop. As a small group we had descended on a beach in Lima. In some ways we were all feeling out the situation, the workshop and getting our “Peruvian sea legs” if you will. When you leave all that is known and comfortable and you land in a place like this, a place so different in so many ways, it can take a bit of time to acclimate. I know for me it’s difficult to “get my eye” going.

We split up when we hit the beach, people splintering off in all directions. I walked with two other people talking about the light, what to do in harsh conditions and how to shoot backlit scenes. The beach was somewhat quiet but the spacing was good. When I say “spacing” I mean how the parts of the scene come together. Not too many parts to worry about, just a few ingredients that all seem to fit well together.

I noticed what looked like a video shoot being done and quickly walked toward the scene and made this picture. Music video Lima style. I made two exposures. The first was off a bit, and the man in the foreground on the left blocked one of the performers in the back, but this image worked. It felt good to get an image so quickly. I mentally filed it away(couldn’t see it because I was shooting film) and moved on.

These workshops are interesting and very much about being placed in a scene or location and being turned loose to do as you please, visually speaking. You can find a theme and carry it forward for two weeks, or you can treat each location, scene, moment, as it’s own destination. Workshops for me are not about making perfect pictures, or having a list of photo-demands. You never truly know what you are going to get until faced with it. Just react and try to take chances, make pictures you aren’t sure you can make. I typically make a range of work from snapshots to complete and total abstract experimentations. Some work, some don’t, but I learn from them all.

Countdown to Peru 2013: iPhone One

Last year was the first time I used my iPhone to make images while on a trip. Yes, I’d used the iPhone before, but I tried to use it to make something cohesive during my time teaching in Peru. The workshop experience for the person teaching isn’t like the experience of the person taking the workshop. My mind, as the instructor, is occupied by where students are, what they are doing, how I can help them and how to illustrate certain things in the field. I don’t use the iPhone anymore, but I leaned a lot from using it. I have a few other posts with more of these images on the way. These images are somewhat alluring in a strange way, so if you are an iPhone lover or phone-photography lover there is an absolute goldmine waiting for you in South America.
For those of you who are wondering about this series of posts about my upcoming workshops I’m doing these to try and illustrate what these trips are really like. I’ve taken workshops in the past, I’ve sat in on a variety of others and I’m now able to see much of what goes on in many others due to things like You Tube. Peru is a trip, not just a workshop. My opinion is if you get too tunnel visioned on the imagery you will miss the point of being in South America. Yes, the imagery is important but there is A LOT more to life than photography, something I am REALLY beginning to understand more and more the further away I get from being a professional photographer. Personally, I think about Peru all the time, almost on a daily basis. In many cases I see images in my mind, not these cell phone images by the way, but I remember sounds, food, people, moments, etc. This will be my third trip to Peru but I am nowhere near understanding the place, the people, etc. It’s too vast, too complex, too diverse, etc, so the challenge is right there in front of me waiting to be tapped once again.

Countdown to Peru 2013: Amazon Macaws

The countdown to Peru Workshop 2013 is in full swing and I’m checking in with another post relating to my past Peruvian workshop travels. Last year was my first opportunity to enter the Peruvian Amazon. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but after asking Adam about it all I got was, “Spectacular,” so I knew I was in for something unique.

The Amazon part of the workshop is an extension, so not an official part of the class, but most of our workshop group was able to go. It’s such an intense experience it’s nice to be with people you have gotten to know over the course of a few weeks, a few meals and a few laughs. Flying into Puerto Maldonado you look from the plane window and as far as you can see in all directions is a sea of the most intense green you can imagine. The door opens and the rush of humidity blasts in and the long, slow sweat begins. You realize immediately you are in a place unlike any other.

Getting to and from this spot requires, in our case, plane then bus then boat. The boats are dugouts, thin and relatively fast, but speed isn’t of the essence here. In fact, the slower the better. The hours on the boat are a good time to just take things in, sleep, enjoy the heat, or in our case bust open a bottle of Adam’s favorite Pisco, which I have to say was maybe one of the best packing jobs of all time. Thanks Adam.

Ultimately we ended up at the Tambopata Research Center.

The Tambopata Research Center (TRC) of Rainforest Expeditions is situated in the Tambopata National Reserve on the upper Tambopata River in the center of a large uninhabited track of primary tropical lowland forest, very near to the Bahuaja-Sonene National Park, in the Madre de Dios Region of Peru.
The area hosts a unique forest environment, with the highest concentrations of avian clay licks in the world. A range of animals comes to satisfy their need for salt along the river banks of the region. Sometimes hundreds of macaws can be seen at the Collpa Colorado clay-lick near to the research center.

As you all know, I’m not a landscape photographer and I don’t normally shoot wildlife. I LOVE both of these things but never feel like I ever do them justice. However, when thrust into these places, environments and situations I make my pictures. They might not look like the normal landscape or wildlife images, but they mean something to me and I enjoy making them. The longest lens I had was a 50mm, so not really equipped for this type of heavy lifting, but I think these pictures still work, and the audio file is priceless. Think the jungle is quiet? Think again.

Perhaps the best part of this entire thing was getting up long before sunrise to walk through the muddy jungle, climb into the boat, get out of the boat, walk through more muddy jungle and then wait. I grew up bird hunting, so I was used to the idea of doing all this, but not used to not shooting the birds I’d come looking for. In this case I was glad I wasn’t hunting with anything more than my trusty Leica. If you haven’t been to this region it is well worth the effort. The Peruvians have done a wonderful job of preserving this place, much better than many of the other regions in South America, but human nature requires constant diligence. My motto, if you can go, go now.

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.