Shaking off the dust….

One of the things I’ve noticed with modern photography is our expectation of being really good really fast. It’s so EASY to make pictures, so if we can make them so effortlessly then why shouldn’t we be able to make great work right away? Outside of the lucky situation, photography typically doesn’t work that way.
I know for me it takes a lot of time, energy, practice and rhythm. Yes, rhythm. When I don’t shoot for a long period of time I actually have to get out in the field and shake the mental and physical dust off BEFORE I’m able to really work at a level that I’m satisfied with.

So a few short weeks ago I taught a workshop in Victoria BC, hosted by Luz Gallery and all their fine folks. We had a class of ten rabid students all waiting to make a few “documentary portraits.” I arrived in Victoria a day early and the weather was absolutely perfect. Standing in the hotel room, running my hands over my equipment-something we all do admit it-I realized it felt a bit foreign. My gear felt like a family member I’d known my entire life, but someone I hadn’t seen in years.

So I grabbed the Leica and the Fuji GF 670 folding camera and went out to shake off the dust. I left the hotel, walked straight to the harbor and immediately began asking strangers if I could “make their portrait.” All I was doing was trying to get my head back in the game of being a photographer. Like many of you, my head is polluted with far too many things, so many that I can’t possibly concentrate on what I need to unless I quiet all the work, family and business voices floating around in my melon.
So I headed out and just began to shoot anyone, anywhere in any way. The first image was the young girl in the “Canada” shirt, who I intentionally shot in extreme backlit conditions. I wanted to FEEL the light through the viewfinder as it pierced my eye. I wanted to see how my hands fit on the camera, where my “default” finger position was. And, I wanted to talk to people I didn’t know. I wanted to see what I could get away with if you will.

Walking up to strangers, asking them to make a portrait, is something that freaks a lot of people out, but as a photographer you just have to be able to do it, so like finding my rhythm with my gear I’m also looking for a similar connection with the people I’m photographing. I see them approaching and I try and determine what my odds are. Sometimes I go after the most difficult looking person, NOT because I’m looking for a great image, I’m simply forcing myself into the world I need to be in to be able to eventually get the images I want.

Again, when I walked around Victoria I was not looking for great images. I know that might sound odd but I wasn’t. It’s not that I’m ignoring that opportunity, but I’m mostly getting into the right mindset. I’m looking for people, faces, interaction, conversation, light and to get my timing back online. For the first day I normally SEE images instead of MAKE images. And if this doesn’t happen to you, keep it to yourself! I don’t want to know I’m the only person this happens to?

I typically set a goal for myself, say a single roll of 220 Portra, and then I make myself go use it. Anyone who comes near me, “Hey, can I make your portrait?” These images, or portraits, are made in 15-seconds or less. “Thank you,” and I’m gone. I see a patch of good light, I shoot it. Just to remind myself of the primary ingredients. A bird takes flight. I shoot it. Get my timing going. And I’m also waiting for that first, “No thank you,” that comes when you ask and get shot down. For me, it always feels horrible, but I know it’s coming. I need to feel it to feel alive in some strange way. It reminds me this isn’t easy, we only think it is.

Workshop Photography: What to Expect

Okay, this is a long one. With so many workshops these days I wanted to explain a bit about how I view these events, and also how I think it might benefit you to view them. Creating a telling body of work in a week or ten days is nearly impossible, but there are many ways of “learning” during a workshop and not all of them translate to the actual image making. I’ve taken several workshops in my life, and made a few good images here and there. But, I learned a tremendous amount from all of them. Examples? Okay, from Robb Kendrick I learned about what personal work really meant. I learned realities of what it meant to be a pro and I learned about the balance of work in a long career. With Chris Rainer I learned about how long it takes to make great work and I also learned about black and white printing. Yes, in a class shooting color slides I learned about black and white printing by Chris showing me straight prints from the Ansel Adams collection. I learned, at least a tiny amount, about how Ansel saw light and how he envisioned his final print. It BLEW ME AWAY and it had nothing to do with me actually making images that day. If you are heading to South America to make the same exact images you make at home…..I’d still love to have you, but I want more from you than your safety zone. I really do. In fact, and this sounds odd, I want you fail, at least to some degree. I would love for you to forget about being a photographer and think more about living a creative life. If you connect with your surroundings, the images will come. These classes are so much fun, and typically lead to more action in a short time than you can imagine. The images below and many of those in the slideshow are simple, Leica, black and white snaps. I think keeping your gear to a minimum is critical during these classes. If you are staring at your gear you are not staring at what you need to be staring at. Know what I mean? These images were all made WHILE I was teaching, or at least monitoring(With Jefe Weintraub) the class members and making sure people were taken care of, so just imagine what you can do with a clear mind and some critical focus. I think ultimately, when you boil it down, these trips are about furthering our understanding of a culture, connecting with a place and people(Including the food and wine, or Pisco!), elevating our level of image making and experiencing what it means to be a traveler. It’s gonna be real. See you there.

This is a long slideshow, but if there is something in there you need me to expand on, please let me know.



Organizing a Project: The Notebook

I thought this might be helpful to some folks, including those who are attending my upcoming workshops. As many of you know, I’m a serial bookmaker, but I’m also a serial journal maker, have been for many, many years. I believe how you organize and record your projects is essential to the overall piece and can make or break an entire project by allowing you to pull back small bits of information that might have been lost had you not cemented them, literally, in your book of choice. As you will see, I keep a variety of these books and use them on a daily basis. The kicker….these are a total blast to create, and for those of you who don’t print your work, well, welcome to the promised land.

And just in case you wanted one more way of seeing this book:

Argentina + Uruguay: Designing the South American Book

“I’m going to take my best twenty-five images of “____X________” and make a book.”

I have heard this statement countless times from friends and fellow photographers.

My question in return is “Is that a book or a portfolio?”

I know now to ask this question because I too made the bold statement above and didn’t at first realize there were many differences between making a book and a portfolio, or a catalog for that matter. But after making so many damn books over the past few years, I’ve learned at little more about book making strategy.
Defining what you are going to make is one of those critical first steps required before you embark on the journey that will be your book, or portfolio or catalog.

Allow me to regress.

A few months ago I got an email from a long, lost friend. My friend has an accent, had once lived in Los Angeles, where I met him, but had chosen to return to the land of his roots which happens to be Uruguay. My friend is Martin Herrera Soler, a photographer and technology specialist who also runs a photography workshop program in Montevideo. Latitude 34 South.

“Dan,” he asked. “Do you want to teach with us?”

You might think my answer was immediate but it wasn’t. Earlier in the year I decided to cut back on my teaching schedule so planning and pulling off a foreign workshop was not high on my list. But, a few things got my mental wheels turning. After our first few communications I realized that Martin was so intelligent, organized and enthusiastic I found myself saying, “I have to teach with this guy.” Second, Martin sent me images of Uruguay. Being the typical American, public school slacker that I am, my knowledge of Uruguay entailed little beyond a vague idea of how to spell U-R-U_G-U-A-Y. And I knew it was south of my current location. And then I saw the photos. And then I cried because where I live doesn’t look like that. I’ve included images here to give you a small taste. I’ve been to South America several times, but Uruguay looks different, and different to me means interesting and photo-rich.

So guess what? We are headed south once again. A Latitude 34 South + Milnor Pictures production of Argentina + Uruguay.

There are several things you should know about this workshop. We have a target rich plan in agenda in place including not only our time in Uruguay but also four days of work in Argentina, where the workshop will begin. We will not be lacking in material. Also, we are seriously going to “book it.” I don’t mean travel fast or get arrested, I mean we are going to create our work with the concept of “book” front and center in our mind. We are actually going to shoot, edit, sequence and design books.
If you are reading this and thinking, “But I’ve already made a book,” I just have a few simple questions for you. Is it a good book? Is it perfect? If you made that same book again would it look exactly like the version you already have? Me, I’ve made over 120 books and if I made those books again I would change something about every single one of them. This is just book life, and there is so darn much to learn. Just to hit you with a few tidbits…

Front matter, back matter, introductions, essays, titles, half-titles, pacing, sequencing, borders, typography, branding, book size, page count, etc, are just a few of the things we will discuss, decide and implement. At the heart of any good illustrated book is the illustration right? So, with that in mind, I asked Martin to round up a few images of the area we will be heading. I did this for your viewing pleasure people!

Did I mention that part of what we will photograph in Uruguay is the Carnival? Oh ya, there’s that. This particular part is called Candombe, which you can read about here.
If that isn’t enough, how about a video about this little event. And people, these images are only a portion of the Uruguay section of this trip. There is an entire Argentina portion as well.

I wanted to get the idea of this workshop out as quickly as possible. Our lives today are packed, scheduled and committed. So, this workshop is schedule for early 2012, so plenty of time to get your ducks in a row. I can’t tell you how excited I am about this little adventure. I’ve not been to either Argentina or Uruguay and seeing a new place gets my heart racing, even though this trip is several months away. My mind races with possibilities, small books, large books, essays and angles. There is much to do. I will be posting more about this in the coming weeks, months, but if there is a specific angle you want to cover in regards to this adventure, don’t be shy.

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.