First: I am going to write this is English, even though my English-skills are far from perfect. I just want that my Foundation-family can read this too. If you are thinking about doing Foundation workshop: please remember that this experience is different for everyone, this is only my story. And Erin and Craig: I’m sorry. This is going to be another 5-page story.
So, Foundation Workshop. It’s this awesome photojournalism workshop that transforms you into the next photography-superhero in just 4 short days (and sleepless-nights). You get a really hard photojournalism assignment, shoot shitty images, get yelled at by your teachers, cry a lot, hate yourself, reach the point where you want to sell all your gear and look for another job. But then you suddenly see the light at the end of the tunnel (because that is supposed to happen/what you paid for), fix all your problems, create awesome stuff, everybody cheers, hugs and high-fives you, and you go back home as a better photographer, a better person, maybe even a better wife to my husband… I mean, everthing is going to be better after Foundation!
These were my thoughts when I first heard about the workshop, and I was hoping that this would be my Foundation experience. It turned out to be nothing like that….
When I arrived in Texas I was super nervous. For 2 years now, I dreamt of doing this workshop. I was at a point in my career where I felt stuck and I needed an intense learning experience to work on what was holding me back and to take my photography to the next level. I realized that I didn’t want to be a ‘wedding photographer’ who is just shooting the kiss and the cutting of the cake. I want to make a connection, tell the story of that specific group of people and what makes them unique, and capture moments that matter, make images that resonate. I wanted to learn more about the difference between taking candid/unposed pictures, and telling the story. I believed in my heart that Foundation was the place to learn about this, but when it was finally here I wasn’t so sure anymore if I was ready. After studying documentary photography for 4 years at an artschool and allways feeling like I had to work reallyreally hard and still wasn’t good enough, I was afraid that Foundation was going to be the same experience. I was afraid I wouldn’t ‘get it’ and not learn a thing. That I couldn’t handle the critiques. That I would fail on my assignment. That I wasn’t good enough… again.
But my fears disappeared after I talked to Craig Fritz, one of the mentors (who later turned out to be MY mentor, yay!), on the first night of the workshop. He completely understood why I came to Foundation and reassured me that I was in the right place to learn what I wanted/needed to learn; to be a better storyteller. It was that moment when I realized that this was going to be a completely different experience than artschool.
After meeting my team and bonding over truth&dare, we got our assignments. My assignment was to capture 2 days in the life of the Stanford Family; Brad & Brandynn, and their kids MaeLan, Robin, Giddeon, Tabitha and Meribee. I was excited: I had done a ‘Day in the life’ session before so this wasn’t something completely out of my comfort zone. I had the feeling I could do this. Sure, the nerves kicked in the next morning, when after a few hours of sleep I parked my car in front of the Stanfords farmhouse. But to my surprise, that first day of shooting wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be. It was a challenge to make the photos I wanted, but I also had a lot of fun. I enjoyed spending time with the Stanfords, wo made me feel at home from the minute I stepped into their lives. My teamleader Erin and mentor Craig visited me on my assignment, and encouraged me to carefully choose my compositions, wait for the right moment and not being affraid to get close when I needed to. After shooting a whole day, our team reviewed all of our images untill 2 in the morning. There were many things I needed to work on to turn an ‘ok’ picture into and amazing picture, but overall I had a good feeling about this: I could do this. Day 2 was going to be great!
But oh boy, day 2 was hard. I had to fight some old habits and it wasn’t easy… In the morning, I thought everything was going well. I tried to apply some of the things I learned after day one and felt like it was working and I was creating good images. So when Craig arrived, I/my ego hoped he would be super happy with my work. But when he pointed out things I needed to work on I couldn’t see the opportunity to learn, and I started to doubt myself as a photographer. I focussed so hard on doing well on my assignment and getting good critiques from my teachers, that I forgot that Foundation Workshop is about the process, not about the results. As the day progressed, I became impatient and frustrated because I felt that my images weren’t progressing. And after hours of shooting and feeling like I ended up with nothing, I started to panick. I texted Erin: ‘I don’t know what to do, feel like I keep shooting the same images over and over again.’ Erin adviced me to stop taking pictures and take a break, sit outside in the sun and clear my head. I did, and by the time she arrived to see how I was doing, I was feeling a bit better. She looked at my images, pointed out the things I needed to work on and coached me while I was shooting. I calmed down, and started using my brain and trusting my heart again. Erin taught me to work hard for my images: take a risk, get the composition you need (also if it means you have to lie down in some chickenpoop), and wait for the moment. And maybe the magical moment you are hoping for doesn’t happen, but make sure you are ready when it does. She gave me the confidence that I could do this. And hours later, back at the hotel during the critique sessions, an image popped up on the projector screen that showed me that sometimes everything does come together. And that I was there to capture it when it happenned.
Foundation was different than I expected. I did cry, but not because it was too hard. I didn’t hate myself, my teachers didn’t yell at me, I didn’t reach the point where I wanted to sell all my gear and look for another job. My asignment wasn’t the hardest thing I ever had to do. Foundation Workshop didn’t fix all my problems, and I didn’t get to go home as the next photography-superhero. Foundation taught me that this workshop is only the beginning. I learned how to LEARN. To me, criticism on my work used to be the confirmation that I wasn’t good enough. A failed photo proof that I just couldn’t do it. I believe that’s why I so desperately wanted to do well on my assignment: I wanted to proof to myself and others that I am a good photographer. But the assignment is an opportunity to practice and learn, not to show how awesome you are. From now on, I will work on seeing ‘failed photographs’ as an opportunity to learn. I learned that I can trust my heart, and gained the confidence to believe that I can be a better photographer than I thought I could be. It was about learning that you can achieve a LOT by hard work, determination and being eager to learn. I learned that even my photography-superheroes weren’t born as ‘PhotographerOfTheYear’: they earned their superpowers through HARD work. And they’re still not done learning. I learned about the importance of experimenting, about taking a risk and not knowing if it will work out, but understanding that this is an important part of learning. I learned about working really hard (whatever the circumstances or how tired you are) to shoot past the obvious and not being happy with the first decent image that pops up on my screen. To be patient, wait, feel and create something that is so much more meaningfull than 10 ‘ok’ images. I learned many things that I can start to work on right away, but I also feel like there is a much deeper layer in what I learned and I only scratched the surface about discovering what that is. This is what makes Foundation so special, and completely different from any other (photography) workshop I attended in my life.
I can’t end this story without naming some of the amazing people I met there; my team. Erin Chrisman and Craig Fritz, who are both incredible teachers. And my teammates, the talented Erika Jensen-Mann, Gary Nevitt and Kate Crabtree. I feel so lucky to have met you and learned from you guys 🙂