the workshop

Thoughts on remembering this day last year which was day two of a weekend workshop with Mary Ellen Mark at the Center for Photography in Woodstock.  

I've reflected long and deep on the kaleidoscope of emotions ... moments of celebration and inspiration, others of anxiety and humility and a willingness to simply wilt and let the layers peel off inside for often times the wrath of less desired emotions permits a passage to the other side; it was these thoughts that surfaced during the ride through upstate New York heading to photograph at the Columbia County Fair. And the instant we arrived at the fairgrounds, my eye latched onto two little girls in cowboy hats and boots entering with their grandparents and a wish to bump into them that day to take their picture. In hindsight, it was this need to photograph that moved me forward. 

After we'd entered and set up a home-base, Mary Ellen confirmed with each of us what we'd be focusing on for the day (for me this was portraits) and we were turned loose to create.

I started off in an area with a lineup of girls who were performing gymnastics and dance steps and was making my way to the midway; I'd just turned a corner when i came face to face with the two little girls i saw at the entrance who just happened to be getting off a ride next to a tent that featured the word 'America'. My heart lept with excitement and after an introduction and request from their grandparents, I took a few photographs of the two girls together, and then this one ...

america, august 2014

A picture which instantly became my favorite of the day, and one of the my most favorite photographs I've ever taken for the emotions of an elegant longing mixed with nostalgia and a subtle humor; an end result that Mary Ellen pointed out as my own little gift in the world. My experience at the fair was one of a deeply felt love of the people, the place, and the real gift of exchange; lost in the making of pictures that i felt in my heart and soul, learning from a woman who's conviction of being was a gift to us all.

While I had hoped to continue on in a workshop with Mary Ellen again this year, her sudden passing in late May (ironically at the beginning of summer) left me mute. And as the center for photography is honoring Mary Ellen with a remembrance on the weekend that she led workshops for so many years,  I was asked to contribute a few words on what she gave me...what i took away from my brief little time with her. It was in the remembering that i revisited all those thoughts and emotions and feelings and impressions. She was a blessing and I'll treasure the experience I had with her for the rest of my life. I've included my remembrance below the picture she allowed me to take at the end of the day.

mary ellen mark, august 31, 2014

mary ellen mark, august 31, 2014

Mary Ellen’s impact on me in part was to expand my view with a strength of purpose and intent. She helped me see more of what I do naturally and how to push beyond my comfort zone. I was struck by the depth and breadth of her work and her discipline in the edit. In all, I took away the sincerity of her truths – a real love of the artform and a reverence for her subjects. 

The photographs i took during my time at the fair have become etched into my DNA for all they represent to me -  symbols of hope and persistence, of dusting oneself off and going forward or realizing that sometimes, you have to go through the agony within to see the beauty on the other side; to the people who trusted me and allowed me to glimpse into their presence of being, an exchange i felt so deeply I cried with gratitude on the long drive back home. For an experience that has taught me that photographing is in the exchange and the giving, here are the gifts i received.