I have spent the last 6 days in Glen Rose, TX with some of the best wedding photographers in the world and today on my drive back to Austin I had a chance to reflect on the last 3 foundation workshops I have been lucky enough to be a part of. I have never written about the first 2 foundation workshops I attended so I figured after 2 years it’s about time.
I will start with giving a little history of the the foundation workshops. The workshop was founded by Huy over 10 years ago and has now traveled across the world to Spain, Mexico, & the Netherlands. Short and simple, this workshop is about becoming a better documentary photographer. It does so by putting you in real situations, an assignment, just like a newspaper would. At night you go through the photos with your team, going over your mistakes and finding ways to fix them and finding a story. The days are long, intense, & emotional but that just allows for the lessons to sink in better.
I arrived at the Holiday Inn in Glen Rose, TX in January 2012 terrified and intimidated. So intimidated that when my team leader, Tyler Wirken, got to know me better he admitted that he had initially believed me to be a very different kind of person. We spent the first day getting to know our team members by… lets just say being silly. Later that night we received our assignments; albeit unamused with having the earliest, I went to sleep excited, determined, & trying to predict what my assignment would be like, I was so wrong. I showed up to a house in Cleburne at 7:00am sharp. The sun was not quite out, the temperature was perfect and no one answered the door. I went back to the car and frantically called Tyler & Janine, neither answered. I went back to the door to which a lovely mother of 6 from ages 18 months to 18 years answered the door somewhat surprised to see me. “Oh, that’s this week!? Can you come back again next week? This week is going to be crazy!” I politely explained that I wouldn’t be able to and she graciously let me in to her home to begin my adventure. I spent the first 30 minutes talking to her, too nervous to even take a photo and when I did start I shot with an 85mm to avoid getting close. I could write a novel about the 3 12 hour days I ended up spending with this family and the connection I made with them. They opened up their lives to me and I am forever grateful for that. For the 3rd day I was pushed by Tyler, Erwin, & Kirsten to get a photo of them going to bed to close out their story, an area I felt restricted from initially. I was pushed because it was something that I also personally wanted, a photo to end the slideshow, a photo that would represent conquering my personal boundaries. I spent all day working up to get this shot and still didn’t make the final slideshow but it did not matter. I came back to Tyler’s hotel room crying and ecstatic that I did it. They were so proud of me and I felt like my life had changed forever after that. I became a better person because I cared about people that were very different than me and that difference didn’t influence me to love them any less. Beyond learning to love others more I learned how to love myself more. My team saw something in me that I was hiding, something that was good and worth sharing, myself! I had realized that I was holding myself back because I was not comfortable in my own skin. I have since become shameless of my horrible dance moves. I will never forget the way these people have changed my life and feel eternally bonded to them.
A month or so after the workshop Huy announced the Glen Rose workshop for the following year. Living off of a “post-foundation-high” (pfh) I was determined to be a part of it again. I signed up to Ben Chrisman‘s advanced team & within the first hour it was filled. The first night of the workshop was spent getting to know our team in a very different way than Tyler’s team. We poured our hearts out, I cried before I could even speak. That Chrisman guy knows how to get to me. We were given the challenge of finding our own subjects to photograph. I picked the pastor of a cowboy church and he luckily agreed after 1 phone call. I was interested in covering his religious dedication in a unique setting. The assignment was nothing like I had anticipated though, apparently cowboy pastors need day jobs too. I drove with my subject to Oklahoma for his work and got to know his troubled past. Which lead for him to trust me enough to let him into his trailer home. I was challenged by the simplicity of his current life and the complexities of his past. It was less difficult in some ways the 2nd time because I knew what to expect. In other ways my assignment wasmore difficult because it was very boring at times, I really had to find the moments. Ben, Brett, & Craig are amazing teachers together because they took the time to understand what I specifically needed to work on.
I said this after my slideshow played at 12b but at the 1st workshop I became a better person, the 2nd I became a better photographer, the 3rd was invaluable. Truly. I really wanted the staff photographer position after attending 11a. I told anyone I thought would have influence over the decision. I wanted to experience the workshop from the staff perspective but still photograph. I was beyond excited when Huy informed me that I would be the photographer for FW12b. It was the ultimate FW challenge. For 2 days (out of my 4 days shooting) I drove around 450 miles and got lost on country roads trying to find homes without numbers showing or on 2000 acres of land & without cell service. I visited all 26 students around Dublin, Stephenville, Granbury, and Glen Rose. Then after 11 hours of shooting in the field I came back to the hotel to scarf down a lovely dinner organized by the amazing Kelly and her crew to then shoot critiques for 4 more hours. Every night I would cull in bed and sometimes I fell asleep while doing it. During the day Ben would guide me via the ‘find my friends’ app from the hotel to locations that were more difficult to find and tone photos when he wasn’t busy assisting David Murray’s team. He was a huge asset. By Thursday, the slideshow day, I woke up at 9am and immediately started preparing the slideshow. I didn’t leave the room until 5pm when I was almost done. Later that night I enjoyed the student’s slideshows with a perpetual anxiety of the upcoming preview of my own. When mine played I was drinking my 3rd glass of champagne while Kathryn Krueger and Kirsten Lewis gave me words of encouragement along the way. The claps and yells during certain photos became clouded and muffled as I waited for it to be over anticipating the most pessimistic of situations; it left me unable to appreciate the excitement of everyone else. However, when I walked up to the front to say a few words, I felt the immense love that fills my heart the way that the foundation workshops always has in the past. I love these people, my subjects, I really do, and that is what Tyler taught me to do from the very beginning.