Out of all our students who took the 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project this summer, George Clayton is the one who appeared determined to torture himself the most. Not only did he choose a topic that was challenging in interpretation, it also came along with obstacles of access! Luckily, George demonstrated a fabulous “can do” attitude, a skill that will serve him well in all his endeavours. Here’s George’s project statement:
My project is about advancing the positive public perception of Canadian agriculture and the men and women who shape the landscape one casually sees driving on any prairie highway. These images will hopefully reflect the care and stewardship they passionately practice year after year to produce healthy food for millions at home and abroad.
George’s passion for telling the story of farmers and agricultural families is palpable. We were fortunate enough to meet George over coffee after his project was complete and discuss in more detail the importance of creativity, daily practice and the pursuit of excellence. George will continue to work on his project over time as this is a topic near and dear to his heart and is fueled by his past work in the agricultural industry. So without further ado, here is a collection of George’s images representing the care and stewardship rural folk have for their lands.
We’ll give George the final word:
The images may not show what was to be captured with a lens during this week. But the lessons, the encouragement and the place You, Sam and Darwin took me will not be lost. I can take that year, that summer and try to capture something that could be, for me, easy to avoid. I ask for the challenge and have accepted it. There is more work to do.
Highway 762 is different things to different people; just another road on their way to somewhere else, a destination for cyclists and motorcyclists, a place to drive slowly while viewing the scenery, the route for an annual cattle drive; and probably more besides. I intend to peel back my familiarity with the subject in an attempt to reveal what I see as the essence of this short, 22 km highway.
Meet Chris Bone. Chris is someone who travels Highway 762 a lot – whenever he wants to get anywhere from his home, in fact. While there may be more iconic stretches of pavement in the world, 762 has its own particular charm. But if you are setting a mentored project for yourself, and you want to push yourself to see something… deeper than scenery, more unexpected than cliché, is a road a good subject matter to choose?
It’s certainly not an easy choice! That’s Chris’ project statement above, and his portfolio of ten images below. In some ways, Chris was easy to mentor: he needed little guidance on goal-setting, articulating his idea or curating a final collection. We think he has come up with a very thoughtful story about Highway 762 as portrayed in his photo essay below. We suspect Chris will continue to travel everyday roads and come away with something unique to say about the experience.
For previous students’ mentored projects, click here.
We love it when photographers get creative.
We also love making mentorships a weeny-teeny bit challenging for our students. Pam Jenks confessed at the outset of this mentorship that she loves “big, spectacular landscapes” but when in the field struggles a bit to see compelling leading lines or interesting foregrounds. Her initial idea involved layers. We liked that concept, but wanted to make things a bit more interesting…Pam’s job was not to photograph just simple layers, but to make an image where layers were paramount and the first impression…overlaid upon what on second look is straightforward, raw nature. No post-processing props, no glory light or dazzling colour (ok, a little colour)…Pam’s images required careful, objective seeing in the field and strong composition work.
Here is Pam’s project statement:
I want to create a collection of images where the viewer first notices layers (lines/rectangles) and then secondly sees what was used to create those layers. I’ll do this by creating abstract images; the realism of the landscape or natural scene will be hidden in those layers.
Ten of her images are below. We think she did very well, don’t you?
In fact, we think more photographers should delve as deeply into their subject matter as Pam did in this mentorship – Shrek and Donkey think so too – because everybody loves parfaits!
From the movie, Shrek:
Shrek: For your information, there’s a lot more to ogres than people think.
Shrek: Example… uh… ogres are like onions!
[holds up an onion, which Donkey sniffs]
Donkey: They stink?
Shrek: Yes… No!
Donkey: Oh, they make you cry?
Donkey: Oh, you leave ’em out in the sun, they get all brown, start sproutin’ little white hairs…
Shrek: [peels an onion] NO! Layers. Onions have layers. Ogres have layers… You get it? We both have layers.
Donkey: Oh, you both have LAYERS. Oh. You know, not everybody like onions. CAKE! Everybody loves cake! Cakes have layers!
Shrek: I don’t care what everyone likes! Ogres are not like cakes.
Donkey: You know what ELSE everybody likes? Parfaits! Have you ever met a person, you say, “Let’s get some parfait,” they say, “Hell no, I don’t like no parfait.”? Parfaits are delicious!
Shrek: NO! You dense, irritating, miniature beast of burden! Ogres are like onions! End of story! Bye-bye! See ya later.
Donkey: Parfait’s gotta be the most delicious thing on the whole damn planet!
Last week we posted Lynn Schwehr’s project about ‘seeing’ the incredible diversity and beauty of flowers. Today we want to share Erin La Place’s project from the 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project eCourse. We are excited to introduce Erin’s work in part because she engages with subject matter close to our own hearts – the prairie.
Erin works at a fulfilling but demanding job in health care in a busy city. Calling herself a prairie girl at heart, Erin heads out, camera in hand, to Alberta’s backroads and secondary highways whenever the strains of work pile up. We guided Erin to take on a challenging project theme: develop a visual narrative that brings the viewer along on her journey from stressed to discovery, healing and transformation. Here is how Erin described her project:
My project is about how I, this big city girl, when overwhelmed by the stressors of life, retreat to the Prairies to calm my senses and soothe my soul. This series of images will reflect my personal journey towards peace and healing, as I travel the roads less traveled in South and Central Alberta.
It was a pleasure to review Erin’s images which were all well-composed. Not a pokie, merger or black hole in sight! Because of Erin’s superior composition skills, she was able to successfully tackle an advanced project theme that was refreshingly original and unique. It takes bravery to put deeply personal work out there, and we salute Erin for doing so. So, here is a tightly curated series illustrating Erin’s journey. A stressed out city girl finds comfort, peace and discovery through visual meditation on the prairies, allowing her to return home transformed and healed.
Darwin and I are constantly impressed with the work of our students. It truly is a pleasure to see photographers gain confidence under our tutelage and pursue wholeheartedly their unique ideas. We’ve wrapped up the first week of our brand new eCourse, 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project. And before we begin our second course, we just had to brag a little about our first week’s students.
Lynn loves flowers. Oh sure, we all like to sniff a rose or admire a bouquet of colourful carnations. But Lynn takes appreciation of flowers and plants to a whole new level. Lynn sees flowers. With whatever tool comes to hand, be it a smartphone or dSLR, Lynn leans in close, capturing the sprinkling of pollen on a stamen or the elegant sweep of a petal. Lynn’s images are rooted in reality – we know we are looking at flowers, after all. But the everyday magic of the details of flowers is what Lynn adeptly reveals with her camera.
As part of the 7/365: The Mentored Photo Project eCourse, students are asked to define the project they wish to work on in one or two sentences. Here is what Lynn had to say:
I want to discover ways of photographing flowers to show what I can now see and to try to portray the excitement I now have.
Why is the world of flowers revealed anew for Lynn? Because, as she references in her project statement, Lynn can “now see”. A recent operation on her eyes has given her back the gift of clear and close sight. And what better blessing for a photographer! So, lean in and look closely at the world of flowers cleverly brought to life through Lynn’s eyes. We expect to see more beautiful work from this budding photographer in future.
Have you ever noticed that creative people are constantly recording their inspirations and ideas? Painters have sketch books they take with them to tinker with visual ideas. Writers sit in coffee shops, with a notebook or moleskin handy, ready to record snippets of conversations or observations for a character. Musicians used to carry small recorders to sample musical ideas. These days the smart phone is the handy recorder of choice for musicians. And with cameras built into smart phones, this back-pocket visual recorder has become the new sketch pad for photographers. And we have seen an explosion of creativity emerge simply because photographers now always have a camera with them in the form of their smart phone. The problem with smart phones is that they can be as much of a distraction as a creative tool. Instead of concentrating on making visual sketches, the photographer is also checking email, watching his Instagram feed and following the latest episode of his favourite Youtube channel. Meanwhile visual gifts flow by unnoticed.
When I am out and about doing errands and daily tasks I constantly see cool little visual vignettes that I wished I had recorded. We don’t own a smart phone and if we are not ‘on a photo shoot’ we leave the cameras at home so these little scenes are just ephemerally enjoyed in the moment – which is fine but sometimes I wish I could revisit those moments.
For my summer project I resolve to take a camera with me everywhere I go so I can capture the visual treats that present themselves constantly. These little ‘photo doodles’ I plan to put in a scrapbook along with my thoughts and impressions of each moment. Often I find that this type of visual journal is a springboard to launch larger projects. I’ll share the results of this Photo Doodle project on the blog and on the project page. Below are some recent doodles from the last few days. By the way, if you’re interested in trying out your own photo project but need help along the way our new eCourse 7/365 – The Mentored Photo Project might just be the ticket to kick start your creativity (we even have special pricing for those who commit before June 30th). Happy doodles!
In our last blog post, Samantha talked about recent ‘mini-mentorship’ projects that we gave each other. Sam’s project was about personalized tree portraits, mine was about discovering artful design in nature and capturing that design in-camera. For me, the mentorship was incredibly valuable because it helped me recognize and articulate where I was and where I wanted to go as an artist. Once that was clear, the world opened up to infinite possible further project ideas. One of the main reasons that many photographers get in a visual rut and are not inspired is because they simply do not know who they are creatively. Knowing what your inner voice wants to say frees you from external constraints that hold you back.
As a mentor I learned to see the biases and expectations and self-doubt on the part of the mentee. Making assignments that addressed these issues forced the mentee to face the roadblocks to her creativity. Through teaching another you learn just as much about yourself and your own creative roadblocks. For both of us we emerged from the small mentored project with stronger artistic voices and renewed creative drive. Plus, we liked the results of our fun little projects! And now we just want to do more, both as mentors and as mentored artists.
Our students may not believe it, but sometimes Darwin and I torture – ahem! – teach each other through guided assignments. Relatively recently we experimented with small, mentored projects. Here’s how it worked: one of us picked a topic to shoot – that person was the mentee – and the other developed a series of linked assignments within an overall goal for the project – that person was the mentor. We took the projects seriously with concrete deadlines – that was the torture part – and managed to complete the projects between and sometimes during other work events. We then swapped roles. My project was about trees, of course!
When you know most of your partner’s strengths and weaknesses, you learn to be diplomatic in your critiques for the sake of your personal relationship and, in our case, our business relationship as well. But you also benefit from the deep interest you take in your partner’s creative development. It’s something we strive to bring to our work through oopoomoo as well. Here’s Darwin’s instructions to me to fit my art in “snippets of time” between working with students at a workshop.
I decided to fit my project, which was all about capturing the essence or soul of tree personalities in nature, into a scrapbook. I put the assignments and the images in the book. The project was a combination of drawings, musings, assignments and photographs.
What was the point, you may be wondering? Fun! Creativity! Just ’cause! Even though I have a larger, multi-year project underway called Pressed Landscapes, these ‘mini-mentorships’ were about shaking off the shackles of working as a commercial artist and just shooting some little idea that appealed to me, engaging in something that was stimulating and fun. As a mentor, I honed my skills at listening to my student’s interests and gently guiding him through blind spots. As a student, I reminded myself to be open to constructive feedback, ignoring the urge to defend a shot, and instead take a step away from the work to see it for how it really came across. It was good to be on both sides of the desk.
Watch for Darwin’s post about his small project mentorship this Friday!