October 14, 2011

Dispatch from New York

This post originally appeared as a part of a post on the NPPA's The Visual Student:

Students get feedback on their portfolios late into the night at the 11:30 club.
Kent Nishimura, 26, is from Honolulu, Hawaii and is a student at the University of Hawaii. He has done freelance and internship work with Ka Leo O Hawaii, Getty Images, The Honolulu Advertiser, The New York Times, Bloomberg News, and Agence France-Presse.

Team: Lilac
Leader: Stacy Pearsall
Editor: Jamie Wellford
Tech: Allison Lucas
Theme: Talent

Living in the middle of the Pacific doesn’t afford me the opportunity to attend a lot of workshops regularly, but when I had found out that I had indeed been accepted to Barnstorm XXIV, the Eddie Adams workshop, I immediately booked my plane tickets. While I can’t compare Barnstorm to other photo workshops like the Missouri or Mountain Workshops, it’s been perhaps the most unique, amazing experience of my life so far.

Many friends told me that Barnstorm this magical workshop where they met amazing people and lasting friendships were forged, but as I found out this past weekend, that was just the tip of the ice berg.  My good friend Cory Lum was the first to introduce me to the idea of applying to the workshop.  He’s an 1993 alumni of the workshop, from the blue team with Chris Hondros, Alex Garcia, and Ami Vitale.  One day over beers, he suggested I apply for the workshop. “It’s an amazing experience. It’ll blow your mind” he said.

After two years of getting rejection letters, I finally got it.  I received word during lunch with my girlfriend via a text message from my friend Patrick Fallon.

“You got in to Eddie Adams!” he wrote.

In the middle of the crowded restaurant, I jumped up from my seat and started cheering at the top of my lungs; people stopped eating and awkwardly stared at me, but I didn’t care.

For those of you who don’t know who Eddie Adams is, or what the Barnstorm Workshop is, Eddie Adams (1933-2004) was a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist who covered 13 wars and was recognized with over 500 awards during his lifetime. He founded the Workshop along with his wife Alyssa, who still allows students into her home and continues the tradition of Eddie’s vision.  Every year, the workshop selects 50 students, and 50 just starting-out professionals for an intensive four day workshop in Jeffersonville, NY.

Fast forward to October 7, 2011.  From across the world, 100 students from all walks of photography — photojournalism, portraiture, sports photography, commercial studio work, and more — descended upon Jeffersonville, NY for the workshop.  On the ride up to the Catskills, we talked about what type of photography each of us pursued, and where we were from.  We shared out expectations of the workshop, and whom we hoped to get a chance to meet.  But nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing could have prepared me for the walk up the hill; being cheered on by hundreds of faculty, staff, and volunteers — all of whose goal was giving each and every student the experience of a lifetime.  Each day after the first was better and better.

In what seemed like an extremely short four days, we were able to listen and learn about the the latest work and ideas coming out of Sports Illustrated from Jimmy Colton and Steve Fine; soon after we were listening to Eugene Richards speak about his experiences during work on long term projects, Doug Menuez speak about photographing Steve Jobs, post-Apple in the mid 80s and listening to Bill Eppridge tell his story about his time following Robert F. Kennedy on the campaign trail.

My favorite speech, was from Red Team Leader and New York Times Staff Photographer Todd Heisler.  Todd spoke mainly about two bodies of work, first was his famous Pulitzer-Prize winning essay, “Final Salute” from his time at the Rocky Mountain News, he spent a year documenting the work of Major Steve Beck and the Marine Honor Guard who handle family notifications and the funerals of Marines killed during the Iraq War.  The second was a project that the New York Times conducted in 2009 called “One in 8 Million” where Todd and other staff from the Times profiled 54 New Yorkers every week for a little over year.  The series won a News and Documentary Emmy Award in 2010.  Todd spoke about the impact the projects had upon him, and how they shaped the way he grew as a photographer.

Probably the most difficult thing about the workshop was that there were so many things to do and experience, but just not enough time in the day for what we were trying to accomplish. Aside from the speakers, for a good majority of the weekend students worked on completing a documentary essay structured around their teams theme.  It was a good opportunity for students to work on deadline, and with extremely skilled editors.
It was normal for students to finish for the day and get back to the hotel around 2 o’clock in the morning, only having to wake up four hours later.
“You will sleep when you are dead, or at the end of this workshop.” said Stacy Pearsall, my team leader during our first team meeting at Eddie’s farm.
We all laughed nervously because deep down, we all knew she was right.

My team, the Lilac Team, had the theme of “Talent” – between the Ten of us, we each photographed a person in the town of Sullivan and did our best to find and tell a story about who they are and what their talents are.  Each story was thoroughly researched by our team’s producer, New York based Leah Latella.
I got to spend my time photographing Ramona Jan of Damascus, Pennsylvania who lived along the Delaware river.  Ramona owns a store called “Vintage Bling” and aside from selling vintage clothes and jewelry, she made lamps from recycled antiques and ceramic doll heads.

I spent a nice chunk of my first shooting day getting Ramona accustomed to me being there, I wanted her to eventually think of me as just another item in her studio where she made her lamps.  A fly on the wall if you will.  Being a fly on the wall would allow her to open up and not act any certain type of way, allowing me to capture who she really is.  It was very cool being able to watch the physical manifestation of her creative process at work while she assembled, disassembled and re-assembled the lamp she was working on, only to disassemble it again.

After shooting, editing, and listening to speakers, students were able to get their work reviewed by editors and photographers from many different newspapers, magazines, and agencies at the 1130 club.  I got to meet and show my work to Patrick Witty of TIME, Sandy Ciric, Pierce Wright, Michael Heiman and Mario Tama of Getty Images, Diana Suryakusuma of Bloomberg Business week, and Jimmy Colton of Sports Illustrated to name a few.

Todd Heisler, Jimmy Colton, Leah Latella, Jamie Wellford and my teammates gave me the support I needed throughout the weekend, and really put a lot of things into perspective for me.  Where my work needed improvement, and helped me realize that I don’t need to move from Hawaii to pursue stories…just yet.  But, beyond my work, and what i needed to do to improve, I realized that I had become a part of something bigger than all of us, I made friendships and connections with people from across the world — all of whom I am proud to know, and call them Ohana.