Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Some teach and so do

It's the old adage, those who can, do, and those who can't, teach. It's never been true. Some photographers are oustanding but couldn't teach you beyond being assholes, and some photographers are good but can teach you more about yourself and your photography than you ever thought. And a few can do both. Rare, but a few.

My point? Well, first it's wrong to say on those who can and do are worth anything and those that only teach aren't. We know that's false. Look at all the teachers, educators and instructors in our life. Were they less than great? No, and look what they taught us and did for us, to show us to strive, excel, learn, and do our best.

And what have all the doers in our life taught us? They barely opened the door for us. They will show you what they did, how they did it, and then criticise what you did wrong. But did they and do they teach? No, they don't even inform. They lecture. And how many lectures have we listened through to forget not long afterward?

Teaching photography isn't any different than the old adage, "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and feed him for a lifetime."

Teach someone photography and then let them develop and learn. Guide them when they want or need help, but don't lecture. Ask them so they question themselves or they seek to learn. Teach them to learn and you'll open the door to the world with a camera in their hand. The rest, their work and images, is up to them, with their experience, their talent, their skill, their work, and their heart.

I once watched a photo workshop in Mt. Rainier NP, namely at Longmire. They instructor took them to one of the oldest surviving buildings from the establishment of settlements around Mt. Rainier. He showed them what he wanted and let them loose, like a quiz. They all setup within 20 feet of each other focused on the building. And they all took almost identical photos.

I wondered why the instructor didn't ask the participants to the building, "So, what do you see to photograph?" And then, "How would you compose it?", "How would you frame the light?", and so on, geting them to see photographically than rote to simply copy what the instructor asked. It's why I don't take workshops, and probably why I'm also not really that good either.

But then I've never been a follower. In October 2008 I was photographing along the Paradise Valley road. I was spending several hours setting up the 4x5 for a shot of a small waterfall. I like to play with the digital camera to get a variety of shots to see where the 4x5 would best setup. I kept going back to the van to get another lens or whatever.

When I was finishing I noticed three photographers hiking down the trail to the road. One was Art Wolfe. The other two, probably friends of his. I finished and packed up my stuff and took it back to the van. I was sitting there looking and thinking about other nearby places and shots when I noticed a one to a few people wander down the trail to the van where Art and the others were eating and talking.

Slowly all the participants walked by the my van and you could see their faces. I asked one woman, "So, how's the workshop?" She responded, "It's busy and hectic, but he is Art Wolfe." Another woman said, "It's ok, but overwhleming. And expensive." I've met people who has worked for him and they all have said he goes 90 mph, all energy, focus and talent. And exhausting.

After about 20 minutes the whole group finally assembled at the van. Without any rest, they packed up and headed on, where I saw them stop a few miles down the road (I had travelled down the road past them). It occurred to me to wonder what they folks thought they were getting for the money (roughly about $1,250 not including lodging).

I thought, you know you could buy a lot of film or use a lot of flash cards for that money. And all you needed was a good map and guide, and the interest to explore. Go here, see this, shot that photography seems kinda' overpriced to me. And what did Art actually teach they couldn't have learned with someone who actually teaches than lectures?

But that's me. Some folks like the workshops. They sell and quite a few photographers make a good income from them. But I think years later all those people will say, "I took an workshop from so and so, He was great." But then I'll would like to ask them, "So, how about your images from the workshop?" I wonder if those images are long forgotten and the lessons long faded away.

So why did they take the workshop? Some will get a lot from theirs, but I suspect it's because the photographer was a teacher as well as good photographer. Not because the photographer was famous, but because they shared and taught than showed and lectured. Doing is also teaching if it's done right.

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