Eyes Wide Open

Anne and I did a workshop with Eddie Soloway recently at the Pacific Northwest Art School. The school is located in beautiful Coupeville on Whidbey Island and hosts some pretty famous photographers such as Sam Abell. Eddie’s workshop was all about learning to see the world in front of you, opening your eyes to reflections, new angles, color, and patterns. Having never taken a workshop before, I was really impressed with the balance struck between the range of skills in the room and the topics covered in the short two days we had.

Primarily, the workshop was mostly lecture format, with two shooting assignments that helped reinforce the concepts discussed. We spent the majority of the first day covering the core material through a combination of simple exercises, slides, and lecture. This culminated in the first nights assignment, “Find your Mt. Fuji.”

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For those not familiar, this refers to a series of 36 prints done of Mt Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai (Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji). In each, Mt. Fuji is depicted in a completely different scene illustrating the variance you can achieve even when you pick a single subject. For me, my Mt. Fuji was leaves (and I suppose some petals). It was a pretty simple topic, but I quickly found myself pushing normal boundaries by playing with focus and composition in ways that I’d never really tried before.

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Quite literally, I spent 30 minutes focused on the branch of a particular tree, looking up at the sky and framing my images more carefully. Most of the time I was in manual focus, which allowed me to roll the focus in an out to help me see abstractions that I wouldn’t normally have bothered with. Anne and I closed out shooting around dusk, and hurried back towards Coupeville to grab dinner.

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Next day, we spent the majority of the morning walking over 6 images each from the previous evening’s assignment in a critique session and moved to lunch with another assignment. This time, each of us was given a short phrase that we needed to interpret via photography. Mine had to do with the abstraction reminding me of Japanese print and Anne had something to do with reflections. The point was rather simple, and Eddie did a good job referring to it in his lectures the day before. By looking at other forms of art, both written and visual, you can help illuminate feelings that can turn into new creative ideas.

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Anne and I ran around Coupeville, both working to try and find something that would help to illustrate the concept we’d been given. We didn’t have a lot of time, and we needed to cram lunch in too, which made the whole thing harder than it should have been. Plus, the Victoria Clipper was in town, cramming all the local eateries full of people.

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Eddie closed out the day talking about some other topics of interest around the room, including how best to put together portfolios and another round robin of work that people had on their own web sites and such.

All up, it was a great workshop that helped me expand just a little past where I normally find comfort. And that’s really the point. If you live around Seattle, you should really check out the classes at the Pacific Northwest Arts School. It’s close by and they do manage to bring in some good talent!