How can you put yourself in the skin of a beginner? What and how much do they know and how can you teach them more?
I had been asking myself these questions while brainstorming for a little photography workshop that was part of the program activities on a recent youth exchange, Youth Journalism Academy. Some of the participants have already been shooting for a while, but for others photography was a yet unexplored world.
The topic of the exchange was civic journalism (called also public journalism) which, according to Wikipedia, is the idea of integrating journalism into the democratic process. The media not only informs the public, but it also works towards engaging citizens and creating public debate.
I thought about going around the city and photographing events that could be meaningful for the public and structured my workshop around that while focusing on photography as a medium.
Practice makes perfect (well, almost) and there’s no way of growing as a photographer if you don’t shoot, just as there is no way of becoming an athlete if you don’t do sports. Some people are born with a talent in the field of visual arts, but without practice their talents won’t have a chance to develop and shine.
Composition, colour and light are the most important elements of a photo and their cohesion is what makes an impact on us. Since the notion of civic journalism is creating news with the most basic tools like smartphones or toy cameras, I talked a lot about composition and asked the participants to pick between two photos the one they liked better and why.
The purpose of those tasks was to notice how we see and how different compositional elements can have a huge impact on us. There were no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers, just a question: when I take a glimpse of a photo, what will my eyes notice first?
I put a strong emphasis on the WHY during my workshop. Why do I like this photo more than the other? Why does this photo make me calm, and the other one doesn’t?
I constantly analyze the artworks I like and admire, be it paintings, photos or books. Finding out what makes something so appealing to you is hard and not always clear, but by (re)evaluating what we like or dislike we learn how to expand our own creativity.
After the theoretical part, the participants got a task to create a photo story about anything they found interesting enough and, divided in teams, they spread around the city shooting. I was very delighted to have such different photos from each team in the end, even though two teams decided to shoot some skaters that were practicing nearby.
Teaching this workshop made me realize the importance of what is being said, as well as the even greater importance of that what is not. I don’t think I made myself clear enough talking about narratives and stories in photography and some participants understood this too literally.
That is, I guess, what people mean when they talk about teachers learning from their pupils. Being aware of my mistakes can only make the next workshop better!