It’s been about 10 days now since driving back to Missoula from Jackson Hole, Wyoming and the Photography at the Summit Workshop. The workshop turned out well, with about 60 participants, many of them professionals ranging from Diana Robinson, a jazz pianist, to a urologist. I had Diana in a workshop before, she is also a multimedia specialist and created this website, but I had not had a urologist before. We can never have too many good musicians and I know from experience that a top urologist can do wonders. We won’t go into great detail in that regard but trust me, some years-old decisions can be reversed despite the odds. And then you can go back and do it all over again if you want. It’s relatively painless.
In Jackson Hole I joined a workshop faculty made up of old and new friends. Rich Clarkson, a true legend in American photojournalism, along with workshop director Brett Wilhelm and Chris Steppig, led a veteran workshop group consisting of photographers Jodi Cobb, David Alan Harvey, Jay Maisel, Tom Mangelsen, Dave Black, Bob Smith, and National Geographic senior editor Kathy Moran. I’ve known all of them for years and have taught with them many times before. We were joined by naturalist photographer Michael Forsberg and adventure photographer Keith Ladzinski. Both are superb at what they do, although I must say there isn’t enough money in the world to make me want to do what Keith does on the face of some craggy mountainside or tower of ice. You’ve got to be kidding? Or crazy?
Equally interesting was the group taking the workshop. We had enough doctors of one sort or another, including psychologists and psychiatrists to staff a number of small town Montana hospitals. We had two very bright and eager high school students on workshop scholarships, one an exchange student from Switzerland.
We had people who came from strong professional disciplines and it showed in their pursuit of becoming better photographers. You know, one doesn’t necessarily leave a workshop and suddenly become a great photographer. But one can improve greatly in the course of only a week and if one continues to work and think about what came out of the group and individual critiques (I personally think the group critiques are vitally important and productive), I would just about guarantee that one will see improvements showing in one’s work, maybe a week later, maybe a month, a year; it will show up and the way you best want it: in the subconscious. Sometimes there simply isn’t time to consciously think out everything when a picture shows itself for a moment or so and then is gone. You really want it in your subconscious. Unless, I suppose, if you’re in a studio. I don’t know that kind of world. My studio is out on the street or inside a café or a bar. Now, of course, if one simply drives or flies away from the workshop with the feeling of having had a good time, having seen some interesting wildlife or landscape images, downed some beers at the Silver Dollar or the Cowboy, and then goes back to the same old, same old, ways, photographically speaking, then all bets are off. No guarantees other than I hope the time and the beer was good enough to warrant the money spent.
Nikon has always been a prime sponsor of the Photography at the Summit Workshop and on hand as usual, was Bill Pekala, Director of Professional Services for Nikon, and also Nikon tech rep Ron Tonawaki, and former Nikon tech rep Scott Fryer. They were there to loan out all kinds of Nikon cameras and lenses to workshop students. Jay Maisel, constantly had hanging from his shoulder a Nikon D3s with a 28-300mm mounted. Maisel raved so much about this lens I had to try one. I switched over to a couple of Nikon D700s early this year but am now trying a D3s with that 28-300 and it’s a wonderful combination. Although I have over the years commonly worked with two cameras, I think I could well do with just this one on my shoulder. Would I like my working gear to be as small and unprofessional looking as possible, of course. I’m not a young guy and a heavier camera is a bit more physically demanding. If I had a couple of Leica M9s I’d probably do some of my street work with them. But this D3s and the all-purpose lens is nothing short of amazing. It’s fun to use and that’s supposed to be part of the game.
Jay Maisel, by the way, is one photographer I know who always has a camera with him. David Alan Harvey is another, although his is often stashed away in some kind of bag. Harvey is as much a bag freak as I am a hat freak. I always try to have a camera on me or in my car or in a bag. But I prefer it on my body, preferably around my neck so I don’t put it down somewhere and possibly forget it as I have done a time or two, although not often, in the past. You can’t really put that D3s and the 18-300 around your neck unless you’ve got the neck of a middle linebacker and I don’t. And I’ve got four screws in my spine and I have to watch how much stress I inflict on them.
As I write this I’m back up on the Hi-Line, in Malta. It’s shipping time and I’ll be out early tomorrow morning with the above mentioned Nikons trying to do something special with what I’ll see as they separate hundreds of black angus calves from their mothers to load on semi trucks bound for the buyers. They’ll be a lot of bawling and moaning between calves and cows; it’s a stressful time for both. It’s a lot of work for the rancher and his wife and the neighbors who come to help. This morning Connie French, wife of rancher Craig French was in their ranch house out on that vast country south of Malta, making apple strudel, some kind of meatballs, and a soup, to feed the gang of about 15 neighbors and truck drivers. The food will be great, the picture possibilities the same, I hope. And the cattle will be black and I’ll try to remember that and how they’ll suck up the light, but maybe I can make that work for me. I’ll let you know how it goes.