After my previous posts about the Torridon workshop, I wanted to leave a little bit of mental distance and reflect on the weekend. I’m actually finding this quite difficult! It’s a week later, and Torridon seems like a very long time ago at the moment. In an email exchange with Bruce today, I noted this, and he responded by saying:
Like you – I was thinking today that the Torridon trip felt like it was a lifetime ago.
I think that’s the sign of a trip that has affected you or changed you in some way, or perhaps just had some kind of impact on you.
I often feel like that after a good workshop, and more so when I return home from a really life changing photographic trip!
Too right, Bruce! But I’ve been very busy with work this week and have had very little time to get out and take any photographs. However, at the beginning of the week, I did stop on the way to work and sought to capture an impression of Stirling Castle from Bridge of Allan that I consciously felt to be quite different to previous images. I was using my Nikon FM2 with Velvia slide film, so I don’t yet know whether the image will work, but even just the process of thinking about the framing and composition felt different… more… considered, if you like. One of Bruce’s lines is that ‘to explore the world through photography, is to explore oneself’. That is something I’ve felt more acutely than ever before as a result of this weekend: in relation to one of the critique sessions, I said I found the need to open myself to relative strangers quite difficult, though it is good, very good to do so… I’m not sure I can say much more than this at the moment, but perhaps the fact that I’ve been reviewing old images for possible inclusion in a sales gallery is also indicative of an effect from the weekend – I feel much more able to be constructively self-critical of my own work, which is also a process of self-exploration. Of course, as an academic, I do this all the time with my writing, and although I can discern similar processes in my assessment of photographs, the criteria and methodology of assessment and critical appreciation are somewhat different.
I want to mention the mysterious brown A4 envelope Bruce gave each of us as we were leaving (see my third post). This is amazing: it contains a series of printed guides written by Bruce, as well as a CD with these tutorials on it AND a sample image from Bruce’s own work, showing pre- and post-processing. Not only are these beautifully and clearly laid out, but they are also incredibly informative, with precise details and helpful guides and tips. Not having known about these guides, I went and made notes on some of what Bruce showed us during the critical review sessions – but everything I noted down is contained here, and much more coherently written! I’m sure Bruce could sell printed versions of these guides and people would love them. Perhaps, one day, we can look forward to a book of Bruce’s images, along with inlays such as these (I love photo books and feel I learn a lot from studying other images, but would also like to see hints of some of the processes involved). To give an impression of what is covered, here is a list of the contents (note that in complying with Bruce’s request not to distribute these documents, the image here is just a low-resolution screen capture of one of the covers of Bruce’s documents; clicking it takes you to Bruce’s site, not the document):
- a document entitled ‘Bruce’s Approach’ (‘My aim is to try to realise the full potential of a location in such a short space of time’ – I couldn’t sum it up any better!)
- an explanation of how to use Adobe Camera Raw etc. in the ‘Raw Conversion Process’
- ‘Digital Darkroom Printing Techniques’ (for Adobe’s Photoshop CS4 and Photoshop Elements)
- and 3 documents on understanding bit depth, exposure and monitor calibration.
A fantastic gift, on top of all that Bruce gave us of himself over the course of the weekend!
Overall, if I were to be asked to say one thing about the workshop, it would be: go on one yourself! Whether you’re just starting out or have been photographing for years, whether you have a basic camera (mine is the cheapest in Nikon’s DSLR range) or a top of the range full-frame colossus/medium format camera, spending time with Bruce will almost certainly improve your images. He is a tremendously accomplished photographer, but far more importantly, he has a warmth and generosity of spirit coupled with a deep sensitivity and connection to his creative abilities – and he knows how to communicate all of this. A great pedagogue, you will quickly realise you are also in the presence of a great artist who is willing to give of himself in sharing aspects of his photographic craft with you. And that is what really makes going on one of Bruce’s workshops worthwhile… I’m going to be saving up for a week-long course at some point (I just need to persuade the family they want to do this too!).