This time last week, I was busy helping workshop students prepare for their final night presentations. After several days' intensive photography, they were compiling a tightly edited photo essay, ready to present to the rest of our group at the end of what had been a memorable workshop.
Each student had worked independently on a cultural or social story in Bangkok and the results were an impressive reflection of the hard work that each student had put into their chosen project.
This slideshow contains a small selection of some of my favourite images taken by students during the workshop.
It's impossible for me to adequately capture the essence of this workshop in a few paragraphs. So many positive things happened and my memories from last week are tumbling over one another as I try to choose what to write about first. I can say that it was the most enjoyable workshop that I've ever organised - and they've all been excellent.
When you organise an event of this nature, you hope that the planning and preparation will be rewarded with students feeling that their photography skills have improved during the week. I think that's the minimum measure of success. However, there are many variables: Will the story ideas come to fruition? Will the students gel as a team? Will the accommodation live up to expectations? Will the transport appear on time? Will the weather hold? Will everybody remember their spare batteries, their portfolio prints and their passports?
Happily, it seems that everything came together just as I'd hoped for this workshop. That's not always the case and having a robust "Plan B" is always a good idea. However, in Bangkok, everything conspired to create a truly memorable experience for students, teachers and volunteers alike. I've jokingly said that "I'll never run another workshop because I'll never be able to top this one", except I'm not absolutely sure that's a joke.
Firstly, and most crucially, National Geographic photographer, William Albert Allard joined us from his home in the US. I met Bill Allard in Italy last year where I had hoped we might find time to discuss the possibility of a workshop in Thailand. It's illustrative of his enthusiasm that he jumped at the chance. I'm a huge admirer of Allard's work, which seems to encompass all the best aspects of what I've always believed photography should be about. Allard is the real deal.
There have been many, many fine words written about his work and I won't be able to add anything more eloquent but I will just say that I believe he exhibits the most crucial traits required to be a fine photographer; he wears his heart on his sleeve, invests personally and emotionally in every story and cares deeply about his work. It was a privilege to share the week with him in Bangkok and I know our students appreciated learning from such an experienced and generous teacher. We are all in his debt.
I am also on the debt of my fellow tutor and photojournalist, Jack Kurtz. Jack's also a great admirer of William Allard's work and I know that we shared our enthusiasm for the opportunity to work with Allard in Bangkok. We were also very fortunate to have a number of excellent volunteers, who brought another level of professionalism and even greater enthusiasm.
Tun Jaiyen was our story researcher and cultural consultant and her considerable input was vital in the success of the workshop. Our friend, Cristina Tiron always lights up every room she walks into and I was humbled and delighted in equal measure that she flew in from Seoul to join us for the week as a very welcome volunteer.
Likewise, Daniel Paris took time off from his inevitable march towards a Nobel Prize in order to assist William Allard and I wish I'd been a fly on the wall when they teamed up to take a group of students to Lumpini Park at 5:30 am.
Finally, the effervescent Saranya (B), brought her ready smile and gentle ease to the workshop, and assisted William Allard on a very productive photo shoot at Hualamphong Railway Station. At the end of the workshop, I reflected and realised that I am blessed with the most excellent friends.
Before the workshop, we'd prepared twenty potential story ideas for students to choose from. Stories ranged from cultural themes such as "Religious Diversity" to social themes in connection with local NGOs and charitable associations, such as "Vietnamese Refugees" and "Khlong Toei Slum" projects. I had compiled a dossier for each story, including local contact details and maps so that the students could hit the ground running on the first day.
Producing a well-photographed and carefully-edited photo essay in just five days is no easy task but tutors and volunteers were on hand to help with editing and processing. It didn't take long before our hotel was filled with an expectant buzz of energy as students returned from their assignments, eagerly sharing their work and studiously editing late into the night.
Despite the busy schedule, we managed to fit in a lunch-time portfolio review with William Allard for every student at the nearby (and truly excellent) Ariyasom Villa Hotel. We also managed to squeeze in a documentary movie evening, where we watched excerpts from various films featuring photographers such as James Nachtwey, Don McCullin, Bill Cunningham, Steve McCurry and others.
Students came from far and wide and I was pleased to be able to welcome back so many students from previous workshops. They flew in from Canada and Kazakstan, Hong Kong, Germany, Mexico and further afield. I always enjoy the ambience created when several enthusiastic, professional and like-minded people get together to work on something that they're passionate about. Students inevitably learn as much from one another as from the tutors and it was a genuine pleasure to watch the group dynamics work so well.
Finally, a word to our generous sponsors who provided products for our students to take away or to try during the workshop. The list includes my illustrious friends at Leica, Adobe, Photoshelter, X-Rite and F-Stop. Indeed, looking at that list of providers now, I realise that they provide all the things the discerning photographer would require to work successfully. You can carry your unbeatable Leica camera gear in your robust F-Stop bag, process the images in Adobe Lightroom on a monitor calibrated with your X-Rite tools and upload the finished images to your beautiful Photoshelter archive and web site. That, my friends, is what we like to call "The Complete Package".
I hope that the slideshow above will offer you a small taste of what the students were able to achieve during the workshop. Each can be rightly proud of approaching the workshop experience with a blend of respect and dedication that is required for successful image-making. In the final analysis, I think the fact that William Allard has said that our Bangkok adventure was "the finest workshop experience" is largely due to the commitment of our students. We worked hard but, boy, we had a lot of fun in the process.
A selection of student feedback comments:
"The Beyond The Frame workshop was beyond all expectations."
"This has been the most useful workshop I have ever taken, hands down"
"Impeccable organization and logistics. This was truly an inspiring workshop"
"All week I felt good. Well looked after in a wonderfully organised environment, in a beautiful, peaceful hotel, in an extremely exciting city, great food and a photo project to work on ! What could be better? Thank you for the most wonderful experience in Bangkok."
“My favorite workshop ever. You and your team hit a winner last week."
"Great workshop… well organised and interesting… especially because I was in such good hands."
"The diversity and selection of projects that you chose really allowed all of us to get into the fascinating topics and I could feel the energy with which everyone was pursuing their story."
"This workshop was one of the best. I honestly can't say which of your workshops I've attended was my favourite. All of them are a winners."
“I really appreciated the organisers’ dedication and willingness to share their experience and expertise."
“Focusing energy on my photography story while being guided by truly gifted photographers and mentors who generously shared their experiences, advice and guidance was a true privilege"
"The finest workshop experience."
William Albert Allard