Flying to foreign country to make photographs and design a magazine–in real-time no less–isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and yet every year I see people go and do this very thing. Sam Keam did it. I have proof. Sam joined Elena Dorfman and I during a workshop in Albania. These workshops are semi-intense due to the fact we are in near constant motion. Van, bike, foot, hotel, rinse and repeat. Navigating a new land, navigating travel logistics and learning to vibe with a new set of friends in fellow workshop students is a lot, but it is also incredibly stimulating.
Sam is a smart dude. In this country, the USA, this kind of smart reserves you a spot on a watchlist or gets you labeled as a “trouble maker” and then reserves you a spot on a watchlist, but the Brits are different. They eat jellied eels and dominate the English language. Their breakfast food is questionable and they can’t seem to catch a break in the World Cup, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Sam is the co-founder of Zedify which is a company designed to help create less congested, less polluted, more livable cities. They do this by the use of hyperlocal microhubs and zero emission vehicles for deliveries within cities.
Sam came to Albania with some doubts. There was also a struggle to define the narrative. What am I trying to do? What am I trying to say? These doubts and grey areas are entirely normal, actually, but when they are happening to you while you are wandering the streets of a foreign land they can feel like boulders on your back. Overwhelming at times, and the only way out is forward, right through that lens on the trusty XT4. (Yes geeks, that is what Sam shoots.)
The reason I teach is what you see here. I teach because I want to see someone find their clarity within the clutter of the world. Sam is a thoughtful person which always makes life more complicated. Over time we could see his narrative being defined. At first, a series of four or five or six stand alone images. “Keep that, keep that, keep that,” was the advice given. Those pictures were filed away, starred, labeled, tagged. And then Sam went out again and again and again as did his fellow students, each working to define their personal narrative. The idea with a workshop class like this isn’t to create a perfect printed specimen before you leave.(a magazine)The idea is the build the photographic and written framework then finish the project when you can.
So, last week when I received an email from Sam–with attachment–I knew the lad had been busy. If you knew the conversations we had and you knew what Sam was after then these screen grabs from his PDF would be even more impressive. Think about stand alone images like the one above, think about pairings as you will see below and think about things like type, type placement, type size, alignment, etc. This is a quiet presentation, and in my experience, the quieter the presentation the more work involved.
What you should also notice is the range and diversity of image. Portrait, landscape, street, tight spacing, middle spacing and wide spacing. Hot light, cold light, cloudy, rain, sun, etc. Most students come to a workshop wearing the residue of their life at home. Only natural and Sam was no different. Students shoot themselves into shape. Sometimes it happens quickly and sometimes it happens at the last minute but it always happens. When the veil is pierced and you allow yourself to close off one aspect of your life while allowing another to open, well, that is when the magic starts to happen.
Modern photography culture is mostly a smokescreen. A facade if you will, meant to make the artist seem more than they appear. Heck, this is human culture these days, but taking a workshop like this while forcing yourself to edit, sequence and design in real time can be a sobering endeavor and the holes in your strategy are instantly apparent. You have it or you don’t. And when you don’t you actually acknowledge and address. A smokescreen won’t work. (Especially when you have two instructors and your fellow students looking at your work.)
This work makes me want to get on a plane and go back to Albania. This work makes me feel like what it feels like to be in Albania and I’m not sure what more we can ask. Thanks to Sam for allowing me to post these and congrats to him for finalizing his project. (At least version one.) Photography with purpose is a scary thing, all consuming at times. Once it becomes part and parcel of the mind it rarely ever goes away. Like the bone collector, always on the hunt with quiet insatiability.