A.g.’s Note: Here we have another guest post from Sven Kraeuter. He previously shared to us a story of his interesting encounter while shooting medium format film. He’s back sharing his experience during a workshop with Alex Webb and Rebecca Webb. Enjoy! Words and Photographs by Sven Kraeuter.
Sven: Stockholm, Sweden, early summer 2014. I’m in a meeting room named “Daido Moriyama” and getting a little tense. I’m about to present some prints on a table to somebody who’s name could be on the door plate as well. Perhaps there’s another room here named after Alex Webb, too?
When I read the e-mail that confirmed I would be going to participate in one of Fotografiska’s “Masters Of Photography” workshops with the legendary Magnum photographer I couldn’t quite believe it. Now I’m here with about fifteen other photographers who prepared thirty prints to present in order to get n overview of their bodies of work. Quite amazing sets so far, a talented group presenting a broad variety of different styles ranging from personal documentary over street photography to still life.
I’m next, having different sets ready: my portfolio as well as experiments that are spreading over the table side by side. When four prints get picked that are actually part of my portfolio edit I’m quite relieved already. When Alex and his creative partner and wife Rebecca have some kind words for my playfull approach in general and two prints in particular, I am stoked. I know that kindness and hospitality play a role – probably a major one – in these sweet sentences, but I decide: I am going to produce at least one more good image during this workshop.
Stockholm provides you with an eternity of warm evening and morning light. The picture above was taken the day before the workshop. Motivated, a set goal, great weather conditions, already having scouted some nice spots with great light & my good old ragenfinder in my hands. What can go wrong? And then it starts – the morning review of the second workshop day. I am not really happy with the edit of the day before. Neither is Alex. Polite, but clearly sharing my opinion. The morning review of the third workshop day. I have the first quite alright picture in my edit. And it actually is part of Alex’s & Rebecca’s selection, too. Wow, nice!
Still I have the feeling that I should do better. I have to talk to Alex about this concern, and he is kind enough to take the time to have a short chat. “Looking at all these amazing photographs that my fellow participants produce I have the feeling that in comparison I’m not preforming. What can I do to correct this?”. The essence of Alex’s answer: “One good photograph a day is more than enough.” and “How did you capture this moment? Continue doing that.”. And of course he’s right. How many pictures did I take, how many were included in the first edit, and how many didn’t make it into my portfolio? One good photograph a day is pretty fantastic. Even one good picture a month is pretty amazing already. What a stupid goal to set, creating a compelling picture in just five days.
Berlin, Germany, late summer 2014. In retrospect I can say I partly screwed up this great opportunity since I photographed with the goal to impress someone else, not to improve my photography and to be more contempt myself. What I just wrote down is an example for the funnel view my tension produced. I focussed on impressing Alex so much I couldn’t really make the best of the situation. I couldn’t see the great people surrounding me. I couldn’t totally enjoy all the inspiring stories the two artists told us. I did not connect with my surrounding because I was too busy trying to produce this one successful photograph I was hoping for. The last evening was the first one for me to initiate an after workshop pub visit. When I stated “We should have done this much earlier already.” One response was “But then we wouldn’t have been able to do all the editing work at night.” I guess I wasn’t the only one trying a little too hard.
What’s true for this workshop is also true for my photography – and probably for yours, too. Listening to some people, especially online, you hear a lot of “dos and don’ts”. Street photography has to be this, there’s no way it can be that. I’m over these discussions and feeling a big relief. Is the above scene staged or candid? Where does candid end and staged start? Do I influence the scene already without talking to the subject with my bare presence? Are my clothes dark enough for proper street photography? Do I hunt down scenes or do I wait for them to unfold in front of me? Am I allowed to take pictures of people I know?
Breaking the rules of what some people think street photography has to consist of is a very relaxing activity. It helps me finding my own vision. That’s what Alex’s and Rebecca’s workshop was titled: “Finding your photographic vision.”. I can’t say was successful finding it, but I can say that the experience and mistakes I made in Stockholm clearly helped me progress towards it. I met great photographers in Stockholm, talked with lots of strangers strolling the streets, sharpened existing techniques, tried new ones, listened to great anecdotes and received feedback from one of my role models.
My photographic vocabulary is still very limited and I am at the very beginning of my photographic journey. The way I think I balance valuable critique versus not too productive discussions that I sketch here is something that I think is worth sharing with you nonetheless. Take pictures for yourself, not for others. Pick your fights wisely: cut the noise of unproductive discussions and find out the sources of knowledge feedback that are valuable for you. This works well for me – and I’m cusious how this applies to you.