Another Day of the Dead workshop has just been completed here in Oaxaca. The seventh one in a row, a miracle in itself considering that for 7 straight years, raining or shining, I have been coming to thisextraordinary colonial city to share with my students this unique celebrations. But what feels even more miraculous, are the beautiful images created by my students after 10 long days of hard work.
Keith and Judy, having followed several workshops with me including another one here in Oaxaca in 2006, were veterans and I trusted their abilities to take interesting photos.Alessandro and Fernando were new students with little experience, but a great desire to grow. The first few days were the hardest. The newcomers were struggling; their pictures could not break away from the literal and descriptive mode. I kept pointing out the reasons why the images looked ordinary and boring. I could see discouragement in their eyes, but I also knew that they needed to be spurred in order to help them leap forward.
I kept repeating to look for “moments” out of the flow of life, to shoot less, to become more aware of bringing content and form in their photographs, to only raise the camera to the eye level when they felt motivated by their heart. I asked both of then to tape their zoom lenses to the 35mm focal length.
As the days evolved Keith and Judy with their beautiful and personal images were the living proof that it was possible to take interesting images.
A few images began to appear also in Alessandro and Fernando’s takes. The editing sessions became more vibrant and exciting. I began seeing big smiles on their faces and they also became more confident about their ability to SEE.
It was a true joy to notice the work that Keith was creating each single day. He was on fire, experiencing his biggest growth. His humorous, sarcastic and pervasive images were the well-deserved reward for his discipline, his sensibility and, above all, his commitment.
Judy with her new amazing digital camera would take Kodachrome 64 like images at 6400 asa. Even the bad pictures looked incredible with such an outstanding color palette and they were totally noise free. I need to confess that for the first time in my career, I felt that going digitally wasn’t so bad if you could really exploit low light conditions in such a way. Besides these technical marvels her images were intimate, subtle moments full of grace. Their apparent physical distance would draw you slowly into a world that only she could have seen and captured.
During the workshop several topics had come up in our dinners and free time. Two were of particular interest to me: spirituality and God’s presence in our life. None of my students believed in the divine presence in our life. I simply explained the reasons that made me believe relating the tale from that very dream that I had had 31 years ago just before graduating from high school when I heard God’s voice simply telling me that I needed to become a photographer.
During our last unforgettable editing session with all their pictures laying on four tables assembled together and it was becomingmore difficult to take pictures out, I felt the urge to point out that to me all those images were imbued with God’s presence, they were the proof that He had been with us at all times.
My teaching and their individual growth alone would not do justice to the very special moments that each one of them was able to capture, by seeing and not looking at the momentsor when clicking the shutter at the right time. I strongly feel that my students’ blind faith in their teacher has been paid back but not just by me.
We all left with a wonderful feeling nurturing our souls and our life as a whole. Now that I have also finally looked at my contact sheets, I can simply add that God has been very generous with me as well.