• The Secret Books
    The Secret Books
    by Jorge Luis Borges, Sean Kernan
  • Among Trees
    Among Trees
Teaching and Lecturing

over the edge...

...and into someplace else.

Alison Chase, formerly artistic director of Pilobolus, came to work with us today. Alison is a world-renown chorographer with whom I did a project in New York last September. She also loves to work with non-dancers, and we were that. So, although the whole thing ended with a "piece" involving all of us, it never headed to that tnd. Instead we sratred in, and stayed in, physical relation the entire time, leaning on each other in order not to fall down as we crossed the room, passing gestures down a line, mirroring, supporting each other in every way there is. It further built the ensemble feeling that we have been accumulating through the work of this week. The only thing was that we had to eliminate one part of the days work...the photography. Well, that will be there waiting.

One of the things that it brought me to was the direct experience of the joy of moving with others, with myself, creaky as my body might be, unpracticed as I am.  

I think John Paul will have some pictures on his blog. I hope so. I was too busy rolling around on the floor to think of a camera.

Fantastic! (Got Alison and I thinking about another possible project.)




A bit tired to do this...

I'm tired. Do I have to say something?

Well, I can say that the day went deeper, more subtle. Since one of my purposes is to pass these execises on, we went over a few of the exercises a second time. We did the Westney exercise to different music that was less obvious, more subtle in what it demanded of people in terms of listening.

Then we played some Viewpoints stuff out, and finally went on to a Meisner exercise in repetition. I don't think I can do it justice at this time of night. I'll have to try to write the details up afterward.

I had a talk with John Paul C about trying to present some of this online. My feeling has been that without the other people around to do things you don't expect and strike sparks it wouldn't work. He has me half convinced that it might be different but could still work. So I'm thinking about it. How could we do it remotely and still effectively?

The unexpectd part of the day came when Jay Maisel provoked a kind of free-ranging discussion about things to do with creativity, with why we work, stuff like that. It was kind of like the discussions we had in college, but a bit soberer and a bit better informed. A few weeks ago I'd been wishing to see an example of Socratic method. Today I got it. Great!

Tomorrow the choreographer Alison Chase comes in to put us in motion. 


Day two: On our feet, and things start moving.

Here is our cast: Arduina Caponigro, John Paul Caponigro, Sean Harris, Greg Heisler, Russell Kaye, Tara Law, Jay Maisel, Dee Peppe,  Sandra-Lee Phipps, Alison Shaw, Jeanne Reilly, Mathew Smolinsky, and Alan Vlach.

I had been slightly nervous, wondering if this exceptionally able group of people would be able to set aside their deep knowledge and experience and move into areas that were new, apparently unsafedown streets that were dark and strange. Everything I do in class depends on people being able to move toward the new, not flee it. On top of that, they are all fine teachers, and if you are identified with being a teacher—The One Who Knows—it is not easy to set that aside. Of course, good teacher are good because  they don’t know, and know it. Come to think of it, I don’t believe in great teaches at all, just great students.

Well, I need not have worried. They dove into the game yesterday, and this morning people read what they had done in class. The assignment was to write a short biography of a total stranger you saw on the street. No pictures.
It was, I told them, not about writing at all. And, as always happens, they wound up with these wonderfully written sketches, clear, economical of expression, and very penetrating.  A little more work and each one would be a short story.

And it all came from seeing, from presence, from letting the image develop, as it were. Different styles were apparent, but that was because they arose from different seers, not from some notion of what “style” should be.
And the question that the exercise led to in the end was: Could they have taken a photograph of the person observed this nuanced, this resonant?

The rest of the day was a series of explorations done on their feet. It is the first time we really got out from behind the camera and face to face. We used an exercise with music from William Westney’s Unmaster Class to loosen up and also to reveal a bodily understanding and expressiveness  that everyone has but few people can get at.  Bill.s exercises got them there in about three minutes. That’s the genius of his. It is like Moliere’s Bourgeois Gentleman being delighted to find he speaks prose.

After that we went through a series of exercises from Viewpoints, a method derived from theater and dance that leads one to a broad awareness, and, in the words of founder Anne Bogart, "allows us to surrender, to fall back into empty creative space and trust that something is there… letting something occur rather than making it occur. The source for action and invention comes to us from others and from the physical world around us.”

Of course anyone reading this might wonder what all of it has to do with photography. Simple. At a certain point a the best way to learn to take better  photographs is to put down the camera.  You can quote me.
John Paul is blogging this class too, with pictures, and you can read his description of exactly the same day here, and so is Russell Kaye here.


First Day

Our first day was intense, at least for me. I feel like there is so much to say and to set up, and it is not stuff that has an inherent least, not that I've ever discovered. Encountering it would be similar to going to some large event, perhaps a dance, with a picnic outside, and a bar, and a lounge where people just talk, as well as a movie playing in some far-of room. So, standing at door, with no particular idea of what is where, where do you head for first?

Given this cluster nature, I just try to lay it out in a kind of line, knowing that the real work will be done as  people  pick up some thread or other and start off  through the maze. What underlies everything is the idea that we might provoke and then  leverage the way people respond, at the deepest, most granular level, to encountering anything that is new.  If the point of the endeavor is to pass along new and unexpected ways to work with students, doing so starts with understanding this, and uncderstanding it through ones own experience and awareness. Fortunately, it  is inherent in everyone, so it is a matter of provoking its workings in a way that makes them obvious, then taking them in hand.

This group is really present, attentive to the whole nature of the endeavor, not just to what is said. They seem available to the notion that sometimes the best way to take better pictures is to put the camera down for a while. So the first assignment is an exercise in simply looking at some stranger, taking them into the imagination, and making a short bography of the person...without speaking to them, without trying to collect "facts". I have a notion of how this will always has...and I think it will surprise everyone. We'll see tomorrow morning.

The best thing is that we have such a mix of high-level professionals, teachers, artists with little real photographic experince. It a more various group that I usually work with, and it will be interesting to see what this spread produces.

We ended the day watching a taped interview with Richard Serra that is quite fiery, then people went off to work...or take naps or whatever it is they do. (I am trying not to jam so much into their days that they have no time to wander around kind of empty-headed.)




The Class to End All Classes

A while back I suggested to the folks at the Maine Media Workshops that I might offer a class to their teachers.

Over many years I have put together a number of unusual ways at working with photographers, based on the idea that one of the best ways to improve one's pictures is by putting down the camera. I have been working on this  slightly eccentric approach since the moment I was offered my first class to teach. Since I had never studied photography, I didn't have a model for teaching it, so I went right to where I'd found the  fun and excitement, and that was in seeing, in being present. Once I as at that point, the picture-taking part was relatively easy. 

I have been building on that class ever since and I have taught and lectured at the New School, International Center for Photography, Omega Institute, F.Holland Day Foundation, Art Center of Pasadena, University of Texas, Austin Peay University, and the Maine and Santa Fe Workshops.  Essentially, it was the class I wanted to take, and since it didn't exist, I had to make it up.

And so I have. But recently I thought that if I were hit by a bus the whole accumulation would be gone. That's when I got in touch with Maine and we decided to offer it, just to the faculty, under the slightly overblown title, "Master Class for Masters."

The class filled up at once, and the takers were all really accomplished photographers and teachers. (As with the New School, 99% of the faculty are professional photographers, either commercial or fine art...or both.)

So it begins tomorrow, June 8th. I have spent the past months going over every single exercise I've ever done, thinking about how they work, retying the bundle. I've pulled together every article I can find about how creativity works, and how one can get to it.

And I have decided to try to blog it, at least a short entry every day. I'll probably write something longer eventually, but for now this is a way to capture some impressions.

Stay tuned. 

(And, actually, I don't think this class will end all classes. Things we think of as culminations often turn out to be beginnings.)