Alison Shaw Workshop: Thoughts & Comments

I’m just back from a week on Martha’s Vineyard to attend Alison Shaw’s workshop. It was a really fun week, great to catch up with old friends and make some new ones and to immerse myself in photography.

Like most of life, you get out of a week long workshop what you put into it. That means being at the location an hour before sunrise and staying at the evening locations until well after the sun has gone down. That makes for some very long days, especially if you try to edit photos when you get home in the evening. By mid-week everyone is a little punchy, filters are gone and everyone is in the groove.

This was the second time I’d visited Martha’s Vineyard, the first time was for Alison’s workshop last year. As a consequence the novelty factor is still very high for me even with places that most people are very familiar with such as Edgartown or Menemsha. While we went to some of my favorite spots, Lucy Vincent Beach and Vineyard Haven Harbor being high on that list, there were a few new places included in this workshop. We made it over to Chappaquiddick and after a stop at Mytoi, the Japanese garden, we headed for East Beach. While East Beach does not have the spectacular surf that Lucy Vincent Beach has there were enough photo opportunities to make the trip well worthwhile. One of the things that I appreciate about the locations that we visit is that they are rich with photographic opportunities, so even someone like me is able to come up with 3, 4 or more different photographs at each location.

Alison has an easy going nature and teaching style that she is able to adapt to the level of the student. While I could imagine some workshops being all about the instructor leading them, that’s not the case here. You get as much help as you need. While there is plenty of in the field instruction from Alison and a reasonable amount of classroom instruction, for me the real learning comes from the critique sessions. Alison was commenting on 80 + images every day, remarkably many were very different even though we were all at the place. I found that while I learned a lot from the critiques of my images, I learn just as much from the critiques of the other students.

For the September workshops Alison is usually assisted by Donna Foster. Donna splits her time between Charlotte, North Carolina and Martha’s Vineyard. I can’t say enough good things about Donna. Last year she really talked me off a ledge when I was in Menemsha and lost for something to shoot – if you’ve never been, think rusty junky old stuff and lots of it. Then took the time to review my images that I had brought with me and showed me that yes I was actually improving by sequencing and commenting on them. It was the boost I needed.

The week is rounded off by a group dinner and show. It was fun to see the progression in everyone’s work from the start of the week to the end of the week. I had an excellent time and look forward to spending another week with Alison in 2012.

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