Foundation workshop – Mind and heart blown!

Below are the cliff notes:

For my couples and clients:  I attended the “toughest photojournalism workshop for wedding photographers” – Foundation Workshop.  I am opening 2014 with new eyes, a refined vision and a tremendous desire to create the best storytelling images I can.   I feel invigorated… reprogrammed to take a refined approach in capturing moments.  This is going to be a really great year.  Mind blown.  Heart blown.  wide wide wide open!

For my photographer buddies:  Foundation is wicked challenging.  This process will pinpoint your weaknesses (blazingly fast), break you down into pits of frustration and exhaustion, then slowly lift you back up…. and then smack you in the face to turbo charge you!  The process is transformative.  This workshop made so many things *click in my brain.   I feel brainwashed – and not in the cultish/drone sort of way, but in a positive light… like someone really took a toothbrush and cleaned my brain of everything that I was doing wrong/ineffectively.  This learning process was the best thing I’ve ever engaged in.  I am now aware of my bad habits… my safe habits, and I’ll never go back to them (because Brett’s voice will forever be engrained in me).   It’s like eating really great sushi, after you taste the awesomeness, there’s no way that you’re going back to yucky and soggy supermarket-bought California rolls.  This workshop isn’t for the faint of heart or those who aren’t open to change and growth.  There is no ego in this entire workshop, absolutely none.  There is no bragging, unsolited advice, or even any “celebrity shock” because everyone was so down to earth (We were surrounded by literally… the best wedding photographers in the world).  It’s really incredible.  For the select few that enjoy being pushed (and pushed HARD), Foundation will be a good fit for you.  I strongly feel that this was the BEST choice that I have ever made for my photography, for my business, and (dare I say it) maybe even for my life.

And now for the longer version:

Brett’s hand was on one shoulder.  David’s hand was on my other.  I felt like ever limb was strapped down with duct tape and sand bags  – I was glued to this hotel chair and I couldn’t move. My shoulders were insanely tense (or I was consistently flexing my rock climbing muscles.  Yes, let’s go with that instead!)  My heart rate doubled.  My hand was tightly gripping my teammate – Kristiaan – and a lump the size of small melon was in my throat.  Thirteen of my images, artfully sequenced and put to music, slowly showcased on a giant projection screen to my Foundation family.  Everything flashed in my head –Brett’s voice snippets, insanely irritating alarm clocks that rang before sunrise, visions of our critique room, and feelings of holding my camera and forgetting even how to turn it on.  This week has been mind-blowingly overwhelming.  At the end of my slideshow, I felt something – it was a funny little something.  I was proud, maybe for the first time ever, and it shocked me.  This was, by far, one of the hardest weeks of my life and I survived.  Go me.  SCORE.

After my presentation, I was expected to say a few words about my experience.  I stood and FROZE.  I had no words.  I was void of all English words. The only word that I could remember was a short little vulgar word that began with the sixth letter of the alphabet… and so, I blurted it out.  (Or at least that’s what everyone tells me.)  It was a blur.  After my opening word, I blabbed on for what felt like forever.  I then collapsed in my chair as if I had just finished two Ironmans, carrying a tomahawk.  I faintly remember clapping, a lot of cheek-squishing hugs, and squeezing my eyes because at the time, I thought it would hide my tears.   (It didn’t.)

They said I was funny.  I really hope this is true.

Last week, I dove into what is regarded as the “toughest photojournalism workshop for wedding photographers” – Foundation Workshop.  The barrier to entry is high, an unthinkable cost at $5,000.  This workshop had a reputation – to find your flaws, to break you down, then build you back up and spit out a more wholesome photojournalistic photographer.  They said that it made grown men cry.  They said it was deeper than just photography techniques (but at the time, I didn’t exactly understand how that could be).  When friends told me about their experiences with Foundation, it intrigued me.  I didn’t know a ton about it, but I immediately knew I wanted it, that I needed it – no matter how scared sh’tless it made me feel when I thought about it.  (Trend:  I always tend to gravitate towards things that make me nervous)

The workshop started with an intense bonding session with my team in a hotel suite at the Holiday Inn in Glen Rose (population of 2444).  I received my photography assignment that evening that I was supposed to work on for two days.  Day 1 came and went.  Day 1 critiques came.  Epic fails all around.  I went into my safe zone.  I had a sloppy grasp of exposure and composition.  Ed even informed me that I was holding my camera ineffectively!  This night, in a room with my four teammates and three team leads was the most honesty that I’ve ever experienced in my life.  Though we all felt like complete poo afterwards, I now realize that it was the inception of some intensive growth.  It is absolutely unbelievable how spot on Brett, Jenny and Ed were in pinpointing my weakest points and drilling it into me.  There was a sense of clarity in what they said and how they said it.  It really shook me.  Day 2 came, and though there were still a slew of critiques (and as Tyler said it, they call it “critique” for a reason, not “high-five”), there were some glistening moments where I nailed a shot and I felt like I had just conquered 300.  The little wins almost brought me to tears.

It’s funny, really – I came to learn how to tell effective and impactful stories through imagery.  My expectations included being pushed creatively and technically and I absolutely was.  I learned to get closer, to really think about my lens choice, to not shoot so passively, to shoot THROUGH the moment, to watch for mergers and highlights. I learned about patience, finding a composition and waiting for Sergio’s rat to be caught in my mousetrap.  I learned about keeping calm, clearing my mind, and not to go into autopilot and shoot everything that moves.  I learned to better connect with my subjects, to find reasons to care.  I realize now that Ben’s homerun images are what I should be striving for, not a zillion subpar/mediocre images.

Though extremely technical, photography has a large human element.  It’s true what they say – Photography is an extension of how one sees the world, empathies and connects with humanity.  From a personal standpoint, I considered myself a level person.  I really didn’t think that much could rattle me.   Oh, how wrong I was.  I was shocked at the emotional typhoon the repeatedly hit me in the face.  Without getting too deep, I don’t like to feel feelings.  Sometimes, it scares me.  These women (+Brett and Ed!) have taught me that emotional transparency will allow me to connect on a different level.  I was overcome at how honest and how raw we all were with each other.   It felt safe.  It felt comfortable.  There were little sparks in me that went off – a creation and refinement of a vision and a voice.  This wasn’t something that I expected.  Like many say, I have the same eyes, but now I use them differently.   It’s impossible, really, to describe the experience.  It’s transformative – mentally and creatively.  I see the world differently.  I empathize differently – more genuinely.  I am beginning to tear down blockading walls.  I am taking baby steps to be a more compelling storyteller – and based on my notes, there are a LOT of steps.

Comedic relief:  Here are a few funny quotes that I jotted down – 

  • “It’s called ‘critique’ for a reason.  It’s not called ‘high five’.”  – Tyler Wirken
  • “Don’t screw this up.”  – Tyler Wirken
  • “Label everything.  Cards, cameras, flashes, underwear, everything.  Things get mixed up here” – Sergio

Five days ago, I shook hands with complete strangers.    Tonight, I have over 300 group text messages with my new Foundation family.  The level of honesty, compassion, empathy, strength and respect that these women have taught me is immeasurable.  I hold these deep connections with my new family insanely close to my heart, and I wouldn’t trade the multitude of feelings for anything in the world.   None of this would have been possible had it not been for my phenomenal team – Brett Butterstein, Jenny Jimizez, Ed Atrero, and my teammates – four strong women that collectively inspire me more than I ever thought possible.  There aren’t enough thank yous in the world for what you seven have given me this weeks, but I promise that I’ll work my hardest to make you all proud. To Huy, you inspire me.  You are unlimited in ideas, ways to educate, and I am so inspired at all of your constant efforts to lift up our photographic community.  To Kelly and her team, thank you for being our mom away from home.  Those granola bars, water and bananas saved me.  You are the queen of logistics and love.  Thank you. To Amy Deputy, thank you for the calls, the gentle voice, and the support blanket when I needed it.  You have a gift and it’s beautiful.  To JVS and Derrick Rice – Man… just watching you is education.  Thank you for the incredible documentary.  You’ve given us visuals to our memories that I’ll always have.  To my Honey Vagers – You ladies are the effin’ best.  To my family at F12a, thank you for struggling with me.

See here for JVS and Derrick Rice’s slideshow of the workshop!

Photo by JVS

“The besty way to get five women to trust you is to let them dress you up like a woman.”  – Brett Butterstein

Photo by JVS

Two of my favorite images from my assignment

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