04 May A trained eye: Dispatches from a photojournalism workshop
By Chloe Collyer
SPJ Wash provided aspiring photojournalist Chloe Collyer (who uses they/them pronouns) a grant to attend theÂ The Image Deconstructed workshop in Denver. Collyer wrote the following about their experience:
When I was in photo school, I reached out to local documentary photographers that I admired and was shocked at who replied: Bettina Hansen, Erika Schultz and Jovelle Abbey all became mentors to me that year, and have been unwavering in lifting me up towards my personal professional goals. I had no idea that I would have three, high-performing, female photographers at my back as I enter into the rather unforgiving industry of freelance photojournalism.
Three years out of photo school and I have a fire inside to switch my gears.
I promised myself that in 2018 I would pursue mentorships, grants and workshop opportunities for photojournalism and documentary work, and so I feel blessed to have been sponsored by SPJ to attend the renowned The Image Deconstructed workshop in Denver, Co.
The Denver Post hosted us graciously all weekend and there was a bit of an elephant in the building: the massive staff layoffs which had happened a few weeks prior. At least 60 percent of the workshop attendees held staff positions somewhere in the country, and yet the prospect of print media disbanding was not lost on any of us. Â
Over four days we listened to presentations from the top staff photographers in the country including our own Erika J. Schultz. There was also a photo editor from National Geographic and a successful commercial shooter who ran large-scale productions.
The atmosphere there was intoxicating. As a group of over 100 people, we were often sharing the same space and energy levels were high. Unfortunately I was having a flare-up of my anxiety this weekend, and high energy rooms full of people felt like crushing social catastrophe for me. Like many workshop participants, I tried to keep a camera in my hand all weekend, although for me it was a tried and true coping mechanism.
I shot in black and white the most of the weekend as a personal challenge to myself. I shot new subject matter, and pushed myself with each image I made. There was a day when our incredible workshop coordinator Ross Taylor gave a short lunchtime assignment: â€œshoot something that makes you uncomfortable.â€ I didnâ€™t even eat, I made a beeline to a group of police officers and told them my story. We talked for so long I almost forgot to take the photo, and when I did I only got one shot in before my battery died. The whole time I was internalizing my personal feeling about police. I was listening intently to them besmerch the Black Lives Matter movement, referencing â€œhands up, don’t shootâ€ as a misdirected and misinformed slogan. They told me police forces who hire de-escalation experts are doing more harm than good, all opposite views from my own. My blood boiled, and once I was out of view I collapsed breathing heavily. I was shaken, disturbed and challenged by the whole experience. So bravo Ross on the assignment.
My portfolio was critiqued by two incredible shooters: Erin Hooley of the Chicago Tribune and 2018 pulitzer prize recipient Ryan Kelly, who photographed the fatal Charlottesville car attack. My critiques left me wondering â€˜how did I think all this work was portfolio-worthy?â€™ I was humbled, and eager to shoot new work once I got home.
While in Denver I was reliving moment I had three years ago, shocked at the journalism community I had at my fingertips and didnâ€™t even know! Shocked at the warmth and support wrapping around me, and radiating from each of my peers and mentors. As our coordinator Ross would say
â€œThe caliber and character of the people is what continues to amaze me about this profession.â€