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Foundation Workshop 2016

Koffee Kup | Glen Rose, Texas

**Note to readers: This post is intended mostly for photographers, so if you’re looking for wedding pictures, head to the next post :)

In the coming months (years?) I will continue processing what I learned and experienced at Foundation Workshop 2016. For now though, I wanted to share how I am feeling immediately after the workshop for anyone who might be curious about it. Before I get started I want to thank Citlalli Rico and Erwin Darmali, the team leader and mentor for our group, respectively. They are incredible photographers and amazing teachers. It’s really difficult to put into words their ability to make you think and guide you towards the answers without spoon feeding anything to you. Not only did it help me learn, but it was empowering to feel that some of that discoveries came from within. The instructors at Foundation Workshop really are the reason that it has been so impactful for so many photographers. So be sure to check out their work…

On the surface my assignment seemed simple: go to a pre-determined restaurant and find a story. I’m used to working with a pretty clear cut timeline, dynamic situations and environments, and active people who actually expect me to aim my camera in their direction from time to time — unless of course they are eating, because that’s totally weird, right? Instead I’m in the middle of Texas, in a space where the only hint of daylight comes in through the front door, where pretty much the only reason people are coming in is to sit down, eat, and leave. Which left me a situation that exploited my biggest weaknesses and insecurities while at the same time eliminating many tools that I typically harness as my strengths. For fourteen hours.

Photos above courtesy of Miguel Serrano

Now, I swear to you that as I drove back and dropped off my cards, I felt totally fine. I knew I didn’t get anything that I was happy with. I knew I failed. But it was okay because I was supposed to — they told me that would happen no matter how hard I tried. And then Katrina…sweet, caring, loving Katrina Wallace…approaches me and asks how it went and how I felt. “It was fine. I tried my best. I sucked. But it’s fine. I think I learned some stuff…” And then, how do you really feel? The full recognition that I still had no idea what I was supposed to do and didn’t know if I could overcome the internal challenges welled up inside of me. I didn’t know if I was going to figure anything out. I didn’t know if I was good enough for this. I didn’t know if I belonged at Foundation Workshop. That’s when I lost it. That’s when I cried for the first time at Foundation.

During critique sessions we are simultaneously dismantled and strengthened with a better understanding of our flaws, our patterns, and our successes. By the end of all the critiques I had so much in my mind about where evolution needs to happen—not just from my own images but from the rest of the team’s as well: AshVin, Daniel, Kara, and Judith. By the end of the day I had a few goals I wanted to accomplish; a few things in mind that I needed to do; and still quite a bit of doubt on exactly what I should do. But at least I had more mental tools in the kit to help me try and figure it out. And at the least, I was not alone in my initial feelings of abject failure and inadequacy at Foundation Workshop.

The next and final day of shooting, I came in enthusiastically and more confident in what I was doing…sort of. But after Citlalli and Erwin stopped by to check up on me, I was left in a state of panic. I’d spent nearly half the day all over the place without focus…still without a story. As the day drew on I had an epiphany. Suddenly I knew what story I wanted to tell. I had purpose. I had a vision. I’d love to tell you that from there I just turned it on and killed it. But the truth is I ended up with a couple lucky frames and clarity around the challenges that I have before me, beyond Foundation Workshop. Suffering can lead to vision. And if I pursue that vision, and move beyond the suffering, it will pay off. 

Ultimately, I was surprised by the emotional roller coaster…I knew trusting in the process and believing there is a purpose for every exercise and every assignment was key and that left me open and vulnerable. As a result, the feelings of defeat, failure, determination, and more failure were magnified to a point that I really did not know I had in me (some of my friends joke that I might be dead inside but now I have somewhere between 25-48 witnesses to the contrary). But just as I felt extreme lows, the small victories felt amazing. And the new friendships forged and community support were overwhelmingly positive. I made some amazing personal connections at Foundation Workshop. Seeing everyone’s mind-blowing work after all the emotional and mental anguish and hard work was nothing short of inspiring. We all spoke a bit about what we were taking away with, and in sharing in the joy of each other’s victories, there was barely a dry eye in the room. Then it was time to cut loose, celebrate and party. I found myself wanting to constantly high-five and embrace people that I had given meek handshakes just days before. I was dancing like an idiot to Taylor Swift, and I didn’t care. In my mind I was in the company of people I’d known for years. I can’t remember the last time I’ve experienced such an emotional high. And just as quickly as we ramped up, sadly it was time to go.

Photo courtesy of Miguel Serrano

In some ways, that was the hardest part. It was like I was leaving home for the first time, leaving a family behind. And like that, I’m all alone in the world…

…But not really, because Facebook.