It blew my heart and my head wide open. A Foundation Workshop Ramble.

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Birth is hard. – David Murray

Boy is it ever…

It’s been a week now since I got home from Texas and things still don’t feel entirely normal, and here is a little secret; I hope they never do . I’m just going to write this post from the heart, it’s going to be a bit all over the place, but it’s how my head gets whenever I think about my time there, maybe one day I’ll be able to lay it all out in a line, but for now, here is my heart.

A little over a month ago, a friend of ours Erika Mann bought her husband a trip to the Foundation Workshop for a Christmas present. Because of this, I wasn’t able to shut up all day about how lucky he was to go and how I’ve wanted to go for years, and on, and on, and on. We had already signed up for another workshop in January, so I didn’t think beyond “man that guy is so lucky” so I threw on some tunes and went to walk the dog. Little did I know that Abby had already decided to do the same for me, so when I returned home an hour later she handed me a slip of paper with my registration info to FW12a in Glen Rose Texas.

Holy. Shit.

I was completely gobsmacked. I didn’t know how to react! Should I be happy that I’m going? Mad that Abby would send me off to photographer bootcamp without even talking to me? Shitting myself, because I was no way ready for this? I decided to mostly go with the last one. I didn’t sleep at all that first night, I laid awake all night thinking about how I wasn’t a strong enough photographer to go to Foundation, that I’d get there and everyone would see how terrible I was and laugh me right out of the Hotel. This of course was my old friend Imposter Syndrome creeping up on me, something that I’ve battled my entire life. I’ve never felt like I was very good any anything that I did, and any moment people would find out and toss me out on my ass. It’s a really hard thing to deal with, never thinking that you’re good enough, that you’re lying your way through life… and now I had to face it in front of some of the greatest photographers in the world.

Again, holy shit.

Thankfully I was able to sleep a little more after that night, and with some encouraging words on facebook from Erwin Darmali (who was not only the main reason I’ve always wanted to go to FW, but would also be my mentor there as well) I fought down the urge to curl up into a little ball and cry for the rest of December.

When the time came to actually go, I was ready. Abby and I spoke a lot about my weaknesses as a photographer, the excuses I make, the fears I refused to face. I was ready for them, I was fully open to the experience, I promised myself that I wouldn’t make any excuses, that I would face any and all fears and challenges with an open heart and mind, I was going to get the most out of it even if it killed me. I had no idea what I was in for, but man was I thankful I had that mindset.

The first 36 or so hours in Texas were wonderful, a nice drive down from the Fort Worth area to Glen Rose, meeting some amazing photographers, hearing some inspiring talks from big names like Erin and Ben Chrisman, Tyler Wirken, Sergio, Brett Butterstein, and the godfather himself Huy Nguyen. I think Huy summed up what was about to happen to the room full of students best with the following Tibetan Prayer.

Grant that I may be given appropriate difficulties and sufferings on the journey, so that my heart may be truly awakened…

This was what Foundation was all about. It’s the hardest, most intensive Photojournalism workshop for wedding photographers around. It’s the “kick you in the ass, slap you silly, beat you down, and then build you back up into a better photographer and person” workshop. I was ready to be a better photographer, but I didn’t realise that I would come away a better person.

On Friday night I sat down with my team for the first time. My Team Leader Huy Nguyen, Mentor Erwin Darmali, and Assistant Candice Cusic, three of the most talented and mind-blowing photographers out there were about to push myself and three ladies through the hardest weekend of our lives. Tracey Buyce, Jennie Sewell, and Lyn Ismael and I had no idea what we were in for when we were all given the same assignment, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo. My first thought was “great, this will be easy it sounds just like the Calgary Stampede and I’ve been stomping around there every summer for most of my life! My second thought was, wait a minute… I came down here to get a really hard assignment and challenge myself as a photographer, and now I’m getting thrown into a comfortable environment with three other people? This is bullshit.  But I stamped that down, because as Erwin tells me all the time “no expectations”.

We spent the rest of the night getting to know each other more, there were a lot of tears and a lot of walls were torn down that first night. Things I wasn’t expecting from this workshop, you hear about people crying but I didn’t expect it to be on the first night! We went to bed around 130, and I think I slept about 10 minutes before my alarm went off at 6am, and off I went to the stock show.

The best decision that was made for the entire workshop was for all four of us to drive together to and from Fort Worth. It was a little over an hour each way, and it very quickly became my favourite part of the next two days. I dubbed it Group Therapy. Here we were going through this madness, and we actually got to do it together. The thing that had pissed me off the night before was now the best thing, we were able to vent to each other, console each other, and pump each other up! We got to the stock show, planned to meet at sunset and split up. And that’s when it all fell down.

Here I was in a four-acre lot, with 22’000 head of livestock and around 250’000 people and I was supposed to make something meaningful. Shit. I wandered around for the first hour, just getting the lay of the land until I came across a family and their cows, they were getting them prepped for show and I decided to stick to them like glue. Here was a story! A family, people, happy moments! I can do this, it’s almost like a wedding! So I shot them for the next three hours until I got a text from Erwin and Huy “we’re here, where are you?”… uh oh. Now I had to prove myself, show them that my pictures were worthy, but I already knew they weren’t. I had been blaming bad light all morning, but once I met up with the two of them they said it best “you’re being safe, your images are boring, you’re not having fun, why are you just taking pictures and not making them?”. They were right, the only advice they gave us the night before was”have fun”, and I completely ignored it, I was shooting scared because I was trying to come out of it with something cohesive, instead of something good. So I said goodbye to my family, and went off in search of something fun.

And I failed.

Miserably.

The car ride home that night was cathartic, because we all sucked, we were all mad, and we were all in this together.

Critiques made us realise how silly we were all acting. None of us had fun! All four of us had shot scared all morning, and then tried to make it up all afternoon, because all four of us forgot to have fun.

We woke up the next morning after only a little more sleep with a fire under our asses. That car ride in was magical. We read each other’s critique notes, we talked about what we could all do better, we became a family. And I shot the shit out of that day.

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I could talk more about shooting, and crying, and anger but I think you get the point. What I want to talk about now are my family. Lyn, Jennie, and Tracey are my rock now. We went through the Fire and Flames together and we came out reborn. These three are amazingly strong women, who have all been through some serious challenges and beat them all. We became Team Brahman that weekend, we bonded in a way I don’t think most people ever get to. We crawled through shit (literally, there was so much of it), we got soaked, we were sore and angry, but we always had each other. For these three women I am so thankful. I learned to be a better person through the guidance of Huy, Erwin, and Candice, but I am going to stick to it because of my ladies, because I owe it to them to be as strong as they are.

When Huy asked us if we wanted to do a team slideshow, something he’d only done once before we all jumped at it. We wouldn’t have our pictures if it wasn’t for all of us. Our names didn’t matter, hell our images didn’t matter, we wanted people to see us as a team. I’m so glad we did this, because when it came time for the final slideshows on Monday night I don’t think I could have got up there without them, I was a nervous, exhausted, and mildly tipsy wreck. I cried like a baby, I don’t remember at all what I said, but I am told I didn’t make a fool out of myself.  The only thing I remember saying is that these three women are going to be my Foundation for the rest of my career, they are the rock upon which I will stand, because dammit I couldn’t have done it without them.

Of all the images from Foundation, there is one I am so thankful for, and I am going to end my post with it because it sums up my time in Texas. Thank you Jeremy Minnerick for this shot. Team Brahman, you blew my head and my heart wide open. Thank you Tracey, Jennie, Lyn, Candice, Huy and Erwin, you rock.

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See some other great blog posts about FW here
Lanny Mann
Ralf Czogallik
Jenny Wohrle
Farid Widjaya
Steve Koo
Nicole Chan
Jennifer Tai

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