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Art of photography – collaborative workshops

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Introduction

This learning path aims to present a way of collaborative learning photography and preparing photography exhibitions, but in our opinion this scenario can be used also for other artistic or creative workshops.

Collaborative learning in this case means learning with a group of people, where all group members are at the same time learners and teachers, where usual teacher changes into the group leader. This idea is based on conviction, that there is an added value in common learning and mastering artistic skills, that together with other people who share my passion, I can learn faster and more effective.

In our case the main goals of the workshops are learning and practicing photography skills and learning, how to prepare photography exhibition, but there are many more hidden goals and many different activities involved in the process – learning of conceptual thinking, planning, conflict solving, artistic creation, designing, physical work and others.

Workshops are designed rather for amateurs then professionals, but it would be nice if attenders had at least a little experience in taking photos. Also, for better results, contact with professionals seems to be valuable.

The group shouldn’t be too large. From our perspective, 7-8 people is enough to built a proper one. Number of “lessons”/hours depends on subject and content complexity.

 

Step 1 – Preparation and planning

It is good to start with a good plan. This plan is not given by leader – it should be prepared by the group, and this is first level of collaboration. All the group members should have common goals and agree on a way to achieve it. It is also good to know all resources you have, like time, personal skills, technical support and others.

For this particular kind of workshop you have to define, what kind of photos you want to take and further, what kind of exhibition you want to prepare.

In our case we choose outdoor sessions in different places. We were interested in knowing new places and tell a kind of digital stories (not exactly, because pictures are also only one narration we have) about those places and our journey to them. We picked places we have never been before. Essential difficulty in planning was to choose concrete objects, representative for the places knowing that the time for the session is limited. We expected something but on the other hand we had to be prepared for surprises.

 

Step 2 – Fist photography session

Main goals of this step was to learn and develop photography skills and collect materials for exhibition in the same time.

Organising photography session for a group of people can be a challenge. It is good to agree at least concrete places to visit, especially when you have limited time. If it is impossible, consider to divide group for at least part of a session.

There are also other issues during session, like amount of time to spend in one place (some people have to wait for the others), positions to be taken for the best short and long shots (one may disturb another) and others. This way everybody can learn not only the art of photography but also patience and respect so needed in collaborative work and learning. Group leader should be aware of possible problems in this matter and facilitate discussions if needed.

When the group overcome problems like mentioned above, can reach many benefits. Collaborative photography is at the same time an opportunity for mastering individual skills during the process of work. Being together people can discuss their choices of positions, lenses, camera settings, long and short shots. They can talk about light, perspective and many other things. This way they can learn best solutions in action and use them at the same time.

We took the opportunity of visiting Istanbul and Enez to take our first photos. After two days and nights, we got great number of them. We also spend hours on discussing everything connected with this subject.

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Step 3 – Preparation of the exhibition

The next step is to prepare an exhibition. It is obvious that the space for such initiatives is always limited comparing to amount of available material. Thus photos should be selected. Although at the beginning selecting photos is an individual work (each member of a group can decide which photos she or he wants to share, and which are bad quality or don’t fit to the concept), everybody should remember common goals of exhibition. Four questions: what is to be shown, why, where and how should be reminded on the beginning.

After the first choice group is prepared for the next stage of collaborative learning. Knowing the “subject” of exhibition, and having concrete space to use, people have to decide on photos and a way of its presentation.

Size and number can be discussed together. How big photos do we want? Should all of them be at the same size? Do we prefer to show more photos or bigger ones? These are only some of possible questions to be answered by the group. Simultaneously the second selection of photos is made.

When the group is convinced that the choice meets the goals of exhibition, another step is to choose materials, which exhibition is going to be prepared with. How to print the photos? How to present them? There are many possibilities.

In our case we decided to present 10 photos showing the most significant (in our opinion) places of Istanbul and Enez and most important moments of our visit – story of our stay in a places showed from our perspective. We printed them in the size of 30×40 cm and put them separately into the frames with glass. Then we arrange them in the given room – some hung individually, some other in a kind of subgroups.

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Step 4 – Internal and external assessment

In a process of this kind of learning, especially when the group is made from amateurs, it is useful to confront results with a wider circle of people. The best way is to invite people for exhibition and discuss with them most important issues. This way authors can get opinions from amateurs and experts about the content (what people see in their exhibition – how they see the story and how they see the places) and also about technical issues of the way of taking photos and its presentation. This process can be also facilitated by online resources, social media, dedicated platforms and forums. In particular, specialized platforms and forums are a good way to get experts’ opinions.

We tried both – live and online ways and got satisfactory number of comments and opinions. We got very positive assessment of photos’ quality and most people found our “storytelling” quite clear, but there were a lot of comments and advices for changing the way of presentation (exhibition building). We appreciated very much all the opinions, especially because we also weren’t happy about the final result.

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There were several things which we had to improve or change. Most of valuable comments gave as professional photographer, also experienced in exhibition preparation. Main conclusions were:

1. One must be aware of light in the exhibition room – the sunlight can sometimes make photos almost invisible.
2. Also glass covering photos is not a good idea because of light reflections.
3. Professional photographer who consulted our materials, sent us several proposition of different arrangement of photos – different sets, with less space between them (another person had also an idea of placing photos chaotic way):

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he also advised us to use passe-partout (white or grey):

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  • and suggested to mix long and short shots as well as vertical and horizontal photos.

4. He gave us also a contact to professional photo laboratory, where it is possible to print high quality photos and protect them with matte antireflection foil.

 

Step 5 – Second session and second exhibition with assessment

The next step, very important, is to repeat the process having on mind all the things learned so far. Group should gather and sum up all the important facts, comments and opinions, find weak and strong points and plan the next part of collaboration.

Next photo-session should be the next point. You can come back to the same place, especially when you realized that the documentation part was done wrong or not as good as you expected, or pick another one. In our opinion the second option is better – it is always much more interesting to take photos of new objects and also new place with different conditions and objects gives the possibilities of new experiences – new things to learn and more things to improve.

We’ve been lucky to go to Malaga region for the next session – completely different place than Istanbul and Enez, and little bit more time to use. We enlarged a group a bit. New members were told about everything achieved so far, and from the other hand, they gave us some fresh ideas. Very well equipped we explored Malaga and villages around.

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When we came back, we repeated all the steps as previously. Having new space for our photos, we picked 14 photos and grouped them in 4 thematic posters. 12 photos are horizontal (all the same size) and 2 vertical (a bit bigger). Posters are designed in a way that they have to be placed in a certain order. They were designed and prepared for printing by us and sent to photo laboratory for printing and further preparation. They printed them, stacked to the special plastic material and protected by matte foil which doesn’t reflect light.

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We can observe a huge progress in several planes of our learning. The result is satisfying not only for us. People asking for assessment also share our opinion. We know that we still have a lot to learn in this matter and we are looking for new learning opportunities.

 

Conclusions

Presented process can have much bigger number of steps. Achieving mastery in this and any other domain is a long, sometimes infinite process. The path is always individual, but the pattern is usually the same. We believe that collaborative way of learning and working during these workshops was much effective and took less time than individual one would do.

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