Ibali Photography Collective: Week 1
Friday, August 18th: Dave Fisher and the students from Muizenberg High School finally took the first leap and started their brand new adventure: an engaging 10 week photography workshop with the goal to teach the students how to confidently depict a story through the power of photography.
– Text by Gaia Rovelli, images by Fernanda Hurtado Ortiz
Step 1: Commitment
Through the bustle of school ending on a sunny Friday afternoon, 10 giddy participants gathered in a small room waiting as Dave Fisher, the program’s facilitator, set up for the first meeting. As we started our meeting Dave recalled to the kids the voluntary base of the project, emphasising the need for commitment. “This is not about the end result,” Dave said, “but about the process to get there. I will provide you with the tools but I am asking for one thing in return; commitment. If you have any doubts about your commitment you are still free to leave but once you decide to stay, I will hold you accountable.”
The first lesson began with a group brainstorming: what makes an image valuable? The students’ involvement in the discussion increased as they began to share their opinions: “the angle, the message, the focus point.”
What makes it powerful? “Maybe the meaning we can see in it.” In order to keep the discussion animated Dave included famous shots as examples, including ‘Afghan Girl’, the portrait by Steve McCurry which appeared on the cover of National Geographic and became the symbol of the Afghan war. And even when the participants were unfamiliar with some of the portraits, meaningful questions would arise: how would a particular image tell us anything? Dave stressed again the importance of visual literacy: in these weeks photography will be the preferred language for reading, telling, interpreting. Images instead of words.
This informal first meeting of the workshop enabled the Ibali photo collective group to begin the journey together, building a space of dialogue where they could share their feelings and individual points of view on what a picture means to them.
Step 2: Photography has two faces
Photography is two things: on one hand there is the science behind: you get familiar with concepts of geometry, techniques, lights. On the other hand, you find the creative side: more abstract and artistic. We will do both, and we will bring the two together. This is the way through which our brand-new story-tellers will learn the language of photography.
On the technical side
The beginning brainstorming session demonstrated the participants’ intuitive understanding of a photograph but shortly after, Dave began to stress and teach the technical aspect of photography and its importance. He assured the students that after the 10 weeks they will be able to confidently identify and apply the skills in their own photographs. As a famous quote that Dave showed on a slide states, “the photographer has to learn the language of photography.” And this involves a reflection on concepts such as composition, cropping, the ‘rule of the thirds’.
The method of the workshop is rather inductive: first, Dave displays examples and encourages a discussion hoping for the students to come up with reflections. Sometimes adding up elements can make the difference, at other moments it is cropping and isolating some elements that would convey a peculiar meaning. Lines, shapes, the focal points that they identify with the rule of the thirds: everything is based on perceptions. But as the group leader recalls to the class: “it’s all about understanding what photography in its technical connotation means, the roots of this inductive process and mastering the space we try to capture in a shot.”
From technique to creativity
Technique is not the whole story. The second part of the workshop was dedicated to the other face of the medal: creativity. “If I see you just standing in one spot, clicking the button of the camera when we go shoot as a group I will let you know it will be a boring shot,” warned Dave. “Well, I guess I’ll have to think to some sort of punishment. You’ll have to engage yourselves!” What Dave wants the group to understand is the concept of the ‘privileged moment’: the camera is a magic device that translates what is going on in the photographers’ hearts and minds into the hearts and minds of others. “A picture can communicate across space and time, it is frozen time and with it we get to experience what a photographer felt, experienced and understood in a specific circumstance”. He shows the kids shots taken during the war in Bosnia: two hands reaching one another across a barbed wire fence. Everybody stared at it, proving the concept effectively.
The other main take-away of this second part of the workshop was the concept of the ‘decisive moment’. A bike in the streets captured exactly before it turns around the corner and disappears. As an example: a picture of a man and a woman who kiss outside a café: what makes the shot amazing is the ability to capture the exact moment when their dog looks up at the couple. While pictures are still in comparison to film, we can insert movement and time in them to tell a story.
Step 3: See, don’t look
Shifting and fidgeting began. “I think Friday is going to be a difficult day,” Dave jokingly commented. “Does anyone need a moment to stretch or take a quick break?” The next lesson was fittingly interactive. A good photo has to compel the observer to see something. In order to get this message across, Dave included optical games for the class to observe and comment on. We can play with the effects that human minds perceive, and it is possible to create great results with the most simple subject.
The class reacted with enthusiasm to all the exciting activities proposed, but the challenge that Dave hoped to leave the participants with is not to merely look around, but to see, which is a very different process. Dave explained to the class that we live in a world saturated with images and pictures: but even in a simple shot of a daisy, a good photographer would make somebody see something that he had never seen before.
Step 4: the task for the week
For how interesting and unique this workshop was, we were still at school. And this provides a legitimate ground for one of the scariest words a student can hear: homework.
By next week the students will first have to find three images that they believe to be powerful, that make them stop, look and see something. Then they will have to tailor down the analysis to their favourite one, bring it to the class and explain what is unique about it.
It’s time to see what this lesson left them, but most of all it is time for them to gain confidence in exposing something personal. Group cohesion and harmony will be essential to build a safe playground for their voices to speak, and to help them building their visual literacy, each one of them with his or her own language. “Be prepared to share and talk about your photos. This will be a safe space for everyone,” said Dave reassuringly.
More Ibalis Coming Soon
Next week the kids from Muizenberg High School will take on further challenges. The class will include a part of lecturing, but they will also get to practice with their cameras. Dave thanked the class again for their commitment and their attention, and left them with a final encouraging remark, a tip to constantly keep in mind: don’t look, see. And most of all, engage.