Monday, July 7, 2008

Student & instructor feedback- we want to know your pros and cons

Foundry Workshop: Overall Review- chime in now, students & instructors
After several weeks of down time, fielding emails, talking to staff/instructors and students, about this year’s event, etc its time to do a little housecleaning. Being our first year, we know we did some things great- and some things weren’t so great.Some of this was clearly our fault, and some of that which wasn’t so great was beyond our control- operating in a foreign environment, even when you arrive early and as prepared as you can, will throw some curveballs at you. So, Ill start with the goods and bads, and feel free to chime in students and instructors. The only thing I would ask is to KEEP IT CIVIL. Bitch all you want, but be nice about it.As one instructor, who will remain nameless, said “it was $500, and you got to go to Mexico City for a week with some great teachers and peers- what do you expect for $500 ?”

First off I will say we are making some fairly significant changes next year (expect to be in south Asia, end of July), based on student and staff feedback. The photo-j world can be very opinionated, even downright argumentative and derisive (as if LS’ers dont know that already!) and Ive gotten exact opposite feedback from instructors and students about various elements of the workshop. Since there is no way to make everyone happy, we will just try and stick to our original intentions and streamline and format from there.

a. created a great community
b. saw awesome work from teachers and most importantly students- this can be seen on the blog
c. one class got to try out M8s in the field
d. created an event for students and locals who otherwise would not have been able to afford such an event (this has been hotly debated, but since I know the financials, I can attest to it with numbers)- over 70% of locals attended on scholarship for reduced or free tuition.
e. students had great portfolio reviews from great teachers
f. student feedback, one on one time and instructor- student help was phenomenal. Some classes were too big and this made it difficult, but overall I think alot of folks got a lot of strong feedback and we able to push themselves in their work, no matter their level/
g. some people got work out of it
h. some people realized they dont want to this as a living but as a hobby- just as important a revelation IMO
i. alot of the mystique around photo-js- the cult of personality and fame- was dissipated and students met and befriended their idols as human beings, and saw their strenghthes, weaknesses and frailties-and made connections and friends in the industry
j. gave away alot of scarves
k. we provided ALOT of beer
l. mazing panel discussions, with much candor, wit and insight.

a. some classes were TOO big. We will have caps in future events.
b. ability levels were all over the map- this will be addressed with differing levels of classes in the future, that students will need to apply for /portfolio into, with direct contact between teacher & student before the workshop begins.
c. staffers came- this was an issue, since the workshop is really for students and locals (local staffers- we want them.) who cant afford more expensive workshops. Its not really designed for those already making their living as staffers on a paper. We cant be having people come for a cheap workshop when they could afford a more traditional one. That will kill us, and we will have protocols in future events to prevent that from occurring.
d. too much of a party atmosphere- this is debatable whether good or bad. some loved it some hated it. some want a more intimate and intense approach, some dont. so we are working to create a mix of both at next years event.
e. venue needs a/c- absolutely!!!
f. students didnt show up prepared to a. work and b. with story ideas, research, groundwork done- a passion for what they were doing. There are so many levels of seriousness, from casual to semi-pro, but we really need to have students show up at least a few days early, having prepped and ready to rock and roll. The instructor should be a guide on the side, not a sage on the stage. Its the self driven students who you will see produced the most amazing work- those who took the ball and ran with it.
g. fixers- we had some awesome ones (Rodrigo – you are a god among men!) and some that werent. This is an expense we will pass on to students- fixers can be expensive, very necessary (they make it all happen), and students need to learn to work with them.
h. translators- this needs to be worked on; hopefully less of a issue in South Asia. Again students need to cover this cost for their story, and find their own/come prepared.
i. locals attending- we strived to get as many locals attending as possible. It was not easy- the school we were at did NOT announce/allow their students to attend as they thought ti would be too many people, though their staff did attend. This was a severe disappointment to me, and a fact I didnt know until I was told- 2 days before the workshop began. This was the point of having it at a school- to bring as many locals in as possible.
Again we scholarshipped about 17 locals, but next year Id like at least a 40% ratio of locals to non locals, if not more, as well as a 2 price system. We are working on this- it was very tough to get the word out. next year we’ll do better.
j. too may evening events- next year there will be 3 or 4 nights, not 6 or 7, with breathing room and working time in the evenings.
k. not enough people wore scarves enough. seriously. how can we expect to be taken seriously without being scarfed up all the time ?
i. never let Brazilians run your bar. No slam on Brazilians, but damn…
j need more intimate settings next year- smaller classes, more one on one.

ok let me have it…


Anonymous said...


You raised a helluva lot of points there, so I'll only go into some of them.

i) I had the best time. Foundry was totally worth selling all my gear for (have to sort out the new camera soon. my trigger finger is getting restless)! Thank you, once again, for putting it all together.

ii) I attended the workshop with Stephanie and Andrea (with a bit of Shaul and Ben thrown in. We got a great deal!), and I am very grateful to all of them for giving their time. Our class was very big, tho, as you know. Too big. We were supposed to have editing sessions in the afternoon about our work, which did take place, but which were pretty rushed, as there was so many students' work to go through. It was great to get instant feedback from all four (I think at least the first day meet was with all of them), or at least from Andrea and Stephanie. Editing is something I can't master at all, so it was great to see how they approached it (very differently at times, I can tell you that!). Definitely a learning experience. It was dissapointing, that I missed some of Shaul and Ben's lectures on freelancing due to the editing sessions.

iii) Portfolio reviews: It was great to be able to show my portfolio to people who's work I've admired for a long time . Too bad our group was so big, that I didn't get to have portfolio feedback from my instructors (maybe I should have been more pushy). About the evening of portfolio reviews.. it might be a good idea to divide them between two or three nights. I couldn't help sensing that some of the reviewers were pretty tired by the end of it.

iv) the evening slidehows: i'm not a big fan of slideshows but I enjoyed them. I wish there had been more time for questions after each slideshow.

v) the panel discussions: they got a bit tedious at times. My favourite was the war photography one.

vi) the parties: Thanks for all the beers and caipinrinhas at AAVI. It was also cool to go out for dinners and some beers with some of the intructors. Admittedly, some of us can't hold our beer as good others, so the mornings-after were a bit tough sometimes. The last night with student slideshows ( a bit long tho) , Slideluck Potshow and all the dancing at Mama Rumba (or whatever it was called) was awesome. There are always people who like to party and those don't. Personally, I'm somewhere between (this might come as a surprise to some). The most important thing is that I got my project done ( i put the entire final edit at ) and I'm reasonably happy with it. I doubt the partying affected too much.

vii) the community: the best thing about Foundry was , for me personally, being able to feel to be a part of a global photojournalism community. Photography can be quite a lonely activity sometimes, and it was great to meet so many young talented photographers pretty much from all across the world, who obviously had the passion and drive to put everything into their photography. I have no doubt that I will be seeing some great work from a lot of these people in the future ( as well as cursing them for winning all the awards and taking all the great assignments).

ix) Eric, please let us know what is going to happen with the book.

x) I will definitely attend next year again. Looking forward to seeing where it's going to be held.

xi) forgot the point.


Kirsten said...

Hi all-

I had a fantastic week.

One thing--I was confused about why you don't want newspaper staffers to attend. You said that they can afford to pay more? Most newspaper staffers don't make much money, most are facing the very real possibility of being laid off, and many want international experience. Why is this a bad thing? If anything, they provide a different perspective on the industry and probably have a well-organized workflow than can help their fellow students. I would much rather have newspaper staffers in my group than activists that want to learn to be journalists. i think the best workshops are a place to hone your skills, not a place to learn journalism.

Over the course of the week I learned a lot about the logistics of working in a foreign country--researching, finding a fixer and marketing stories. I just quit my newspaper job and what i took away from this workshop will help me tremendously.

Skippy Sanchez said...

eric- exactly what's the beef with staffers being part of the workshop? did we take up too much space?

-just wondering--

Gidi said...

ok, I realy don't have much input since you all mentioned the few point I had.

But I do have one point to thing I feel is worth repeating- evening schedules.
Most of my work was at the late afternoon or evening, which means I had to miss two evening activities I really wanted to attend.
Since we are documentary photographers and night time is very active for our kind of work, I think this is very important.
I know you said it your self, but I figured if I mention it too, it may actually work.

One other thing - Mikko made a comment about holding your beer...
Dude! I have never seen anyone hold down as much beer as you! Never!
You are in no position to make observations on that subject!
Drunken Finnish wierdo :)

bottom line though - I had a great time, and will definitely be attending in the future, if I can afford it. We all made some great new friends & contacts.
And it was worth every cent...

KLPhotography said...

I didn't attend the classes but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed the photographs you posted. I have always found that to be the most intriguing, shooting subjects in a real live format rather than posing, it allows for more emotion to ooze of the photograph. Great job.