Burn My Eye held its first street photography workshop in Asia on October 7-9, 2017, in Taipei's historic Dadaocheng district. As it happened, a good third to half of BME’s current membership was actually involved in workshops in October, not just in Taipei but in Brussels and Barcelona as well.
The Taipei workshop, which was led by BME members Andy Kochanowski, Junku Nishimura, Rammy Narula, and myself (TC Lin), was a first in several ways; not only was it our first workshop in Asia, it was also the first we’ve held with as many as four instructors, which was a tremendous benefit for the students in terms of exposure to our widely varying styles both of photography and instruction.
Andy flew out from Detroit a few days early, arriving on the evening of the 3rd to get the lay of the land as he’s never been to Taiwan before. We spent many hours over the next couple of days walking around the area and mapping out a general direction for the various parts of the workshop. Junku flew in from Japan at noon on the 6th, followed by Rammy from Bangkok that evening, and we all got together for hotpot in Ximending that night. Of course, I’d already met Junku in Japan, and I’d gotten together with Andy at previous BME exhibitions in both London and Paris, but it was the first time I’d met Rammy in real life, though we’ve known each other online for quite a while. It was a genuine pleasure, and I look forward to working more with him as well as all my BME comrades.
The weather couldn’t have been better; I’d been praying for good weather for the course, because although October tends to have the best weather in Taipei, the forecast this year was for rain. However, we were fortunate to see all kinds of weather and light over the course of the three days, from bright sunlight to misty rain to windy, almost typhoon-like conditions, affording all kinds of opportunities for the students to practice shooting in different, sometimes challenging light.
The students were also able to witness four very different styles of street photography between the four of us, in terms of both actual photography as well as instruction. Andy was using flash quite a lot, and he and Junku were both using film cameras (a rare black Contax T3 and a Leica M6, respectively), while Rammy and I were rocking the digital side with a new Leica M10 and my aging, battered Sony A7r.
We started out with some basic presentations of our thoughts and approaches to street photography before heading out to shoot on the afternoon of the first day. Though Taiwanese students tend to be a little subdued in class due to the influence of the somewhat dogmatic education system here, they were quite enthusiastic about learning and open to new approaches, full of questions and observations so that everyone could learn from each other. We also had students from the U.S., Canada and Scotland, resulting in an even more interesting mix of styles and commentary.
Andy gave a great deal of instruction and commentary in the classroom, analyzing the works and engaging in dialog with the students about their vision and thinking, while preferring to send students out on missions for outside work. Rammy was a bit more hands-on both in the classroom as well as outside, sticking by students as they shot and making suggestions and providing examples. Junku was always hovering around and offering advice, but he has always been a quieter, more solitary photographer, which shows in his approach and work as well.
As the sole local instructor, I was dividing my time between running the workshop, making sure no one got lost (at least not in a bad way), watching students shoot, and offering my opinions and suggestions when I felt it was necessary. Though we tried to mix things up in order to give all the students equal access to all of the instructors, students naturally tended to gravitate towards certain people whose styles they felt were more applicable to their own. I should add here that the workshop simply wouldn’t have been possible with the efforts of my assistant instructor for my community college photography course, Chenbl Chen, as well my students who volunteered to help us out with logistical tasks such as arrangements and translation.
We generally held to a rotating schedule of outside shooting in various circumstances, e.g. daytime, night, area, followed by classroom discussions of the work. After three days, we were thrilled to see impressive improvement in the students’ work. Some of the more basic students faced some challenges at the beginning, but got up to speed quickly enough, and the more advanced students seemed to find the experience useful in advancing their skills as well. It was most gratifying to see people engaged in the conversations, asking questions and experimenting with different approaches, getting out of their comfort zones and trying new things to complement their own styles.
At the end of the workshop, we asked the students to create edits of their own work made during the workshop, giving them advice as they did so. We then printed the work for an exhibition at the site, which is also a gallery. If you’re in Taipei before the end of the year, please stop by the 2nd-floor gallery at #27 Yanping North Road, section 2 to take in the impressive results of this most interesting workshop. The event was such a success that we are considering making it an annual thing; we’ll keep you posted about this and other BME workshop opportunities in the future.