On my first day at the Maine Workshops Master Photography class I cried. We were reviewing each student's portfolio one by one, and every student seemed to have a better technical grasp of the medium than I did - some were even professional photographers. With my out of focus, overexposed portraits, I felt like a pre-pubescent 12-year old entering college. So I bawled like a little girl. The teacher, a renown photographer with a sky-high stack of awards, took me aside: "Right now you see technique as this insurmountable mountain. But everybody is here for a reason. Some of your classmates may be great at lighting, but they haven't found their eye. To each their own challenge. You'll see. Every one will leave this place a better photographer, including you."
The workshop was a gruesome and marvelous week. Lost in the vast landscapes of the beautiful, remote countryside of Rockport, Maine, at a time of year when the leaves become red and golden and the nights are a little bit cruel, the outside world receded and only photography remained. For 16 hours a day, our illustrious teachers cracked our skulls open and poured light in. Like an exhausting game of squash, we were constantly thrown fast balls of knowledge and inspiration. We learned as much from the instructor than one another; exploring old and new techniques, sharing tips and tricks, pushing each other's limits with constructive criticism and encouragements alike - and struggling together through the fatigue and learning plateaus. Each exercise was geared towards widening our vision, not narrowing it with fit-for-all formulas; there was a different photographer in each of us, and the goal was clearly to grow each talent in its own soil.
Practice never ended, whether in the studios, the post-production rooms, or outside, by the piers, on the beautiful coast, through the quaint and colorful village. It barely stopped at night, when we'd walk the creaky woodfloors of our campus lodgings and spend hours with our eyes riveted to the ceiling, our minds brimming with ideas. On top of our world-class professors' dedication, the intensity of the total immersion made the difference. There was no going home at the end of the day. We did nothing but eat, sleep, and photograph, like we'd suddenly fallen into a parallel dimension populated only by peers, cameras, darkrooms and self-discovery. The eight strangers in my class, each from a different corner of the world, became the only people I knew. We were like prison mates, partners in crime. Thrown into this intense, immediate intimacy, friendships, affairs and love stories blossomed and died daily. Ten years later, branded by the common experience, most of us are still in touch.
The immense creative freedom, urged by the thrust of the challenge, lasted long past that week. We all left with bigger toolbelts, our eyes open wide, enthralled by the possibilities, and jealous of those who got to stay year-round for the Fine Arts Master's program. The Maine Media Workshop is one special place. (The final steak and lobster dinner really doesn't hurt either.)
For more information and a look at the different programmes for 2012 (runing between february and june), visit the website.
Written by Marie-Charlotte Pezé.
The Maine Media Workshops is an international non-profit educational organisation offering year-round workshops for photographers, filmmakers, and media artists. Students from across the country and around the world travel to the harbor village of Rockport, Maine to attend courses at all levels, from absolute beginner and serious amateur to working professional. The Young Artists Program offers creative course opportunities for high school students. Professional certificate and MFA programs in photography, film, and multimedia are available through Maine Media College. The school's curriculum honors historical forms and practices of image making while embracing new technologies and modes of creative expression.