When the days seem a blur

by Madiha Kark

MEXICO CITY — Less than 48 hours before the final submissions, ask any student and they’d tell you there aren’t enough hours in the day.

Students spent their day with their subjects, getting footage for their stories or consulting with instructors on road blocks and creativity. Instructors met with the students one-on-one to help edit, shape the story and critique their work. Catch a few glimpses of the day here. Stay tuned for a blog post on the stellar Thursday night panel discussion on Ethics in the Media and field advice from photojournalists who shared personal and professional stories.


Michael Robinson Chavez helping a student with his story. Photo © Neal Jackson
Ron Haviv and a student go through images for the final story. Photo © Neal Jackson

Behind the scenes with Alice Driver

by Madiha Kark

MEXICO CITY — Meet one of the students at Foundry this year, Alice Driver. Dr. Alice Driver is a long-form journalist and an international speaker who focuses on human rights, gender equality, and migration in Latin America. She has received numerous prestigious fellowships and her work has been published in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Longreads Originals,  National Geographic, The World Policy Journal, The Guardian, The Texas Observer, Al Jazeera English and many others.

Driver’s project focuses on La Calle de la Belleza or “Street of Beauty” in La Merced. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Mexico City and was a center of sex work and commerce since the conquest. Today, women get all kinds of beauty treatments; like waxing, eyelash curling, eyebrow ironing, tattooed makeup and nails. She is interested in exploring the constructs of gender and beauty on this street particularly focusing on makeup tattooing and nail art.

Stay tuned to this space for more student stories.


Alice working on her project. Photo © Madiha Kark
A stall owner shows Alice the intricate nail art. Photo © Madiha Kark


Alice on assignment. Photo ©Madiha Kark


Alice photographs a woman filing her nails. Photo: ©Madiha Kark



A close up picture of the nail art. Photo ©Alice Driver





Day 3: Diving into the life of strangers

by Madiha Kark

MEXICO CITY — When one looks at projects of renowned photojournalists, it’s easy to assume that all photojournalists have brilliant minds that form amazing ideas. It’s easy to assume that they don’t have any difficulty getting access or talking to strangers or that they don’t have to work hard at their skill because they are already great at what they do.

The truth is that it takes a lot of practice to gain trust, convince people to allow a stranger to document their life. It takes courage to go out everyday and put your heart and soul into creating work that matters. Day three at the workshop and students experienced the rush to create a piece of work within the next three days. The pressure was palpable in the air as most students visited their subjects for a day of immersion and capturing the moments integral for their stories.

Adriana Zehbrauskas guides a student on her story. Photo © Neal Jackson

The evening presentations by Adriana Zehbrauskas, Rodrigo Cruz, Michael Robinson Chavez, Natalie Keyssar, Pedro Valtierra, allowed students to view current projects and a behind-the-scene of how the images were formed. The panel discussion that followed focused on how to work in Latin America, security issues and protocols. “We need to have a larger discussion on teaching young photojournalists on how to be safe,” said Keyssar, talking about her own struggles and methods to be safe when working in dangerous places.

In a jam packed hall, students listened in awe, taking notes and finding inspiration for their future stories and dreams.

Panel discussion on Working in Latin America. L-R Dario Mills-Lopez, Rodrigo Cruz, Michael Robinson Chavez, Natalie Keyssar, Adriana Zehbrauskas and Pedro Valtierra. Photo © Neal

Day 2: Finding the subject and story

by Madiha Kark

MEXICO CITY — When it comes to producing content for any creative field, be it writing, photography, film or multimedia, we question ourselves. We question our skill level, our authenticity and our ability to create an impact. We ask, “What am I adding to the conversation that hasn’t already been said?” We worry whether or not a story topic has been done to death. For the students nervous about all these questions, Monday morning provided a solace, as instructors broke into small group sessions and discussed story ideas, creative road blocks and their expectations for the final projects.

Ron Haviv and a student share a laugh during a portfolio review. Photo © Neal Jackson

The instructors stressed how pictures do not have to be sterile and perfect. “Develop empathy and understanding and give each story the time it requires,” said Natalie Keyssar explaining the importance of developing trust with subjects. The classes were an equal mix of students with beginner and advanced skill levels yet the advice given by instructors applied to everyone.

In the evening, students showcased their portfolios with one-on-one portfolio reviews with some of the top photojournalists in the field.

Michael Robinson Chavez reviewing Erika Pineros’ portfolio. Photo © Neal Jackson

As the evening sun gave way to darkness, students shared stories over steaming cups of coffee and mulled over their project ideas. Sharing stories is what makes us human and dynamic visuals have the power to evoke emotions on a deeper level. It is this sense of friendship and family that binds the participants of Foundry as they explore new horizons within and outside of themselves.

Day 1 : The story begins…

by Madiha Kark

MEXICO CITY — On a slightly chilly Sunday afternoon, inside the patio of Universidad de la Comunicación, about a 100 students waited to register for the 10th annual Foundry Photojournalism Workshop. Students from as far as Colombia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Argentina, the United States and all over Mexico mingled over warm coffees, laughter and stories.

What started as an idea to teach visual storytelling to emerging photojournalists has blossomed into a community of mentor, peers and lifelong friendships. The relationships that form through the workshop transcend barriers of culture, language, skills and background. “People become friends and they come year after year,” says Eric Beecroft, the founder of the workshop. “It is like a family.”

Students arrive at the registration tables on the first day of Foundry workshop. Photo © Madiha Kark

Instructors Maggie Steber, Ron Haviv and Andrea Bruce encouraged students to treat their stories and subjects with respect and be open to ideas. “Nobody owes you a story, you have to earn it,” said Steber.

In a place so visually and culturally alive, Mexico City is the perfect backdrop to find stories. Students discussed personal stories, proposed projects and received tips for better storytelling from the instructors. The evening instructor presentations and panel discussions were inspirational for the students, highlighting topics such as safety, intimacy and work ethics in visual storytelling.

Mexico City is a labyrinth of stories and visuals, waiting to be seen and told. The task to capture the stories and represent them with honesty and integrity is what Foundry is all about. This is where the story begins…

Stay tuned to this space for more updates.

Juan Pablo Ampuda and Adriana Zehbrauskas speak to the Foundry 2017 students about safety in Mexico City. Photo © Neal Jackson

It’s a BIG ONE! Ten years of Foundry Photojournalism Workshops!

Mexico City, July 21 – Eric Beecroft (L) meets with PhotoWings founder Suzy Katz (C) and her crew, as well as Foundry overall coordinator, Cheryl Nemazie (R), to plan for activities at the Universidad de la Comunicación.
Mexico City, July 23 – As instructors, staff and students arrive in Mexico City, the reality is setting in that it’s been almost a decade since Foundry held its first workshop, also here in Mexico City.

Since then the workshop, true to the vision of its founder, Eric Beecroft, has moved around the world to help educate emerging photojournalists who can’t easily get formal training opportunities in visual storytelling. India, Argentina, Turkey, Thailand, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Guatemala, Indonesia and South Africa have all been locations for Foundry training. Now we are back in Mexico City, where it all started.

The rich culture of this city of nine million people promises to generate great stories that need telling. With nearly 100 students enrolled, and at least thirteen instructors arriving, this year’s workshop promises to be one of the best.

But once again, before the workshop begins at Universidad de la Comunicación, many hours of work will have been done. Staff and others supporting the workshop (including the awesome crew from PhotoWings, led by the inimitable Suzy Katz) have already been here for days – planning, coorginating, collecting, and doing all the things necessary to make things run smoothly. And student have also been making their presence known, as many are here already researching their projects, arranging fixers, and otherwise preparing for the serious work this week on their photo projects.

Today the fun begins. Watch this space and we’ll keep reporting on the workshop as it proceeds!


Announcing Foundry 2017 Scholarship Winners

Congratulations and felicidades to our full tuition scholarship winners for this year’s Foundry Mexico City workshop.

The winners are Danielle Villasana (USA), Tamara Merino (Chile), and Enrique Rashide Serrato Frias (Mexico).

Here is an image from Villasana’s winning portfolio entry:

Like many other countries worldwide, there is a stereotype in Peru that trans women are only capable of working as hairdressers or sex workers. Because of high competition for salon work and the need to pay for studies, many trans women are relegated to prostitution. Here Camila, left, gets out of a taxi after a long night of dancing.
From the series “A Light Inside,” a long-term project exploring the life-threatening challenges that trans women face in Lima, Peru.

Here is an image from Merino’s winning portfolio entry:

Gabriele Gouellain, a German immigrant, waits in the kitchen for her husband to return from mining. According to the Coober Pedy district council, about 60 percent of the town’s residents are originally from Europe, having migrated to the area after World War II. Coober Pedy, Australia 2015.

Here is an image from Frias’s winning portfolio entry:

The educational gap in the Mexican republic is imminent, there are still schools made of cardboard, as is the case of the bicentennial elementary school located north of the city of Culiacán. Not having the right infrastructure for study becomes a problem that children suffer day by day, the heat exceeds 45 degrees Celsius, many times pay attention and learn becomes almost impossible; However, the most alarming situation occurs in the family. The lack of education and employment leads to one of the most serious problems facing Mexico, violence and drug trafficking.
Teachers in these times struggle for their work as the government seeks to enrich their ambitions with the new educational reform.

Final Student Work Is Presented; Shaun Swingler Wins Golden Scarf Award

Cape Town, July 16 – The main projection space at Orms Cape Town School of Photography was packed.  Everyone was waiting in rapt anticipation for the projection of student work to begin.  Then Tiffany Clark, technical coordinator, pushed the button and…there the stories were!

The story subjects included street sleepers, a childrens’ circus, seals under water (the student was with them), a troop of refugee actors from Congo, a Malawi couple making a new life in South Africa, an anti-apartheid hero who lost his legs in the struggle, a Zimbabwean artist in South Africa, and a group of Utopians living on an abandoned military base, just to name a few.

Then, the great moment of the workshop arrived – the award of the Golden Scarf.  The scarf is indeed gold in color and is signed by all the instructors and staff.  The winners have not necessarily been the best photographers in their workshop, though they have always been outstanding photographers.  Rather, they have been the student who most embodies the spirit of Foundry – cooperation, collaboration, sensitivity and excellence in photographic and journalistic skills.

This year the Golden Scarf went to Shaun Swingler of  South Africa.  Congratulations to Shaun!

Instructors’ awards went to Ray Ochieng Olewi of Kenya, Lindeka Qampi of South Africa, R.D. Hunting of the US, Gerardo Aguilar Herreros of Mexico, Juan Pablo Ampudia of Mexico, and Michelle Rosner of Canada for their work and support of the teaching exercise.

After the image-packed evening many students and faculty went to a nearby brew pub/wine bar to celebrate the completion of the work and to say goodbye to their colleagues…until next year’s Foundry – tentatively to be held in Mexico City.

Shaun Swingler of South Africa, left, who received the Golden Scarf award from instructor Jared Moossy, right. Swingler is wearing the fabled Golden Scarf. Photo by Neal Jackson.
Shaun Swingler of South Africa, left, who received the Golden Scarf award from instructor Jared Moossy, right. Swingler is wearing the fabled Golden Scarf. Photo by Neal Jackson.


Close to the Finish Line – Final Project Critiques by Instructors

Cape Town, July 15, 2016 – The work intensity increases as the students work with subjects to get their final images, and then meet with instructors – and, in at least one case, their subject as well – to get final critiques of their stories.

The day opened with heavy rain, which continued until the afternoon, when the famous Cape sunshine returned, showing a rainbow across Table Mountain National Park.  Meanwhile students were huddling with their instructors in the staff hotel to get critiques and suggestions on their stories.

In one case, the subject also came to the editing session.  Yamkela Nqweniso, 16, a star South African girls youth soccer player, whose story Foundry student Tracey Pennoyer has been photographing, asked to see the images and the editing process.  Her interaction with Tracy and with instructors Peter DiCampo and Edward Echwalu showed humor and delight in the images she saw.  Look at it below.

Final editing session with subject, youth soccer star Yamkela Nqweniso, 16. L-r, instructors Peter DiCampo and Edward Echwalu, student Tracy Pennoyer, and Nqweniso.
Final editing session, this time with the subject of the story, youth soccer star Yamkela Nqweniso, 16. L-r, instructors Peter DiCampo and Edward Echwalu, student Tracy Pennoyer of the US, and Nqweniso.

Other sessions, spread out in groupings with other instructors throughout the hotel lobby, continued throughout the day with equal intensity.

Instructors James Whitlow Delano and Charles Shoemaker meet with Fungai Tichawangana, of Zimbabwe to discuss the final stages of his project. Waiting for his turn at left is Ralph Hunting, of the US
Instructors James Whitlow Delano and Charlie Shoemaker meet with Fungai Tichawangana, of Zimbabwe to discuss the final stages of his project. Waiting for his turn at left is Ralph Hunting, of the US


Photojournalism is a Business – Remember That!

Cape Town, July 14, 2016 – Today students got a large dose of something other than photography and story telling.  Your blogger taught a two-hour course in the Business and Legal Issues of Photojournalism.

The course started with the useful reminder that, to continue in photojournalism, one must earn enough to live.  Thus one has to think of their work not only as journalism, but also as a business.  To survive, the photojournalist must earn a fair income for their work and protect its inherent value.

The course then moved on to the concept of copyright – what is it, when is it created, who owns it and how is it protected.  Instructor and South African photographer Jodi Bieber, who sat in on the class, pointed out that the default ownership in South Africa for freelancers gives the copyright to the commissioning entity, unlike the US where the copyright generally belongs to the freelancer unless it is signed away.

The class then received and read a series of forms of actual form contracts between photographers and acquiring entities, with each contract being assigned to a student for analysis, after which they explained elements of the contract to the class.

The class ended with a focused discussion on negotiating, pricing and billing strategies,  including ways to find out market prices through specialized software and Web resources.

Neal Jackson, reviewing forms of contracts with students in special class on Business and Legal Issues of Photojournalism.
Neal Jackson, reviewing forms of contracts with students in special class on Business and Legal Issues of Photojournalism.


The People Who Make it Happen – Our Staff

Cape Town, July 13, 2016 – Foundry would never happen but for the hard work of our staff.  That staff is spread across the US, and their work is proof positive of the benefits of the Internet.  Here’s a little bit about each of those working in Cape Town:

Jen Storey – Jen is an educational administrator in Utah.  She was enlisted by founder Eric Beecroft early in the life of Foundry and has been a key player throughout its evolution.  She helps plan the location, structure and operations of the workshop.

Bev Pecoraro – Bev is another educator from Utah.  She shares with Jen the top administrative responsibilities of the workshop.  In fact the internal email address for her and Jen is….JenandBev!  You don’t get just one – you get two solid operatives!

Hannah West – Hannah, another educational administrator from Utah, is the person who deals with the wide range of workshop nitty gritty, such as relations with the instructor/staff hotel and airport pick-ups.  But there is often more – this year she stepped in to help with the electrical plug converter issues (South Africa has a unique plug configuration).  In short, she prevents a lot of headaches that instructors otherwise would have to deal with.

Kirsten Luce – NY Times freelance photographer Kirsten Luce is in charge of the educational curriculum, and at times an instructor herself.  She keeps the educational component of the workshop flowing smoothly and helps the instructors with issues when needed.  A level-headed, smooth operator, Kirsten assures that the extraordinary information available from the sterling faculty gets delivered with maximum efficiency.

Tiffany Clark – Tiff is the technical coordinator for Foundry.  A freelance photographer and educator  at International Center of Photography in New York, she makes sure all the projection, sound and other technical facilities are working smoothly.  Tiff also provides digital editing training and runs an Instamatic feed of images from the workshop.

Of course, Foundry would not exist but for the foresight and continued efforts of founder Eric Beecroft, and the assistance of his wife Sharon, who administers the financial back office.  They stay quietly in the background, guiding Foundry each year to achieve its mission – educating emerging photojournalists in developing ares of the world.

And need I note that all of these staff personnel – like all the instructors – are volunteers.  None are compensated; they are only reimbursed for their expenses.


Foundry's staff personnel - l-r, Beverly Pecoraro, Jen Storey, Kirsten Luce and Hannah West. Missing: Tiffany Clark, who was making the sound work for the next instructors' presentation. Photo by Neal Jackson
Foundry’s staff personnel – l-r, Beverly Pecoraro, Jen Storey, Kirsten Luce and Hannah West. Missing: Tiffany Clark, who was making the sound work for the next instructors’ presentation. Photo by Neal Jackson

Feedback: A Night of Portfolio Reviews

Cape Town, July 12, 2016 –  How good is your portfolio?  Well tonight students got three different opinions, from three different instructors.  And nobody left in tears.

The Orms Capetown School of Photography was teeming with students, waiting to meet the instructor who would review their portfolio.  There was tension, but also support, as instructors carefully passed out hints and recommendations about the student’s pre-workshop images.  On listening to the instuctors, there were many supporting comments from instructors, and plenty of smiles from students.

The portfolios were varied, as one would expect from students coming from every continent in the world (except Anarctica).  Each portfolio challenged the instructor to address its uniqueness and to guide the student in a direction consistent with their photographic inclinations.

At the end of the evening, students trudged out with their heads buzzing, loaded with ideas.  The tired instructors downed a few  snacks and headed out for a drink or to bed.  Tomorrow the instructors will meet with students for their first review of project images.

Instructor Edward Echwalu reviewing the portfolio of South African student Lindeka Qampi.  Photo by Neal Jackson
Instructor Edward Echwalu reviewing the portfolio of South African student Lindeka Qampi. Photo by Neal Jackson


Need More Photo Work? Claire Rosen Can Help You Get It

Cape Town, Tuesday, July 12, 2016 – Claire Rosen once again drew a room full of students for her special lecture on marketing your photography.

Drawing of a range of concepts, even the much hated word “branding,” she walked students through the concepts behind reaching the market you want and need.  Then she gave detailed descriptions and methodology for reaching the market, ranging from face-to-face networking through unique communications methods (such as gift boxes with interesting photo-related contents inside) to online elements and social media.

At the end of the class she then shared with the student various materials that she uses to increase her work levels.


Instructor Claire Rosen provides samples of marketing materials which she uses to reach clients.  Photo by Neal Jackson
Instructor Claire Rosen provides samples of marketing materials which she uses to reach clients. Photo by Neal Jackson


Students and Instructors begin Their Collaborations

Instuctors Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson review examples of storytelling with students Laylah Barrayn (US), Carina Lau (Australia) and Lindeka Qaumpi (South Africa). Photo by Neal Jackson
Instuctors Kael Alford and Thorne Anderson review examples of storytelling with students Laylah Barrayn (US), Carina Lau (Australia) and Lindeka Qaumpi (South Africa). Photo by Neal Jackson

Cape Town, Monday, July 11, 2016 – Today the work began.  Knots of students gathered in classrooms all over the Orms Cape Town School of Photography (which generously donated the excellent venue) watching examples of visual essays. and absorbing instructors’ tips and ideas on effective storytelling.

Some students were already in the field, working on their stories, or contacting subjects, fixers or others essential to developing their stories.

The evening brings presentations of personal work by instructors Kael Alford and Andrea Bruce, along with a special presentation by instructor Claire Rosen on “Brainstorming and the Creative Process.”   This was followed by a free-form discussion by Claire, Andrea and Kael. 


The Day Before the Workshops Begin – A Maelstrom of Activity

Instructor Jared Moossy, his wife Billy Baca, and Instructor Claire Rosen catch up. Photo by Neal Jackson
Instructor Jared Moossy, his wife Billy Baca, and Instructor Claire Rosen catch up. Photo by Neal Jackson

Cape Town, Sunday, July 10, 2016 – The highly choreographed ballet known as Foundry Photojournalism Workshop has begun.

Instructors, support staff and sponsor personnel are arriving, rosters being checked, instructions given out and clarified, facilities confirmed, and an occasional beer (or this year a glass of one of the phenomenal South African wines) shared among people who may not have worked together since the last political or human rights crisis (or a prior Foundry workshop).  Then there are those instructors who came early to work on personal projects in and outside Cape Town who will arrive at the last minute.

And then there are the students.  This year students come from South Africa, Kenya, Egypt, Iran, India, Ecuador, Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Malaysia, Ireland, Netherlands, Canada and the USA (we probably missed one or two).  Tonight they will gather for registration and introductions to their instructors.  Tomorrow the hard work begins, with students working with their instructors to select a project and then embarqing into the community to photograph it.

We will try to write a post about what’s happening here at least every day, adding photos when we can.  So check in and follow the goings-on at one of the most friendly and effective workshops in photojournalism.




2016 Scholarship Winners Announced

A young Daasanach fisherman guts and cleans a fish on the Eastern shore of Lake Turkana near the boarder of Ethiopia and Kenya. The Daasanach are Kenya's second smallest tribe with between 60,000-80,000 members. They are traditionally nomadic, roaming between the two countries although with continued drought over the last 20 years about 30% have looked to the lake for food and income in fishing. © Christena Dowsett
A young Daasanach fisherman guts and cleans a fish on the Eastern shore of Lake Turkana near the boarder of Ethiopia and Kenya. The Daasanach are Kenya’s second smallest tribe with between 60,000-80,000 members. They are traditionally nomadic, roaming between the two countries although with continued drought over the last 20 years about 30% have looked to the lake for food and income in fishing. Photo © Christena Dowsett – 2016 Scholarship Winner

Congratulations to the 2016 FPW Scholarship Winners:

João Castellano, Brazil
Christena Dowsett, USA
Nariman El-Mofty, Egypt
Kiana Hayeri, Canada/Iran
Shiraaz Mohamed, South Africa
Younes Mohammad, Iraq
Kevin Ouma, Kenya
Ray Ochieng Olewe, Kenya
Jonathan Rashad, Egypt
Rahul Shah, India

We hope to see all of you in Cape Town in July!

Scholarship entries were judged by Foundry instructors Adriana Zehbrauskas and Kirsten Luce.

Scholarships Applications Open!


Applications for the 2016 Foundry Workshop Scholarships are now open

Are you dying to go to Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Cape Town, South Africa this year but worried about being able to afford it? Foundry offers about 10 tuition-waiver scholarships that will reduce the entire fee of the workshop. If a student has paid the tuition fee and wins a scholarship, he/she will be refunded the tuition. You have until April 3, 2016 to apply.

Scholarships are not cash prizes. Scholarships do not pay for travel, lodging, meals, etc. The scholarship only discounts the tuition fee of the workshop.

In order to apply, please fill out the form at the following link: [gpp_button color=”green” url=”http://www.foundryphotoworkshop.org/scholarships/” title=”Scholarship Application” target=”_blank” size=”medium” display=”block”]Scholarship Application[/gpp_button]

Applications must include the following in one .ZIP file no larger than 6mb:

  • 20 images (photo essay, singles or mix of both)
  • Brief description of professional photography experience or photo education
Foundry instructor Ron Haviv looks over a student's work in a classroom during the 2014 workshop in Antigua, Guatemala.
Foundry instructor Ron Haviv looks over a student’s work in a classroom during the 2014 workshop in Antigua, Guatemala.

January Sale – Foundry Cape Town 2016

January Tuition Sale
Kirsten Luce, a Foundry instructor and staff member, reviews images from her class in Antigua, Guatemala at Foundry 2014.

Save $100 or $50 from the price of Foundry Photojournalism Workshop in Cape Town, South Africa. Throughout January 2016, you can take off $100.00 USD (or $50.00 if you are from the local/regional list; see below)

* Local/regional students must be someone whose country of origin/birthplace is on the African continent. Also included are people whose country of origin is from the following countries: Brunei, Cambodia, Christmas Island, Malaysia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam.

A Student’s Post-Mortem on Foundry’s Bali Workshop

July 19, 2015. Nearly a hundred photojournalists register for the 2015 Foundry Photojournalism Workshop at Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. © Neal Jackson
July 19, 2015. Nearly a hundred photojournalists register for the 2015 Foundry Photojournalism Workshop at Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. © Neal Jackson

Washington, DC, August 31, 2015.  Now that the 2015 workshop is over, many participants are suffering withdrawal pains.  The intense work, the easy access to instructors and teaching assistants, and the closeness of other committed photographer participants are gone, and the realities of real life have returned.  Back home in Singapore, Kuala Lampur, Mumbai,  Melbourne or New York, it’s time to reflect and put the Foundry experience in perspective.

One student, Neelima Vallangi of India, gave it all a good thought and on August 9 posted a review of the workshop on her blog,  Her stated viewpoint was as an Indian photographer, but I can assure you that nearly every participant would tell the same story.  Here are her reactions, in her own words:
3 weeks ago, I, along with almost hundred other photographers from all over the world were packed in a room somewhere in Ubud, spellbound by immensely powerful and beautiful visual stories by some of the world’s top photojournalists. I was at the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop 2015 happening in Bali, Indonesia.
So what is this Foundry Photojournalism Workshop?
Few months ago, randomly scrolling through my twitter feed I stumbled upon a link to the Foundry Workshops. At the outset, the workshop is all about mentoring emerging photographers from developing nations so we can tell our own stories better. And the best part is that they get world’s top photographers, actually working in the field to mentor you as instructors for a whole week at insanely affordable cost($450). The instructors and the whole Foundry team volunteers their time to make this happen and the fees collected from attending students are just to cover the ground expenses of conducting the workshop. I took one look at the list of instructors for 2015 and I knew I had to sign up for this.
Represented by world’s top agencies such as Getty, Panos, VII and covering stories for reputed publications such as National Geographic, New York Times, TIME, etc, the list of photographers teaching at the workshop seemed too good to be true.(Anyone from developing nations who has considered or attended workshops with top international photographers knows how steep the workshop prices can be!) At that time, I had no idea how intense or inspiring that week would be.
This is how it works.
After registering at their site, few weeks before the workshop commences you get to choose your instructor(s) whose class you want to attend. You arrive at the location (changes every year) hopefully with a story idea already chalked out. Then you work on it during the whole week under the guidance of your instructor. There will be daily sessions where your work is edited, discussed, story is fine-tuned and you take the feedback and work on it the next day. At the end of the 5-day workshop, your work is edited down to a 10-image story and shown on the final night along with all other students’ work.
Along with all the shooting that you’ll do, the week is also packed with sessions – daily classes with instructors, additional classes on marketing, copyright laws, privacy, image processing etc and evening sessions where the instructors themselves showcase and talk about their work.
Despite being a travel photographer, why did I choose to attend a photojournalism workshop?
Months after registering, I was flying into Bali with much anticipation and equally anxious about le
arning the craft of visual storytelling from the best. I had chosen to attend Adriana Zehbrauskas and Paula Bronstein’s class. I was somehow very curious to know how women photojournalists worked in tough conditions. And my main motive of attending the workshop was to infuse some much needed story telling and if possible, few documentary style elements into my otherwise “just pretty” photography.

I knew I was sitting on a gold mine of important stories and had access to some insanely wonderful places and communities (a fact reinforced by discussions with few of the instructors). Going forward I wanted to be able to tell the stories of these wonderful places and communities in an insightful way and not just document them for the sake of posterity. For instance, imagine how awesome it would be if I could sensibly portray the tough life of Bakarwals, the nomadic shepherd community of Kashmir or document the mind-boggling water shortage faced in the world’s wettest place!

So what did I learn?
That photography is just like writing, actually it’s very stupid of me to not realize storytelling is the same no matter what the medium is. But this exact point was driven home like crazy during the one week, how to infuse your story into a compact set of images.
Beyond that, it was the complete approach that happened to be a great learning experience. Thinking of a story, finding your subjects then trying to form a narrative. And it felt so rewarding to go back to a place and shoot everyday on the same subject – trying to get more familiar with the story, predict what would happen and shoot images representing a specific idea.
Discussing daily with the instructors, I also learned how to interpret a story and individual images when I see one. Editing was an important part of the process; we had two instructors and two assistants. And everyone had their own way of seeing and editing a given set of images. I realized maintaining that individuality was pertinent to arrive at your own style.
Of course, it wouldn’t have been possible to have such a positive experience without the very patient and helpful instructors and the incredibly warm people of Bali who made me feel very welcome. I spent many hours every day in someone’s home watching and photographing them go about their work. We couldn’t communicate much because often I would be alone without my guide and my hosts would speak little or no english. But the lack of much talk notwithstanding, they always took great care of me and it felt amazing to be a part of their lives for that one week.
When I travel, this is what I look for and in many ways, I realized, working on a story leads to that exact outcome I’m after – immersive experiences that show me a glimpse of the local life and their culture. I specifically chose to document a Balian(traditional healers) who specializes in black magic. He commands unwavering faith and people take everything from him – beating, hair pulling and even spitting. It turned out to be a big challenge to first, find an authentic Balian and second, photographing the entire ritual stuck in a small box shaped room.
In the end, I’m quite happy with the story (not the result) I chose to work upon. Because any person you would speak to in Bali will have a story about visiting a Balian and this is a very integral part of Balinese culture. I will share the images from this project very soon. I found a direction and focus that I felt I was missing earlier. Hopefully, my stories henceforth will be more insightful and well thought out. *Fingers crossed*
Here are my tips to get the most out of this workshop!
  • Have a story idea ready by the time you arrive at the first class and if possible do the recce too. You will get the most out of the workshop if you get daily feedback on your shoots and image edits. Unfortunately for me, I had just one round of edit and feedback as I took long time to find my subject. Taking the feedback and heading back to shoot the next day is immensely helpful and so is the daily edit process. On an average, you’ll have classes on four out of the five workshop days before the final edit and presentation happens on the last day.
  • If there’s a particular idea or vision that you want to work on, fight for it and get guidance on how to make it work. Just doing something for the sake of doing something drastically different from your usual work won’t be helpful. Work on something that challenges you yet aligns with your end goal.
  • Do attend all the evening sessions to get massively inspired as the instructors and the assistants present and talk about their work. It’s also a great opportunity to strike a conversation with the instructors and network with fellow students who have come from all over the world. The community and the connections you make, I realized, become a very important and rewarding outcome of the whole workshop experience.
  • With a changing location every year, there are bound to be some challenges and unexpected issues. Be prepared for some minor setbacks and talk it out with your class assistants and instructors when you face any issue or feel like you are not getting enough time with the instructors.
Finally, here’s why I think Foundry is absolutely bang for buck, especially for Indian Photographers!
Storytelling and especially visual storytelling is a difficult craft that needs a lot of honing and mentoring. Above all, it needs a lot inspiration. During the 5 years that I have taken up photography, never have I been inspired so much to tell a story, any story. It was always about getting one good shot, just an independent shot that fit nowhere in the arc of storytelling. Without a purpose, I was as lost as a fish out of water. I always just thought of making pretty pictures, now I see that even a landscape can have a story to tell.
In the beginning when I had just bought my camera, I was eager to meet the photography community and go on one of those several photowalks where several DSLR-wielding people flocked a market or a slum or a busy street over the weekends. Try as I may, I could never get excited enough about the prospect of shooting in a market. They all came back with beautiful pictures but none of those images stuck with me. I forgot them as I saw. They made no sense. And when I saw a photostory, it all went above my head. Learning to see is just as difficult as telling I suppose. I related more to the traveller tribe(who always had the most outrageous stories to share) and never integrated into the photography community.
Now, it surprises me that there are so many wonderful amateur Indian photographers out there creating beautiful and strong individual imagery but so few of them actually work on a full story. I cannot even imagine the amazing work that will be produced with some guidance. I’ve noticed that many of the top visual storytellers of our country at the moment have studied in international photography schools where they possibly learnt how to tell and decode a story. Here in India, there seems to be no easy access to learn the craft and the difficult onus is completely on us if we want to find guidance, learn and understand the complex art of visual storytelling. We hardly have prominent photo festivals or a way to interact with the professional photographer community working on real stories across the country. Wish this would change in the coming years but until then, we at least have Foundry for that much-needed inspiration and learning!
P.S – Just in case you’re wondering, the entire trip and workshop was self-funded 🙂
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