This is the second part of our Q&A series looking back at the experiences of Alumni of the Eddie Adams Workshop, a gathering of 100 students held annually in Jeffersonville, NY. Applications are due May 27, 2011.
Melissa Lyttle is a staff photographer at the St. Petersburg Times and founder of APhotoADay.Â Lyttle was a student at The Eddie Adams Workshop in 2001.Â Since then, Lyttle has been a member of the Black Team, a workshop photographer, team producer and team leader. She was recently appointed a member of the NPPA Board of Directors.
VS: When did you first attend the workshop as a student? What did you do toÂ prepare your portfolio before you were accepted? What were you thinkingÂ when you first arrived there?
ML: I attended EAW XIV, as a student, in 2001. What I remember most aboutÂ putting my portfolio together when applying to the workshop was reallyÂ trying to break free of the mold of a traditional portfolio and submitÂ something I felt like was more in tune with the pictures I wanted to beÂ making, more in touch with a personal vision I was trying to find andÂ hone. It’s still the biggest tip I have for students applying today, showÂ them what you want to show them, not what you think they want to see.Â You’ve got to be true to yourself, and I think the EAW faculty respectsÂ that.
VS: When you were a student, what was the biggest lesson you learned aboutÂ photography? About yourself? Many alumni feel the experience is about moreÂ than just pictures – but being a part of a very unique family. Is thatÂ true? What has that been like for you?
ML: Barnstorm gave me the freedom to take more risks with my photography. TheÂ workshop really pushed me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to makeÂ pictures that I wasn’t making, mainly because all of my silly,Â self-imposed restrictions (editor’s voices in my head, worries that theyÂ wouldn’t be published, wondering what kind of grade they’d get me inÂ college, etc.) weren’t there. As young creative types, we put a lot of pressure on ourselves, and a lot of the time we don’t give ourselvesÂ permission to fail.
And the experience is definitely about more than just pictures. It’s not aÂ shooting workshop, per se. Sure, the assignment is a big part of theÂ weekend, but itâ€™s not the only thing. The speakers youâ€™ll see areÂ amazing. The experiences had will stay with you for years to come. TheÂ things you learn about yourself are paramount. It’s about history,Â inspiration, connection with your peers as well as with the faculty. ForÂ me, personally, it’s the people who make this workshop. And it is such aÂ uniquely intense experience that it makes for life-long friends, mentorsÂ and people I’d consider like family.
VS: As a professional, what has your role been at the workshops? What isÂ it like to be one of the teachers now? Do you still learn something fromÂ the students? Why do you volunteer your time to make the trip?
ML: I’ve done a lot of different things at the workshop. I’ve never had moreÂ fun than being on the Black Team, where I did everything from cut theÂ grass and rake leaves to being the workshop photographer for a couple of
years. The Black Team is Eddie’s team — they bust their asses to make theÂ workshop run. They’re an incredibly talented group of photographers whoÂ stay behind the scenes to make sure the faculty and students have the best
possible experience. They truly are the heart and soul of the place.
Then in 2006, I was asked to be a team producer, which I’ve done for theÂ last five years, except for that one blissful year I was asked to fill inÂ for a team leader who couldn’t make it. Producing is a fun challengeÂ though. My goal is to find good stories for each of my 10 students, fromÂ 1,500 miles away (I live in Florida, the workshop is in the Catskills). IÂ bust my ass to put my students in situations to make the best possibleÂ pictures. I don’t take that lightly.
What I really hope each of the students understands is that everyoneÂ involved in the workshop, from the awesome white team who cooks someÂ incredibly tasty meals each day to every single team leader, to the blackÂ team, to the IT folks to every team’s leader, producer and editor to allÂ of the heavies brought into speak and inspireâ€¦ every last person isÂ incredibly talented, and incredibly busy with their own lives, familiesÂ and projects — and every single one of us who volunteers our time toÂ make the trip to Jeffersonville, NY each year to give back. We do it forÂ the students. That’s what keeps us coming back.
VS: Have you been involved with portfolio selections over the years? WhatÂ do you think the judges are looking for in the work that makes oneÂ person stand out over another?
ML: Sadly, I never have. But I think more than anything the judges areÂ looking for good pictures, personal vision and an untapped potential.
VS: What makes a portfolio edit really work together – the flow of theÂ images? their visual style? Content? It seems that each year their is aÂ wide variety of photographers with different experiences.
ML: Like with most photo contests, the pictures during judging are on the screen for a very short period of time. You’ve got to make an impression. You aren’t allowed the contribution of words to help your cause — no story summaries, no captions — so your pictures have to speak for themselves.
Light, moment and composition are the obvious baseline of what each photo should have. You should be seeing the light. You should be capturing the moment. You should be paying attention to compositional elements. The key is to start making photos that combine two of those, then three. Whether they’re photos of life in your small Wyoming town, or a portfolio of nothing but fly fishing photos, they need to wow the judges and the best way to do that is to know what you’re trying to say with your work, have the content to back it up and not have any clunkers in there.
My best advice is to edit tight. Eliminate weaknesses. Because at this level, when everyone’s competent, it’s really going to come down to those minute differences that set you apart.
VS: Any advice for someone who has been accepted? Things to remember? Do? Avoid?
VS: Anything you would like to add?
ML: Sure, I’d love to add my most sincere thanks to Alyssa Adams for opening her home to us each year, to workshop producer Mirjam Evers for making it run so smoothly and to Nikon for their continued support. And to all the students applying, best of luck, I hope to see you at the barn this year.
The application deadline for Barnstorm XXIV isÂ May 27, 2011. The application can be found atÂ http://www.eddieadamsworkshop.com/
“The Eddie Adams Workshop is an intense four-day gathering of the top photography professionals, along with 100 carefully selected students. The photography workshop isÂ tuition-free, and the 100 students are chosen based on the merit of their portfolios.”