Foundation. In the literature world, “foundation” is the first book in a series. In the general world, “foundation” is the lowest and supporting layer of a structure. In the photojournalism world, these two fiercely collide and make this sort of “steel beam-self help” book. Little did I know that Foundation would really become about me starting my own story in my career and in my life. It became a goal of mine to attend Foundation. I needed Foundation. I needed the lessons…I needed the experience. This is where my passion lies…I’m a professional in this field…and I needed to take it to the next level. I told myself that I would TRY to go next year in 2014 and pray the spots weren’t filled up yet, as it fills up a year in advance. Then, about 3 weeks before the 2013 Foundation was underway, Janine found out a spot opened on Tyler Wirken’s team. She said if you want it, contact them now. So after a 3 minute freak out, I sent an email and the next thing you know, I’m on a 12+ hour road trip to Glen Rose, Texas.
What did I know about Foundation?
- I knew the best wedding photojournalists in the world (literally) would be there as students along side me, teaching me, and mentoring me. I was learning with and from the best.
- There’s crying. A lot.
- Sleep deprivation.
- There are counselors there. (Seriously. It’s hard to the point where they have freakin’ counselors on STAFF.)
Trying to avoid being a “how to” manual of Foundation, simply put, I was put on a team of 5 other phenomenal photographers, lead by the incredible Tyler Wirken, assisted by my dear friend and partner Janine McClintock. Our mentors were Kirsten Lewis and Erwin Darmali. From there we endured inspiring presentations, fun bonding activities, and then given an assignment to document for 2 days. I went into this thinking I would get this killer scenario to document…one that would have some serious depth and I could change lives via my images. Turns out, I got a chocolate factory. My immediate thought was, “this will be great…it’s going to be just like that one ‘I Love Lucy’ episode…”. It’ll be quirky and great. It wasn’t what I expected. The people were wonderful…the chocolate was delish…but there really wasn’t much going on there. For anyone that knows me, I’m a mile minute. And realistically…I’m 400 miles a minute. I’m busy all the time. My brain is all over the place. This place FORCED me to slow down and I had no idea how to handle it. I felt like I had no idea what I was doing in a slow environment. I was frustrated and felt like I was failing. That night, my mentor, Erwin, gave me a perfectly sweet one-on-one “lesson” on slowing down and simplifying. Not only did this apply to my photography and assignment…it 100% applied to my life. Erwin has a calming and realistic demeanor about him that makes you relish what you’re learning and processing. That evening, my team was up until 3am critiquing our images from the day. We all looked like we had been hit by a bus…mine was a chocolate bus.
Day 2 I promised myself to not get as frustrated as day 1. Tyler, my teacher, assured me that I knew what I was doing. To be inspired. To calm down. I went into day 2 hearing Erwin’s mantra to me “find what’s interesting and shoot it”. I knew what inspired me in this assignment, I was just afraid it really wasn’t what I was supposed to be shooting. Then my other mentor, Kirsten Lewis, came in to check on me. With hairnets and all, we sat and hashed out my frustrations, just as Lucy and Ethel would. She said, “you know what’s inspiring you…so let’s just make weird f*&$#&% pictures”…and that’s when it changed for me. I was inspired by something and I wasn’t trusting myself to run with it. I was so focused on wanting this huge story to tell…to tell a story of a chocolate shop without it being a manual of how to make chocolates. It turns out what was inspiring me, was telling the story for me. The hands of these people were doing the work. These hands were making art. Delicious art.
(One image from my final slideshow)
The biggest lesson I learned was to trust myself. Trust what I’m shooting. Trust the story that’s trying to tell itself, even if it’s something small. I learned to simplify. I learned to shoot for myself. I learned to be patient. As David Murray told us, “Don’t settle for crap when you can wait for the good stuff”…and wait I did. And waited. And waited. And waited.
To Tyler, my teacher…you are so much more than a teacher. You’re a friend, an inspiration, a mentor, and a leader. You have changed my life photographically, and literally. You have opened my eyes to actually see the world in the way that it was intended. With life and truth at the core.
To Erwin, my mentor…thank you for spending so much quality time with me. For making me understand what my brain was doing and for helping me learn that processing and being patient is a lifestyle to be learned. Thank you for making me see that I need a mental check list. And THANK YOU for going with me to a dance class that I really think blew both of our minds away and assuring me that I was exactly where I needed to be. And just so you know, I’ve invested in a planner and this girl’s getting organized. Boom.
To Kirsten, my mentor…thank you for assuring me that sometimes you just need to play when telling a story. Thank you for letting me embrace my quirks and trusting what inspires me. You bleed passion and I love it. You are driven and set such an example of making a goal and doing whatever you can to reach it. You’ve hit my core girl…you’ve hit my core.
To Janine, the lovely assistant for the week, and my awesome partner in crime and business…thank you for knowing I can do this and pushing me to do this. Having someone believe in me the way you have is priceless and so cherished by me. Thank you for being on the other end of my “this sucks” text messages and assuring me that I could do this.
To my peers…I love you all so very much and can’t believe I got to share this crazy week with you. We’ve bonded…we’ve done the electric slide…we’ve cried…we’ve laughed…we’ve lashed out in anger…and I loved every single minute of it. I feel like all of us in room 318 experienced a movement of change, growth, and love that will forever be kept in my heart. To Mary McHenry…you are awesome and I’m completely inspired by your truth and unwavering strength. Your livelihood and way of embracing every situation is one to be recognized. To Timothy Mak…I secretly called you “silent, but deadly” and you were exactly that. You have a drive and fierceness about you that nobody could repeat and I was so pleased to get to know you. To Cory Ryan…I want to listen to your laugh every single day. Seeing you embrace the excitement and lulls as they come inspires me to do the same. You make me want to grow more as a photographer. You have truly inspired me. To Chris Werner…man you are funny. To say I’m inspired by your work, life, and humor would be a complete understatement. You’ve seen and done things this Iowa girl can only dream about…and to be so down to earth and humble in your work is a true gift in itself. To Wendy Gibson…oh Wendy…I love you. Our hearts are of the same kind. I’ve learned to constantly be passionate and to shoot with a purpose because of you. You’re humble and sweet, and everything I want to be in the future. So…Who’s up for round 2?
To my peers not in 318…it was a true delight meeting you all. Some I was able to chat with more than others. You’re all amazing. Thanks for the group Insanity workouts…the funny chats about Texas donuts…the spray glitter. I’m thrilled to stay in touch with you all knowing we cried the same tears all week. I’m so proud of what we accomplished and was in a pool of greatness on Thursday night.
And lastly, to everyone involved with Foundation…Huy…staff…everyone. Thanks for making this workshop about going beyond your own expectations and actually learning. Thank you for not selling us anything. Thank you for being just the same as everyone else in the room. That alone, was worth it’s weight in gold. I’m spoiled to have had this experience and I can’t wait to cry a second time for a whole week straight in 2014.
- McKenzie Ring