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Mary Ellen Mark Workshop at the Center for Photography at Woodstock

A few weeks ago I took a great two-day workshop at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, “The World Observed,” taught by Mary Ellen Mark (yes, THAT Mary Ellen Mark. If you are not familiar with her work, stop what you are doing and enjoy the magical powers of an internet search).
It was a great experience. There were about fifteen of us in the class, and we each received a crit from Mary Ellen. I met so many talented, wonderful people and got plenty of fresh eyes on my current series. Mary Ellen gave me some very helpful feedback on my current work, and advice on how I should go about a particular project I will be starting at the end of September (more on this soon). She was incredibly warm and centered; it made sense to me that people would be able to relax with her behind the camera.

As part of the class, Mary Ellen gave each of a photo assignment to work on at the Dutchess County Fair. I’ve been wanting to create an image at a fair for a long time, so this was very exciting for me. One of the most challenging things for me was the light, almost everything I shoot is the hour before sunset, dusk, or night – and we were working in the middle of the day. I started by walking around, observing people and taking a few candids.


I fell in love with this last man with all of his dog t-shirts.


Eventually I found a good spot to create an image.


Now that I have done enough of these types of shoots in public, I am able to work while strangers watch me without letting it bother me. It can be hard to keep focus when there are people watching you and sometimes giving you a bit of a weird look – but I really just try to focus on what I am trying to accomplish. It usually takes up 100% of my focus to make an image like this, so it’s really the only way I can work. The only time is was really a problem was, during one ride, when all of the kids started yelling “take my picture” over and over.The second location was harder to work out, on account of the heat and the man working at the booth was trying to talk to me via megaphone.


I stayed at the first location for almost an hour waiting to get the right image. I wanted there to be kids in the ride while I took the image, so I spent a lot of time waiting. I wanted to create an image that played on the relationship between childhood and adulthood. Being at the fair was surreal. I was surrounded by a candy colored playground for kids, and, as an adult, it felt like I was invading my own childhood memories of being at a fair. Out of this feeling, I used an empty cotton candy bag as a prop to try and show that smothering feeling.

All in all, a really good experience. I’ll be shipping these images to Mary Ellen to edit (!) so I’ll post her response and choice of image when I get her feedback. Here are also a few images of our class.


It was such a pleasure to get to know all of the amazing photographers in the class and spend time with Mary Ellen. I would absolutely suggest taking a class at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, they are very reasonably priced and have a great team of people there. I actually took a class there the weekend after the Mary Ellen Mark class with Kelli Connell – so more on CPW in the next post!

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