Democracy Dies in Darkness

In Sight | Perspective

Lessons through the lens and life: 9 photographers share their best memories of the Eddie Adams Workshop

By Olivier Laurent

October 6, 2017 at 9:54 AM

Eddie Adams is best known for his 1968 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngọc Loan, the chief of the national police, executing a Vietcong prisoner. But for close to 3,000 photographers, emerging and established, young and older, his influence has been felt on the fields on a little farm in Upstate New York, just minutes from Jeffersonville.

It’s there that Adams founded, 30 years ago, the Eddie Adams Workshop (also known as the Barnstorm) where 100 young photographers with five years or less of professional experience would come for a few days to meet, discuss and work with some of the most respected photographers in the industry.

Thirteen years after his death, the workshop continues to see new generations of photographers gather in Jeffersonville — all with the same desire to learn and, eventually, pay it forward.

As the workshop celebrates its 30th anniversary, In Sight asked nine of its alumni to share the one lesson they learned at the Eddie Adams Workshop.

Andrea Bruce — class of 1996

In the Syrian province of Latakia, a regime stronghold, a small village mourns the loss of a son killed in an ambush at the other end of the country. The lieutenant was the first soldier to die from this village of 125 people. (Andrea Bruce/NOOR/)

My photos from Eddie Adams didn’t win an assignment or an award. They didn’t push the boundaries of photography in any way. They were, generally, not great. But I worked it. I worked every second I could and was open to criticism, applying everyone’s advice to my skill without defensiveness. This gave me a good working relationship with editors and my team, helping me find fundamental mentors, necessary in this profession. Whatever magic has happened in my career, it has been through these lessons. Work hard, be open to failure, accept advice and work as a team.

Stephanie Sinclair — class of 1995

Tahani, 8, is seen with her husband Majed, 27, and her former classmate Ghada, 8, and her husband outside their home in Hajjah, Yemen, July 26, 2010. (Stephanie Sinclair/)

I was deeply inspired by the workshop; how could I not be with speakers like Gordon Parks, Eddie Adams, Nick Ut, John H. White and Tom Kennedy? Just to hear about their extensive, impactful careers opened my eyes to what was possible in this field.

Erika Larsen — class of 1997

Sven Skaltje was saddened to find the carcasses of two female reindeer whose antlers had become entangled during a struggle for dominance in northern Sweden. He estimates it took three days for them to die of starvation. (Erika Larsen/)

I was 20 when I attended the Eddie Adams Workshop at the encouragement of one of my professors and was very unclear what direction I wanted to pursue as storyteller. I was studying computer animation, which kept me deep in my own head for inspiration as well as execution. It was a huge awakening to walk into the workshop surrounded by photojournalists, and from that moment on, my entire compass was reset.

I heard one clear message from the experience I shared my peers and the inspirational lectures given by the working photographers: Life is rich and unique because of the human story, and to feel the human story and all its intensity you must engage wholeheartedly with the world.

Jahi Chikwendiu — Class of 2000

A massive sandstorm bears down on helpless refugees from North Darfur, Sudan, at the Ouri Cassoni refugee camp just outside Baha’i, Chad, on Aug. 13, 2004. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/)

As an Eddie Adams Workshop attendee, I was assigned to cover a little gazebo wedding. At the time, I was one of those young photogs who believed wide-open apertures that produce shallow depths of field made pictures better. On my assignment, I took a series of pictures showing the marrying couple facing each other during the exchange of their wedding vows. The woman overseeing the wedding could be seen straight on between the couple. Her eyes concernedly shifted back and forth between the soon-to-be wife and husband, her deep gaze staring over the top of eyeglasses that had shifted toward the end of her nose. She was the most interesting part of the photo, but she was out of focus, somewhat lost in my attempt to shallowly focus on the marrying couple.

My workshop coach, Joe McNally, very correctly pointed out that the layers in my pictures would have been more pronounced and less distracting with even a bit more depth of field. It was a simple but very powerful lesson. Be mindful of not just where I put my focus, but also its depth. It has been an influential lesson for both photography and life. In the last couple of years when I was a coach at the Mountain Workshops, one of the participants told me his picture-taking style was to shoot everything with the aperture “wide open.” With McNally’s lesson in mind, I told that student that if I were to put my style in terms of aperture, my style would be f1.8-f22 as I pointed out a range of circumstances that called for the full range of f-stops. Sometimes, the most basic seeds of information develop into mighty trees of knowledge.

Adrees Latif — Class of 1993

Marooned flood victims looking to escape grab the base of a hovering Army helicopter, which arrived to distribute food supplies in the Muzaffargarh district of Pakistan’s Punjab province on Aug. 7, 2010. (Adrees Latif/Reuters/)

I arrived to the Eddie Adams Workshop in 1993, at the age of 20. Surrounded by 99 other students, I realized the deep passion I had for documenting still images was also shared by a community of photojournalists from all over the world. During the workshop, I was given an opportunity to talk to Gordon Parks, Carl Mydans, Eddie Adams, John White, Nick Ut, Cornell Capa and Joe Rosenthal — photographers who forever changed the world with their images.

By being surrounded by others who had achieved greatness, I felt inspired to chase my dreams and learned the importance of photojournalists mentoring future generations.

David Furst — Class of 2004

American soldiers provide first aid to Staff Sgt. David Brown after he was shot in the leg near the site of a weapons cache found while on patrol in the al-Dora neighborhood of Baghdad in 2007. (David Furst/)

I don’t think he knows he had such an impact on my career and my outlook on photography. David Doubilet presented his work when I was a student there. From looking at his work, it’s clear that he is a standard-bearer in his field. I knew it was an example I wanted to aspire to. I just wanted to push in that direction. It was something that definitely motivated me. It’s a way of thinking that was gifted to me by the Eddie Adams Workshop. That presentation has stuck with me to this day.

John Moore — Class of 1990

Mary McHugh mourns her slain fiance, Army Sgt. James Regan, at the Arlington National Cemetery on May 27, 2007, during Memorial Day weekend. Regan, an Army Ranger from Long Island, was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq while on his fourth combat deployment since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. (John Moore/Getty Images/)

I learned at the workshop that careers are long, and the relationships we make serve us for our entire lives. It wasn’t that I went to the workshop trying to meet photo editors to give me assignments. I wasn’t mercenary in that way. I guess I am saying that I observed the friendships and interaction of great veteran photographers there, from many different backgrounds, drawn together for one weekend each month, specifically with the intent of mentoring a new generation, for free. Generations of the best in the field of photojournalism volunteer, usually at some personal expense and at great complication to their personal work schedules, to give away their secrets of the trade, show younger photographers how to avoid the mistakes they made, and, ultimately, take their jobs. I learned that careers are long and relationships matter.

Preston Gannaway — Class of 2003

Carolynne St. Pierre watches her son EJ play in the window while her husband, Rich, is away on a business trip. Carolynne says she worries about taking EJ outside alone because her cancer has stripped her of the energy to keep up with him. (Preston Gannaway/)

One of the lessons that really stuck with me from the Eddie Adams Workshop was how to be disciplined within photography. The standards were very high, and excuses wouldn’t fly. Pre-visualize the frame. Be responsible for every inch of it.

It helped me realize how much focus and energy was required to make a successful photograph. My team had to be up shooting at daybreak, and so even just finding the stamina required to sustain long days on such little sleep felt like an accomplishment.

Clarence Williams — class of 1995

An imprisoned young man designated as a “three strikes offender” says goodbye to his daughter after a visit. During the 1990s the Los Angeles County jail system was one of the largest in the world. (Clarence Williams/)

During the workshop, I had the opportunity to meet and befriend Gordon Parks. At one point, we had the opportunity to sit quietly and talk. He had just finished signing one of his books for me. Our voices were slightly above a whisper. Then he whispered, “I want you to know that I notice that you are the only black person here. I’m proud of you.” Then he kissed me on the cheek. I hurriedly snatched the book and ran to the closest closet, and I cried. I have been through a lot during my half a century, and I have mixed feelings about the career that chose me. But that moment — ah, what an incredible moment. I cherish it and many, many more life-affirming experiences at the Eddie Adams Workshop.

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In Sight is The Washington Post photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

Olivier Laurent is a foreign photo editor, commissioning photographers in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. He joined The Washington Post in 2017 from Time where he led and edited the magazine's photography vertical, LightBox.

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In Sight | Perspective

Lessons through the lens and life: 9 photographers share their best memories of the Eddie Adams Workshop

By Olivier Laurent

October 6, 2017 at 9:54 AM

Eddie Adams is best known for his 1968 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngọc Loan, the chief of the national police, executing a Vietcong prisoner. But for close to 3,000 photographers, emerging and established, young and older, his influence has been felt on the fields on a little farm in Upstate New York, just minutes from Jeffersonville.

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