"HI," SAID the handwritten note given to me as I began a slide show on Mount Desert Island. "This is Ana from your photography class at the Hudson Museum (I had a Pentax camera). I heard you were doing a slide show, but we will be back in Orono."
Ana was one of more than a dozen kids who took part in a two-day workshop on documentary photography that I taught early this summer in Maine. That class -- as well as a nostalgic return to the renowned Maine Photographic Workshops that years ago helped start me on the path to professional photography -- taught me a bit about giving something back.
"I really enjoyed your class and learned a great deal," Ana said in her note. "Last week we went to Baxter State Park. I took your advice about `burning film' and took 48 pictures of a mother moose and her calf. (My sister thinks I'm crazy.) Also, thanks to you, I sold my first series of photos -- the setting up of a vegetable stand at the Farmer's Market. Five shots for a dollar apiece. It's a start!"
She was a delightful kid, an energetic pre-teen who, with her friends, made the workshop a blast simply with their enthusiasm. I was unsure how I would connect with these kids, ages 10 to 15, and I died inside every time I saw someone stifle a yawn. But happily, by the end of my talk my young charges were champing at the bit to run outside and take pictures.
The next day, when they came in with their photos, I felt like a proud father.
"I was hoping someone would take a picture of that sky!" I exulted when I saw that a number of kids had recorded the spectacular puffy clouds of the previous day. "And this one is great," I said pointing at a bizarre shot of the underside of a tree.
"What made you want to take a picture under a tree?" I asked.
"It was weird," said Sam, 13.
"That's the best reason of all!"
Did I alter anyone's life with this workshop? Maybe not. But I was able to share my enthusiasm, not only for taking pictures, but also for writing about those pictures.
It was the same, only more intense, at the Maine Photographic Workshops, a few weeks later in Rockport.
I last had been to the Workshops some 15 years earlier, as a student, a Washington newspaper reporter who was slowly toying with the idea of chucking it all to become a photographer full time. Over three summers I had taken three master classes with Neil Selkirk, who removed much of the mystery about location lighting and studio strobes -- and who became a good friend. Jay Maisel helped dissolve my doubts merely by enthusing over my slides. I never worked so hard as a photographer in my life -- and it changed my life in the process.
Segue ahead 15 years and here is MPW founder David Lyman introducing me to an evening audience as a VIP lecturer who will talk about his latest book. The rush was great, but even more pleasurable was the next day's panel discussion on book publishing, in which I joined the likes of George Tice and Philip Trager. Still, the best came immediately after, when I sat in on Phil's class, in which photographers with book projects actually put together dummies, preparing to offer them to the cold, real world.
If I could do nothing else, I could tell these photographers how nothing compares to the thrill of producing a book: what a maddening, bewildering, expensive process it is -- and how wonderful it can be.
Not the most detailed lecture, I admit. But, as Ana said, it was a start. Perhaps for someone to realize a dream.
Next week in this space: Stamps and Coins columnist Bill McAllister.