A Baker’s Dozen Worth of Questions with Weekends Director, Michelle Lousen
With RMSP’s popular Photo Weekends program being the most attended of anything we offer, and with the Weekends season coming up this January through April, we thought it would be good timing to introduce you to the brain trust behind the program and provide a glimpse into who she is. For the past six years, Weekends Director, Michelle Lousen, has done an awesome job of steering the Weekends ship into bold new territory. With the huge challenge of handling all of the minute details and also maintaining a “big picture” understanding of ever-changing technology, her primary goal is to provide a quality and relevant experience for the participants. I spent a few moments with Michelle and here is what she had to say. Enjoy!
Can you give our readers a brief bit of your background and tell us what your role is here at RMSP?
I grew up in Montana, graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in Communication Studies and I’ve lived in Missoula most of my adult life. Even though I am not a photographer, through my previous work experiences I’ve accumulated the administrative, event planning and project management experience and skills that are all applicable to directing the Photo Weekends program. There is a lot of office work and organization and planning that happens behind the scenes of every Weekend – I lead those efforts and in collaboration with RMSP staffers who are photography experts and active photographers, we develop the most valuable 2-day learning experience we can for amateur photographers.
How are the cities for the Photo Weekends decided each season? Is there some sort of magic formula?
There are some general guidelines we use – we typically don’t return to the same city two years in a row but we do return to some cities every two or three years because the events are so well attended in places like Seattle, Sacramento, Austin and Minneapolis (to name a few). We choose at least a few locations that we’ve never been to before and we try to scatter them around the map each year. And of course we can only go to a city if it has a venue with the appropriate meeting space that is available on the exact dates we need it, in addition to the facility and area meeting around 30 other criteria relating to contracts, costs, accommodations, logistics, etc. And I’m always conscious of choosing locations and venues that will enable us to keep expenses like lodging and parking as low as possible for our attendees.
What do you hope students take away from the Photo Weekend?
I hope they leave with new-found knowledge, skills, excitement, inspiration and confidence – an overall feeling of satisfaction that their time and money was well spent. I love to hear students tell me that they can’t wait to go out and shoot so they can apply all of the skills and knowledge that they’ve obtained during the weekend. I think like with anything, the more knowledge and skills you acquire, the more confidence you’ll have and when people are confident that they can improve their photography, they are bound to shoot more and enjoy it more.
This will be your 6th Photo Weekends season, what are you most excited about for 2012?
I think the schedule of classes is a really strong offering this year. In addition to a very balanced offering of foundational and special interest topics, we’ve added a class called, Shooting and Processing HDR and Panoramic Images. It’s always exciting to see how a new class is received. And something else new that people will notice for 2012 is that in over half of our Weekends cities, we’ve scheduled multi-day Workshops to follow. So for those that want in-depth, hands-on instruction after the Photo Weekend, they’ll have the opportunity to attend a 4-7 day RMSP Workshop in their city.
What is your favorite and least favorite aspect of attending and facilitating a Weekend?
Favorite is hearing direct feedback from students and feeling a sense of accomplishment and pride that I get to be a part of this program that so many people enjoy and benefit from. Being at the events also lets me see firsthand the impact that our wonderful instructors have on their students.
Least favorite is not getting much sleep and being away from everything I love in Missoula.
Coffee. Yes or no? Cream, sugar or straight up?
Always! A shot in the dark w/cream and a touch of Sweet’N Low.
What was the last book you read?
“Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall. It inspired me so much that I started running in minimalist shoes, absolutely loved them for three weeks and now I’m in a boot for four weeks while my stress fracture heals. Apparently I don’t understand the meaning of the word “gradual.”
What do you like to do when not working at the RMSP office or attending a Photo Weekend?
Running, reading, Frisbee golf, going to concerts and movies and watching the Vikings or the Mariners, depending on the season.
What’s your worst horror story related to a Photo Weekend event? (instructors delayed in an airport, lost equipment, venue double-bookings?)
Ha! All those things have happened but hopefully none of the students knew. The first Weekend I went to over five years ago was the most challenging and ultimately it ended up being a great event, so I’ve felt like I could handle anything since then.
What kind of photography do you like most?
Anything that tells me a story or makes me wonder. Images that capture a moment.
What do you take the most photos of?
My handsome yellow lab Deuce, and sweaty guitar players.
Who are the instructors involved in Photo Weekends this year?
We have Tim Cooper, Tony Rizzuto, Doug Johnson and Eileen Rafferty. Tim, Tony and Doug have each been teaching Weekends for several years and Eileen is not new to teaching photography, but this will be her first year sharing her talents with the Weekends program.
What makes a Photo Weekends instructor different from other instructors?
It’s a given that our instructors are excellent teachers, but Weekends instructors also need to be experts in a diverse range of topics and they need to be able to present an incredible amount of information in a two hour session. They each have a knack for making the classroom learning experience fun and inspirational so that students leave with more than just knowledge and skills. And though they are not required to be funny, I often hear laughter coming from the classrooms so that’s a bonus – an instructor with a good sense of humor, and all of our Weekends instructors have that.