Gain access: Just about the Best Photography Assignment ever!

I had a fearless and passionate teacher named Marty Fromm who used to give a brilliant photo assignment to his students called “Gain Access.” Marty thought that this was a good assignment because he said that “cameras have gotten me into so many cool places and they have kept me out of places too.” He is well known for getting his students to push the envelope to see what’s possible with their photography. He also liked quoting Duane Michals to his students: “Trust that little voice in your head that says ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if…’; And then do it.” This attitude has opened so many doors to society and culture for Marty and his students that they would have never experienced had they not had their cameras and curious natures with them. It’s completely open-ended, has a sense of adventure/playfulness to it and offers just the right amount of ‘challenge’ to get people to push their boundaries. I loved the assignment so much that as homage to Marty I began giving it to our incoming Career Training students.

Here are some great examples of people who in my mind beautifully embrace the idea of ‘Gaining Access.”

Mike Hollingshead: Storm Chaser

I stumbled across this fascinating photographer in an article on PetaPixel. I checked out his website and loved his photographs. The adventurer in me was also charged by his passion for chasing storms (I secretly love to watch videos of extreme weather…tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes, storms…). I have experienced two major earthquakes and in another life, I think I could be a storm chaser. How about you?


Sarah Van Nortwick: Selfies

Sarah, one of our Career Training graduates and current teaching assistant for our school, ‘gained access’ to herself via an extraordinary exploration of self portraits. She created a different self-portrait every day for several months. With this project she revealed a diversity of her personality that I would have never seen or imagined had she not done this. I loved her work so much that I purchased one of her ‘selfies’ and am able to see and be inspired by it almost every day. She may not have gained access to a physical place, but getting inside our own minds can be a great adventure.

Sarah Van Nortwicksarah van nortwick (2 of 6)Sarah Van Nortwick

Go Pro possibilities: Waves and Birds

Many of you have Go Pro cameras. Here are two examples of getting those Go Pro’s into the air to capture fascinating perspectives of our natural world. I chose to share these examples for those of you who have tendencies towards invention…thinking of new ways to manipulate how we employ digital imaging. The bird video is pretty funny. It’s the first video shot by a bird. Wow.

Jeremy Lurgio: Lost and Found Montana

Jeremy, who teaches in our Career Training Program and our Workshops Program, did a fascinating project called “Lost and Found Montana,” where he travelled 7500 miles to photograph 18 towns that were on the edge of extinction. His challenge of gaining access involved researching the stories of the towns and driving out/interviewing the people who were still around. Jeremy came up with the idea for shooting this project after reading an article in the local paper that reported Montana Dept. of Transportation’s plan to remove 18 towns from the state highway map. As it turns out no one likes to be wiped off a map. As we venture towards considering how and why to approach hybrid image making (combining stills and motion) Jeremy shows us how in some situations you really need both. Be sure to watch the videos as hearing the voices of the residents adds a richness that wouldn’t be possible without them.

lost and found montana

Edward Burtynsky: Manufactured Landscapes

Edward Burtynsky expresses what he does so poetically and cohesively, that…well…it just seemed best to pull his artist statement from his website:

Exploring the Residual Landscape

“Nature transformed through industry is a predominant theme in my work. I set course to intersect with a contemporary view of the great ages of man; from stone, to minerals, oil, transportation, silicon, and so on. To make these ideas visible I search for subjects that are rich in detail and scale yet open in their meaning. Recycling yards, mine tailings, quarries and refineries are all places that are outside of our normal experience, yet we partake of their output on a daily basis. These images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire – a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.”

Edward Burtynsky (artist statement pulled from his website.)

I would love to see our blog readers try out this assignment. Give it a go and when you have images to share, email them to me at It would be great if you could also share in your email what you were setting out to do, any challenges or interesting encounters you experienced and perhaps what you learned about your photography. I will collect everyone’s explorations and share with all of you in a future blog post. I’m super excited to see what you create. If you work better with deadlines then let’s say, send me your story and images by 3/1. Ready, set, Goooooooo!