Jean Ulbricht Montana
Intermediate Photography - 2013
I have dabbled in the art world all my life but I am relatively new to SLR cameras. Since retiring, I have been able to travel internationally with a point-shoot and now an SLR on automatic mode. In these travels I became ‘possessed’ with using the camera to witness another culture outside Montana and the USA. To better record my experiences, I have taken every digital camera class offered by my local community college in Montana’s Flathead Valley. Then, a friend of mine told me about RMSP. In the midst of a January snowstorm, I decided to go for it. I signed up for three weeklong workshops: Intermediate Photography, Macro Photography, and Death Valley National Park. I had gotten to the point where I needed to jump into the deep end and go beyond the great start I got at the community college level.
When I showed up for the Intermediate class at RMSP, I knew I had a lot of gaps in my knowledge, especially my working knowledge of manual exposures and spot metering. I didn’t know if what I picked up in my community college classes prepared me on the same level as the serious photographers, from all over the United States, who sign up for RMSP.
However, I experienced how Tony Rizzuto’s lectures grounded us in the basic principles such as composition, lighting tone, manual mode, and use of equipment. For me, I was hearing these cognitive photographic principles in a new way that I could actually use.
The next miracle of this school’s teaching system was going to an inspiring new location in Montana, to have three- to four-hour hands-on shooting assignments – in manual mode! Tony and his assistant were always nearby at these shoots, letting us experiment but also answering questions on the photo concepts being applied, as well as helping with equipment and camera settings. The relationship of learning a concept and then immediately practicing it is experiential learning at its best.
The daily critiques also felt safe. Tony could see in our photos something I was not aware off. He recognized for each of us similar subjects, tones, lines and composition in our work that we did not realize from our subjective view. He could see what we were each drawn to and he professionally guessed at the “story” we each wanted to tell. Tactfully, he pointed out what could distract the viewer from seeing and feeling the story each of us wanted to share in our photo.
Before this point I never realized how important it was to have my work be seen in the world, especially by a person who could say something beyond “that’s nice” or “I don’t get it.” It’s a gift to have someone who can reflect back to you in words that they do “get” what you are expressing. During the workshop, I didn’t always agree with Tony’s critique of my work. But in some way that was even more powerful, to have the experience of examining the strong emotions in my reaction to the words he chose. Tony told me it was his job to recognize and encourage each student’s personal style or perspective. If he didn’t do that and the person was not encouraged, they most likely would only end up doing average or imitative work that did not come from their true self. Even during this week, by being seen, we all began to try new things, and express our creative juices.
RMSP’s structure of lecture, shoot, critique and is physically and emotionally draining to do for six days in a row. Add in morning and night shoots and you end up being totally immersed in photography. This draws on all parts of you; parts you might not know you have! Through this process however I felt so focused I began to dream and wake up thinking about my photos. It is rare in life to have such an opportunity to get expert attention focused on helping you refine your abilities.
On an even deeper level, to be seen and be encouraged to be your true self, at any age, is a remarkable experience!