Michelle Gustafson’s Eddie Adams Experience

We absolutely love hearing from our graduates after they leave the confines of our classrooms. Whether making a big splash in their industry, or simply continuing to do what they love for themselves alone, we love knowing what they (you!) are up to. To us, the reward is simply knowing that they built their education in our halls and now have the ability to apply it however they want in their own lives. The following is a guest post written by 2011 Career Training Graduate Michelle Gustafson. Michelle recently completed the prestigious, intense, and oh-so-admired Eddie Adams Workshop, held in Jeffersonville, NY. Here is what she had to say about her experience …


Processed with VSCOcam with lv03 presetTo say that being accepted to the Eddie Adams Workshop was a dream come true is a real understatement. Anyone who has had a goal that was years in the making come to fruition knows what I’m talking about. It’s been close to a month since the workshop ended and I’m still buzzing that this actually happened to me. For those of you who don’t know what this workshop is, it was started by the legendary Pulitzer-Prize winning photojournalist Eddie Adams (Google his name and you are almost guaranteed to see his searing photograph of an execution during the Vietnam War) in 1989 at his family farm in Jeffersonville, New York. This tuition-free workshop takes places over Columbus Day weekend for four days (for which you sleep approximately 10 hours…more on that later). Every year thousands of portfolios from students and professionals alike from around the world are submitted for review and only 100 are accepted. Once there, everyone is divided into ten teams with their own colors (my team was Turquoise), each with a team leader, editor and producer as well as a digital tech. For example, my producer was Lisa Krantz, photojournalist for the San Antonio Express, and team editor was the senior photo editor of the New Yorker, Genevieve Fussell. Turquoise Team digital tech was the Managing Editor of Major Events for Getty Images, Mike Heiman. Rounding out the team was our leader, Gregory Heisler, a well respected portrait photographer who was an assistant to Arnold Newman and is now a faculty member at Syracuse University. Other photographers, editors and featured speakers there included James Nachtway, John White, Barbara Davidson, Marco Grob, Eugene Richards, Phil Toledano, just to name a few. And not to mention Nick Ut (who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for his photograph entitled “Terror of War” which is also a symbolic photo from the Vietnam War) who was just hanging out at the barn. Editors from the New York Times, The Denver Post, LA Times, CNN, MSNBC, Time Magazine, The Washington Post, Education WeekNational Geographic, PDN, along with a slew of freelance photographers and consultants, and the list goes on and on. In short, these titans of industry and vision are the people who can not only inspire you, but hire you. Not to mention the other 99 incredibly special and bursting-with-talent students there who were just as invaluable to meet as any photo editor.

Processed with VSCOcam with lv03 presetTo recap this weekend would take more than what this blog post (or Andy Kemmis) will allow me to fit, so I will try to be concise. Time was divided into presentations, team meetings, and working on our individual assignment. Each team was given a theme (ours was Family), and then each person was given an assignment along the lines of that theme (mine was covering a single father of six children in nearby Liberty, NY). We were given about a half of a day to shoot our assignments, bring our work back to be loaded up by the digital tech, then looked over by the team leader, editor and producer. The next morning we individually met with all three to discuss how we shot it and what we could do to improve. We were then given the rest of the day to reshoot the assignment. From there, the best shots were put together in a slideshow, culminating in a final presentation on the last night. Prizes were also awarded to 10 out of 100 students (including, humbly, yours truly) for their work. And I aint talkin’ about your grandma’s door prizes. I’m talking about magazine assignments, internships (PAID!) at major newspapers, Nikon gear (I calculated close to $10,000 worth), and prize money.

Oh, the whole sleep thing. I exaggerate not, I believe I got 30 minutes the first night, and maybe upwards of about 2 1/2 hours thereafter. I’d love to say it was just the adrenaline, but it was also because of the final piece of this workshop; The 11:30 Club. These late night portfolio review sessions offered a chance to talk face-to-face with the aforementioned giants of our industry, and for them to rip apart your work. And rip apart they did! Going into this workshop, I wanted to feel like the dumbest person in the room. Why? Because my work wouldn’t thrive on the constant stream of compliments. I needed people to make me feel like I just got hit upside the head with a skillet seeing stars. These people have been doing it longer, have seen it all, and have VERY high standards for what constitutes not only a great photograph, but a great body of work. I was at this workshop to learn, period. I had access to the best of the best to tell me what to do better, something most people spend many years and lots of money on, or never get. These reviews would go long into the night, usually until 3 a.m.

I left this workshop feeling both absolutely wrecked physically and totally renewed spiritually. I received incredible guidance and advice, contacts, experiences, and that knot in my stomach that says, “baby, you just won the lottery, so spend that money wisely.” Ask me in a month or maybe a year from now what I thought of this workshop, and I’m sure I’ll still be unpacking something new. It was that much of a transformative experience.

My advice (since you didn’t ask) for anyone interested in attending is that you take advantage of all the chances you have to submit (I believe 3 as a student, and 3 as a professional). So submit all 6 times. And don’t submit just any old thing. I was rejected the first time and it was the right choice. I didn’t really think about what I was submitting and it was a random portfolio of unrelated images. More importantly, I didn’t really ask anyone for their take. Second time around, I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice, and just like the old saying goes, “it takes a village.” I found a project that I really invested my heart into for a year, found editors who I respected and had it reviewed multiple times, took lots of advice, reshot, carefully edited, and then submitted. This time when I was accepted, I felt I had given them work that had truly changed me. And if you want to do this workshop, that’s what you want to show; that you give a damn. That you believe in good visual storytelling and that you have something to say. I hope more and more people continue to apply to this workshop so as to raise the level of talent, and then show the world what they’ve got!