Itinerary for Oaxaca Workshop in March 2019 & Interview with Amy Touchette

 Photo by Amy Touchette

Photo by Amy Touchette

We are happy to return to Oaxaca in March 2019 for our second annual workshop there with Amy Touchette. We’ve shifted our itinerary a little bit to be able to visit the indigenous market at Tlacolula, where Zapotec people from distant villages travel to barter for all sorts of goods, from spices to live turkeys to textiles and much more. Our planned schedule is here:

Thursday, March 7 - Arrival, check-in to The Oaxaca Inn, and welcome dinner in downtown Oaxaca.

Friday, March 8 - Head outside the city to photograph Ocotlan, a town that transforms into a dynamic market every Friday. We went in March of this year on the last day and it was one of the highlights - an amazing place. Then head to Santa Catarina Minas to visit a mezcal maker who uses traditional techniques.

Saturday, March 9 - Street photography and portraiture in downtown Oaxaca, with lunch at Mercado 20 de Enero, one of the iconic sites in the city. Work at the Manuel Alvarez Bravo Photographic Center, a workshop and gallery space named after the famous Mexican photographer. Photograph the Zocalo, Santo Domingo, and the Botanic Garden.

Sunday, March 10 - Leave the city again to visit the indigenous market at Tlacolula, where barter is one of the main forms of commerce. Lunch with a Zapotec family at Teotitlan del Valle, and a visit to the women's weaving collective, where they make rugs and blankets with natural dyes they create themselves from plants and insects.

Monday, March 11 - Visit the pyramids outside the city at Monte Alban. Work at the Institute of Graphic Arts in downtown Oaxaca.

Tuesday, March 12 - Photograph Central de Abastos on the outskirts of downtown Oaxaca, a labyrinth of commerce - it's the spot where produce, meat, fish, and literally anything else you could possibly imagine wanting comes into Oaxaca. It's a stimulating macrocosm of daily life.

Wednesday, March 13 - Checkout of the Oaxaca Inn and bid farewell.

I’ve hesitated posting itineraries on past workshops for fear of “spoiling the surprise.” The reality is that each day in our workshops we encounter many unexpected “gifts from the photo gods,” and beyond the structure of an itinerary is where the magic of photography lives. We’ve found that no matter how strong an itinerary might be, even as it’s filled with spectacular locations and adventurous experiences, it’s the people we meet and photograph are what our workshops remarkable and unforgettable - from Don Pedro, who showed us secrets of Monte Alban, to Pastora Gutierrez demonstrating how she makes natural dyes for her handmade rugs, to the anonymous everyday people who share a smile or prepare a tlayuda for our lunch.

Amy was recently interviewed by photographer Timothy Frazier for his online magazine The Photographic Bandwidth. Please take a look. Amy’s insights into her work are always revealing and will make you think about how to look at photography, and life, a little bit differently and with more sensitivity. Great interview, and thanks to Timothy.

I began photographing people who I felt somehow embodied singularity, being alone. And what I saw in all of them was this beautiful marriage of vulnerability and liberation, a sort of calm, honest, susceptible strength.

And if you’d like to join us in Oaxaca for an unforgettable photographic experience (not to mention that we will eat some of the best food in the world….), please check out the workshop listing here to sign up: https://www.seekworkshops.com/select-workshop/oaxaca-amy-touchette

You won’t be disappointed.

Finding Your Best Photographs

“Amy Touchette is a master of street photography in the busiest of all concrete jungles,
New York City.”—BuzzFeed

New York City street photographer Amy Touchette’s workshop, “Photographing People & Life in Oaxaca, Mexico,”
takes place March 11-16, 2018.

Story and photos by Amy Touchette

 Lady B looking at polaroid outtakes from her Diana

Lady B looking at polaroid outtakes from her Diana

Even though it’s easier than ever today to operate a camera and produce a picture, it’s no easier to recognize the most compelling images among your outtakes and to make collective sense of them. In fact, it might be even harder; because digital technology lets us produce so much, there’s more to choose from—more pictures to confuse us, more pictures to get in the way of us uncovering a theme or narrative in the pictures we make. 

However, being able to find the best pictures among a group of images and understand what links them is one of the key skills that distinguishes photographers from people who take pictures.

Finding our most compelling images is an elusive task, but as my mentor, Karen Marshall, Acting Chair of the Documentary Practice and Visual Journalism program at the International Center of Photography, puts it, “it is a muscle you can strengthen just like any other.” 

Exercising those muscles starts before a picture is even produced. You begin by setting an intention, having a goal, because that reveals what you care about, and maybe more importantly, why. 

Later, that intention can be abandoned or revised if it doesn’t work out, but it’s important to have a jumping off point, to make a conscious decision about where you are headed when you set out to photograph. 

From there, you let your photographs respond. Marshall, who has taught personal vision courses for over 20 years, likens it to a conversation. You say something by setting an intention, and the photographs you produce as a result of that intention say something back. You make more pictures in response, extending the conversation, and again your photos reply to you. And this conversation goes on and on.

As you look at your outtakes, put aside your intention and your backstory. It’s easy to think an image is compelling because we had a compelling experience making it, but often none of the details of our experience are evident to viewers. Likewise, we can cling so strongly to our reason for making an image that we can’t see what is really developing through the lens. 

 At home editing for my exhibition next month at Cal Poly University Art Gallery, February 22-March 16, where I’ll be debuting The Young Series, portraits of teenagers in New York City, O’ahu, and Tokyo

At home editing for my exhibition next month at Cal Poly University Art Gallery, February 22-March 16, where I’ll be debuting The Young Series, portraits of teenagers in New York City, O’ahu, and Tokyo

So, to a large extent, becoming a good editor is about holding on loosely: being open and patient—but also playful. Placing the images you like the most into categories or piles based on similarities is a great way to start listening to what your images are saying, as well as what they say about each other when they are in a certain sequence. The point is to start making associations, and casting a really wide net when you do so, so that you can jostle yourself out of your own thoughts and make room for new, novel ones to occur to you.

It’s not enough to make successful or compelling pictures. You have to be able to recognize them, or else it’s like they don’t exist. To learn more ways to sharpen your editing skills, read the article I wrote for Envato Tuts+, or better yet, join me in Oaxaca, Mexico, March 11-16 for my workshop “Photographing People & Life.” I would love to meet you!

 

 

 

 

Photographing Strangers When There Is a Language Barrier

 Arles, France, July 2017

Arles, France, July 2017

Story and photos by Amy Touchette

“Amy Touchette is a master of street photography in the busiest of all concrete jungles, New York City.”—BuzzFeed

New York City street photographer Amy Touchette’s workshop, “Photographing People & Life in Oaxaca, Mexico,” takes place March 11-16, 2018.

Last July, I had the pleasure of attending Les Rencontres d’Arles, a photography festival held annually in Arles, France. While attending the festival, I took over LensCulture’s Instagram feed, posting candid pictures of people I encountered on the streets of Arles in between portfolio review meetings. 

As was the case when I photographed in Vietnam, Macao, Japan, Malaysia, Italy, Portugal, and Spain, I was not fluent in the country’s language (in this case, French). And as was also the case when I travelled to the aforementioned countries, I learned that photographing in a foreign land is no more difficult than photographing in a setting in which you do know the language. 

 Arles, France, July 2017 -- This was the first photo I made when I arrived in Arles, an exceptionally warm, spirited town in the south of France. I fell in love with it almost immediately. Landing during magic hour certainly didn’t hurt!

Arles, France, July 2017 -- This was the first photo I made when I arrived in Arles, an exceptionally warm, spirited town in the south of France. I fell in love with it almost immediately. Landing during magic hour certainly didn’t hurt!

The facts are, people assess you firstly and primarily on nonverbal cues anyway. People make what social psychologists call “spontaneous trait inferences” within less than a second based on your facial features, revealing language to be a comparatively minor means of communication. 

For a street photographer, then, it’s of the utmost concern to project physically, emotionally, in your stance, and in the tone of your voice, a way of being that shows you are trustworthy to people who have never met you before, so that you gain as much access as possible to street life. And the only way to really do that successfully is to actually be a trustworthy person. The main rule is to respect the space of others on the street by being gentle and communicative when interactions arise. 

Sometimes you have to ask permission to photograph beforehand; other times you can make photographs without having to be formally involved. Every situation is unique and it’s up to you to suss it out. The key is not to deny your own presence on the street, but to embrace it, to really know you belong there, too—even with your camera—because the only way to melt into the background of the street is to feel you are a genuine part of it. 

 

The Atitlan Experience, Part 3 - Lancha Life

Photos and story by Eric Mencher

Yes, the lanchas (boats) that cross Lake Atitlán exist to transport the 100,000 or so people who live in the twelve towns and villages on the water’s edge. No, the lanchas’ purpose is not to provide adventure or photo opps. But yes, when I take a lancha, not only do I (eventually) get to where I need to go, I usually end up with a picture and a story or two to tell.

On the lancha, I see life intimately from a front row seat, sitting shoulder to shoulder with locals and tourists alike, witnessing the lake’s beauty or its afternoon fury (strong winds called the Xocomil blow in around noon every day, whipping up both white caps and unease among the passengers).

I love catching the first boat of the day and watching the light of dawn playfully dance on the water. Those early morning boats seem to fly across the waveless waters, only to be slowed as students board, or the captain waits endlessly for that one extra passenger. But as we wait stories unfold, and we might see the dock boys hustling for a couple quetzales. Or a Mayan man laughing as he loses his balance and slides into the bow of the boat. Or a woman gingerly and gracefully stepping aboard with a wide-eyed baby lovingly wrapped in colorful traje. Or the captain—who is treated with reverence like the stage coaches drivers of the Old West—putting his narrow-toed boot atop the spare gasoline container. The boat becomes a multi-colored rainbow of tradition, full of people from different places speaking different languages.

But beware! When the Xocomil begins to blow, best to take a back seat near the captain or risk a soaking from the wind and waves. The boat rocks furiously and as you see the lake in all its beauty and intensity, it’s only natural to wonder, is this (as Aldous Huxley put it when writing about Lake Atitlán) too much of a good thing? Yes and no, I believe!