Woodall Weekend Workshop challenges photojournalism students in the field

Students don’t really expect to hear their professors tell them to “fail faster,” but this is just one of the lessons taught to a group of photojournalism students at the annual Woodall Weekend Workshop led by Mark Johnson, senior lecturer in photojournalism at Grady College.

Photojournalism student Kristin Bradshaw explains Johnson’s approach to “fail faster.”

“I’ve heard this quote on numerous occasions but never experienced it until the workshop,” Bradshaw, an international affairs and journalism double major, said. “And, yet, there I was, failing, and I realized three things: first, failing is part of the job and that’s ok; second, the sooner I accept failure, the sooner I can learn from my mistake and move on; and third, Johnson is always right.”

The 20 students in the documentary photojournalism class traveled March 24-26, 2017, to Gilmer County to attend the 12th year of the workshop. The students are paired with a group of professional photojournalists for an immersive photo assignment to capture the people and personalities of the community. Every few hours up to midnight, the students checked in with the professionals to get critiques on their pictures, many which are brutally honest.

“It was such a huge privilege to have professional photographers looking at my work and spending one-on-one time with me to help me improve my work,” Maureen Sheeran, a journalism major, said.

Bradshaw agreed. “Picture your favorite celebrity. Now picture getting to spend an entire weekend breathing the same air as them. That’s what it was like interacting with Mike Roy, Lyric Lewin, and Robin Nathan, just to name a few. While terrifying and humbling at times, the professionals were spectacular teachers.”

The students were tasked with finding their own subjects and stories to complete their assignments which included focuses on people, on places and an overall story with audio. Many of the students were surprised that the original visions they had for the workshop change quickly once it began.

“For me, the biggest takeaway from the workshop was to be flexible,” Sheeran said. “Challenges will inevitably pop up with most stories, and the best thing you can do is stay calm and figure out how to best adapt to the situation.”

Another benefit of the workshop was being encouraged to work on new skills.

“There’s always going to be a learning curve with new skills, and as a result, I have a lot of photos that are almost there, but not quite,” Sheeran said. “The important thing is that the workshop set me up to master new skills and use them in the future to make better photos.”

The Woodall Weekend Workshop is made possible through a gift from Henry (ABJ ’75) and Lynda Woodall.



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