Workshops Provide Hands-On Experience For Students

Elizabeth Mansour, 17, from Coweta County, and her cow Elle at the Georgia National Fair in Perry, Georgia. Photo by Cory A. Cole

By Katelyn Umholtz

The 40-year tradition of the Mountain Workshops will continue this week as Western Kentucky University visual journalism students spread out to document Paducah, Kentucky.

“It is not intended to be a ‘how a camera works’ workshop,” Tim Broekema, a photojournalism professor at WKU, said. “All the workshops are based upon the art of storytelling and the craft it takes to put visuals together to tell a story.”

The workshop, which typically take place in different communities in Kentucky or Tennessee, started in 1976 as only a photojournalism workshop. Now it’s made up of six workshops that include photojournalism, video storytelling, picture editing, time-lapse, data visualization and a special workshop for K-12 educators.

This isn’t a new idea. Many photojournalism programs across the country have similar workshops. The hands-on aspect is central to all of the programs.

“Particularly in a medium like photojournalism, the only way to understand the power of an image to inform and educate is to go through the whole cycle,” said Mark Johnson, a lecturer of photojournalism at the University of Georgia. “Students need to explore and find stories, tell them well and then analyze what the result of that effort was.”

The Mountain Workshops program is made up of 60 percent students and 40 percent coaches. Students are grouped with a coach that helps them angle their stories. The teams pull pre-researched story ideas from a hat for their projects.

“They read a brief description of the person or concept for a story idea. Each person then meets with their individual coach, and they analyze the story more in depth,” Broekema said.

Once the story idea is fleshed out, students and their coaches go to work. The program ends with a large cast party where students all show their work.

Syracuse University’s Fall Workshop took place Oct 13-16 with 70 students, including military visual journalism students.

“The Fall Workshop is often cited by students as one of the best educational opportunities they had during their time in Syracuse,” said Bruce Strong, MPD chair and director of the workshop.

The Missouri Photo Workshop was founded in 1949 by Cliff Edom. The 68th edition of the workshop recently concluded, having focused on Cuba, MO, the self-described “small town with big ideas.”

Johnson at UGA was inspired by Syracuse University to begin his own weekend workshop for his photojournalism students.

“We prototyped a workshop in the fall of 2005, my first semester here,” Johnson said. “We brought in a handful of professionals to coach students in covering UGA’s homecoming celebrations. Based on the success of that, we did the first weekend workshop in the spring of 2006, covering Morgan County, [Georgia].”

Now, the photojournalism program holds two workshops, one for the advanced photojournalism at the Georgia National Fair in Perry, Georgia, and the other for the documentary photo class in different counties throughout the state.

Riding a lift at the Georgia National Fair. Photo by Cory A. Cole

Cory Cole, a student who participated in the fall workshop on Oct. 8, said photographing and telling stories of the people at the fair was a valuable experience, despite it being exhausting.

“I definitely felt pushed the entire day, which was really good for me,” Cole said. “It was hard to be critiqued of your work and see what you were doing wrong, but at the same time, it was very helpful.”

The nature of these workshops, Johnson said, is to get students out of their comfort zone in the university’s campus and into a new community with different stories to be told. The UGA workshops are funded through the support the Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at UGA has for experiential learning.

Cole said it was a experience like no other, and it was one that would prepare him for his future in photojournalism better than a classroom lecture.

“It gives us a taste of what we can expect in the future,” Cole said. “We got to go outside the classroom and work for the Macon Telegraph. That was a great experience.”

Broekema said students at WKU’s Mountain Workshops have called it life-changing. He knows it firsthand. Years ago, when he was a student at WKU, he participated in the photo workshop. He remembers seeing his work change and get better because of this workshop.

“The participants always leave with a sense of pride and accomplishment,” Broekema said. “We stress to our participants all the time that it’s not about the quality of the story you get in the end. It’s about what you learn along the way.”