Foundation Workshop 16 // Glen Rose, Texas

Disclaimer: If you’re a photography client, you can skip ahead to the next post, if you’re a photographer who is interested in hearing about my Foundation Workshop experience, carry on!

I’ve started this post a dozen times and I just haven’t been able to figure out what I needed to say in a way that captures my second Foundation experience. (You can read about my first experience HERE.)

Until Saturday.

This is how it all went down. I was driving down I-880, on my way to second a shoot a wedding, my first wedding since I got back from the workshop. It was 7:15 am, and I couldn’t quite figure out what my theme song for the day was.

Eli Young Band came on, singing Even if it Breaks Your Heart.

“The fire got lit inside a bright-eyed child

Every note just wrapped around his soul,

From steel guitars to Memphis, all the way to rock and roll”

The lyrics of this song are pretty ironic in the way that they relate to photography and the Foundation Workshop. The Foundation is a place where you’re surrounded by an incredible amount of greatness. Even today, I still sit there, looking at work of these amazing photographers, and it’s so inspiring. I’ve spent countless hours thinking about how specific images were made, how photographers knew where to be when, wondered how long they sat there and waited, wondered of Photo Jesus made an appearance with a stroke of luck, or if the whole image was imagined by it’s creator. And I remembered that I wouldn’t ever be a photographer who would get lucky enough. That I wouldn’t ever be good enough to be part of this incredible group of photographers that I admire so much. I conceded to having a broken heart and being a failure of a photographer. That I was a complete fraud. That I would never be one of them.

Some dreams stay with you forever,

Drag you around but bring you back to where you were

Some dreams keep on gettin’ better,

Gotta keep believin’ if you wanna know for sure

Oh, I can hear em playin’

I can hear the ringin of a beat up ol’ guitar

Oh, I can hear em singin’,

“Keep on dreamin’, even if it breaks your heart”

But then, I stopped myself and realized that the voice inside my head was the wildly out of control, chaotic voice that I’d been listening to for the past year. That today (Saturday) was a fresh start. That if I really was going to put what I learned this year into action, I would have to change my perspective. I’d have to shut that voice down and remember that I am worthy. That I am capable of creating images that I love and admire. That I have all the tools I need to make it happen. I just needed to believe in myself. I needed to break down the barriers that I’d set up for myself. I needed to change my mindset and remember the feeling that I had at the end of the first workshop day of shooting. The confidence to say “fuck it all” and be squared up and in the position to get the shot I want.  And to stop worrying about what everyone else is wondering or thinking. This is where the remarkable part comes in. I skipped ahead to the next song in my random play list.

And Ludacris came on. Ludacris at 7:25 in the morning! Hollering the following lyrics from his song Get Back:

Yeek yeek woop woop! why you all in my ear?!

Talking a whole bunch of shit

That I ain’t trying to hear!

Get back motherfucker! You don’t know me like that!

How’s that for irony? Suddenly, my confidence came back! That excitement, that passion, and my list of things I needed to remember was at the forefront of my brain! That voice in my head was put in it’s place. That chaos that has had such a death grip on my soul for the last year, let go. I felt so much lighter. I felt invincible. I had my plan in place. I had my little orange notebook in my shoot sac. The little book that helped settle my panic when it set in. A quick flip through was all it took to help me remember what I needed to do when I was out in the field during the workshop, and I knew that it needed to stay by my side to bring me some confidence, in the event I needed it.

As I was thinking about all this, Get Back ended, and what happened next made me cry. Leave it to me to cry while listening to Ice Cube, for reals. Singing, Check Yo Self.

So come on and chickity-check yo self before you wreck yo self

Chickity-check yo self before you wreck yo self

Yeah, come on and check yo self before you wreck yo self

Cause shotgun bullets are bad for your health

And I remembered sitting there in the hotel room in Glen Rose, Texas, and Tyler telling me that it was my theme song. That I needed to remember to check yo self before you wreck yo self. I was clearly on the route to wrecking myself. Literally on the way. And musical fate stopped me in my tracks. I felt both of my Foundation teams there, in the car with me, cheering me on. I felt all my friends hugging me, reminding me that I have what it takes. For the first time, I felt the Foundation magic working. My alter ego, HELL YEAH HEIDI was (is) alive!

10 hours later, on my way home from the wedding, for the first time in over a year, I felt proud. I felt proud of the images I made all on my own. I found myself frustrated at times, and I stopped and remembered that “composition is problem solving” and I knew what I needed to do without even consulting my little notebook. I started looking for clean space. I started looking at what I was cropping out. I started waiting for the moments. And I remembered that when nothing was happening that I could use composition to convey that nothing was happening. And the best part, is that I didn’t even need my little orange notebook. For the first time, these things I needed to remember were there, in my head, ready to be used. It was such an incredible feeling. The chaos that’s been following me around for an entire year was quieted. And I was so proud. So proud for making it happen. So proud for remembering what I was taught and putting it to good use!

Foundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose Texas

Photo credit: Miguel Serrano

When I left the Foundation last year, I knew that I wasn’t ready yet, that I still had so much to work on, and I knew that I would be returning to finish what I started. I was in a complete state of dizzying chaos. My journey had been so emotional and I had a tremendous amount of barriers that needed to be broken down, on top of it all, my skill set wasn’t where I thought it was. I had a horrific childhood, my experiences were profoundly influencing me as a photographer and were affecting my ability to get close to people, physically, and spiritually. And I’ve never cried so much in my life. Even though I needed to push through these obstacles last year, I was hell bent on my experience this year, not being about my past. I wanted it to be about today. I wanted to focus on the more technical and compositional aspects that I needed to learn to be a better photographer. And even though I was fighting not being as open about these things with my teammates as I wanted to be, I knew that I couldn’t risk having my heart and my head in a state of chaos while I was trying to learn. And I know that my teammates would agree if they knew the seriousness of this dilemma.

After a day spent in the classroom, learning about photojournalism and the elements that go into creating a photo that results in the viewer feeling an emotional connection with it, we were assigned to our teams. My mentors this year were Tyler Wirken and Craig Fritz. I knew that no matter who my mentors were, that they were going to be awesome, but secretly I wanted to learn from Tyler and Craig. I first met Tyler at the Fearless Conference in Amsterdam in 2014, and his presentation inspired me to apply for the Foundation Workshop last year. So, naturally, I was so stoked to be on his team. And I’d heard so many amazing things about Craig from my Foundation room mate, Kate, who was one of his students last year (and also the only other Foundation two-fer this year!). My teammates and I all brought our own distinct personalities to the table, and we fought like a family at times, but we learned so much from each other and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The first night, Tyler was so excited about this secret spot he found, he wouldn’t tell us where we were going, just that we were going to have an incredible night and we were going to bond as a team. As soon as we pulled up to a remote strip of warehouses, I figured we were in for something Sasquatch related, but quickly determined that we were at a karaoke club. Named BOOZERS. “Ah, hell no.” Those were my thoughts, I may have even told Tyler that hell would have to freeze over before I’d get up and sing karaoke. But, like all things Foundation, we did it as a team. Before I knew it, we were up there on the stage singing our hearts out to Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer!

Foundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose Texas

Photo credit: Miguel Serrano

This year, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from my assignment. But I knew it was going to be hard. Really hard. It’s not common for students to return to the Foundation the very next year, and I knew I’d be in for a treat. I was assigned to Brazos Barber and Beauty Shop in the neighboring town of Granbury. I was so excited. Christmas morning, excited. I knew that I was going to make some amazing photographs. I could barely sleep. I rolled into Granbury the next morning, coffee-ed up and ready to go. My plan of attack was to open my heart, like Sergio and Erwin had taught me the previous year. I realized immediately that I would need to make personal connections with the Stylists in the shop so they could help me build relationships with their clients, quickly. It sounded so simple in my head. It really did. And let’s talk about that for a minute. I had all these images running through my head of the barber shop sign, silhouettes in the window, curlers and bubble hair dryers, people laughing, people being serious. I was prepared for a Mad Men style day, I showed up with a metaphorical flask of bourbon and a cigarette hanging from my mouth. I should have known then, that I was in trouble. It wasn’t long before Tyler showed up, and I found myself frustrated. Crying. Unable to stop. On the verge of hysterical. Because I couldn’t find a clean background to save my life. All my pictures were cluttered, filled with shampoo bottles, fluorescent lights, mirrors. Oh, the mirrors. No matter what I did, I couldn’t find a peaceful composition. I was trapped. I was trapped in a rectangle box, with light sabers running the length of the ceiling, and an absence of clean space. It was a Where’s Waldo nightmare. I was doomed to fail.
Foundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose Texas

Photo credit: Miguel Serrano

Tyler got me back on my feet, with a plan in place to use my 85mm as a temporary crutch until I could break the barrier of getting physically close to my subjects. While I was severely annoyed, and felt like I’d been handed a life sentence with my 85mm (a lens I’ve never really connected with), I was able to continue shooting for a while, before my frustration creeped back in and reached an even higher level. Like all things Foundation, I knew better than to assume my frustration levels had peaked. Enter Craig. My savior. My finder of clarity. Almost immediately he jumped in and reminded me how to build trust with people. Merrill, one of the stylists I became quick friends with, had a client who was a photographer. He had an incredible white beard and I knew he was my turning point. Craig called him Harry, named after his beard. But my husband’s name is Harry, so we called him the “metaphorical Harry.” He let me in his space. He ignored me. My eyes were full of tears as I thanked him for letting me learn. He offered me a quiet, “You’re Welcome.” It’s one I’ll never forget. And just like that, the shop was closed. I’d only spent 8 hours taking pictures, and it took me that long to remember that feeling. That feeling of knowing exactly what I needed to do to make incredible images. The feeling of conquering my fears. My adrenaline had me ready for another 8 hours. But I had to wait. An entire day and a half before I could continue shooting again. I was itching with excitement for the next 36 hours. My fingers were twitching.

Foundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose TexasPhoto credit: Miguel Serrano

Foundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose Texas

Photo credit: Miguel Serrano

The next day was spent in our critique sessions. Going through our team’s images, one by one. Talking about how the photographer could have made different decisions to make a better photograph. It’s a very vulnerable position to be in. It’s not often that we as photographers, have all the shitty images we’ve taken see the light of day, much less projected on a big screen, we don’t even really spend time looking at them, they get a quick pass or fail, and once they’re in the fail bucket, we rarely, if ever, look back. So, to be forced to do this, to be critiqued, is hard. It’s impossibly hard. I think we all cried, we all at least came close to crying, or actually, maybe it was just me that cried. It’s hard to look at all your images and really examine what you did wrong, what you could have done differently, and mourning a moment that’s gone. You can’t go back, and I think that’s the hardest thing as photographer. Realizing that you have less than a second, and once the time’s up, it’s up. The critique sessions felt like a funeral for my 3500 images. But at the same time, when we catch that moment, the thrill is incomparable. And that itself is such a triumphant experience to be able to share with 6 other people who truly understand, 6 other people who are right there, in that moment with you, celebrating your success(s). Because as Kirsten Lewis has said, only .01% of the images we shoot are incredible. So when you find one, you celebrate.

Foundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose Texas

Photo credit: Miguel Serrano

Foundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose Texas

Photo credit: Miguel Serrano

The Foundation has become my family. I know it sounds super weird to hear someone say that 50 people can become family, but it’s true. It really is. Never in my life have I been around such kind, open, loving, and incredible people. I often feel like I don’t fit in, that I’m too dark humored, too closed off, too damaged, and incapable of opening up. But the Foundation breaks down those barriers, in the most gentle, respectful, and yet, ironed fisted kind of way. I wasn’t sure that my second time around I’d walk away with the same kind of love and respect for this workshop, but I did. This experience for me brought me so much closer to people that I admire, people that I respect, people that are such inspirations to me. I’ve never felt so loved in my life, and that itself is an incredible feat. Especially for a photography workshop. My friends, my family, taught me that I’m too critical of myself, that living in a black and white world isn’t going to be sustainable, that gray is actually where it’s at. They taught me that I need to stop living in a world of absolutes, that when I open my heart, good will come. They reminded me how much I really do need to be hugged. How much I’ve missed out on life by being so closed off. But just knowing that my Foundation Family is there, knowing that I could call any of them at any time, for any reason and knowing that they’d be there for me, makes my soul so happy. The ways that the Foundation affects my personal relationships is so profound. The Foundation has changed my life.

Foundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose Texas

Photo Booth courtesy of Kathryn Krueger

Foundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose Texas

Photo Booth courtesy of Kathryn Krueger

I want to thank Tyler. Thank you for asking me how you could help me when you didn’t know how. Thank you for being a safe person to open up to. Thank you for respecting that I didn’t want my second Foundation to be about my life story and letting me choose what I wanted to share. Thank you for encouraging me to laugh at myself, and reminding me that life isn’t fun unless you’re driving through rural Texas, listening to Little Big Town’s Girl Crush, on our way to off road in your Land Rover close to the stroke of midnight. Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for your patience, love, and kindness while I fought my battles and lack of self confidence. Thank you for helping me realize that I am worthy of making Fearless images, and not letting me leave until I believed in myself. Thank you for being my mentor and my friend.

I want to thank Craig for making learning so easy. Thank you for breaking things down into simplified, actionable steps that were easy to remember. Thank you for your gentle kindness. Thank you for your encouragement, for redirecting my frustration. Thank you for being an incredible listener. Thank you for not giving up on me, and also for not letting me give up on myself. And thank you from the bottom of my heart for helping me find that feeling again. That feeling of knowing exactly what needed to be done, that feeling that I can’t accurately describe. Thank you for being my mentor and my friend.

Thank you to my teammates, Ben, Abby, Jessica and Shaun, who gave me hugs when I needed them, and when I didn’t. Thank you for sharing your images with me and allowing me to learn from you. Thank you for being incredible photographers and of making me think about how you made the images you did. Thank you for being so inspiring. Thank you for being my friends.

Thank you, Scott for being our problem solver, for being the person that allowed us to carry on when we were hungry and irritable and tired. Thank you for sorting through our thousands of images. Thank you for asking questions and helping me figure out what it is that I want as a photographer, or at least setting the foundation (ha!) for me to build on. Thank you for your even temperament and for being the best listener, and also for not letting me go home until I was proud of my accomplishments.

Thank you to my roommate, Kate. You’re an incredible friend. I’m so glad we agreed to be roomies early last year when we realized we were both coming back. Thank you of staying up with me until well past 2am, talking and digesting the days. Thank you for being a great listener and for being vulnerable. Thank you or letting me take care of you, and thank you for being my friend.

Thank you to Kelly, Verna, Sherri, and Kari of being there when we needed you, thank you for inadvertently reminding me how to be a good friend and how to be a good listener.

Thank you to Huy for having a vision and making it come to life, thank you for being open to suggestions and ideas. Thank you for leading a workshop that has changed my life in so many way. Thank you for curating such a remarkable group of instructors and mentors!

Thank you to DeLana, Kris and Merrill at Brazos Barber and Beauty shop for sharing your days with me, for letting me take pictures of you and your clients. And for being so open and respectful of my learning. I couldn’t have done it with out you!

And to everyone else, thank you for sharing this experience with me.

Here are my two of my favorite images from my assignment.

Foundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose TexasFoundation Workshop, Photojournalism, Fearless Photographers, Glen Rose Texas

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MEET HEIDI

As a photographer, I love to tell stories! I love to observe, find the light, the composition, and wait for the moment that really makes the viewer of a photograph feel emotion. I’m a two time Foundation Workshop graduate where I have learned how to be a wedding photojournalist through classroom training and field assignments. I am an introvert and I love observing people, relationships between people and figuring out how to piece it all together to tell the story of a family and people who are deeply in love. I also really love cats. And all fur babies.

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