Photo(s)-A-Week (PAW)

This semester you should be constantly observing the world around you, looking for stories that can be captured in a single still image. And most weeks you will be assigned to shoot images, or images tell stories obvious to anyone seeing the images. There will be specific focus—forgive me—to many of the assignments. Most of these will be "street photography" assignments and there will be extensive discussion of the idea of street photography; some may be photo journalism assignments, where you will be required to obtain information about your subject.


In which you will exchange your camera for a notebook, wander about, and return with detailed descriptions of the half-dozen or so images you would have shot if you'd only had your camera with you. And when I say "detailed," I mean that I not only want you to record details of the scene in front of you, I want to know why you think the scene is worth the expenditure of a single frame of film, or even of a single pixel. I want to know why you think this particular scene, object, or person is worth the effort required to push the shutter release; what makes this a photograph worth making? If nothing else, you should come away from this exercise having learned that you should never leave the house without some sort of camera over your shoulder, or in your pocket.

The Real "Decisive Moment"

Despite what you may previously read or been taught, it is not the instant at which you release the shutter; it is that instant in which you see the possibilities in a scene or situation and commit to working it until you have extracted all its photographic promise, and then manage to bring together all that promise in a single, perfectly composed, image.

For this assignment you will chose a single lens, or will tape your zoom at a single focal length that will require you to work reasonably close to your subject—50 mm or shorter. You will then go to somewhere and find a scene or situation and will work it from every conceivable angle, using your frame in every way imaginable. You are expected to shoot a minimum of 60 exposures on this assignment. If you think this is an easy assignment, you are not taking it seriously enough.


(An exercise designed by Eugene Richards, arguably the greatest living American documentary photographer.)

For this assignment you will pick a subject to shoot the equivalent of one roll of film of portraits–30 to 40 images. You will decide where you want to take these photos, and once you and your subject are initially positioned, your subject may not move—if he or she is sitting, that's what they will do throughout the sessions; if they start out standing, they will remain standing–in the same spot. And sitting, that's what they will do throughout the sessions; if they start out standing, they will remain standing–in the same spot. And you may not move your feet once you start shooting—you may lean, crouch, stretch, hold the camera high or low; but you must remain in the same place. And you may use only a single focal length lens or a single focal length on a zoom lens.


(This exercise was originally conceived by the late Charles Harbutt, who served multiple terms as President of Magnum, for use in his workshops. I have made some modifications in it.)

This assignment is intended to test your imagination, and your ability to capture your ideas as images.

Assume for a moment that you are going to be leaving earth on a spaceship, never to return. There will not be any form of entertainment or decoration on the ship. You will not have any mirrors, films, works of art, etc. You will be eating processed food and drinking filtered urine. You may, however, bring ten photographs with you.

In a 24 hours period, without consulting any of your classmates, make ten photographic images that will sustain you on your voyage. We are not looking for great art; we are looking for personally meaningful images. Do you want pictures of your dog? Your mother? Or the manhole cover outside your apartment? It's up to you.

"Magnum Contact Sheets" Presentation

You will select a photographer whose work is represented in "Magnum Contact Sheets" and will prepare a 12–15 minute presentation in which you will discuss the work in the book, explaining why you believe the image or images printed were selected from those shot. Do you agree with the selection(s)? Why? Why not another image? You will also present biographical information about the photographer, will tell us about his / her career, tell us why you selected this photographer, and will show a number of examples—beyond those in the book—of his or her work. Additionally, everyone in the class will be expected to familiarize him or herself with the photographers whose work will be presented in class; your informed responses to your fellow student's presentations will figure into your final grade.