I had been wanting to go on holiday for a long time.
Three and a half years to be exact.
So when Nick suggested we attend one of Eric Kim‘s European street photography workshops I was really excited.
I had never really tried my hand at street photography. I was a little apprehensive about how well I would do on the course. I needn’t of been. Eric explained, on the first evening of the course: we were there to build confidence and learn new techniques. Not to take the best picture of our lives in that one weekend.
Our base for the weekend was Hi-Pe.at. Martin, the founder of Hi-Pe.at, was also taking part on the workshop. He was such a friendly and welcoming person, he even hosted us for the weekend. It really made the weekend special for us. We were made to feel completely at home. On arrival Martin was kind enough to host a Campari Soda reception with nibbles. He also gave us all a small pack containing a map, water, Manner biscuits (which I am now obsessed with!) and a rain poncho. The welcome made me feel really comfortable ready for the tasks ahead. Hi-Pe.at is located in Neubau, Vienna’s 7th district. Which is, I have on high authority, Vienna’s coolest district. In Eric’s (approximate) words it was full of ‘hipsters with cool hipster beards and hipster coffee’. I even got a ‘hipster cola’!
The first evening consisted of orientation and getting to know each other. Aside from mingling, this was done through a critique of each others photographs. Now, beforehand we were asked to send over three photographs to Eric for the purposes of critique. So I am not sure why I didn’t expect to stand up in front of the group.
But I didn’t.
I needn’t of worried. I genuinely couldn’t of picked a more lovely set of people to take the journey with. On reflection, the reason I did worry about the critique, is that I usually only show my work via the internet. I nearly never get face to face feedback. Looking at each others work, we were invited to say what we liked alongside what we might like to change. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to shoot alongside some really talented people. Doubly so to have had their honest opinions on my work.
We had a short break before discussing our assignments for the next day. Martin kindly came round a bottle of wine for us all to have a glass. Since I had researched Vienna before our trip, I knew there were several vineyards around the city limits. I ventured to ask if the wine was local.
“You have no idea how local,” Martin replied with a smile, “my sister makes it!”
It’s the small details like this that really bring me joy.
We continued on and Eric gave us a brief overview of some composition techniques commonly used in street photography. We focused on the golden triangle. For this you envisage a diagonal line from bottom corner to opposite top. Then a line at a 90degree angle shooting off the diagonal around the first of third, third of the image. The point where the lines intersect is where you place the main focus of the image.
This is a rough idea of what it would look like. Don’t measure my angles. because I haven’t!
Then we were given our assignments: Street Portraits.
In Austria, along with several other European countries, there is a law that protects a person’s right to their own image. Taylor Wessing discusses how this is at odds with a photographers freedom of expression. The law means, if you takes someone’s photograph, you cannot publish it without their consent. How this applies to photographer’s work that is either personal/non commercial or amateur (ie only publishing on social media and not making any money from the image) I wasn’t 100% sure. But I wasn’t about to test the waters on that one.
The way in which Eric gave us our assignment prepared us to not only avoid this issue but to also to concur our fears. We were to approach people and ask them if we could make their portrait. Our goal was to get as many No’s as we did Yes’. Eric then gave us a few pointers on how to approach the initial conversation, diffuse potentially awkward or confrontational situations. Eric, for those of you who’ve not met him in person or over on his YouTube Channel, graduated charm school, with honours. Before I met him myself, I did often wonder “Who is this Eric Kim guy Nick keeps going on about?!”. But now I know!
The next day we were paired up and sent out! I got paired with a gentleman named Andi, who lives just outside Vienna. It was really great to have been paired up with someone who knew the area. While walking between locations, looking for subjects, Andi made sure to point out all the places of interest and let me know a bit of history too.
We delved into our task with vigour. The first person I asked was my first yes!
© Katherine Broadbent
P. was a really friendly man and was more than happy for me to test out my skills at making his portrait. He also spoke English (I speak only a small amount of German) which made things easier. I saw him stood between the light and shadow on the street and I just had to capture him. I then asked for his email so I could send him the photos and get his permission to use the photo on my social media and blog. I was really flattered to hear he loved the photo. Especially as he told me he always hated the photos of himself.
After a couple of hours shooting Andi and I met back up with Eric for some one on one time. Eric chatted to us about how we were finding the assignment. We then all walked around together and Eric gave us so me more coaching on chatting with the people we met.
I have a lot of trouble with regulating my mood. Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I struggle with my mental health. I got so swept up in all the excitement that by lunch time I had a crash. I know when it starts.
My mind starts getting muddled and I can’t remember things.
We ordered lunch but I couldn’t focus on the menu. Then I couldn’t even remember what I ordered. I suddenly felt very far away.
I was worried how I would come across to people I just met and who didn’t understand what was happening. I don’t even understand it! To make matters worse, when it happens, I find talking difficult. If I talk about what’s happening I tend to get hysterical. So I put a bit of mindfulness into practise and sat an observed the conversation.
And took some photos.
We met up with the rest of the group. I got a bit more upset still. I had a mild panic and cried a little (hid it behind my sunglasses). It’s not that I don’t want to open up to people about what’s happening. My emotions get extreme and I “overreact” sometimes. I get hysterical about things that, before and after the meltdown, I see as really inconsequential. It’s really difficult for me to explain how I sometimes cry as if something truly terrible and heart-breaking has happened. When actually the thing that’s happened (and sometimes nothing at all happens) is something as trivial as not being able to focus enough to read a menu.
I was there to meet people and learn. I was not there to have one of my frequent ‘melt downs’ that so often threaten to ruin my days. Time was precious and I knew that in one hours time I was going to be fine. Back to my calmer self. As if it had never happened. Talking about it, in that moment, was only going to make it worse and/or last longer. In any case, Nick was there for me. He understands that I have my ‘moments’ sometimes. He knows how to deal with it perfectly; he checked I was okay and gave me a reassuring hug then we chatted about how our mornings shooting had been. I could see that a couple of people in the group had noticed I was upset, this made me love them all the more! I kept focused on the sights, sounds, smells and textures around me and the low point passed.
Then we got back out on the street!
The next lovely person I met was S.
I saw S. walking with a friend in the street. The effortless coolness of her style instantly made me want to make her portrait. Eric also tasked us with making conversation with our subjects. By engaging with someone in conversation we can capture un guarded looks and moments.
Overall I learnt a lot on the course that I can now practice and apply to my work in the future. Eric was a fantastic teacher. I did have a few personal problems that I need to work on in my own practice as a photographer.
One thing in particular I found difficult was getting close up to people. Eric tasked us with getting really close up to our subjects, within an arms length. I tried so hard. But I couldn’t do it. I find getting that close into a strangers personal space. And in extension having my own space encroached upon. Incredibly difficult. I don’t enjoy it but I think it is worth while challenging myself to try it.
As I couldn’t get that close to strangers I snuck up on Nick instead ;D
I would highly recommend a workshop with Eric Kim. I would recommend it to those with no experience and those who consider themselves Street Photography Pros alike. Eric is a really inspiring teacher and all round awesome human being. I don’t think I shot my best work on while on the course. But that wasn’t the point. Thanks for the good times and the memories!
Stay tuned for my next post about the rest of our Vienna trip!