© Mark Abramson
NYC-based photographer and multimedia journalist/video producer Mark Abramson was a student at Barnstorn XXIV. We asked Mark to weigh in on his Workshop experience.
EAW: How long have you been shooting? What do you shoot? How did you start?
MA: I have been shooting since January of 2009. I started just through experimenting while traveling. I was living in Spain and reconnecting with my childhood roots and also traveling through Europe. I had never picked up a camera before and I began to shoot street life and the immigrant population that lived in this neighborhood called Lavapies in Madrid. I began printing the images and selling them to tourists near El Museo de Reina Sofía alongside mostly immigrant artisans.
It was a big growing process for me and one of the most liberating period of my life. I moved back to the United States to finish my last year of college and I decided that I wanted to become a photojournalist. I wanted to document life through still and moving images somehow. I was already a journalism student in George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs and had reported and written long form reportages on homelessness in Northwest D.C. I just figured shooting photography on a more serious level and learning to become a visual documentarian would help me immerse myself even more in people’s stories. I was naive, hopeful, and eager. Halfway into my senior year I got an internship at the Washington Post, while I was also editing and shooting pictures for the university’s yearbook. Every day I was having to teach myself and catch up. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but somehow I’ve been blessed with folks around me who have given me their time and energy to help me learn the craft. It’s a really humbling process.
Currently I shoot news assignments in New York City for several newspapers as a freelancer, shoot and produce short video documentaries alone and with others. I am also continuing to explore the topic of immigration and access to education for undocumented youth.
EAW: How did you edit your work for your application to the workshop? Did you submit a single body of work and/or singles?
MA: I sat down with several friends who were also applying and placed three categories/bodies of series that I thought spoke to either what my eye was seeing, as well as the topics that were most important to me. I knew I wanted a portfolio that stirred some sort of emotion in the editor looking at my work. There was one point when I sequenced together a string of random news singles that I had shot during my two newspaper internships and other freelance work, but they just seemed too all over the place. So I ended up choosing three bodies of work that each had a narrative.
EAW: Did you ask for help? How did you strike a balance between who you asked for help and your own voice?
MA: After a few friends had the basic layout of my portfolio in place, I began to move things around a bit and try various sequences, at times taking some out completely and swapping. I think at that point I was having a bit of a hard time because I didn’t know whether to listen to myself or to pay attention to what the others were saying. I wasn’t sure if my voice was coming out, or if I even had a voice. That sort of process really makes you question your work a lot. You end up being very hard on yourself. Once I had it down I then went one more time to a group of folks at a “show n’ tell” sort of get-together that were not close friends. I wanted to get a different opinion from a completely different set of eyes who didn’t know me on a very personal level. They liked the edit. What I found interesting was that they weren’t as drawn to the story that was most personal to me, but rather one of the series of images that they thought was visually the strongest. It made realize that there is a balance you have to strike between what is a good story, but what is also visually fresh and perhaps unique. I then went to one more person who I trusted very much that I worked with and who attended the workshop a few years ago. He moved around a couple pictures in the sequence and then I was done.
EAW: What kind of impact has the workshop had on your career/studies?
MA: The workshop has had a very direct impact on my career. I was able to meet a few editors that I hit it off with and on top of it I won a week-long internship at a newspaper that I am now freelancing for on a more regular basis. I don’t know if I just got lucky or what, but I felt very blessed with that opportunity and truly appreciate it. Beyond career, it was an incredible experience because of all the other inspiring photographers that are there, the speakers, editors and everyone else. It is a community unlike any other. And you get to be a part of it, which is amazing. It’s something bigger than yourself I feel. You can’t quite pinpoint what it is, but you know that there is some sort of very special energy all around you.
EAW: How should students carry themselves at the workshop?
MA: I think workshop attendees just need to go in with a clear mind and an openness to receive whatever the universe sends their way, as well as a willingness to interact with as many new people as possible and hear about their stories and their lives. It shouldn’t be about ego or all about yourself. You’re there to have an experience as a community. It can also be rigorous, tiring, and very daunting. You sleep very few hours… But, in the end, just be humble, listen, and be engaged.
EAW: How can students prepare for the workshop?
MA: To prepare for the workshop I would say really go in with a clear intention about how you would like to present and talk about your work and portfolio. Really understand why you’re showing that work to editors and what you’d like them to know about you and how to remember you. Also, go in with back ups and extra series to show them if they ask to see more. If you work in multimedia or video, bring that along as well in case they are interested.
EAW: What surprised you about the workshop?
MA: What surprised me about the workshop was that it wasn’t as scary and daunting as you think it will be. People are very communal and kind with each other for the most part. Photographically speaking, I kept being surprised about everyone’s work that they shot during the workshop and the work they brought with them. It amazed me how different and strong people’s work can be.