I’m attending the Costa Manos street photography workshop that is being presented as part of Magnum Days 2014 at The Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. It’s only Day 1 but already a ton of wisdom and fresh ideas have been presented by Costa. Hit the jump for my impressions of Day 1.
Costa Manos Street Photography Workshop
Constantine (Costa) Manos has been a Magnum photographer since 1965 and is one of the oldest living members of the top photo collective in the world. His work “American Color” is a quintessential look at American Life and his bold color palette and poetic use of the frame have established him as a master of modern color photography.
The primary focus of the workshop is to extend techniques for photographing in the public domain unobstrusively and at close range – combining people, place, and moment in unique images. Students were urged to capture magic moments that make complex statements and reflect your personal feelings toward the subject matter.
The first day started with a short talk by Costa where he discussed his idea of good photography. His ideas are distilled from his 50 year carreer as a magnum photographer and it was a pleasure to have access to the mass amount of knowledge possessed by this charming man.
He’s a tremendously funny and likeable man and his discussion was conversational rather than structured. Here’s some of my favorite points that he made:
Each Photograph Has A Life To Istelf
Just like poetry, photography can serve a role to itself and to a larger group of work. Think of a book of poems. Each poem can be viewed as its own distinct and finished product. But when collected as a volume a new work appears that would be incomplete without everything it contains.
Now think of a photograph. Every single element in the frame is important unto itself just as the frame supports each element. It’s an interesting way to think of photographs and really makes you pay attention to the process of creating each frame.
Photography In The Public Domain
Costa shys away from the term “Street Photography” and prefers to think of his work as photography created while in the public domain. Any place where ordinary things are happening that you can make extraordinary through the act of photographing them.
I don’t get hung up too much in definitions but his broader approach to the medium makes sense.
The Most Important Part Of The Frame
The most important part of the frame with any photograph is… ALL OF IT. That is all.
The Wonder Of The Moment
Too many photographs are just representation of what something looked like. Photograph in a way that creates something we have never seen before because of the wonder of the moment. Combine elements and show the world in a way that nobody has seen before!
Don’t Get Suckered By The Exotic
We’ve all done this. Crazy subject comes ambling down the street and you wait for the perfect moment to take a picture. And you have a boring picture of something outrageous. Costa urges you to use these subjects to create something bigger.
If you see someone dressed for a costume party and simply snap the shot. Then that’s all you have. If instead you use that person as an anchor for a better shot you’ll win every time! Wait for something ironic to come along or juxtapose it with something else. Make it into something unique – a surprise!
You can even use the costumed player as a disguise to get a candid shot of someone else near by. There’s no limit if you’re thinking less about the subject and more about the photo you want to make.
After a short break for lunch the workshop participants shared their portfolios for critique by Costa. I was terrified but submitted the following shots:
And Costa’s critique of my work:
I agree with pretty much everything Costa had to say about the shots I submitted – but I’m standing by that ferris wheel shot! I’ve been in quite a few critiques in my day and there was nothing threatening about his method. He expressed what he liked and dislike and gave strong reasons for his decision.
You really get the feeling that he has nothing to prove to anyone and he understands not everyone will agree with him. But 50 years as a Magnum photographer have given him the confidence to critique honestly but without offending anyone.
After the portfolio review the entire workshop ventured out for a few photo excersises supervised by Costa. When that was done we were tasked with simply shooting for the rest of the afteroon. Keeping in mind the lessons of the day and producing the best work possible.
That’s it for day 1. I’ll report back on day 2 with some more insights from this fascinating man!