Thursday, January 10, 2013

Miami Street Photography Festival: how it was

Here is the long overdue report on the Miami Street Photography Festival I was busy with in early December and on Alex and Rebecca Norris Webb's master-class I took during the festival. I actually posted a piece on my LiveJournal blog on the subject, but it was all done in Russian. So if you can read and, more importantly, understand Russian, check it out: ***here***

For the rest of you western folks, let's translate it into some Runglish...

...Now, when 2012 Miami Street Photography Festival is in the past, it is time to tell the World how it actually all happened...with the brief history and pictures, and in simple words.

Well, it all started 1.5 years ago, when Juan Jose Reyes (I use "Juan" for the rest of the post) created the Miami Street Photography Club. He invited me as his first follower ( probably because of my site, ). I liked the idea but was actually very-very skeptical since I knew few local photographers who were working in the streets regularly. No matter, I supported Juan in his endeavor as energetically as I could: visited all the meetings, said many words, moved my hands up and down, right and left while explaining aloud how exactly one should take street photographs, et cetera. Here is the first meeting, Juan is talking:


Next, the strange thing happened: in few month the club started to grow, and grow fast. The flow of the photographs, brought by the club members to the monthly meeting, mostly beginner's snapshots at first, slowly started to show some interesting pictures, and the whole field of street photography in Miami in one year out of complete desert so to speak, became very populated and social place!

Juan told us about his dream: the festival; the real international festival of street photography. Again, I supported the idea as loud as I could but did I believe at the time that it is doable in less than a year? Hell no!

The things were moving very slow through the hot and humid 2012 summer: Juan registered a non-profit corporation; few people were contacted, there were still no word on the venue and the possible sponsor(s)... when Alex and Rebecca Webb, when asked, replied: "yes".

"Yes", they will be a part of the festival, there will be their both a master-class and a talk. This gave the festival a huge boost. Kike San Martin, famous Miami-based Latin celebrity photographer and club supporter:

offered his studio in Wynwood as a primary venue; then, thanks to Bob Karafel, a sponsor emerged: Electric Avenue store decided to help the event and finally all the pieces came together almost miraculously.

The exhibition had been planned as a central point of the festival. The show was two-fold. First, the main show, with open access for everyone to be juried by the panel which included Alex Webb, Rebecca Norris Webb and Maggie Steber. Second, 2 shows of street collectives -- Street Gang and Street Photographers. While going through pictures submitted for the main show, I personally liked the work of Artur Eranosian (Belgium), Oscar Palomares (Spain) and Mike Hicks (USA) the most.

Artur Eranosian

Sant Medir
Oscar Palomares

Mike Hicks

Of course, I also liked many single pictures of other participants, like this one, by Bob Karafel:

All in all, it had been a surprisingly good set!

And here it comes: December, A.C.s are loud due to the weather been unusually warm, homeless men are resting along the sidewalk, Juan is cleaning the studio; few hours left before the informal opening of the exhibition:

We started working in the morning, transforming Kike's photographic studio into a gallery space:

The pictures were printed 12x18" and mounted on the black mat board:

Our work had not been too effective at first:

then picture by picture, we leaned and finished on time. There were 80 pictures in main exhibit, plus two collectives, for 150 pictures total:

I came back to the studio later in the evening from the Miami Airport where I met my friend Mikhail Steinberg, street photographer from Detroit. The first visitor was already surveying the exhibit:

and Mikhail promptly joined him:

Next day, Friday Dec 7th, was my working day, so I left Mike without the guide (me); he went to Art Basel. Tonight we've met at the studio, where we saw the crowds:

Street photographers were easily recognizable by the stance:

(in the center: Matt Dunn)

Maggie Steber's talk on Haiti was very emotional, moving:

She herself is like her pictures, the flame, always moving, never static:

(Maggie Steber and Juan)

(Mikhail and Maggie)

Next in the schedule was the event named "Calle Ocho Photoshoot"; it was planned for the following day and I was the leading guide. It has started as planned, at 11AM. More than 40 folks with cameras shown up which was of course too much for one guide...fortunately several club members agreed to share the burden. Hector Isaac, Julio de la Nues, Igor Lebedin and Rene Triay -- Thank you! The weather was extremely nice, Calle Ocho was full of subjects and street scenes; I tried not just guide but also shoot since I had to use the pictures the next day on the Alex Webb's master-class; I also took some pictures of my group:

After the shoot we spent some time in the restaurant nearby:

and I went with Mikhail to my house to develop and scan 5 rolls we've shot. We visited the festival in the evening to listen to Alex and Rebecca's talk:

This was basically the end of the public part of the festival but for me, for Mikhail and for other 16 photographers the best part was yet to come. I am talking about the Webbs' master-class. Again, if you can read and understand Russian, read Mikhail's LJ blog post about the master-class.

We have been asked to bring to the class the portfolio of 30-40 photographs, printed at least 4x6" or better. I printed everything 8x12". Mikhail used 4x6" but some photographers brought 16x20, beautifully printed and mounted. I don't think it mattered for Alex and Rebecca, but it is my opinion that 4x6" is a little too small and big prints (16X20" and bigger) are no easy fit even for the big desk used at the class. So, one by one, we've been presenting our portfolios on the desk and Webbs' been asking us meaningful questions (background, path in photography etc). The quick edit followed each presentation: Alex and Rebecca picked 3-6 pictures out of all and then the one to be placed on the small desk by the window; this print served as a signature work of the specific participant:

Mikhail's photo is on the left, mine is next to it.

I liked how fast and without hesitation they picked the photo out of my portfolio I also consider my best:


Somewhere along the way I took out my Leica M2 and finished the roll:




Next was the similar editing exercise but now we, divided into 4 groups, had been working with Alex's photographs. My group got the Mexican set. This was particularly interesting because all the photographs were very good and some I just knew by heart, so it was not easy to reject them, but we did. At the end of the exercise Alex and Rebecca visited our desk, correcting the choice and explaining why they changed it.

Several times during the class they had talks about the photo book making in general and their books in particular (they consider the book to be the final product #1, the prints been #2, not vice versa). Alex also explained the internals of the printing process and color management during production in "big" publishing. They answered many questions to the fullest -- all in all it was very, very informative, interesting and entertaining part of the workshop.

Next were the prints. They brought examples of the prints in all the sizes they use and shown all of them. Rebecca prints at least 20x30 inches (roughly 50x76cm), Alex has 30x45" as the smallest size (76x114cm). They print in series with bigger part of the print run to be distributed and the smaller part to stay as the author's (about 20%). When they are out of the specific print run they sometimes sell or give out some of the remaining author copies but this happens rarely as I understood. When the specific print run is out it is out, there will be no more prints in this size. The price now starts from $3.5K

At the end of the master-class Webbs did the review of the Little Havana's Photo Shoot (see above the description of the event, those who didn't participate brought some other portfolio). I managed to divide my better shots into 2 groups, here is the better one:




To my surprise, Webbs went through the rest and added few more:



The rest had been comprised of something like this:

which one can shoot in Little Havana all day long, just point camera in the right direction and do not forget to push the button:) I have been told "You did fine"; I think something like this had been said to everyone, but at the moment I felt special:)

What else I do remember...Alex's note on framing: "Sometimes someone's head just cry to be chopped off"; the sandwich "Cuban Photographer", delivered from the nearest fast food kitchen; remember how exhausted Alex and Rebecca were at the end of the master-class; how intense was their work during the day. I remembered how Alex both answering different questions and just spontaneously, by himself, many times told us that all this street and documentary photography field is not very promising if taken as a business, and should not be approached as such. He advised to follow the passion, shoot a lot and enjoy it ("and that is what I do", my thought was:).

There were different people at the class. Some were pros with resumes full of exhibitions and books, some just novices in a search of better hobby. Webbs were kind enough to offer meaningful advice to everyone, to encourage everyone to follow the path chosen, not necessarily into the street photography per se. I have been told:"Continue what you are doing".

At the very end, Alex said that the group at the class was one of the strongest he had seen recently. I could not help but think that this phrase had been probably repeated at the end of every class:D

This was the end of the festival.

Many times we have discussed the competition part of the festival. Many times we made the decision rather not to select the few finalists. At the end, we have decided to go with it, i.e. to choose around 10 finalists as winners. Alex, Rebecca, Maggie and Juan picked 12 authors:


At the end, I wish to thank you all who made it possible, who gave time, work and money to make it happen. And I grateful to Juan also known as Juan Jose Reyes, street photographer from Fort Lauderdale, FL, without him, his work and dedication we'd still be just a bunch of lone street shooters.


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