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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Workshop Diary

A global photographer gives us a feel for the agenda and flow of a high-end workshop when he treks to China with Art Wolfe

This Article Features Photo Zoom

A young girl poses for a photo in Yangshuo.
In the evening, Wolfe presents his work for us to better understand his modus operandi. He graduated from the University of Washington with bachelor degrees in fine arts and art education, both, years later, playing a major role in his ability to convey information successfully in a workshop format. He considers being invited on an Everest expedition, which brought him to China for the first time, his big photographic break.

Wolfe draws upon the great painters for inspiration. Impressionists such as Monet translate photographically as long exposures to create impressionist photographs. Van Gogh inspires Wolfe to incorporate movement in certain photographs. Picasso's Cubism, Dali Surrealism, Jackson Pollock's controlled wildness and Mark Tobey's Asian aesthetic also find their way into an Art Wolfe photograph. M.C. Escher's use of positive and negative space, a balance between light and dark, helps Wolfe explain to us how to make the best use of the entire photographic frame. He also points out that these artists created bodies of work rather than just a bunch of unrelated pieces, and suggests that we think in the same way.

Wolfe concludes his presentation by projecting and discussing an abstract image of the rice terraces we will photograph in the morning. He tells us to look for the balances and the power of the line, and when we encounter people working in the paddies, to use them effectively in our compositions to give a sense of scale.

The next morning, with a box breakfast in hand, we board our bus to Duoyishu Village for sunrise. A day above the rice terraces from different viewpoints yields much stronger results armed with the previous night's suggestions. Wolfe also advises use of a polarizer to change the reflections in the shallow water of each terrace. The digital world hasn't eliminated the need for graduated ND filters and polarizers.

We spend the night downloading, editing, having our images critiqued, then preparing for our next stop—one that has been at the top of many of my classmates' and my destination wish list for a long time—Guilin.

After a bus ride back to Kunming and a two-hour flight, we arrive in 2,000-year-old Guilin, located on the west bank of the Li River. Its most notable features are the unique mountain formations that dot its landscape.

Part of the lure of this area in China are the small towns and villages of Guilin, such as Fuli, surrounded on one side by the Li River and three sides by mountains, a town particularly popular with artists. In the afternoon, we explore the Li River and its tributaries by boat. We settle in at our hotel in nearby Yangshuo, and in the evening head to an outdoor arena to experience "Impression Liu Sanjie," a musical extravaganza on the Li River codirected by Zhang Yimou (known for creating the opening ceremony production at the Beijing Olympics), Wang Chaoge and Fan Yue.

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