One hundred strong, they walked up the gravel laden hill having just stepped off a caravan of yellow school buses, phalanxed by an applauding gauntlet of a Who’s Who of photography professionals. Little do they know that four days later, when they walk down that same hill for the last time, their lives will have been changed forever. Welcome to the Eddie Adams Workshop!
For four intensive days, in a barn on top of that hill in the small community of Jeffersonville, nestled in the Catskill Mountains of New York, fifty students and fifty professionals (three years or less experience) were joined by dozens of the world’s top photographers, editors, educators and photographic suppliers. The faculty included photo editors from Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, National Geographic, People, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Detroit Free Press, The Associated Press, Reuters, and Getty Images…as well as many others. All who donated their time to the Workshop. And the cost to the students? None! It is tuition free as they earned their way in by portfolio review by the Workshop Board of Directors.
The students had a chance to have their portfolios reviewed by these professionals as well as the opportunity to work side by side with them during their team assignments. If a photographer were to try to schedule portfolio reviews on their own with all of these journalism luminaries, it might take them years. Yet, in one weekend in October, they are all there, and available!
The student’s schedule has the look and feel of a “boot camp,” with lectures, programs, panels, assignments, portfolio reviews, ceremonies, presentations and awards crammed into a four day period. And for many of the students, the “decompression” will not happen right away. A Barnstorm alumni student said; “You don’t realize what you’ve been through until about two days after you get home, it’s weird!” Workshop XIV student Evan Walker of Kennewick, Washington said; “I am a different photographer now. I feel like I am part of a movement in photography. Attending Barnstorm was the greatest experience of my life!”
“Barnstorm,” as it is also known, has reached a milestone. It will celebrate its 25th anniversary next year. By then two thousand five hundred students will have passed through those barn doors. Many have gone on to flourishing careers of their own having gotten their feet wet in Jeffersonville. Notable alumni include: Kwaku Alston, Nancy Andrews, Kristen Ashburn, Karen Ballard, Molly Bingham, Zana Briski, Chien-Chi Chang, Sarah Friedman, Lauren Greenfield, Justin Guariglia, Naomi Harris, Chris Hondros, Brooks Kraft, Vincent Laforet, Rick Loomis, Jon Lowenstein, Brian Plonka, Stephanie Sinclair, Ami Vitale and Clarence Williams III. Many who come back as faculty or presenters.
Barnstorm was the pipe dream come true for its founder, Eddie Adams, a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer perhaps most noted for his history changing image of a suspected Viet Cong informant being executed in the streets of Saigon. Many say that iconic image helped change the course of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War and sped up the withdrawal of US soldiers. Eddie openly hated talking about that picture but no one could deny its power. Eddie passed away in 2004 from ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) but his spirit and the spirit of the Workshop are alive and well.
The culmination of the workshop happened on the last night when the students received their awards ranging from equipment, to assignments to financial assistance for personal projects…all donated by faculty and amazing sponsors such as Nikon who has been with the workshop since its inception.
This year, there were also awards given in the memory of former student and Getty photographer Chris Hondros as well as Tim Hetherington…both who lost their lives covering the insurgency in Libya. Chris’ fiancée Christina Piaia was present to personally hand the award to this year’s recipient during a moving ceremony that all who attended will remember as long as they live.
The dictionary defines the word magic as: the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. There is no question in my mind, that there are mysterious and supernatural forces at work at Barnstorm. And it’s that “magic” that has drawn me back every October for the last 20 years.
James Ken Colton
Dateline: October, 2011, Jeffersonville, NY.
Reprinted with Permission from La Lettre de la Photographie and Photographer Todd Frantom.