National Geographic Magazine Photography Seminar 2014 / by Rugile Kaladyte

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This year I had the amazing experience of visiting the National Geographic Photography Seminar in Washington, D.C. with a few of my colleagues. What started as a text from William Snyder asking if I was available on the 8th and 9th of January, ended with an evening reception among some of the world’s greatest photographers.   

Jan. 8, 2014

The Regan National Airport that I flew into greatly contrasted the snow-covered runways of O’Hare in Chicago. I had left the polar vortex behind me and was greeted with 30-degree temperatures and my friends Niki and Maureen, who had flown in from Ohio. We met up with Sarah at the hotel and had dinner at the Elephant & Castle, discussing what tomorrow might bring. One of our professors, Jennifer Poggi, surprised us with a 25-minute pep talk over the phone after dinner, encouraging us to talk to different photographers and make the most out of the seminar. The evening ended with obligatory photos in front of the White House before heading back to the hotel and quickly researching photographers before sleep.

Jan. 9, 2014

Inside the Auditorium

With our hotel within walking distance of the seminar, we arrived early to the seminar as suggested by Professor Poggi. The auditorium quickly began to fill as we scanned faces and nametags, often doing Google searches of names that appeared familiar to us. The section to the right of us was reserved for the staff photographers of National Geographic and we spotted Steve McCurry towards the front by the stage amongst others. The energy in the room was electrifying and it was difficult to contain our excitement.

The Guest Speakers

Hasan Elahl was the first to make a presentation and he examined issues of surveillance, migration, and borders. After being mistakenly listed on the terrorist watch list by the US government, Elahl began making his life very open, often sending GPS coordinates of his location to the FBI as well as photos of his dinner and the bathroom stall he was using. Wayne Lawrencetalked about the stigma associated with Orchard Beach and how instead he chose to focus on the colorful individuals, depicting the beach as an oasis. When forced to momentarily stop working as a photojournalist because of chaos in Iran, Newsha Tavakolian made work that was both fine art and documentary, representing the angst that she felt during the conflict. Tyler Hicks’ powerful images of the Westgate shopping mall attack in Nairobi are burned into my memory and he spoke about the ways he approaches situations that others are fleeing. Vincent J. Musi had us in stitches with his photos of grumpy groundhogs, pampered pets, and amazing animal portraits; behind every photograph was an unbelievable story, revealing that there is always more than what meets the eye in regards to animals. David Maisel’s breathtaking aerial portraits of environmentally impacted sites resembled abstract paintings. His images brought up the dilemma that while the impact on the earth is disastrous, without those excavated minerals, cameras, computers, and other tools used in our profession wouldn’t exist.And lastlyDanny Lyon and Julian Bond talked about photographing the Civil Rights Movement. Incredible.

The Cocktail Reception Party

We found Jeremy Lock (Professor Snyder told him that we would be coming) and he introduced us to Joe Eddins and Mary Calvert. They all agreed that it was very important to not be tied down when you’re young; traveling becomes difficult because of time spent away from your family. I approached Scott Strazzante and mentioned that we had studied his work Common Ground in class. Bringing up our senior capstone projects, his advice was that our subjects should be easily accessible. Those days in which the subject says they are doing “nothing,” may actually be filled with photographic opportunities. Sarah testifies that my face was a nice shade of red during our conversation. We spoke with Nikki Kahn of The Washington Post, who said that one should really be passionate about their subject for a long-term project and she is always interested in seeing the progress of a project. I ran into Lock again and he gave me a pep talk to approach Strazzante again because I had more questions. I’m glad he did. Even visiting the restroom was an adventure after I spotted Jodi Cobb’s nametag folded in half on the counter; I could only imagine what great photographers were in the stalls next to me…

The entire day was incredible and I think Alex Snyder put it best when he said, “It’s like being at the Oscars.” I would especially like to thank Professor William Snyder for this amazing experience. It was unforgettable.