Last month I returned to my alma mater to help out at The Fall Workshop. Every year for 12 years, graduate and undergraduate students from the Multimedia, Photography & Design department at Syracuse University dedicate 4 days to intense, hands-on production work. For the past two years, the workshop has been based around the theme of "Families," with this year specifically focused on the idea of "New Families." Returning for the second year as a coach, I had the unique opportunity to return the instruction and knowledge that I walked away with during the two workshops I participated in as a graduate student. The Fall Workshop is a fundamental component of the curriculum. Coming only a few weeks into the beginning of the semester, students learn shooting, editing, and storytelling from professionals (mostly Syracuse alumni).
This year I worked with Maura Lisson and Ethan Backer (graduate students), Chris Janjic (a senior undergraduate), and Chase Walker (a visiting fellow from Liberia). Coming from a diverse set of backgrounds each student set off to tell a story about a "new family" in Syracuse, in their own way.
Ethan Backer was a former freelance photographer in Massachusetts who returned to graduate school to learn the necessary skills for multimedia storytelling. Video was still very new to him where the mechanics and technique were not yet familiar. However, as the weekend progressed, his comfort with the camera grew. He was able to focus (literally), started to see light again, and was able to be more deliberate about his composition and framing. Unconditional is a wonderful story about a family whose love far outweighs its needs. The storytelling is elegant as he slowly reveals the story through deliberate pacing.
Chris Janjic, a senior undergraduate, began his project on Friday. Typically most students begin the workshop with having shot some of their story, but Chris had the added challenge of starting from scratch on day one. Having just gained access to a halfway house, his greatest hurdle would be to develop and nurture relationships with the female residents in a compressed timeline. Putting away his camera and simply hanging out was a test of patience that ultimately rewarded Chris with an open door into the lives of these women. Halfway There is a sensitive look into three women's lives looking to start over, shared through poetry and deeply personal experiences.
Maura Lisson, who holds a bachelor's degree from SU's school of Visual and Performing Arts, focused on a middle school cross country team. With a background in fine art photography, Maura wanted to take a non-traditional approach to storytelling. Her portrait of these young girls is both reflective, and active. It is a universal story that we can all relate to: a vignette of the adolescent experience through the lens of team, sport, and family.
Finally, Chase Walker, a visiting fellow from Liberia and extremely talented artist, hunkered down to explore the story of a Liberian family who have been refugees in Syracuse since 2006. Contrasting the themes of the "American Dream" and the "Liberian Dream," Chase tells the story of a family seeking a better life in America in hopes of returning to their country with this. Through the eyes of the eldest brother of four, Lawson Townsend pursues this dream through soccer for his entire family.