Workshops Are For Strangers | Ann Whittaker

 Ann Whittaker. San Miguel de Allende, 2016.

Ann Whittaker. San Miguel de Allende, 2016.

After half a dozen Skype meetings with my stock photo editor in which I aimlessly tried to figure out how to find my photographic voice, he finally said, “you need to take a workshop from Sam Abell.” Who? Who the hell is Sam Abell? I brought up the almighty Google for Sam Abell images, and there was one of my favorite photographs of all time: a group of Irish tweens lined up against a stone gray wall, embracing a horse, all of them looking away from the wind that whipped their red hair. 

So this is Sam Abell

But I still hated workshops. I called to sign up, a little relieved there was a very long waiting list–I couldn’t be blamed for not going if there wasn’t a spot. I was off the hook.  

A month later, I got a phone call that there was an opening to go to San Miguel de Allende in October to study with this Sam Abell and photograph gardens–literal and metaphorical. Shoot. I had to go, but I really didn’t want to go: Mexico in October and a photo workshop could potentially be a very big waste of time and money. My editor also suggested I bring along my 69-year-old mother. 

So I did all of that. With so much hesitation. 

Day one, I meet the other participants. Lovely people. But I am reserved and want to just get this week over. Sam asks me why I’m in the workshop. I tell him I have no idea–Mexico was never at the top of my travel list, I’m not interested in garden photography, and I didn’t read any of Sam’s books nor did I really understand his prolific and beautiful career. I told him all of that candidly in a botanical garden on a hot day in San Miguel.  

That night, I really wanted to head back to the hotel to see my mom and get to bed after a slideshow. But fate wouldn’t have it. Jen and Chris, two other workshop participants, persuaded me to go out with them. And I did. And then everyone else showed up, and somehow I ended up spontaneously singing an old folk tune under a full moon in a very beautiful casa. What was happening?

 Ann Whittaker. San Miguel de Allende, 2016.

Ann Whittaker. San Miguel de Allende, 2016.

AW San Miguel-1953.jpg

I was enchanted. I was swooped up by Jen, Chris, Virginia, Arnie, Ann, Jim, Jeremy, Don Arturo and Sam. These people were showing me more than how to make a picture worth making–they were showing me how to make a life worth composing; they were showing me that magic happens if you know where to look. 

It was a watershed moment. I was not the same person at the end of the week. My mother can tell you that. She saw me shed an old life, and the person I am deep inside was sparked after years of dormancy. I felt alive and renewed. 

So, yes, I am returning next week because there will be magic, there will be long days of shooting, long nights of talking, and long lives made more meaningful and full. This is a reunion, a workshop reunion for heaven’s sake, that I am sure will change me again.