I had the most wonderful opportunity this past year to grow as a photographer. In April, Karen Hutton, a mentor at The Arcanum—a new online learning platform based on the master and apprentice method of learning—selected me to be in her cohort. I applied to The Arcanum because my photography had stalled. I wanted to get better, but most workshops and learning opportunities were beyond my reach, because they are either far from home or expensive. The Arcanum fit me perfectly. I would receive personal attention from a mentor and work with a small group of photographers who would get to know me and my goals.
Karen’s mentoring style is to guide rather than teach. She presented us with photography assignments, books to read and lists of photographers to check out. She wanted us to explore and find out for ourselves what we are drawn to, and then figure out how to incorporate those elements into our own work. Periodically, we had one-on-one critiques of five recent images. For each image, Karen asked: “What are you going for?” She wanted us to learn to focus the story we were trying to tell. Then, she would offer ideas for improving the image to attain that goal.
As time passed, I became bolder with my processing. I tried new programs to see how that affected my images. Some images I did too much, and Karen and the other members of my cohort would let me know it wasn’t the best look. We were brutally honest with each other, but friendly and supportive with our comments. As a result, we all grew and improved and refined our styles. I found that I enjoyed playing and experimenting to find the best way to convey the story I was trying to tell.
Each master in The Arcanum is unique, and there are slight differences in how they run their cohorts. Karen was laid back, but wanted us to move forward with our life goals and our photography. Collectively, we decided to take on a project when we hit a certain level. (There are ten levels in each sphere at The Arcanum, and you move on to a new master after finishing 20 levels). All apprentices start at zero, and the master’s job is to help the apprentice through the levels. I chose to focus on creating a portfolio of images from Independence Mine State Historical Park that I would present as an ebook. I also wanted to keep refining my images and storytelling, and I established a goal to process the images in a variety of ways. One day I stopped in the museum at the mine and discovered that there is not a single book in print about this mine, and the woman running the shop loved the idea that I was putting one together. My ebook grew into a print book, which is available at: http://www.blurb.com/b/5977996-mining-memories-images-from-independence-mine-stat.
When I applied to The Arcanum I hoped that working with a master would help me learn to make more impactful images. I learned that and so much more. I learned to have confidence in my images and my view of the world. I learned to keep moving forward and reach for my dreams. Having someone who believed in me and wanted to see me succeed gave me the confidence to build a web page, start a blog, update my online photo gallery, create a book, schedule a show at a local coffee shop, and start making a line of jewelry based on my photographs.
Thank you to all the photographers who reach out and mentor other photographers, especially the ones who aren’t young but are still starting out on their photographic journey.
Margaret Gaines is a nature photographer, mom, jewelry designer and graduate student living in south-central Alaska, where she has access to some wonderful subjects year-round. She is a past chair of the Portfolio Review Committee and member of the Communications Committee. To see more of her work please visit her website: http://www.alaskagaines.net.