Magnum Photos Workshop: Visual Storytelling with Emin Özmen & Cloé Kerhoas

I just completed a weekend workshop at Magnum Photos and felt the need to share my experience. So here is my first workshop review!

I am where I am today as a photographer and human because of the Magnum Photos x Speos Creative Documentary and Photojournalism program. I learned how to see and tell the best stories through Magnum Photographers. (Not to mention, we were part of the 2015-2016 inaugural program so we felt super special!)

Abbas taught me how to edit and has given me enough inspiration for a lifetime, Patrick Zachmann taught me how to use light, Richard Kalvar taught me how to enjoy photography, Moises Saman taught me how to be free in my expression, Stuart Franklin taught me composition and how to use color (if you haven't, go read his book The Documentary Impulse. It will make you think!).

Editing session with Abbas. Abbas instilled in us the importance of cheap prints to edit and sequence!

Editing session with Abbas. Abbas instilled in us the importance of cheap prints to edit and sequence!

I remember how in the first month of the program, Abbas met up with us, new fresh-eyed students in Paris, to go to the Philippe Halsman exhibition opening at the Jeu de Paume. It might not have meant that much to him but it meant the world to us. Moreover, the Magnum Photos Paris staff members made us feel like family. Enrico, Joanna, Candice, Andrea...I could go on forever. 

When I heard that there would be a Magnum Photos Visual Storytelling workshop in Paris with Emin Özmen and Cloé Kerhoas of Agence Le Journal, I was super excited! Having had worked as a professional photographer since October 2016, I was in need of some inspiration. I have worked extensively on assignments (if it pays, I'm there!) but I am now at a turning point in my career where I want to tell something of my own. If you are stuck, the best way to free yourself is to do a workshop. 

This workshop was two and a half days long and consisted of 17 students from all over the world. On the first night, Emin shared his work. You can tell a lot about a photographer based off how they speak about their work; Emin was super humble and honest (a great sign!). The thing that differentiates Magnum photographers to me is that their photos make me feel as if I've been punched in the stomach. It's like magic. (If you don't believe me, Google Josef Koudelka olive tree.) Through Emin's photos, I felt compelled to care. Afterwards, we all had drinks in the office to break the ice. 

DAY 2 SATURDAY: We learned how to pitch our own stories--everything from how to correctly write an email to how to connect with editors. Cloé is a well known editor so getting her perspective was invaluable. It was very insightful to hear how even Emin, who I consider one of the world's best storytellers of our time, struggled at times to get stories seen. Emin shared that to create a story, we need vision, motivation, and communication which ties all back to ethics. 

Emin (left) and Cloé (center) going through the photo editing process with prints. Abbas would have been proud!

Emin (left) and Cloé (center) going through the photo editing process with prints. Abbas would have been proud!

We even got to see one of Emin's soon to be published Magnum assignments which helped illustrate his vision-motivation-communication-ethics theory. Hearing about Emin's process, from being on assignment to editing at home, helped us understand how it works. Using the prints, we were able to come up with an edit of 20 photos. I had to sadly step out for a few hours to shoot the March for Our Lives Paris protest but I ran into Richard Kalvar there so it was okay! Coline, the Magnum Photos Education Manager for Europe, was nice enough to catch me up on what I missed.

Richard Kalvar shooting at March for Our Lives in Paris, France.

Richard Kalvar shooting at March for Our Lives in Paris, France.

DAY 3 SUNDAY: We had a packed day of portfolio reviews and seeing one of Emin's films. As a photographer, it is very scary to venture into video. I can shoot videos fine, they are just moving images, but when you add in editing and sound, I am lost. Emin was the first photographer who shared with me how he works with a team to come up with a final product. He even said, "...sitting behind the computer is not my favorite thing." I left feeling more confident and eager to work with video if needed. 

Group portfolios scare the shit out of me. I've done many portfolio reviews but group ones really kill me. I almost had a panic attack and Emin, a conflict photographer, could feel my uneasiness that he asked me if I was okay! Cloé and Emin gave us honest (tough love) feedback so we left knowing exactly what we needed to work on next. Cloé stressed the importance of listening and not talking too much during a portfolio review. Those who had prints were able to learn how to edit. Through this exercise, we also learned a lot about ethics in photography (DO NOT CROP!).

Emin also shared with students, names of photographers we should be following and looking at. He also stressed the importance of watching movies, looking at books, and going to exhibitions. I truly believe this is key! By studying the work of the greats, we learn about composition, light, and how to see. As a student, my peers and I spent hours in the Magnum Photos bookshelves, looking for inspiration and to learn. 

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Another reason it is so important to refresh with a workshop is because you can meet some amazing people! I met some local artists and photographers who I would love to help and collaborate with one day, a really accomplished architect from Prague, and a cinematographer from Canada who I am already planning a project with. Emin stressed the importance of community and I left with new friends and new photographers to follow. 

Not all photographers are teachers but Magnum Photos goes the extra mile to ensure that students in their workshops leave with new insights, resources, and inspiration. Check out their workshops here!

A huge thank you to Coline, Magnum Photos Education Manager for Europe, and to Emin and Cloé for their time and knowledge.