Feb 252013

Thoughts from the Bangkok Workshop

Stepping outside of the comfort zone

Photography is a game of small 

victories and incremental learning.

Whether we focus on technical 

challenges or the artistic ones, 

there will always new areas to 

explore.  Workshops can be

a great place to step out of your 

regular approach and try a new 

way of seeing. 


The Workshop Bangkok with Rammy Narula

Comfortable Shooting

What do you do when you get bored with your photographs?  Everyone gets bored at some point.  Its seems to be a natural part of the process.  There are ups and down, mixed with side steps and transgressions.  The emotional pendulum can swing every direction, but when it finally comes to rest, we need a burst of energy to start it moving again.  How can we reactivate the excitement that once filled our frame?

Many photographers come to me with the same problem.  They feel as if they take the same photographs all the time.  This is not a problem if you are repeating Pulitzer Prize winning photos, but how often does that happen?  Photography is a game of practice and repetition.  The backbone of our photography is also a curse because inevitably we get tired of our our own patterns.  How can we break out of the comfort zone and shed fresh light on old situations?

Before the workshop, Rammy had no trouble getting close. He wanted to learn how to step back and compose a scene. © Rammy Narula.

Never in New York

When I was in art school I hardly took pictures in New York.  For each photo assignment I would hop on a train and shoot somewhere else on the east coast.  While most people are clamoring to come to New York and take pictures, the city never held my attention as a subject.

While I was in Thailand, one of the workshop participants named Rammy Narula said that same thing of Bangkok.  He felt badly for being bored to death with his own city.  I told him about my relationship to New York to reassure him that it is perfectly normal to be bored of your home, no matter how exotic it may seem to someone else.

I did not know if he would enjoy the workshop, since we were going to be in Bangkok the entire time.  Part of me was really hoping to deliver a great workshop, but boredom can be a big monster to overcome.  I wondered, is it possible to transmit my curiosity about a place into his camera, simply by walking around together?

Rammy has only been shooting for a short time, just over a year. His timing is great, as this picture demonstrates, but he knew that he was missing the fundamentals of composition. © Rammy Narula

We set out from the hotel to some of the participants favorite spots.  To me, they were all new.  I was happy to take them in slowly, the way I do most things.  There is no rush in street work because there are no deadlines, no bosses and no expectations.  Twelve hours of wandering can be justified by a single frame.  While we were walking together Rammy commented on my sparse style of shooting.  Some days I shoot more than others, but in general I don’t take a lot of pictures.  Photography is a waiting game for me.  Most of the time I am looking and only a few minutes of any day are spent shooting.  This came as a big surprise to him.  Along the way he would ask, “How would you shoot this scene? Or is there are shot here?”

Without the camera to my face, I would reply, “There is no shot here,” and we would continue along.  He wanted to know why I thought there was no picture…what was I looking at that allowed me to decide without taking a shot and looking at the screen?  What were the things that I look at that makes me feel as if a picture is worth taking?

Over the next few days, we explored the wet market, a few smaller neighborhoods and even the train station which seems to be a regular stop for many workshops.  One afternoon Rammy and I walked the tracks as trains came and went.  The light was too bright for shooting outside while the glass roof of the station acted like a huge diffuser.  It made for some brilliant light.

Rammy took this image on the way to the second day of the workshop. He stood back and saw all the men linked in one gesture and something clicked for him. These types of pictures are never perfect, but the gears start moving in a new direction, which is most important. © Rammy Narula

Finding a Style

When we started the workshop Rammy knew that his style of street portrait was at an impasse.  He was not afraid to get close to his subjects.  His, in your face, portraits even landed him an few magazine spots.  But he felt like he had hit a wall. He was afraid to step back.  What would he do with the rest of the frame and how could he coordinate 2 or 3 or 5 subjects in a single scene?  We worked on some strategies to help him build a scene beyond his typical shot.

Inside the train station we found a pocket of light and camped out.  In less than ten minutes the shot came together and Rammy took, what I would consider to be a spectacular image.  Adding to the composition was the fact the bench had a child on the left and an old man on the right, with all the steps in between.  It was a rather poetic image that represented a giant leap forward for Rammy and his work.  He stepped well outside his comfort zone and discovered that by letting a scene develop he could create a stronger image, but also enjoy the process of waiting as much as he enjoyed shooting.

As Rammy started to step back, he became aware of how to use the setting instead of focusing on just the face. Little improvements were building up. © Rammy Narula

Success as a habit

The picture at the train station was just the beginning of Rammy’s new start.  He has moved outside of the realm of the mug-shot-portrait and entered a more complex and subtle realm of design.  Bangkok went from his boring hometown to a perfect training ground for his direction.  While it would have been easier for him to stick with the style he already knew, I give him a lot of credit for embracing change.

Here Rammy found a scene and waited for a subject to pass. These exercises don’t always yield the most exciting results, but just like golf swing, it takes many repeated efforts to find the sweet spot. © Rammy Narula

Learning can be an uncomfortable process.  New techniques always feel awkward at first.  Over time, the stiffness gives way to fluid motion.  We no longer think about the mechanics we just dance through the scene.  The results speak for themselves.

In the brief time between the trains coming and going, Rammy and I found this shot, which came together brilliantly. At the junction of composition, lighting, figure to ground and atmosphere Rammy brought it all together. © Rammy Narula

The examples of before and after are not always crystal clear.  Like one of my former workshop attendees Cyrus, it took six months for the ideas to come together in his work.  Rammy was a bit of an exception.  As his teacher, it was exciting to see things start to bloom so quickly.  My time in Thailand was exceptional and I am already planning to return in January of 2014.  In the mean time, I look forward to seeing Rammy embrace a few new ways of taking pictures.  It won’t be a seamless process, learning is never perfect.  But over time, the experiments will yield a body of work that might have never come about.  All I can say is that I was happy to bare witness to the transformation.

Back in New York I have a few weeks to prepare for my exhibition at the Impossible Project before heading off to Zurich for another workshop in April.  I hope to get back to a regular schedule of posting articles, since the beginning of the year has been so busy.  I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for your patience.  And to congratulate Rammy on his success.

Now I am back in New York and Rammy is off in a completely new direction. There will be successes and failures in the images, but he has a completely new set of eyes driving the camera. I look forward to watching his development until we reconnect next year when I return to Bangkok. © Rammy Narula

Good to be back on line.  I will talk to you all soon.


  5 Responses to “Before & After from the Bangkok Workshop with Rammy Narula”

  1. Great to have you back online. Looking forward to your new posts and Also to one day doing a workshop with you.
    Hope all is well

  2. Hi Adam, hi Rammy,

    (names mentioned in alphabetical order)

    thanks for your inspiring report. I have studied all pictures and and personally found 4 of the pictures really interesting and somewhat starting a conversation.

    The picture »Before-Workshop-2« lets me wonder if there could be a safe landing for that chap. Great shot! Very dramatic.

    When viewing the picture »Human-Lines-1« which shows two male persons my eye starts to jump from one person to the other and because of that I am beginning to create a relationship between those two persons and the handled good. There is the structure of the platform and the waggon creating depth leading to a somewhat imaginary horizon. Which makes the scene dreamy. These elements frame the plot leading the eye in a curve from the handled good via the guy handling it. This connects the good via the working man to the waggon and the cart. The position of the working man gives not a clear hint whether he is loading the good or unloading. This is great because the is another man in an uniform, smaller but with the best contrast relationship, checking papers. He is framed by the legs of our working hero. Although he must be further away, because he is much smaller, it seems that he is standing in the box on the cart . Checking whatever is concerned to the good. So we have two persons connected to each other, to the cart, the good and the wagon and the platform of the train station. And because of the contrast of the good, the uniformed man, the action stopped at a peak you (sorry I) start to think about shipment, working, relationship between those persons, poor and rich etc. – STUNNING!

    The next picture »During-Workshop-4« tells something about growing up, exploriing unknown and maybe uncertain territory. The composition of the colours is great. Contrasting the blue of the boys clothes with the light yellow of the wall. The boy leaning forward giving a clear sense of direction and speed. We can`t see the end of the road, so we can`t tell something about the destination. There is only a hint in the upper left corner. It is the blue of another house which echoes the the blue clothes of the boy and creating a diagonal from corner to corner. Even the frameword of the red bike leads to that. Supported by the marks on the road. Again – STUNNING!

    The next one is the very first picture – the title picture. Man that`s a great emotional picture of to women and a child, although you could only see the silouette of its head, looking in a sad way. It is so powerfull. It is stronger than the text lying over it. There is the triangle formed by the three persons. There are the two windows of the waggon, like eyes. They are connecting the two women in the waggon. Supported by the diagonal of the eybrows of the left woman. Which is looking downwards to the child on an imaginary plattform. Leaving a child or her child behind, heading away to the right. Really, really – STUNNING!

    Thank you Rammy, thank you Adam (this time in opposite alphabetical order) for opening my eyes. For these great pictures. Maybe I am start to understand a bit more of art and the visual language.

    And last but not least: Thank you for entertain me in just a fine way!

    Keep on with your great work.



  3. Do you ever offer a one on one workshop in New York Adam? Would love to take a vacation to New York and take a class with you!

  4. Yes Gary,
    I do offer that. Drop me an email and we can sort out some dates.
    Best Adam

  5. Hello
    Amazing photos. Please advise where in Bangkok I can see such life that you show in your photos?

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