A Chat with Elizabeth Greenberg of the Maine Media Workshops

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B&H wasn't the only photographic institution to celebrate its 40th anniversary last year. The venerable Maine Media Workshops did so, as well. In this article, Gabriel Biderman, from B&H, chats with Elizabeth Greenberg, the Vice President of Academic Affairs at the Maine Media Workshops and College, about the unique experience their workshops provide.

Let's get to know you better, Elizabeth. What's your background in photography and the arts?

I was about fourteen when I woke up one day and decided I wanted to be a photographer when I grew up. I was fortunate that my uncle had been a photography buff, so that very day he set up his darkroom for me, took me to the photo store to buy film, paper, and chemicals, and from that point I was off and running. Making pictures and working in the darkroom were the only things I wanted to do—all the time. I pursued a degree in photography in college, and then set off on my course as a photographer. I spent ten years in New York, first working for Arnold Newman, and then working with Judd Pilossof in his food-photography studio. During that time, I remained involved with the Maine Media Workshops, and had begun teaching, so I decided to pursue my MFA and shift gears from commercial work to education.

   

How long have you been with MMW?

Well, now I will date myself... I spent my first summer after college as an intern at the Workshops, and have been involved ever since. This will now be my 25th summer!

What exciting changes have you seen over this time?

Wow... lots! Of course, photography and image making have been through so much evolution in the past 25 years, there have been numerous new courses, new faculty, and new facilities. We have always offered photography and filmmaking, so the convergence of the two, thanks to the new technology, has been a natural shift in offerings for us. It is also so exciting to see how the new technology merges with the old. Gabe, I think I’ve seen you in the alt pro lab making platinum prints from digital negatives of images shot on your iPhone, it is just so cool! One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is that MMW remains a community of people passionate about making pictures, telling stories, being creative, and having fun.

The Maine Media campus is located in the little coastal town of Rockport. Why was this location chosen, and what can a student expect of the Maine environment?

Rockport is a very special place, truly one of the most beautiful harbors on the coast of Maine. Our neighboring town, Camden, is known as the place where the mountains meet the sea, so there is great geographic diversity. We are just remote enough that being here allows you to feel like you have gotten away from all the hassle of your daily life, and you can focus on your creativity. We’re in a very 21st-century way... we are totally connected with high–speed fiber optic, but still, at the same time, we place great value on being gathered together as a community, having great conversations, and sharing.

 

Now, I have my favorite chowder house and coffee shop that I need to visit while I'm attending the workshops. Talk to me about the community vibe in the Rockport and Camden area, which definitely has that Maine charmbut with an arty twist, and how much do you feel this has been influenced by the school?

I often joke that I think there may be more photographers and filmmakers per capita here in the Rockport area than there are in NYC, largely due to all the people who have visited the workshops over the years and decided, like me, to call this place home.  Historically, the midcoast of Maine has been a haven for artists for centuries, from painters, to sculptors, writers and, of course, photographers and filmmakers. It is a culturally rich area, with no end of opportunities and experiences for those interested in the arts. Great food too!

As far as I know, MMW was the first of its kind to offer week-long workshops from a veritable "who's who" in the photo world. I remember sitting at lunch at the Maine campus and seeing Arnold Newman for the first time, and being star struck. But he was very approachable and loved coming up to Maine; it seemed like his second family. Give us a little of the history of the workshops: what other luminaries have taught, and who are you looking forward to working with?

Well, Maine wasn’t the first to offer week-long workshops, but is certainly the longest running photography workshop program. Just last year we had a student refer to us as “The Mothership!” I recall so clearly my reaction the first time I saw a catalog for the workshops, the lineup of faculty read like a veritable “who’s who” of photography: Arnold Newman, Joyce Tenneson, Eugene Richards, Mary Ellen Mark, Paul Caponigro. When I saw the list of all of my “photo heroes,” I had no question that I had to be here, too. The list of luminaries over the years is extraordinary: Ernst Haas, Arno Minkkinen, Duane Michals, Sally Mann, Greg Heisler, Joe McNally, and so many more. The faculty list just keeps growing, and this year, in photography, we're so excited to welcome Marco Grob, Susan Burnstine, Jennifer Schwartz, Jessica Hines, Gordon Stetinnius, Lydia Panas... I could go on and on!

And that doesn't include the filmmakers that have taught and teach here as well; it's just a list of the photographers. Over the years, some of the most highly acclaimed directors, cinematographers, and editors have also taught at the workshops: Billy Williams, Vilmos Zsigmond, and Ralph Rosenbloom are just a few.

 

Have you had any famous students that have come out of your program, either the workshops or the college?

We have a number of alums from our programs who have gone on to highly successful and notable careers, and I am sure many more we do not know of. One of our most sought-after instructors, Cig Harvey, started as a student in our Professional Certificate program and also completed her MFA with us. She is, of course, now known internationally and published her first monograph, “You Look at Me Like an Emergency,” in 2012. Jim Krantz, who was the Lucie Awards 2010 International Photographer of the Year, also studied at the workshops early in his career as a resident student, and has continued to come back for workshops over the years. The Academy Award-winning cinematographer Russell Carpenter, DP on Titanic, was also once a student here.

This year we are thrilled that Zach Zamboni will be teaching a new workshop with us: "Camera in Action." Zach studied cinematography at the workshops and has gone on to win three Prime Time Emmy Awards for Nonfiction Cinematography. He has shot more than 70 episodes of the highly successful travel series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Woody Allen’s editor loved it here so much, he asked to be buried here. There's a marker on campus for Ralph Rosen’s ashes.

I remember first seeing an ad for "The Workshops," as they were called back in the day, and the photo was striking, in a simple way, and has stuck with me over these 20 years. It was a Holga image of a young boy in an inner tube. I was shooting with a lot of fantastic plastic cameras at the time and I thought it was really cool that there was a place that offered classes not only with toy cameras, but also focusing heavily on historic and alternative processes. Maine Media Workshops still offers many of these classes that challenge the student to interpret their work in a unique way. Can you share some of these classes, and what one might expect to get out of them?

We have a philosophy throughout all of our courses, including the more technical ones, to help students discover their creative voices. The workshop experience is all about tapping into one’s creative side, taking creative risks, and learning in an intensive and immersive environment. Our faculty is not only highly skilled and experienced in their specific fields, but also very knowledgeable and experienced in leading students through the process of creative and personal growth.

 

The Maine Media Workshops just announced the summer and fall workshops. How many classes are you offering throughout the summer?

There are close to 350 different workshops that will be offered, across all of our programs, this summer and fall.

What's the variety?

I am so excited about the diversity we have in this year’s program! There are lots of opportunities for learning the basics in our core classes, from "Introductory Digital Photography," to “seeing” classes, such as "Photographer’s Eye" and "Vision and Discovery." We have a wonderful lineup of other courses with lots of new portraiture classes, digital printing, studio lighting, and fine art workshops.

This year we re-envisioned the filmmaking program too, adding two new eight-week intensives in cinematography and the essentials of film production, new sequences for writers and directors, and a really dynamic documentary track. We laid out the schedule this year so that a student may come for one week, or put together a sequence of classes for anywhere from two to twelve weeks.

It has been a busy winter on campus, and we are nearly finished with the renovation of our Haas labs, which will be a new Book Arts and Alternative Processes studio. We have lots of new classes on elements of the handmade book, from Letterpress and typography courses, to binding, and book design. In Alternative Processes, we have a full summer of one-week workshops in various alternative processes, including tri–color gum, platinum printing, and the collodion process.

I'm a big fan of the workshops, and have been taking classes there for the last ten years. What I've found unique over the years has been the diversity of the students as well. We learn from the teachers but also from our peers. It's like art camp for all ages. You seem to get students from all over the world, as well as anyone from 20 to 80 years old. Do you have a lot of repeat students?

Every year about 30% of our students are returning alums. It is so terrific to be able to build relationships over time and witness how people’s work has grown and their careers have progressed and blossomed. Our students range from age 14 in our Young Artists Program, to students in their 70s, 80s and 90s! It is so inspiring to be in such a diverse community, where everyone is focused on creative growth, no matter their age.

Do they stay for more than just a one week workshop?

Many do, and we have special summer residency and intensive programs. In photography, we offer a 12-week Residency that we are able to tailor to each student’s unique interests. Students in the 12-week work with our program staff to plan for 8 weeks of workshops in their chosen area, and then will have 4 weeks of one-on-one mentorship with one of our resident faculty. It is a great opportunity to build a solid body of work, while learning new skills and techniques, surrounded by other photographers. We also just introduced two new intensives in the film program. One is an 8-week cinematography Intensive, and there is a 12 -week cinematography Intensive in the fall. The second 8-week intensive is the Essentials of Production, where students learn the ins and outs, and all aspects of what it takes to make a film. These new film tracks have been targeted to students studying communications, or film theory, who want to know more about the business of film production and have opportunities to get hands-on experience and meet professionals working in the field.

Plus, there's the Young Artists program. Share how teenagers can be involved with the workshops.

I love the Young Artists program! For eight weeks during the summer, we have a program dedicated  specifically to high school students, aged 14 to 18.  We offer a full range of courses, from intro to digital or darkroom photography, scholastic portfolio development, and filmmaking, to more advanced and specialized courses in alternative processes, studio photography, and filmmaking for extreme sports. There are pre-college tracks available, and students may earn one credit per week in workshops. All of us look forward to the weeks that the Young Artists Program is running. It just adds a wonderful level of vibrancy to the campus, and they make extraordinary work that inspires us all!

 What other activities does MMW offer to students while they are there?

We have lots going on here on campus throughout the summer and fall. Each week during the summer, we have the Arnold Newman Masters Lecture series on Monday and Tuesday evenings. We hold these presentations in the Rockport Opera House, and welcome the local community to attend as well. Each night, faculty who are teaching that week give presentations about their work and their careers. It is a special treat to be able to hear how these accomplished artists have developed their artistic voices, and how they have made a successful career of it. I still learn something new every night!

In addition to the lecture series, we have our gallery, which is just down the street from the opera house. We will have interesting exhibits all summer long, including one with Paul Caponigro. Of course, one of my favorite things to do is to visit Tim Whelan and his bookstore, which we are delighted to have located in our gallery. No visit to Rockport is complete without popping in to have a great chat with Tim, and look through all the amazing photography books he has.

There will be special events all season long. We’ll hold a grand opening for the new Book Arts and Alternative Process Studio, on June 12th. In July, we are looking forward to our 10 x 10 event, which will offer an opportunity to add to your art collection with prints from an international array of artists and will also offer a selection if limited edition prints.

For the film buffs, we are holding an “Inside the Actors Studio” event at the Strand Theater in Rockland, on August 6th.

 

Let's focus on the school's facilities. There's a darkroom, computer workspaces, print labs, and a video stage. What other facilities do you have to offer to the students who attend a workshop?

As I mentioned above, we are all excited about the new Book Arts and Alternative Process studio that we will be opening this summer. In addition, we do have another full darkroom that offers both a gang work space, as well as private darkrooms for more advanced students, three dedicated digital labs, a full 2,400-square-foot sound stage, and the 5,000-square-foot photo studio just down the road that we work in during the summer months. Let’s not forget the tent, where we share all of our meals prepared by our amazing chef, David Coyle! In so many ways, I think the tent is one of the most popular spots on campus!

Is there loaner equipment, or do students need to bring their own gear?

Thanks to our fantastic sponsors and their support, we have a wonderful selection of equipment for students to check out and work with during their workshops. We have a great selection of Canon cameras and lenses, and printers available through our Digital Service Department. We also have Zeiss lenses (with both Canon and Nikon mounts) that students can check out. Our digital classrooms are outfitted with Epson and Canon printers. In the filmmaking area, we also have lots of great camera and lighting gear from Arri, Panavision, Sony, Manfrotto, and Anton Bauer.

What other classes or programs do you have for someone new to the photo/video world, or someone who wants to take it to the next level?

This year, we completely revised our multimedia track for those interested in making the leap from stills to video. There are specific courses in Audio Storytelling, Audio & Image, Video for Photographers (with DSLR cameras), and the DSLR Storytelling workshops, where a student learns the art of storytelling and how to put all the elements of stills, video and audio together. For those students aspiring to careers as artists and working professionals in the world of media arts, we also have a 30-week Professional Certificate in Visual Storytelling. This program has a core curriculum that includes still photography, video and multimedia, with electives, such as alternative processes. Students learn how to tell a story, whether it's through personal artistic expressions or documentary.

There's a certain allure and magic to the Maine Media Workshops. I remember coming up to Maine with my dad. He took Sean Kernan's Creativity and the Photographer class that week, and he was transformed and totally re-energized from the experience. Can you share the magic that you have experienced or seen?

Ahh.. well, the best way I think I can share the magic is to invite you to Rockport! There are lots of parts that make up the magic: from great faculty, inspiring courses, a beautiful location, a community of people all passionate about making images and telling stories. And, well... great food!

All photos by © Christian Tyler Randolph

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I have been teaching at the Coastal Senior College for several years. The first  class was in 2002, and was called Photographing Maine, as that was the title of the major exhibiton I curated at Maine Coast Artists (now CMCA) in Rockport.   This spring term I am teaching "From the camera obscura to Google Glass:  the hisotry of the art and science of photography." 

I would love to have you make a presentation to my class.  We meet at the Rocky Coast House 124 Booker Street, in Thomaston on Mondays from 1 to 3.  Your presertation could be as long as you like up to two hours.    I cannot pay you anything.  I and all the teachers at Senior College are volunteers.  The class runs until May 28.

You can reach me at the above email address or by phone --   232-8622.

John Chandler