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The David Alan Harvey Loft Workshop, entry 1: Logbook: getting from here to there

On the tarmac in Anchorage, through the window of the Alaska Airlines flight that would take me on the first of three legs to the New York City, New York, airport of Newark, New Jersey.

In a way, the events that I plan to recount in perhaps half-a-dozen posts did begin in Asia - South Asia; India - the city of Bangalore, on November 22, 2010, when my beloved soul friend, relative and Muse, Soundarya, took her own life following the death by car crash of her husband Anil.

As I tend to do in times of deep grief, I turned to my keyboard. This used to mean my personal journal, where, knowing no other way to cope, I once wrote over 400 pages, 12 point, single-spaced, to lament the disappearance of the black cat, Little Guy. I also turned there after the deaths of my brother, my mother, father, and other friends and relatives.

Now, as my personal journal is defunct, I turn to my blogs - and that is what I did then. In times of grief, one also tends to turn to family and friends, and so I posted a link on one of the dialogue threads kept by Magnum photographer and story-teller David Alan Harvey on his creation, Burn Magazine.

She does not accept cash - only plastic.

The purpose of Burn Magazine is two-fold. First, to create a venue for emerging photographers, most of whom are young, but not all. At least one is older than me, even, but just now showing her talent to the world. Second, to a lesser but significant degree, to showcase the work of "iconic" photographers - the truly famous photographers.

I fall somewhere in between.

Somehow, in creating Burn, David also created a new family - a mix of the emergent, the iconic, the inbetween, the middle-aged, the young and the old, photographers and lovers of photography and through the internet has brought us all together.

Among those members of this new family of mine who responded to my grief in an effort to console was David himself. He told me two things that struck deep into my badly wounded pysche:

In time, he said, a new muse would come into my life.

Within a year's time, he would see me in New York. He stated that he knew this with a certainty - he was not speculating. This was something that would happen.

I did not know how he could make such statements. It seemed unlikely to me that either would happen. In the case of Soundarya, not only did I know it could not happen, I did not want it to happen.

Poor guy from Outside was stuck in the middle, with the wonder of Alaska beneath him. I let him peek over me.

She played an absolutely unique role in my life - one that no one before her had ever stepped into and one that no one after could ever step into.

As for seeing David in New York within a year, this seemed most unlikely. I had no plans to go to New York, I had no money to go to New York. Sometimes, I go to New York because someone brings me there. I could see no circumstance anywhere on the horizon that would cause someone to buy me a plane ticket to New York City.

The wonder that is Alaska.

No - despite the deep respect and admiration I held for the man - not only for his photographic talents but the creative and dedicated way that he has given of himself to find, nurture, and publish young and other emerging photographers of talent, I did not see how either of these predictions that he had written of with certainty could come to pass.

I knew I could and would find inspiration here and there - but another muse in the mold of Soundarya? No. Impossible. It could not happen. A muse such as she does not come into an artist's life but once in a lifetime.

New York could happen, but the possibility seemed so remote as to hardly be worth contemplation.

As we flew over Puget Sound, it seemed that we had our own tugboat, pulling us to Seattle.

Yet, I did contemplate it, because I always want to go to New York and I wanted to meet David Alan Harvey in person. Also, while I have had an interesting, unique and if one does not put that much weight on the financial side of things, successful and rewarding career, I felt that I had stalled out two rungs below the level of obscurity. I had a huge amount of raw work that I needed to reshape into formats that would enable me to put it before the world, and I also had many things left to shoot, gather information on and write about.

I did not know how getting to New York and meeting David in person might help with these objectives, but it seemed to me that it might.

Still, no one had plans to bring me to New York. I had no excess resource to bring me there.

As I waited at Seattle - Tacoma's Sea-Tac airport for the flight that would take me to Denver, I ran into Henry, a carpenter, who was once a Barrow housemate of mine.

More than half-a-year later, on June 4, an amazing thing happened. While I had been reluctant to do it, as it seemed kind of like begging, enough readers convinced me that I should so that they might give my work some modest measure of support, I put up a Paypal "donate" button on my original wasillaby300 blog. I will put such a button on this blog, too, but I also plan to add a store so that people who want to support my work can get something physical back in return - a print, perhaps - an iPad book; who knows what else.

A calendar?

I anticipated getting very few donations, and I figured that what I did get would be mosty in the $5 to $25 range and that would be fine with me. In fact, this pretty much proved true, but with some exceptions - including some dramatic exceptions. I did receive a handful of $100 donations of $100, a of $200, one one $300.

And then one day I received a donation that practically blew me away from my computer screen. It was from another photographer, a friend of David's. I would like to identify him and if he says it is okay, I will, but I have had the feeling that he would rather stay under the radar.

He is a photographer who I admire greatly. He creates photographs and images that I could never make. His work rides a much harder edge than mine generally does. It is powerful, often disturbing, and makes strong statements about the often brutal nature of this life.

I had been pleased when I had managed to score window seats all the way from Anchorage to Newark. Unfortunately, my window seat from Denver to Newark had no window.

His contribution was large enough to cover the cost of a round-trip ticket from Anchorage to New York and still have enough left over for three or four pizzas. So I decided to use that money to buy the ticket that would make at least one part of David's prediction come true.

Now I had to decide when to go. Occassionally, David hosts workshops - dedicated to shooting, to lighting, or to creating photo books. His is a large name in the world of photography, and so he brings in other people whose names are large in this business, be they photographers, editors, or important people in the publishing world.

I did manage to get a peek through a window on the other side of the aisle.

I have a number of books in various stages of incompletion and so I thought that I would like to take in one of his book-making working workshops.

I could bring the images, a partially or wholly done rough layout, rework it under the master's eye, present it to publishers who would be right there and see what might come of it.

David had no book making workshops scheduled. 

On the Airtrain from Newark Airport to P 4, where the hotel shuttles pick up and drop off guests.

David did have a shooting workshop scheduled. It would be based out of his loft on the eighth floor of a Brooklyn apartment building. I was interested, but hesitant. First, by my standards, it was pricey. Then, too, what could I really get out of a shooting workshop? With one two-year break to serve a Mormon mission, I've been shooting constantly since I did my high school yearbook in my senior year, 1967-68.

Plus, I knew I would likely be the oldest photographer in the class and I was certain it would be competitive. I would be up against bright, young, energetic, photographers who had already demonstrated superior talent, or else David would not have accepted them into The Loft.

I feared they might shred me to pieces.

P4. I would not reach my hotel and get settled down until nearly 5:00 AM. I had slept only one hour the night before I left home and I was unable to sleep a wink on the flights down.

If I came at a time when no workshop was in progress, then there would really be no need for me to spend anything or to compete against anybody. David had invited me to stay at his loft. He is a busy man, yet he is famous for his hospitality, for finding time for his visitors, not only shoot the bull and drink beer, but to impart of his knowledge and to arrange contacts they might want to get to know.

And all this I could get for free - no need for a workshop fee - or a lodging fee. He would have a dozen students - too many to bunk in his loft. So all students would have to find lodging elsewhere.

For a bookmaking workshop, such an expense could be worth it - but for a shooting workshop? When I am already and practiced shooter with decades of experience?

Yet, I decided I wanted to be part of a workshop. Something good would come from all that interaction, even if I did get shredded by the younger photographers of great talent. It would be good to mingle with other photographers. Here in Alaska, there is a community of talented photographers and it is always good when I get to see any of them. But it rarely happens. I live a life almost devoid of interaction with my colleagues.

As a photographer, I am virtually alone. When I do see my friends and colleagues, the meetings tend to be brief - usually little more than "hi, how are you, boy, things are getting tougher and tougher these days, but hanging in there..." that kind of thing. 

By the time I awoke later that morning, the hotel restaurant had closed for breakfast but had not opened for lunch. This was okay. The first time I ever went to New York, right around 1980, the first thing that I ate was a pretzel in Times Square. Times Square does not have the flavor it once did, nor do its pretzels. Still, when I arrive in the city, the first thing I do is go to Times Square for a pretzel.

Without knowing for sure how I would be able to spare the full $2500 workshop fee, I made the $500 deposit.

Then I worked extremely hard, all summer. I would have anyway, even without the workshop, but it gave me a little bit of extra incentive. In some ways, it was horribly frustating, because it was mostly production work and it kept me inside throughout the long, light, summer hours. I would escape into the light about once a day to pedal my bike and that was just about it.

I never want that to happen again. When you are a photographer in Alaska, it is tragic to have to yield most of your summer to indoor production work.

Because hotels are much cheaper there than in New York City, I would spend one more night in Newark. I am on the train, headed back to P4.

That is exactly what happened, yet in so doing I was able to generate some decent income - plus, a couple of unexpected windfalls came along and so I came up with the money for the workshop and more.

Well, once again I am getting carried away and this is getting kind of long - more words than most internet readers will have the patience to read.

Anyway, I did make it to New York and to the Loft workshop, which was to be one of the final two, back to back, David Alan Harvey Loft Worshops ever.

To come to the loft was in many ways a desperate act for me. I feel I have so much yet to do, but it seems to me that all the venues for doing it are closing down in front of me. And the decades are piling up on me so fast that I know it will all soon be over and I will be dead - but I've got to get some significant work done before that happens.

That's why I created these blogs - to make my own venue. But how does one find the means to finance such a venue?

The man who stood by the door on the train from New York City to Newark. The next morning, I would board the train again - bound for Brooklyn, and the Loft.

I would go through the Loft workshop in a state of almost continual desperation. I would experience technological failure. I would arrive with nothing dear to my heart to shoot as my project, but only a hazy notion of what could possibly prove interesting. Then, suddenly, catching me completely by suprise, I would find myself taking on a shooting project that would put me right back into my own, personal history and experience, among the community and extended family of my origin - right in the middle of New York City.

Yet, that family and community would resist me, make my project difficult, shut the door in my face and send me off looking for a replacement community, a replacement family, that I might document. In the end, as I perched on the brink of humilation and complete workshop failure, the entire experience would take a plunge into the bizarre, into a diverse community of the entire world - Christian, Hindu, Aheist, Jewish, Sikh, Agnostic, Muslim... all come together in a strange and alien way, all united in pursuit of the spiritual unity of artifice and the superficial; a community among which I would be free to wander and work as I saw fit.

And those young photographers that I so feared? Would they shred me? We will see.

Reader Comments (21)


This is great stuff. Please cast aside all fears that it might be too long for some readers... get it all out, everything that the experience is telling you to tell to help us be there... write till your typing hands scream to stop, then pick it up again later... you are doing us all a great service... really looking forward to the next installment.



January 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSidney Atkins

Bill -- me too. I devour every word you write.

January 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrandma Nancy


I follow your blog since quite a while an enjoy the stories very much.
you are a good teller, do please keep it up - no matter how long it gets.
it is very interesting for me and certainly many more.
great stuff!


January 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThomas Bregulla

Never too long and always good reading!

January 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAKPetMom

The new blog and the photos look fantastic. I wish you lots of luck with it, Bill.

January 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkathleen

Bill.. I'm out traveling, you're killing my bandwidth.. only you and David's Rio managed to do that.. so PLEASE keep it LONG, with pictures and words alike! You always manage to take me there, along with you.. thanks for that!

Now back to reading!

January 2, 2012 | Unregistered Commentereva

Even the finishing nails of your thoughts are riveting. I've been sucked in. Keep hammering!

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJeff H.

didn't find it long either...waiting for the next instalment

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commentertwain12


Brilliant writing, can't wait to see more! Make it as long as you can, I promise you, we will not tire.
BTW I know who your secret radar friend is!! I promise to keep it a secret. I'd bet a good deal of money it's the same person who's inspiring wise words opened my eyes to all the creative muses in my life.


January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

great stuff....
can't wait to read/see more!

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterwendy

Have been looking forward to reading about your loft experience since you mentioned it on Burn!
I echo the same words as above....keep them as you see fit. Long, short, medium length, whatever but don't stop until its finished.
Let it all out!

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commentercarlo

Great storytelling Bill, as always. Can't wait for part two!


January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMike R

Bill, your posts are wonderful. As many others are saying, please don't limit the length - especially on the DAH loft workshop posts.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmelie

Like the new blog site. Glad to see you taking the blog to the next level!

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdahli22

Bill your new blog is excellent. I agree with the others- I was engrossed in your writing and did not find it long at all. And I am eagerly awaiting the rest of the story.

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGrannyj

Well, among all you who posted here, it seems unanimous - I should just cut loose and write.

I suspect that there were also a number of people who I have not heard from who opened this up, looked at the length, rolled their eyes, and clicked on to their next stop.

I never know where to strike the balance - but, given the encouragement that I have received from all of you here, I think I will lean toward cutting loose and doing as I see fit.

That said, I am about to start working on part 2. It covers the first get-together, which was little more than a social and, oddly enough, finding myself in the midst of serious photographers, I suddenly became gun shy at that get-tegether, did not shoot much, and held back when I did shoot. So I think this entry will not be so long.

As I progress through the week, I am pretty certain that I will get carried away several times.

Bill - your new blog is fantastic, loving the layout and the quality and size of the images really adds to the narrative. Don't concern yourself with the length of your posts, I think I speak for more than just myself in that it's your unique stream of consciousness - whether in written or oral form - that I've come to appreciate so much. Your way of storytelling immediately captivates and endears us, so please, do get carried away!

Being one of the "young photographers" you've met during that workshop, I vividly recall the trials and tribulations you've faced during that week but with the added context of how you even made it to NYC in the first place, and how you finally overcame all your challenges to finally prevail - all of this is inspirational as it is humbling. Hats off to you, Bill!

Since you ended this post on "stay tuned - don't change that dial" note, I will abstain from further details at this point, but I'm looking forward to commenting on your sequel!

January 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterZun Lee

Yes. You should sell some of your prints. I have so many blank walks. I would love to buy a print. I know the exact one I'd like, although I'll bet you money that you do not see it as a picture that ANYONE would want to buy. It tells a story, and the picture makes me LOL as they say, every single time that I see it. What a great thing it would be, to have a picture with that power in your home~

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

Blank WALLS.

*heads back to kitchen for second cup of coffee*

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdebby

Hello Bill, my name is Stephanie Ashcraft and I work with the Rural Alaska Community Action Program. I am writing the final grant report for the Strengthening Communities Fund and right now I am in the process of gathering all final information regarding the Council of Athabascan Tribal Governments.
In one of their grant reports CATG mentioned that they hired you using this grant to take photos of their first annual meeting. Would it be possible for you to email me a few of those photos. We are creating a final narrative report for all of the grantees and would like to feature a few of your photos in that report. If we cite your name under every caption would this be ok with you? Please email me with your response.

January 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephanie Aschraft

I am still reading...it will take me some time...I am a slow reader but the pics are helping...and I have to admit...
the pics are amazing...!!!!

Bravo FROSTY...Up,close and personal..thank you...


January 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commentera civilian-mass audience

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