EUROPEAN TOUR (BERLIN): workshop with Michael Ackerman

We’ve completed our workshop with Michael Ackerman at the Cartel Collective in Berlin, Germany and have arrived in Warsaw, Poland to begin preparations for our final workshop of our European Tour with acclaimed photographer Adam Panczuk. Our European Tour has been an amazing adventure that has taken us from Italy to Paris, Berlin and Warsaw with photographers Stefano De Luigi, Jessica Backhaus, Michael Ackerman, Adam Panczuk and program directors Kate Fowler & Laura De Marco. There’s still room in Adam Panczuk’s incredible 5-day shooting workshop in Warsaw, so please join us!

With limited time, we’d like to share all 3 days of Michael Ackerman’s workshop in one blog post! A lot was packed in to these three wonderful days and we hope we’ll be able to convey the experience well! Michael brought a good friend to co-teach and assist in the workshop, Adam Cohen, a wonderful filmmaker and visual artist. He and Michael have been collaborating for over a decade and they brought a wonderful dynamic to the class which we think is a great example of how film and photography can merge and blend. The first day of The Personal Narrative began with the students introducing themselves to the class– their names, histories and the reasons they’ve decided to pursue photography. This was an incredibly varied workshop of 8 students from different countries and incredibly different perspectives on the photographic medium. We were fortunate to have two scholarship recipients in this group– Ilias Georgiadis and Alina Emrich– congratulations to you both!

After spending some time with introductions, we spent the first day looking at Michael’s projects and discussing his evolution as a photographer from his childhood to what he’s currently working on. We saw photographs of his family, looked at his first body of work, discussed his experience as an art student and the process of how he began to build himself as a working artist. He was incredibly open with his process and showed contact sheets which provided great insight into his mode of editing and critiquing himself. After an intense morning of looking at Michael’s work, we all took a break to enjoy lunch at a wonderful Vietnamese marketplace/restaurant that is 4 tram stops from the Cartel Collective.

After lunch we returned to view the work of Michael’s collaborator and assistant Adam Cohen. Adam showed some of his early still photographic work, and two of his deeply personal and poetic films, one of which was an homage to street photography and great minds like John Berger, which showed the complexity of the artist’s relationship to photography and his own unique way of seeing, while the other was a poetic final letter to a disappearing district in Spain. These are great reductions of these two films and we can only recommend seeing them to understand the depth of their beauty and consideration. Everyone left that day feeling incredibly moved and inspired by these great works. The day ended after a long discussion the work and a general feeling of excitement about the unconfined potential of personal narrative and documentary.

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The second day of the workshop began with a dive directly in to looking at the work of the participants. We saw projects that spanned from personal narratives on Berlin, observations on womanhood in the Middle East, photo reportage of Christianity in predominantly-Muslim countries, an intensely personal and expressionistic project on the artist’s struggle with an inner darkness and a project that synthesized photography, poetic text and music. We spent the entire day discussing their work, critiquing and creating strategies for further development of the works. Mid-day we took a short break to order and enjoy a falafel and kebab lunch and then immediately returned to the discussion– Michael and Adam gave some great advice, of which we were particularly moved by the sentiment that we are ‘free to do what we want’, and that nobody’s waiting for our images to exist. Given the complete freedom that this implies, why not truly craft our work to be exactly what we would dream or imagine. Breaking self-imposed boundaries seems to be the great struggle of many artists, of which every one in the room is personally experiencing. Michael and Adam both spoke of the potential of a “double narrative” as a freeing tool for expression. Sometimes handing over the camera can be the most liberating and enlightening part of the artistic process.

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The third and final day was much like the second, with a long and intense day of reviewing the work of each student. We saw a beautiful project on the evolving triangular relationship between a daughter and her aging parents that skillfully and poetically utilized the double-narrative process we’d been discussing the day before, as well as a series of different works from one student that navigated from street/fashion portraiture to a very personal and emotionally tough project on the family he left behind in Turkey, another series of diverse projects from another student that shifted from a documentation of his journey across the United States to a sensitive view of his memories and tokens of his aging grandmother, intense photo reportage from Northern Africa and two wonderfully expressive and playful projects on the artists attempt to engage with his distant and aging grandparents in Vietnam and his struggle to understand and find a freedom of expression and being in Japan. Mid-way through the day we broke to enjoy pizza together and spent some moments looking at Michael’s work-in-progress, and then continued critiquing until the end of the day– which concluded the workshop with drinks, homemade Vietnamese spring-rolls, a chilly view from the roof and conversation.

It was an honor to work with both Adam and Michael and an inspiration for us to see the diverse and impressive work of this unique group of students!

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All photographs are taken with the incredible Leica M thanks to a generous sponsorship from Leica Store Firenze. We’d like to thank Kien Hoang Le for opening his gallery and collective space, The Cartel Collective, for our workshops and for his generosity, talent and inspiration. He showed us the beauty of Berlin and we’re eternally grateful for the gift of his friendship.