This one was wild. Following the Shed Workshops of 2013 and 2014, this year's photography event in my little creekside woods was a mad and glorious frenzy. We ate big, drank wine, dressed up. There were banjos, always banjos. So much! It all started at the Hub in Mahone Bay, my other-other workspace that only lacks in doves. We sat for a great feast and lecture—this year, we'd get all the learning done on the Friday night, because Saturday? Wild.
The next morning, everything went outside. Sparkles and feathers and facepaints. Heaps of lenses and reflectors; my mom's cookie tin full of shortbreads; mirrors and dresses and the fainting couch. We turned Skydiggers and Amy Winehouse and Etta James up loud, and it wasn't long before someone got into the creek. The day was a joyful downhill tumble. Shoots in the bathtub! Shoots in the bamboo forest! Clusters of play.
Nothing like a bracing cannonball into the deep end to start: self-portraiture. There is no discipline in photography more challenging, emotionally and technically. Angles on your own face are exponentially tougher to navigate than angles on anyone else's, and that's not even counting good focus. Naked or not, you're naked. A self-portrait, especially one that's intentionally conceptualized and captured with patience, freezes a moment in your development as a human. It forces you to sit inside that moment, giving you an odd sort of distance from your own narrative as well as an extreme, unblinking intimacy.
Somebody *did* get naked. Somebody always does.
The afternoon's round robin was conceived with a spreadsheet that could sink a tanker, but it by god, it worked! For the first time ever, we were joined by a host of models, from toddlers to adults. Every twenty minutes, all afternoon long: BONG I'd ring the shed bell and everyone would switch, matching new subjects with fresh cameras. It was ambitious. It was nuts. And it was incredible.
Every given moment felt like it contained 50 people in my care, but all of them were comfortably scattered—Nick in the field across the street, a toddler pushing around my great-great-grandmother's doll pram, Leanne stripping off a vintage dress to find another one. At one point, three people were wearing my bras. Whipping one thing off and assessing and opening drawers for a dig: every thing and every nook and cranny was open season, my house everyone's house. Every now and then between sprinting from one shoot to the next—troubleshooting, checking viewfinders, tweaking exposure—I'd take a breath and just watch it all. For four seconds. Then running again. But still! Look at them all! Amateurs! Professionals! Profamateurs! They urged and coaxed and took conceptual ideas all the way, every BONG followed by a smile, a handshake, and an Okay, so here's what I want from you.
BONG! Portrait of Lauchie. BONG! Family candids with Claire, Alex, Cash, and Polly. BONG! Go to the task box and pick a prompt. BONG! Partners! Work with each other. BONG!
The woods were filled with laughter and firing shutters, crinolines draped over magnolia branches, and endlessly good questions and heads together.
In addition to a happy mess of kids and parents digging through the tickle trunk and eating watermelon, three musicians joined us for portraits—Lauchie Headrick, Dana Beeler, and Leanne Hoffman. It was the perfect Maritime barter-spirit afternoon: we needed people who would give us face, with enough performative moxie to play around. And they need photo assets to promote their voices and songs. We trade mutual usefulnesses. Everyone's thrilled.
Tiny little papers from old bridge game notebooks from the 1960s contained their task box prompts: nature, abstraction, shine, reflection, food styling. Tucked into little striped envelopes and put into the fairy message box by the creek. I got to invent it all, surprises that sent them running for macro lenses and journals.
BONG! Go chase that kid. Don't forget to tell her what happens when that dress spins in the sunshine: rainbow disco ball!
Best of all was watching participants skulk and spy and trick and sneak. And the next Sunday morning, over tea at the Hub, sharing their prizes and flat-out glee. The tiptoe! I got the tiptoe! And she didn't even know I was there.
BONG! Go grab a bit of soul.
I adore: every pillow in the house brought outside and thrown onto the grass. The fairy box. The look on kids' faces when you tell them that yes, they can get wet in the creek. And the fainting couch in the woods: a mother who lets her 5 year-old squirm away, because he's got a soccer ball on the brain. And she takes a breath. <click>
Show-and-tell is such a fantastic morning: everyone chooses, and everyone gushes. So many photographers sharing subjects means a hundred stories from one face—a hundred pauses, a hundred hesitations, a hundred brazen straight-ons, all interpreted in unique and fascinating ways.
Workshop participants gave so many gifts that day. To themselves, each other, and the people who landed in these woods. God, we were beat! We had so much fun, all of us so invigorated to create images together and in parallel. We ate hugely yet again, and the bourbon came out, and more musicians showed up for what's always my favourite night of the year—ShedFest, a great big party. Dan MacCormack, Norma MacDonald, and Willie Stratton played for us by the fire pit, and dozens more friends and spouses and neighbourhood folks arrived to draw out the last sparks out of summer.
It's the best night ever. It's smokey and torturously beautiful! I cry! I shout! We throw more logs onto the fire and more quilts onto the grass, and everyone gets sloppy and sloshy with arms and legs tangled up together under the tree canopy, and we sing along and pass out mom's shortbread, and more people join us through the yard, picking their way through the dark to find where things are glowing, following the twang of banjos.
Elaine had come from California, so she stayed on a few days. We flopped around with our pants undone going MAN and WE DID IT and HOLY CRAP and HEY WE COULD EAT THIS. We went for drives to the beach and played with other people's puppies, decompressing, but not really, because the shock of how wonderful it was always stays with me for weeks. I took out my camera—only used during the weekend to point at when illustrating where someone else's shutter speed mode might be—and grabbed my own bit of soul just before she left. Lovely soul, mischievous and all shiny with darkness and light—just like every one that winds up in this place every September, making me feel like I've got a lock on the luckiest capture in the whole world.