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Poetic Storytelling at the Maine Media Workshops

Posted by on September 11, 2013 | Contests/Events, Education


Summer may be waning, but there are still some great photographic learning opportunities at the Maine Media Workshops. Celebrating its 40th year of media education with a world-renowned faculty in a breathtaking setting, aspiring storytellers should consider honing their craft in Thatcher Cook’s upcoming Poetic Storytelling workshop.

To give you a taste of what a day at the workshops entails, scroll down for a peek behind the scenes of the August workshop with photographic storyteller extraordinaire Keith Carter, who has been teaching at the workshops for the past 18 years!

Poetic Storytelling with Thatcher Cook
September 29 to October 5


image © Thatcher Cook

Thatcher Cook is a documentary photographer who has spent his life telling stories with images, for humanitarian aid organizations working with refugees and other people affected by war, economic upheaval, and natural disaster. His clients include international non-governmental organizations (NGOs) which have sent him on assignment to over sixty countries

In his workshop, ‘Poetic Storytelling’ this fall, his students will learn exciting and effective ways to communicate their unique experiences of the world. The most profound picture stories are multi-layered, and how a story is told is often more important than the narrative itself. His workshop will begin with an in-depth analysis of each student’s portfolio in an effort to reveal the common thread that runs through his or her work. Subsequently, Thatcher will guide students in the full realization of their uniquely personal visions.

Keith Carter’s ‘A Certain Alchemy’

6:00 AM


image © Katherine Booth

The day begins early for some, awake to the smell of ocean mist. We embark into the silver morning light to make some images before class. The fog, which settled in thick last night, sits idly over campus, a cloak of summer quiet. A short walk takes us to the harbor, past fields of cattle, and farmhouses, resting, silent. The only sounds are muffled footsteps, the click of shutters, and the slap of waves.

8:00 AM


image © Katherine Booth

Breakfast awaits us, with the smell of hot coffee and bacon. Under the dining tent, students, instructors, and staff members file drowsily in. Everyone takes a seat together at long picnic tables to begin planning the day.

As at every meal, the tent is buzzing with the clatter of dishes, and excited talk of shoots, locations, images, and gear. This morning, the sound of rain patters overhead.

8:30 AM


image © Katherine Booth

The class walks back to the room for critique. Keith pulls up their images from yesterday. We go through each of them, choosing the five strongest from each student. Some need work. ‘We’ll fix you right up,’ he says, in an amiable southern drawl. He is never discouraging, but he can see the fear in a photograph, and when it is clinging to what feels safe.

‘I was afraid yesterday,’ one woman says, looking at her work. ‘Yeah.’ Keith remarks, ‘But you won’t be today.’ Other images take our breath away.

12:00 PM


image © Katherine Booth

By lunch, in true Maine fashion, the fog has given way to intense sunshine. Steam drifts in the heat, and the air turns dry and warm. The class heads to a nearby house nestled in the woods just outside of town. Down a trail to Lily Pond, we make our way to a dock for a class photo. The dock, a wobbly, sad excuse for a flotation device, buckles under the weight of fifteen adults. Keith laughs gently. ‘Y’all worry too much.’ The day is about taking risks, after all.


image © Sujata Khanna

3:00 PM


Image © Katherine Booth

More shooting. I am enlisted as a model, along with three others. The four of us stand naked before the class. We sit on lawn chairs and on cars and climb trees. I am struck by the spontaneity and simplicity of it all. “Stand on that rock, and stick your head through those leaves,” Keith suggests. “Anyone have a hoola hoop?” Just like that, photographs happen.


Image © Keith Carter


Image © Brendan Bullock

The images that come from the afternoon are otherworldly. They speak to the sort of alchemy that Keith has said drew him to photography back when he was a child. Back in the classroom, so far removed from the warm, glaring sunlight and over-saturated green of the afternoon, there is magic in them.

6:00 PM

For dinner, the class gathers at Keith’s for pizza and wine. As the sun begins to set, we are all tired but wide-eyed and brimming with the joy that accompanies a long, perfectly drawn out summer day. After just a few days, there is intimacy, closeness, and understanding amongst the class. Conversations about art and technique and concept have merged seamlessly into discussions of family, love, and loss. The night ends in the living room, singing along to Guy Clark with Keith on the guitar.


Image © Katherine Booth


People head off into the dark, some back to the lab to upload and edit, some with their cameras to shoot. In another few days, these students will return to their jobs and respective routines. But, for one week, their worlds have been interrupted and simplified, down to the basics of listening and of looking; of using their cameras and letting go of apprehension. Something Keith said this morning stood out. “Sometimes I think I have spent my whole life waiting for my world to be enlarged”. Today, even in a tiny corner of coastal Maine, the images waiting to be made were infinite.