Fostering the Next Generation: The Eddie Adams Workshop at 25 Years

Matt Black
LightBox asked 25 alums to reflect on one important lesson they carry with them from the Eddie Adams Workshop

1988: Matt Black

Texas migrant in her yard. Teviston, Calif.

I was an 18 year-old kid from the sticks who had discovered photography a couple of years before. It seemed like a chance at a little adventure. But those few days in upstate New York were when I started to realize that photography could be something else, something more. Eddie Adams, and the people he brought to the workshop, valued substance and convictions. They spoke of commitment. They believed photographs had great power. I brought that good advice with me right back to the sticks.

Updated Oct. 10, 2014. LightBox has asked a further alum to reflect on one important lesson he carries with him from the Eddie Adams Workshop.

The Eddie Adams Workshop is considered by many to be the premiere photojournalism workshop, shaping its 100 young attendees into professional and award-winning photographers over a long weekend each year in upstate New York. Alyssa Adams, Eddie’s widow and the producer of the workshop, writes for LightBox about the workshop’s legacy as it celebrates its 25th year this weekend.

Eddie had a singular vision for a “foto farm” back in 1988: Bring 100 young photojournalism students together with seasoned pros (his “heroes” as he called them)—shut them away in a barn upstate, shoot, show work. The Workshop would be inspiration-based (not a how-to), pros would donate their time and it would be tuition-free with entry based on the quality of a student’s portfolio.

Eddie always said he wanted to attend a forum like this when he was coming up, one where he could meet his personal heroes and picture editors from major publications. We listened in awe, amazed at the living history, when Eddie’s heroes spoke at the barn—Alfred Eisenstadt, Gordon Parks, Carl Mydans, Joe Rosenthal, Bill Eppridge, Nick Ut, among others.

Working as a photographer can be a very solitary experience. So, back in the day when there were no “internets” (yes, no Facebook, no TED) and film was still the medium (rolls were bussed to the Time-Life lab and processed overnight), Barnstorm became not only a source of inspiration but also a refuge. It still remains a “recharging station”—both students and pros emerge reinvigorated by comparing notes on how all of us are creatively dealing with the economics of the business, the dangers of being a journalist, the crazy-fast advances in digital technology and constant self re-invention.

We were amazed that we pulled the first one off in 1988 and had no idea it would continue past that. Fast-forward to our 25th Workshop this October—the formula remains the same, but is now a much more layered experience. And Eddie’s legacy is evident: Our first students are now our teachers. Alumni have gone on to win every major award in the business (there are ten Pulitzer-prize winning photographers among them.) They are now our heroes in the barn.

Looking back through two decades of Workshop files (15 years analog in metal cabinets!), I found a sponsor proposal Eddie put together in 1991—The Eddie Adams Workshop: China/Europe/South America. Blowing off the dust on it now…

Alyssa Adams is a deputy photo editor at TV Guide. She is also the director of operations at Bathhouse Studios, a photo rental studio in NYC.

She and her husband, Eddie Adams, co-created The Eddie Adams Workshop in 1988. She now serves as the executive director. Adams is currently working on a new monograph on Eddie’s work with the University of Texas Press, where Eddie’s archives are housed. In 2008 she produced Eddie Adams: Vietnam. Adams was formerly the director of photography at Miramax Films and an award-winning graphic designer with Carbone Smolan Associates.

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