Friday, October 9, 2009

Get On the Bus

The road to the Eddie Adams Workshop begins on a big air-conditioned bus hurtling towards the Catskills. That's how it began for me back in 1993, when I was young photographer lucky enough to be one of just 100 students at that year's Barnstorm. Not a lot has changed since then, beyond the shift from slide film to digital and the absence of Eddie himself, who died in 2004. What he left behind remains a unique gathering of top photography professionals and students, each of them ready for an intensive experience of shooting, editing and learning.

For today's trip up the rain-soaked New York Expressway, I am in the front row of the bus with a bag of bagels and Scott Allen, longtime Black Team member and a Workshop student in 1989. He spent 25 years as a photojournalist for the U.S. Navy, and earlier this decade did a tour through Iraq, and was there when one of Saddam Hussein's mass graves was discovered. Allen was soon face-to-face with the deposed dictator at his pre-trial hearings. "He was sitting as close as you are to me now," Allen remembers. "He was very charismatic. You could see how people would be drawn to him."

In the row behind us is Susan Sinclair, Eddie's daughter, somehow making her first trip ever to the Workshop. "My dad would tell me for years to come up," she says with a laugh. At the 22nd annual Barnstorm, she has finally made it. Next to her is Cindy Lou Adkins, sister of Workshop co-founder Alyssa Adams, and the producer of this year's award-winning documentary film about her brother-in-law, "An Unlikely Weapon." As students fill out their forms, the concrete landscape of Manhattan outside slowly recedes into the distance and the the bus speeds into the lush pastures and forests of rural New York state, with the rich fall colors of green, yellow, orange and shades in-between. Those colors will factor heavily in the thousands of pictures created by students during their Barnstorm assignments.

After an orientation at the hotel in Liberty, students are finally bused up to the Farm. As they walk en masse up the muddy dirt road, they are greeted by a round of applause and cheers from Workshop staff, volunteers and others, as the recorded voice of Paul Simon blasts from a PA singing his '70s hit "Kodachrome": "Got a Nikon camera, love to take a photograph / So mama, don't take my Kodachrome away..."

It's a joyous beginning to a big four-day weekend, and students are taken by surprise by the greeting, a tradition that dates back to the very first year of the Workshop. Eddie used to sometimes have a local marching band on duty.

As students gather by the barn, a pickup truck suddenly rolls up the drive. A long green canoe is on top, and a tall, bearded man emerges with an armload of purebred labrador puppies. Alyssa sees the the three-week-old dogs and yells across the field, "One of the subjects is here!"

Alyssa is deputy photo editor at TV Guide, and she's been running the workshop she started with her husband these last four years. "I'm comfortable with it now," she says. "This is the first year since Eddie passed away that I've felt comfortable with it. Eddie used to be who was on the phone making sure things were happening." Now it's up to her and her staff. In a moment, a basket of apples and bananas tumbles from the back of a truck. Alyssa and Barnstorm producer Mirjam Evers run over to help gather them back up. In seconds, a photographer jumps into action, capturing the moment. The Workshop has begun.

Steve Appleford

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