February 21, 2017

Two nations – Veterans carry an American and a Mohawk Warrior Society flag through the storm. The Mohawk flag came to prominence during the 1990 Canadian Oka Crisis, when the military confronted indigenous people in a major armed conflict for the first time in modern history. Camp is dedicated to stopping the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) “in a good way” but there is some fear history will repeat itself, again. Photo ©Amber Bracken.

This will not be news to those of you who follow international photography competitions, but I’m so excited to announce that Amber Bracken has won first place in the issue reporting category at the 2016 POYI as well as first prize in the contemporary issues category in the 2016 World Press Photo for her photographs from Standing Rock, ND. To win one of these awards is a monumental achievement – winning two is truly remarkable. Jim Estrin, of The New York Times’ Lens Blog said it best about why Amber’s photographs stand out:

“She wasn’t there trying to push an ideological or political agenda or to further her career. She was there to do serious inquiry, make intimate relationships, learn from the people there, their stories, and then tell the story of what was happening. Her photos reflect that intent. They’re respectful, they’re intimate. They’re not dramatic for the sake of drama, they’re not false or clichéd narratives. I saw literally hundreds of projects from Standing Rock and hers stood out, legitimately. She spent the time and she put in the effort and her photographs are beautiful. She’s a gifted photographer and storyteller, but it was the respect and knowledge that she had going into it that set her apart.”

Morton County Sheriffs – Riot police clear marchers from a secondary road outside a Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) worker camp using rubber bullets, pepper spray, tasers and arrests. In other incidents they’ve employed militarized vehicles, water canons, tear gas and have been accused of using percussion grenades. Photo ©Amber Bracken.

Other than to give a shout out where it’s due, I am writing this post because Amber is also currently a mentee of Jim and mine. She is part of the 2016 Visual Storytelling and Documentary Photography Advanced Mentorship program at the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, taught by the two of us. The deadline for the newly formed 2017 workshop is fast approaching, so I thought it was important to highlight that one of the current mentees has been recognized for her outstanding work.

Jim and I helped design this unique program to guide students through the process of working on long-term visual projects. What makes it different from other workshops I have taught is that it lasts for three years, so it’s a tremendous commitment by both Jim and myself and more importantly by the participants. Jim and I meet with our mentees once a year in Aspen, CO to go through an intense week of presentations, discussions and mentorship sessions, followed by bimonthly skype check-ins and a bi-annual group online session. The goal is to provide our mentees with the guidance they need to conceptualize, execute and publish visual stories that they care deeply about over an extended period of time. In short – signing up for this mentorship means that Jim and I will be your guides over a three-year period as you work to create meaningful visual journalism. The goal is ambitious. We want our participants to come out of their three-year commitment with a book, film or innovative digital presentation. The deadline to apply to become part of the 2017 group is March 3rd, 2017. What follows are excerpts from conversations with Amber and Jim about the program.

Land, water, horse – Horses are central in Sioux culture, described “like my brothers,” by one youth. To have traditional governance and lifestyles, including horses, on the land is deeply healing and is fundamental to the pipeline resistance. Photo ©Amber Bracken.

The project that Amber brought to Anderson Ranch is about the current generation of Indigenous youth. On how the mentorship has influenced her work on this project so far, Amber said this:

“There were a couple of epiphanies that happened at Anderson Ranch that basically happened just because everyone’s there talking about stories and you’re really thinking about the different levels that you can introduce. I had some amazing suggestions from my peers and also had a couple of epiphanies workshopping ideas with Ed and Jim. Especially in the sense of really giving myself permission to not always photograph people, so giving myself permission to photograph scenes and the details as they struck me. That was definitely a theme of what we were talking about at Anderson Ranch. And also the idea of having the confidence of the group, so having people like Jim and Ed believe in you and believe in your work. That did a lot to give me the encouragement to actually pursue the story in the first place.”

Frontline – Prayer dominates daily life. There is a morning pipe ceremony and a morning water ceremony, sweats and prayers throughout the day. If there are marches or demonstrations of any kind, there is prayer before, during and after. Photo ©Amber Bracken.

Jim Estrin and I have taught many workshops and classes all over the world, but we both agree that neither of us has ever been a part of one quite like this. Here’s Jim’s take on the mentorship:

“You know, the thing I expected was that Ed and I would be able to help photographers improve and do important work. We’re experienced at doing that – teaching and mentoring. What I didn’t expect was what a close community we formed. It was like everyone had known each other for a long time. I’ve never had that … I’ve been close with my students, but I’ve never seen a group of students become so close and so intimate and helpful to each other, that I’ve never seen and I didn’t expect that. There’s a certain magic to it and Amber really contributed to that: we had fun, we worked hard, we thought things through, we solved issues, we helped put each other on the right path. But we had profound fun. I’ve taught a lot and mentored a lot, and this is really the best educational experience I’ve ever been involved in – the most satisfying one.”

Sacred Stone Camp near Cannonball, ND on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. Photo ©Amber Bracken for Buzzfeed News.

To all the photographers reading this who might be interested in pursuing a long-term visual project, I’ll leave you with Amber’s parting word:

“If you feel isolated at all in your career, if you feel like there’s problems in your work that you can’t quite articulate or you’re having a hard time working through, and if you’re in any way looking for community or a challenge, then it absolutely is worth your time and investment.”

If you think that this might be for you, check out the application information here.

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Categories: Educational