Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 17, 2017
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An MD enriches his photography at a workshop in Long Reach, New Brunswick

Each year in January, photography enthusiasts from around the world wait anxiously to hear if they’ve won the lottery. The prize isn’t money, however; it’s an opportunity to take part in a workshop held by two of Canada’s best photographers.

Shortly after the New Year in a studio in Long Reach, New Brunswick, the names of photographers from as far away as Denmark, Australia and the Rockies are drawn from a drum. By the end of the day, 90 grateful participants will have been selected and notified. These strangers, connected only by a mutual desire to explore their creativity through the lens, will begin making travel arrangements to attend one of six photography and visual design workshops conducted yearly by Freeman Patterson and André Gallant.

Most of the workshop participants, like myself, discovered the photography and writing of Patterson and Gallant through their numerous books and magazine articles. Patterson has published 12 books on photography and visual design and his garnered many of photography’s most distinguished awards, as well as the Order of Canada. He and Gallant co-authored Photo Impressionism and the Subjective Image, a book that expands the art of photography and is integral to their workshop teaching. Gallant’s own books, Dreamscapes, Destinations, and, most recently, Photographing People at Home and Around the World, continue to inspire visual artists across the country.

Entering a lottery to take a workshop might seem strange, but when I discovered that it was possible to spend seven days receiving the personal instruction of these two professionals, viewing their images and having them view and critique mine, I just had to throw my name into the drum.

There was plenty of time on the journey from my home in Fort Bragg, Alberta to Long Reach to contemplate my insecurities about my photographic skills and the uncertainty of what kind of challenges I’d be given in the week ahead. However, right from the moment that field instructor Terry Adair — who is also the owner of the lodge and cabins where the workshops are held — greeted me with a friendly welcome at the airport, I relaxed a little.

By the time all 15 participants began to introduce themselves over a delicious welcome dinner at the lodge, my insecurities began to fade. The genuine and friendly demeanor of Patterson and Gallant further erased any lingering reservations. All of us were filled with anticipation for a week dedicated to nothing other than photographic exploration.

The familiar saying “ a change is as good as a rest” aptly describes this workshop experience, since there is far more change than rest. The days began with breakfast before sunrise — that meant 4:30am in June — in order to travel to a selected location in time to catch the first light of day. The 15 participants had been divided into groups of five for the

week, to create a more intimate participant/instructor ratio. Each group reassembled at the lodge by 8am before travelling to a new field location for the remainder of the morning.

Meals and lectures were precisely sequenced and everyone attended promptly throughout the week. Each day, Patterson and Gallant presented lectures illustrating visual design and impressionistic photography. Roughly half of the participants shot slide film, which was developed overnight and delivered by noon the next day.

While our bellies were still full from a three-course lunch, and the midday light was still harsh, we spent the early afternoon editing our images before afternoon lectures and critique. The light table room is custom built to enable all participants (both digital and film users) to review images together, facilitating the opportunity to share exciting discoveries or humorous and sometimes frustrating, but always informative, failures.

Each day every participant had to select three images to contribute to the collective slideshow that would be critiqued by Patterson and Gallant in front of the workshop group. The purpose of these critiques is to gain another perspective and learn from our fieldwork — neither of the instructors indulged in “reality TV”-style judging antics during their assessments.

Listening to their appraisal and supportive guidance enabled the participants to experience how an accomplished artist thinks about composition, focus, exposure, or just the overall approach to a particular subject matter. In hindsight, the hours spent viewing the slideshows and listening to the critiques had just as much influence on altering what we saw through the camera as the hours actually spent in the field.

New Brunswick, with its covered bridges and rolling treed hills overlooking rivers and ocean is a beautiful destination, yet the fieldtrip locations in this workshop were not stereotypical vistas seen on a tourist brochure. We found ourselves hunched over a rusty old car in an otherwise empty field of grass or treading carefully over 70 years of debris in an abandoned farmhouse. One purpose of the workshop is to learn how “to see” visual design and symbolism in any environment. Through examples from Patterson and Gallant, we learned to see our world in terms of shapes, tones and hues, enabling us to create a sense of balance and tension between these fundamental visual elements.

A critical step in learning how to see the world with an artist’s eye is to push beyond the subjective bias that we project onto what we see. It is to drop the comfortable labels we’ve spent a lifetime acquiring important in order to deconstruct the scenes around us into their pure visual essence.

Patterson is notorious for his exercises designed to propel photographers beyond their visual “blinders,” such as throwing a hula-hoop from his deck and requiring a person to shoot an entire role of film while standing within the area where the hoop landed.

During our workshop he planted each of our tripods in a separate area of the gardens and forest surrounding his home, and then asked us to create 25 different compositions from that single location before being permitted to wander in search of a great picture. After the first few shots, it felt like every worthwhile composition had been explored, but that was when the work started and the “seeing” really began.

On the evening before our final day, each participant was assigned a unique topic such as “outer space” or the “un-canoe-ness of canoes” and had just one morning to create a 15- to 25-image slideshow which would be presented to the entire group on the final day. Initially this seemed like an intimidating task; I quickly felt empathy for professional photographers who have to deliver the goods in a specified time frame, no matter what the weather or light conditions. Nevertheless, to our amazement, all the participants created many more images than required, some of which became the most esteemed images of the week.

The essence of these exercises and assignments is to illustrate that we don’t need to go somewhere else to create a great picture. The ability to create meaningful art lies within our mind’s eye, in our ability to see beauty and the inherent visual design of life, wherever we happen to be.

If the art of photography is something you enjoy developing, then treat yourself to the precious opportunity of attending a photography and visual design workshop in Long Reach, New Brunswick. Throw your name into the drum, because you won’t win the lottery of you don’t have a ticket.


Scott Forsyth shares a family medicine practice with his wife in Calgary, Alberta. They live with their daughter, in the nearby town of Bragg Creek, where he explores the surrounding foothills and rocky mountain landscape with his camera. Primarily a self-taught photographer, Dr Forsyth studied painting, drawing and photography at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and the Alberta College of Art and Design. The greatest influence on his artistic direction has been the teachings of the Canadian photographer and writer Freeman Patterson. He is currently working on a photographic book project involving the Calgary landscape and his stock photographs are represented by the agency Canadian Focus. Fine art prints of his photos are available on his website, www.scottforsyth.com.

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