Five days with Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb as mentors. Insight into radio documentary. Advice and photo reviews with Josh Lustig of Panos Pictures. Workshop at Holmsbu packed with frustrations, new discoveries and learning.

The primary topic was picture editing. Along with his partner Rebecca Norris Webb, Magnum photographer Alex Webb was responsible for ensuring that the 10 NJP photographers (Marie Sjøvold, Eivind H. Natvig, Oddleiv Apneseth, Karin Beate Nøsterud, Helge Skodvin, Andrea Gjestvang, Ellen Lande Gossner, Ingvild Vaale Arnesen, Monica Larsen and Linda Bournane Engelberth) meticulously edited their preliminary project material. Pictures were printed out and hung on the walls, while the two mentors reviewed the photos, moved the prints around and discussed different ways of presenting a story.

Images as Pairs
“There are numerous ways of putting a story together. We often look for images that might work as a pair. Shapes, colours or symbols may coincide, enabling two pictures to set each other off. At other times, it is best to let individual pictures stand alone, either because they are powerful in themselves, or because they fail to work together with other photographs.

“We spend many weeks, often months, editing pictures in connection with book projects. We hang the photos up, edit them and take them down again. Then we give it a rest for a few days before we start all over again”, explained Rebecca Norris Webb.

“Books can be structured in different ways. The common denominator is that they should have a rhythm. How do you start telling a story? Should the temperature move up or down? Should the images build up towards something, like a climax? Should you present groups of images in different parts of the book? There are a number of questions we have to ask ourselves and work with”, adds Alex Webb.

New Assignments every Afternoon
Every afternoon, the photographers got a new assignment related to editing. Every morning, there was a review, at which the two mentors provided advice and explained their thoughts about each individual project.

“Some of projects here can be edited in a hundred different ways, for example, Natvig’s story of Norway. Still other projects have a rigid structure and are thus very limited when it comes to how much we can play with the order of the images”, said Webb, referring, for example, to Oddleiv Apneseth’s series of portraits taken with a panorama camera. Webb also reviewed some of his own books and recounted the work involved in editing them.

For the photographers, it was a process that was instructive and inspirational for the further work on their projects, at the same time as it led to frustration.

“We are not here to give you all the ultimate answers. At this point, it is just as much about you using your work to pose questions. If you are ultimately left with many unanswered questions, you will be prepared to continue working on your projects,” commented Alex Webb.

The last day at Holmsbu concluded with the photographers gluing prints into little books, reflecting the final editing of the pictures. The group also reviewed their project descriptions, and got advice about how the texts for their projects should be written.

A Shift in Photography
In addition to Webb and Norris, Josh Lustig, the man in charge of commissioned photography at Panos Pictures, visited the NJP group for three days. He reviewed the photographers’ work, took part in editing processes and doled out advice about everything from book projects to taking pictures for magazines and newspapers.

“At Panos, we see a shift in photography. We used to have many assignments for traditional clients like newspapers and magazines. Today, we see more and more of our work coming from organisations and NGOs”, remarked Lustig. He also went through ways of marketing yourself as a photographer, and gave examples of how some Panos photographers had achieved success with their projects.

He discussed everything from small books and booklets that present a single photographer’s work, to how others print their pictures in books sponsored by book buyers ahead of time. “Today’s market requires that photographers’ creativity is not limited to their craft. They also have to be good at marketing and fund-raising for a project. Many photographers choose to drop the publicity and publish their books themselves.”

Radio Documentary
Kari Hesthamar visited Holmsbu on Thursday afternoon. She is an award-winning journalist from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio Documentary section, and she talked about the working methods in her discipline.

“The good story is often told through individuals, or through a limited group of people. We take our time with productions, and we are there for the important moments in the stories”, stated Hesthamar. Many of the examples she played for the NJP group were close, personal documentaries.

The Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation journalist explained that they maintain close contact with those involved in the documentaries. “Sometimes we place a tape recorder with those we are following, and we let it record everything that happens. However, this requires that the subjects understand what we are doing, and that we get together afterwards to agree on what can be used”, she explained.

The 10 photographers are now at the halfway point in their projects for the NJP publication. The material is scheduled for submission in May, and then the work of putting the book together will continue after that.