© Photo by Lisen Stibeck

Iceland is a country of beauty and contrasts. Known for its dramatic landscapes and natural marvels, it has been an inspiration for artists for centuries. These 13 days for the workshops have been chosen specifically because they are a time of great activity in Iceland. There are many strong visual themes and events to be photographed in and around Reykjavik.

For the third year in a row, Mary Ellen and Martin will be leading a very unique photography and filmmaking workshop (respectively) in Iceland, the perfect backdrop to an amazing learning experience in association with Icelandic artists Einar “Effi” Falur Ingolfsson and wife, Ingibjorg “Inga” Johannsdottir.

Recently we had the pleasure of talking to them about their reasons for choosing Iceland for this workshop and the reasons why, you cannot afford to miss out on this one of a kind workshop. Following the full conversation….

What first brought your attention to Iceland?

ME: I had two Icelandic photography students in 1983, Ragnar Axlesson and Palli Stefansson. They were full of life and very talented-really interesting guys. In 1988, a young friend of theirs, Einar Falur Ingolfsson (aka Effi) took my workshop in Arles, France. He was only 19 years old at the time. They invited me to have an exhibition in Reykjavik.

How long have you been coming to Iceland?

ME: In 1993, Martin and I went there and we fell in love with it.

MB: It’s a spectacular country with great people and great fishing-a winning combination.

What’s your history there?

ME: We returned several times. In 2002 I had another exhibition of my American photographs at the Reykjavik Museum of Photography.

Martin started making an annual fishing trip there and in 2005 his fishing partner (and my former student), Effi came up with a plan that would allow me to also come to Iceland. He was the photo editor at Morgunbladid-the largest newspaper in Iceland. He is also a talented photographer.

I photographed a famous abstract expressionist painter, a strange teenage hazing ritual, the American artist Roni Horn who lives in Iceland-and at my request, they worked very hard at getting me access to a school for disabled children. (Iceland has a very inclusive and comprehensive educational system for disabled children.) It was very difficult to gain access, but I was granted access for one day. It was there that I met Alexander, one of the students who immediately charmed me and became the main subject that Martin would later make.

In 2006 Martin and I did a project for the National Museum of Iceland on disabled children. Martin made a film called Alexander which is a story of very close Icelandic friends of ours raising their son. I photographed in two schools and a daycare center-gaining access again with the help of Effi. The museum exhibited the photographs and film. The film also aired on Icelandic television.

After this experience, we thought we really wanted to continue our strong attachment to Iceland so we thought about starting a workshop there with Effi and his wife Inga.

Photo ©Mary Ellen Mark

What’s most surprising about Iceland?

ME: Most people think that it’s full of ice and that it’s freezing. But, in the summertime it’s beautiful. It’s kind of like great spring weather in New York all summer and the sun never goes down-the light is magnificent.

MB: Also, some people think it’s a country for landscape photography only. While the landscape is extraordinary, so are the people-it’s quite an exotic and eccentric place for people.

What makes it a unique place photograph and film?

MB: It’s isolated, yet sophisticated. It has its own trends and own way of thinking. After all, what other culture as a whole believe in fairies and elves?

What’s most challenging about working here?

MB: It’s actually quite easy to work there-as a matter of fact, it’s a gift to work there. Everyone speaks English and is very open and camera friendly.

ME: We’re very lucky because Effi and Inga know the country and people extremely well and work very hard to get the students access to many things-and access is key. I always tell the students that if they have an idea for a subject, they should research it before they come so they’re ahead of the game-and perhaps we can even get started on access before they arrive.

What are some of the special things that your students have photographed and filmed?

MB: One of my students made a film about a well-known Strongman. There’s a tradition of Icelanders competing in international Strongman competitions. ( film teaser ) Another student made a film about an eccentric gay artist in Reykjavik. (trailer)

ME: Effi’s and my students have photographed a range of topics. You can see some of the photographs from the workshops in the Blurb books that we’ve produced.


What are some of the events going on during the workshop this year?

ME: There are so many things to photograph… To name a few: The Reykjavik Gay Parade is a huge event. The president famously went in drag two years ago. There is a group of amateur synchronized swimmers that swim in the ocean. (Martin thinks that it could be a great film opportunity.) There’s a big music festival in Reykjavik featuring interesting bands. There is a group that does extreme workouts down at the beach in Reykjavik. And there are lots of great stories are possible to photograph and film like the Icelandic ponies, the old age home, etc.

Photo © Mary Ellen Mark

What are you goals for the class?

ME: The first day of class we have a general critique and look at everybody’s previous work.

MB: The idea of the film class is for each student to make a film, but because of the time restraint my goal is for them to create a 2-3 minute trailer for the film that they will ultimately finish later. During the workshop, I work with each student one-on-one each day to look at the dailies and work on editing.

ME: The idea of Effi’s and my photography class is for each student to work on a series of images. They can choose a photo essay or they can work in various settings working different subjects, but they must produce work every day. Every morning, Effi and I meet with each student individually and edit the work that they’ve done the day before. The final class is a critique of the entire week’s edited work with a goal to produce a Blurb work showing everyone’s work (as seen in the links above.)

What’s most rewarding about teaching there?

ME: The most rewarding thing for me is to see my students improve-to take a step and grow as a photographer. I’ve had some amazing students both in Oaxaca and Iceland and it’s really inspiring.

MB: To make a story come to life is extremely difficult, so it’s rewarding to see someone find the key to unlock a story.

Find out more information about the workshops here: Iceland Photo Workshop and Iceland Film-Making Workshop.

Photo © Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark has achieved worldwide visibility through her numerous books, exhibitions and editorial magazine work. She is a contributing photographer to The New Yorker and has published photo-essays and portraits in such publications as LIFE, New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and Vanity Fair. For almost three decades, she has traveled extensively to make pictures that reflect a high degree of humanism. Today, she is recognized as one of our most respected and influential photographers. Her images of our world’s diverse cultures have become landmarks in the field of documentary photography. Her portrayals of Mother Teresa, Indian circuses, and brothels in Bombay were the product of many years of work in India. A photo essay on runaway children in Seattle became the basis of the academy award nominated film STREETWISE, directed and photographed by her husband, Martin Bell.

Mary Ellen has received many awards and grants including the Cornell Capa Award, the Infinity Award for Journalism, an Erna & Victor Hasselblad Foundation Grant, and a Walter Annenberg Grant for her book and exhibition project on AMERICA. Among her other awards are the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, the Matrix Award for outstanding woman in the field of film/photography, and the Dr. Erich Salomon Award for outstanding merits in the field of journalistic photography. She was also presented with honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degrees from her Alma Mater, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of the Arts; three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts; the Photographer of the Year Award from the Friends of Photography; the World Press Award for Outstanding Body of Work Throughout the Years; the Victor Hasselblad Cover Award; two Robert F. Kennedy Awards; and the Creative Arts Award Citation for Photography at Brandeis University. Nissan, and Patek Philippe.


Martin Bell started out as a freelance cinematographer for documentaries and drama on English television before coming to the U.S. 20 years ago. Martin is at ease in both documentary and narrative storytelling. He has directed such documentaries as Academy Award nominated “Streetwise”, which followed the lives of runaway kids on the streets of Seattle and “The Amazing Plastic Lady” set in the Indian Circus. He has directed narrative features films including “American Heart” starring Jeff Bridges and “Hidden in America”, a moving portrait of a family struggling with poverty featuring both Beau and Jeff Bridges.

His latest film “Prom” explores the complex lives of teenagers as they transition from childhood to adulthood. Students were interviewed at their own proms about relationships, school work, family, friends, and their hopes and dreams for the future. The film is a companion piece to his wife Mary Ellen Mark’s photographic project of the same name. “Prom” was in the opening night program at the Los Angeles Shorts Fest.

His ongoing film project, “A New York Story”, aims to capture the energy and resilient spirit of New York City since September 11, 2001.

His commercial clients have included Nike, making for them a spot about major league baseball hopefuls in the Dominican Republic, a real people campaign for CSFB online trading, and most recently a beautiful black & white campaign for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

Links to recent films by Martin Bell: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL6YfpI0VEjhsClcph-GniJqRJ0lmSYj9W


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The work produced by Mary Ellen Mark´s students during the February 2013 workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico is stunning. We created a book of the best work, please take a look.

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We recently had the privilege of having an interesting conversation with Italian documentary photographer Ernesto Bazan, about his photographic work, his career and his experience teaching.

© Ernesto Bazan

What is it that you want to communicate or achieve with your photographic work? 

Taking picture has always been a way to express my inner feelings and emotions. On how I feel about my life and the people I choose to photograph. In the end, it all boils down to connecting through photographs to my childhood and to a range of sentiments that are part of my life.

What is for you the greatest challenge of being a photographer?

To continue to find the inspiration and the strength needed to take pictures.

You talk about destiny, faith, and “what is meant to be” often, please share how these concepts relate to your photography.

I became a photographer thanks to a dream that I had when I was 17-year-old. I simply heard a voice whispering in my ear: ”You got to become a photographer.” What I find most uncanny isn’t the dream itself, but the fact that the next morning when I woke up I remembered those very words and with blind faith I told my parents that I was going to become a photographer. I can only add 36 years later that I’ve been following my dream and that it wasn’t just a dream: it was a revelation. The first one of a series that I have had since then both in my life as a man and as a photographer.

Why did you decide to stop working on assignments and just teach? 

While living in Cuba, one day, out of the blue, I just decided that I was growing bored with my commercial assignments. I had worked as a freelancer for over 20 years. I asked myself why not trying to teach workshops. At the time, I had no idea if I could be a good teacher. I consider this my second revelation. I like to say that the workshops that I founded in 2002 in Cuba have been one of the best things I’ve done in my life. They have radically changed and shaped the way I photograph. For the last eleven years, I’ve been helping my students getting better with their work and, at the same time, I’ve had the great privilege to only take my own pictures. It’s simply priceless.

How was your first workshop in Cuba? Can you share more about your experience teaching for the first time?

It was cool and surprising at the same time. On January of 2002, my first 8 students showed up at my apartment in Havana from different parts of the world. I started sharing with all of them what it means to take a simple, profound and soulful image that combines the right balance of form and content.

What is your teaching methodology like?

From the very start of each workshop, I set the basis of how to go about to capture significant moments in our existence. I explain how to justify the full frame, how to isolate what I like to call photographic moments, how to discern feelings and moods of the human condition, which are, at the same time, universal and strictly personal. I also teach them how to cull only the best images from a group of unedited images, to be tougher and more critical with their own editing. How to find their own trope while searching to become better photographers. It’s a long process, but you can see some of the results that my students have achieved with hard work and dedication.

© Ernesto Bazan

How do you choose the places where you teach? 

I usually follow my intuition. For instance, Peru is a country where you can still find many people still firmly attached to their ancestral cultures and traditions. I’m fascinated by that and continue to photograph it before it peters out from our collective memory.

Why is Cuzco special for you?

In Cuzco and all the Sacred valley I still find indigenous cultures that believe in the supernatural, in the sacred, in the transcendent and, above all, in the numinous quality of their simple daily life. I share their belief in my own life and this is why I feel close to them and have chosen to photograph them for the last 11 years.

What is the most joyful part of teaching for you?

To see the true miracle of when my students take pictures, true miracles I should add, that are almost unfathomable but they are there in front of our very eyes to be enjoyed, savored and cherished for a long time to come. EB

Ernesto Bazan will be teaching a workshop created specifically by Photo Xpeditions in Peru from May 21st to 30th, 2013. During the workshop, participants will have the privilege of visiting rural communities in the Sacred Valley and to witness, photograph and participate in the celebrations and every day lives of the Peruvian people.  Participants will learn to photograph in an authentic and intimate way. Ernesto will be guiding the students as they explore through the lens. He will also provide numerous opportunities for students to observe him at work with his camera.  The workshop will provide a continual discovery.

More information about the workshop here

© Ernesto Bazan

Ernesto Bazan was born in Palermo in 1959, he received his first camera when he was 14 years old and began photographing daily life in his native city and in the rural areas of Sicily. Photography has been more than a profession: a true passion, a mission in his life. Bazan has published several books: The Perpetual Past, Passing Through, The First Twenty Years, Island, Molo Nord.

In 2008, his new publishing house BazanPhotos Publishing will print his new book Cuba on 14 years of life and photography on the island.

He has had exhibitions in Europe, Latin America and the United States. His photographs have been collected by collectors and museums among which MOMA and ICP in New York, SFMOMA in San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Durham, the South East Museum of Photography in Daytona, the Fondazione Italiana della Fotografia in Turin, the Biblioteque Nationale in Paris and the Musee Rattau in Arles.

From 1992 to 2006, he lived and photographed the island of Cuba documenting the unique time in Cuban history called The Special Period. This body of work has given him the privilege to win some of the world most prestigious photographic awards among them The W. Eugene Smith grant; the Mother Jones Foundation for Photojournalism, the World Press Photo and two fellowships from the Alicia Patterson Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation.

In 2002, Ernesto Bazan created his own photographic workshops providing special emphasis in Latin America. Teaching has become his ruling passion. Several hundred students have studied with him in the last six years.

He lives with his wife Sissy, his twin boys Pietro and Stefano and their two dogs Diva and Ono in Veracruz, Mexico.

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 The Story behind the Image

When we look at great images in magazines such as National Geographic, we are actually looking at the outcome of an incredible amount of hard work, problem solving and thought.  Oftentimes, months of research are required before the assignment begins, then it´s days of waiting for the pieces to come together, a critical tuning in and focus on the part of the photographer and then serendipity comes along to bring it all together.

National Geographic photographer Christian Ziegler shared with us some of the stories behind a few of his stunning images.

© Christian Ziegler

This photo was one I really wanted, it is a moment normally completely impossible to see – it take a split second, and happens at night 100 feet up a tree. I tried for a long time to get it up there in the tree, working from the Smithsonian´s canopy tree, but it just was not possible. All the equipment (4 flashes) around a certain fig just kept the bats away, especially because they had some 10.000 other figs to choose from. I ended up working with bat scientists who conducted food choice experiments with figs in a large flight cage on Barro Colorado Island in Panama. Fruit eating bats of certain species would be offered different types of fig fruits, and finally here I had a chance to know which fruit they would go for. After about a week, I got my photo, just the moment I had hoped for.


© Christian Ziegler

This photo is from a story which I enjoyed very much, here in Panama a couple of years ago. To document all the animals that are attracted by the huge flowers of the Balsa tree, I set up 100 foot scaffoldings around three trees and used remote cameras at individual flowers to photograph them. Here we see a small woolly opossum drinking right after sunset from the huge flower, almost its own size.


© Christian Ziegler

This photo, a behavioral sequence of a fishing bat swooping down to catch a fish, was inspired by a famous bat scientist and fried of mine, Elisabeth Kalko, who unfortunately passed away last year. Elisabeth invented a method to study the function of echolocation calls (the ‘sonar; which bats are using) by recording them and at the same time take a sequence of photographs to link call to behavior. The original setup was very complicated, a high end  sound recording device had to be synchronized with a camera which had 20 electronic flashes attached that went off in sequence. The resulting photographs were black and white and helped Elisabeth distangle which sounds had which function in the hunting behavior of bats. I translated this idea onto a digital color camera to document the elegant capture sequence of the fishing bat.


Christian Ziegler is a photojournalist specializing in natural history and science-related topics. He is a regular contributor for National Geographic Magazine and has been widely published in a variety of magazines like GEO, Smithsonian and BBC Wildlife.  He just published “Deceptive Beauties” a book about wild orchids.  He is a founding fellow of the International League of Conservation Photographers. Christian´s work has been awarded prizes in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year and the European Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions, and in 2008, he has was honored with the Vision Award by the North American Nature Photography Association.  He was born in Germany and currently lives on the edge of a rain forest National Park in Central Panama.


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Tino Soriano on Oaxaca’s Day of the Dead Photographic Workshop

© Tino Soriano

If there was only one thing to emphasize about Oaxaca it would have to be its people’s affability. Nevertheless, as a photographer, what most attracted my attention was the sense of color emanating from every corner of the city. If you visit this Mexican State in the appropriate season, it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the All Saints Week celebration. The most amazing fact of this incredible week is not that all the saints in heaven are being honored, but that on October 31st the stars of the show are the people’s dead relatives and friends.

On that entire evening families spend the night at cemeteries beside their relative’s grave-sites, done up for the occasion with scarlet and yellow flowers, bringing new life to the graves bedecked with small sugar sculls. La Catrina, an icon of the Day of the Dead, is an elegant woman, reeking of camphor and covered with a veil, which suggests empty orbits that deface the immaculate white face of the skeleton.

Children dress up as the monsters of their nightmares, skeletons, mummies and other abominations. Or conversely, like the girl in the photograph, they dress up elegantly bringing a touch of beauty and serenity to Death itself.

Blaring trombones and clarinets and the beating of drums announce the orchestras’ eminence. Bishops looking for trouble and the classical monsters lead the parade to the rhythm of trumpets and kettledrums, but the majority of marchers is composed of people with powdered white faces and blackened eyes. In short, male and female cadavers deftly march with a syncopated rhythm.

The Benito Juarez market and the market celebrate in their own peculiar way. People buy in throngs, not only for costumes to parade around Oaxaca in, but also for decorative elements for the altars they erect in the most significant place in their homes and businesses. The altars are adorned not only with crucifixes, flowers and sculls, but also with objects that remind them of their dead. Portraits and the deceased´s favorite objects in life are displayed for the benefit of the dead, who on this night are allowed to visit their altars and their loved ones.

© Tino Soriano

Mezcal enlivens the spirits of chattering adults and adolescents while children cavort from grave to grave. Photographs are taken, food stands are erected and all sorts of curio shops appear out of nowhere on the side of the roads that lead to cemeteries. This is the great feast of Death, which in neighboring towns and villages will go on for a few more days. In San Agustin, fantastically costumed groups dance the night away in the church’s plaza following a laughter-filled open-air theatrical performance, which airs the town gossip and ridicules the authorities.

© Tino Soriano

Actress Jessica Lange, herself an excellent photographer, visited this year´s celebration and shared a very special evening with us. Life is short so why not visit Oaxaca on the Day of the Dead? Next year Photo Xpeditions will organize another Day of the Dead Photography Workshop.  And if photography is not your thing, why then, why not get married on a day like this “till death do you part.”

© Tino Soriano

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© Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark stands as one of the foremost photographers of the human condition in the world, being able to capture the humanity in unique and striking ways that inspires raw emotion and reaction from viewers. She primarily takes pictures and portraits of people in black and white, unflinchingly depicting the lives of normal people around the globe over a career that has spanned more than forty years.

These portraits and pictures often depict people who are on the fringe of society, or who have experienced hard times. This raw depiction of people is unique to Mary Ellen Mark, giving her work weight and impact as it is viewed all around the world. Above all else, her work is meant to call attention to those that live on these societal edges. Her work acknowledges the existence of the people that are normally glossed over heedlessly by their cultures.

© Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark

Mary Ellen Mark has received many awards and has achieved a great deal, having received three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as three Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards. She also has served with the Center for Fine photography.

The work of Mary Ellen Mark has always inspired people. This is due to her ability to capture people as they are, no matter what culture they come from. Indeed, many photographs have been taken that pointedly show the social and cultural issues that deserve examination by more people. These photographs draw greater attention to these issues while still exemplifying the dignity and beauty of art.

© Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark

The photography of Mary Ellen Mark provokes and inspires us by exposing the common elements of life that universally resonate with the human experience. Her work shows the human themes of loneliness and feeling outcast or on the edge of society, as well as the feelings of love and connection that helps to define and unite us all.

The work of Mary Ellen Mark stands as a unique way of looking at life and the experiences that people share with the world around them. Her work stands as an unforgiving cross section of all of the parts of life, which need to be examined in order to appreciate all of its facets. As such, it provides insight into a world that is seen but rarely paid attention to, demanding the attention of the viewer.

© Photograph by Mary Ellen Mark

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The new book of the latest edition of Mary Ellen Mark’s workshop in Oaxaca is out. Please take a moment to look through the pages to see the amazing work that is being created in these workshops.

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Back in July I went on a Family/Scouting trip to Southern Africa. We visited South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. It was terrific experience and a place where we could be announcing a photo workshop pretty soon, stay tuned for it. Following a few of the pictures I took during the trip.

Great game viewing, fantastic hotels immersed in the national parks, unparallelled service and a great sense of adventure everyday.

Hippo in Chobe National Park, Botswana

Elephants crossing the Zambezi River from Botswana to Namibia

Baby elephant scaring us in the Okavango Delta

Baboon in Chobe National Park

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What can I say, Tino is one of the top photographers in the world and a great friend. I feel honored to be able to work alongside with him in many of our trips. In the upcoming year we will have the opportunity of having Tino teach a few of our workshops in Mexico, Spain and Peru. Below a brief video of his latest book on photography showcasing some fantastic work.

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I cam across a series of promos where Mexican President Felipe Calderon is promoting Mexico as a top destination. The promos will start airing on September 23rd in channel VME. Have a look…

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