Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.



After a year of leisurely making lattes in Chi-town, and memorizing bones and how the human heart functions (for nursing school prerequisites)... I'm not sure how I even ended up here besides whimsy and a fat loan, and the fact that I was seriously missing taking photographs and living in a dark room, but here it goes:

So how DOES one find a subject? How does one go about finding someone interesting, someone willing, someone, perhaps, Compelling, to photograph day in and day out? And, ok, lets just say you find someone that is willing to let you "tell their story," is even more scary once you find that person knowing that you need to do it well.... How do we go about trusting ourselves and each other to do the right thing, to be honest, yet empathetic? And, what is the end result in telling these stories? Do they work to break down boundaries between people? Do they create understanding? What happens when a photograph is framed and put on a wall out of context? Is it really ok to put your camera in the face of a grieving woman? Is it ok to sell that photograph? Is it really alright to continue to contact a person you might want to document who keeps telling you no? Am I the only neurotic one?

A few bad things: I should tell you that my stupid enlarger wasn't set up and then didn't work. That frustrated me, and though I tried to exercise patience, What the hell? By the end of the third week (out of fifteen) I finally have a lovely enlarger that works and looks like a space ship. But for three weeks I could not tell if it was my ineptitude at printing (which it so very well may be) or a bum enlarger. I definitely felt, at moments, like the "dreaded eleventh student." Um, yikes.

Then, I think I have several good leads, friends of friends of friends, you know, interesting people doing interesting things, and I make a plan to drive to Bar Harbor to meet with people, and when I say a plan, I mean, I made verbal agreements with two different folks, and by the time I get to the lovely Bar Harbor (after driving in some crazy rain and fog) all agreements are off. No, I did not cry, Neil, but that is only because I had done enough crying already due to the fact that my sweet cat had only days before been diagnosed as terminally ill and I felt incredibly guilty about dragging her in a Uhaul across the country from Chicago to Portland to go to Salt- so I was all cried out for that moment. Nevertheless, as it was the first day of the third week and we were supposed to have a story by the end of that week, I felt spending 8 hours in a car was a big fat waste of my time, contemplative and beautiful and foggy as it may have been.

But then, ah, THE INTERNETZZZZ. Yes, thats right. Thank you, thank you, the internetz for helping me find someone I would have never found otherwise. I have to say now that I've "found" my story, or my potential story, or whatever that means, I am losing more sleep than ever worrying about messing it up. However, I am thankful to be doing this kind of work in a community where I trust that peers and teachers alike are going to say what they think. So, I'm going to keep working hard, and keep trying to trust my instincts.

Now here's whats been amazing; Spending a day with awesome salt students at Jimmy Worthing's Smelt fishing camp in Gardiner for our mini-ethnography. That was a day I never anticipated having, and it was oh, so much fun. I loved every minute of it. Even buying extra socks at Rite Aid had its charm. The point is, when would I have ever had the gall to walk down to the little shacks on the river and see who was inside? NEVER. Nope, thats not the kind of person I am. Salt is bringing on the adventure. And now I am invited into someone's home. Its crazy and amazing and also, extremely difficult. I'm just waiting (chomping at the bit!) to see what happens next. Plus, I gotta find that moose.


Erin said...

I bought extra gloves at Rite Aid.

Sarah said...

This is why I want to do the Salt program... each day, I crave being in a darkroom, again. Seeing the finished result. Working w/the only other people that understand this obsession. And here I sit w/a degree in math, waiting for students to show up. What am I doing? I love what I'm doing, but I really think that in 2 or 3 years, I'll find myself knocking on Salt's door.