Although most of you know that I headed East for the summer and ended up taking on the role of head photo instructor for the Digital Media program at Camp Woodward in Pennsylvania, you may not know anymore than that, or might not even know what the program is really about. After spending three months back on my home-coast, it made me realize how different the East Coast is compared to the West Coast. More specifically Los Angeles, California compared to Woodward, Pennsylvania. I had the opportunity to take on an important role at one of the most influential places on earth. If you know anything about Woodward, you know how amazing it is. Every person that goes there has the same exact sentiment towards camp. It’s a place where you can truly be free and exist in this unique, almost surreal environment based around action sports. As for the Digital Media side of things, they have one of the most progressive programs around and truly put in the effort to do things the right way for the good of the campers. The future is looking bright for upcoming photographers and filmers thanks to a unique program that lets kids work not only with professional creative’s, but also have the chance to meet and shoot with some of the most talented BMX riders and Skateboarders in the world.
I have been going to Woodward on and off since I was 17 years old and have had an amazing time every single time. Back in 2009 I was invited out to Woodward by Jeff Brockmeyer and Dave Metty (The two guys that created the program and are currently the photo and video directors). They had me come out as a guest photography instructor to work with the kids for a week, and shoot photos, do some Q & A type workshops and overall just be a part of the program. Since that first time they had me out, I was hooked on what they were doing. The program was in the very early stages and was based in the back of the Lodge, which is where a lot of the top pros in the industry stay. It was basically set up where they were just using an open room to shoot and as the studio and then worked out of a small closet of sorts as an office. Basically, you could tell it was grassroots and at the beginning stages. But, all of that aside, the potential for it to turn into something amazing was there and that’s all that mattered.
I returned in 2010, and again in 2011 all three times as a guest instructor. Well, for whatever reason in the summer of 2012 we never ended up linking up. During that time I had thought long and hard about Woodward and the opportunity to, at some point, be the head photography instructor. We stayed in contact the entire time and in early 2013 we started to discuss options of coming out for a full summer. Although I wasn’t sure exactly what I was getting myself into going from a single week to a three-month stay but to be honest that was part of the draw. The goal was to take me out of my element, and allow me the chance to spend time shooting and working on the other side of the country. I wanted to be re-inspired and to have an entirely new environment to photograph for months at a time. That is exactly what I got along with much, much more.
When I first decided to commit to camp I had to let them know that although I was going to be working with them full-time, I was also going to keep and carefully maintain the list of clients that I work for on a regular basis. This included ESPN, Soul Magazine, Red Bull, BMX Union, and a few others. Now, although I had the freedom to do just that, it also meant that I had that much more work to do. Not only was I working six days a week, I was also working long, long days. I would typically work from 9AM until 10PM and then hang out for a while before passing out and starting the next day. Now, although I had breaks throughout the day every day, I also had a lot to do while class wasn’t in session. The down time that I had in between class and before I would pass out at night would be my time to get everything done. Although I was and am completely used to working non-stop, it still proved to be pretty challenging to keep up on everything.
Coming to Woodward as the head photo instructor meant that I had a lot to learn, and a lot to adapt to. Although I had been coming to camp for years, I hadn’t worked in the newly re-done full size studio that they launched in 2012. So, as I said earlier the program had potential from day one and has continued to grow ever since. They have a huge studio now with a giant open floor plan, every camper uses a Mac with Lightroom and Photoshop, they have a full Alienbee lighting system with soft boxes, huge PLM’s, a beauty dish, ring flash, all different types of backgrounds, and much, much more. It’s a place that breed’s creativity and you can’t help but be inspired when you are inside the walls of the Digital Media studio. Basically, it’s any young photographer/aspiring photographers dream hang out spot.
So, basically the kids get a week of full on photography instruction on a rigorous schedule, mixed up every day to include different projects to work on. The basics to advanced lighting and action photography techniques are covered. We create a mock advertisement, shoot with pro riders, learn the basics of editing and processing photos and more. Each kid works for the entire week putting together a selection of their top ten photos from the week to be presented as a photo show for the entire camp to see. They also have their photo slideshow of their top ten shown in front of an audience at the Arts Festival on Friday night before receiving their certificate of completion. Along the way, they will make new friends, share some laughs, learn what it means to be passionate about photography and pick up some new and valuable skills along the way. The course is designed to teach aspiring photographers what it takes to be a professional.
Every time I would meet with a new group of kids, I would do my best to show them how being dedicated, and hard working can pay off. What it means to keep up on deadlines, how to create good, meaningful photos and simply how to enjoy shooting. The ones that really listened got a lot out of the program and it was incredibly rewarding to have the kids thank me and tell me that I inspired them and that they had an awesome week. No matter how burnt out I was at some points between the full time camp life and my full time freelance life I still gave 110% to the program and I would do it all again the same exact way. On the first day, even during the last week of camp when I would meet all of the kids I would explain that to them. That even though this is the third month that I’ve been doing this, I will give it all I have until the end and that is exactly what I did.
I could go on and on for days and tell story after story from the good times that I had while I was out East but I’ll save those for another time. I ended up getting a roll of black and white film processed recently that I shot with my Ricoh 35mm SLR that was actually my first “real” camera that I got back in 1999. I realized that a bunch of photos were from Camp and until now I haven’t shared them with anyone. If anyone at camp saw me during the last few weeks they probably noticed that I was riding around on my 1950’s “Rollfast” that I plucked and restored straight out of Amish country. That happened to be my obsession for a while and I was so god damn happy riding that bike it was ridiculous. After the entire summer of feeling like I was trapped at camp without a car, this was a breath of fresh air. I had the freedom to cruise wherever I wanted and it was an amazing adventure every time. Not too mention the people that I was surrounded by on a daily basis. Everyone there is always outgoing, friendly and down for a good time. That’s what it’s all about, and the entire place embodies that 100%.
The entire summer I wrote and kept up on my TTL series but I never once had the chance to sit down and write a feature about camp. I was always not sure what I would do, or how I would go about it until now. I just want to send a huge shout-out and thanks to Dave Metty and Jeff Brockmeyer who gave me my first break and let me become part of the program five years ago now. Thanks to Gary Ream as well, for letting me come on board. I also want to thank my right-hand dude from this past summer Josh McElwee. He ended up being a huge help the entire summer and was there every step of the way. He is a BMX photographer pushing his weigh into the pack and putting out solid content on a regular basis. He’s been published in Ride, and recently had a gallery through The Albion so you know that he’s doing something right. He actually was a fan of TTL when I first met him this past summer and it was pretty rad to work with someone who was just as passionate about photography as I am. I can tell how much work he puts in pursuing his passion of shooting and it’s inspiring to know that once in a while you will find people like him that are down for the cause.
As for the campers, wow, I guess I would have to say that I have to give them respect for putting in the time and effort it took to successfully pull off a week of hard work. They were all unique and every one of them definitely stood out on their own. It was rad getting to know each one individually and seeing them learn throughout the week. Then, the new batch would come in and the cycle would start over. There were some standout kids that really knew what it means to take a photograph and it was truly amazing to see some kids go from shy and awkward with a camera to mini-photographers ready to document their local scene and start getting their name out there. Sure, this week was a bit of a rambling piece about Woodward but I wanted to get this one out there for a while now and it finally just took shape about ten minutes before I started writing this.
As every follower of this TTL series knows, I let things happen organically and see what comes of it. Hell, that’s how this week’s column happened. I also had the urge to write, and obviously this is the perfect outlet for me. Oh, and for those that don’t know what Woodward is, do some research and find out why it’s one of the most saught after places for anyone that rides BMX ( CampWoodward.com ). On that note, be sure to check back next Wednesday for the one hundred and fifth edition of Through the Lens and as always feel free to leave any questions in the comments section or email me at [email protected] and I will hit you back as soon as I can. Feel free to follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jeremypavia.