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  • Finding Your Voice In Photojournalism: NOOR-Nikon masterclasses

  • In general, being in the right place at the right time is of great value in photography. In photojournalism, this is especially paramount and often talented photojournalists find themselves at the heart of the image, yet lacking the knowledge and tools to visually capture the story in the best way possible. For this reason, Nikon sought to reach these photojournalists by supporting and collaborating with NOOR: an international photo agency of accomplished photojournalists and documentary storytellers. Together, the NOOR-Nikon Masterclass was established.

    02_Masterclass_-¬Medianet

    Image by Medianet

    With the aim to inspire, encourage and better inform aspiring photojournalists & photographers alike, NOOR-Nikon masterclasses are held in far-flung regions of the world each year. During a five-day intensive workshop, students gain exclusive and insightful information about the profession of photography.  Professional experiences are discussed, personal portfolios reviewed and editing skills improved.

    This year, fifteen participants from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrygzstan, and Kazakhstan gathered in Almaty, Kazakhstan for the NOOR-Nikon Masterclass.

    The participants

    Among the selected participants was Elyor, who spoke for all the participants about the value of having this opportunity in his home region: “This is the first time we’ve had such a great workshop for documentary photographers in Central Asia. I think it’s a unique chance for all of us who are working in documentary photography to increase our experience and learn from these mentors and have more inspirational ideas for our own projects.”

    Stanislav Magay from Tashkent in Uzbekistan also felt he’d learnt a lot from the masterclass with NOOR tutors Sebastián Liste, Bénédicte Kurzen and Yuri Kozyrev. “The big thing I’ve learned from the tutors,” he told us, “is how to build a sequence of pictures that can tell the story perfectly. It’s a great experience to speak to professional photographers directly, to have a dialogue with them. That’s what you can’t do on the internet or watching videos. That’s what you get from the workshop.”

    04_Masterclass_-¬Izturgan Aldauev

    Image by Izturgan Aldauev

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    This year the theme was power

    Gathering in small groups with the tutors for portfolio reviews, participants received personal guidance on their work as well as daily lectures. Participants brought in a body of work they’d already shot prior to the masterclass, and were then asked to produce a new series using these images based on the theme of power. According to Sebastián, the greatest challenge for the participants was how to use the images they’d already taken. “It’s not just about composition or light. It’s more about how to construct a narrative and build a picture story with the pictures they have. The most problematic issue they have is sequencing the pictures, building a story from the beginning to the end.”

    The review

    For Elyor Nematov of Kyrygzstan, that advice has radically changed how he will select images for his major projects like labour migration in Central Asia. Reflecting on his portfolio review, he told us, “The selection and editing process was very useful for learning how to pick the best fifteen pictures from the hundreds or thousands in front of you. It teaches you how to focus on the subjects in your story, how to find this focus, and how to use this indirect language of photography as well. These practical things are really helpful and will make a huge change in my future work.”

    The tutors

    Tutor Bénédicte Kurzen is a veteran of three NOOR-Nikon masterclasses and sees her role as a collaborative one. “Personally I feel that I learn as much from the participants as they do from me. It’s really a two-way street. I think that makes it very special.” That collaborative aspect comes to the fore in every masterclass, as each region has its own unique needs. She adds, “It really relates to the part of the world where it happens. The participants make it very different, coming from various countries on the edges of Europe. The dynamics are very specific and very different from one to another. As tutors, we need to adapt to that.”

    01_Masterclass_-¬Reyhana Turdieva

    Image by participant Reyhana Turdieva

    From Bénédicte’s point of view, there are some common key elements in a masterclass that include ethics, industry knowledge, safety, and respect for your subject, but the main focus is on learning how to tell a visual story in your own voice. “The most compelling elements of a photo story – because we are storytellers, this is what we are aiming for – are coherence and personal vision. This is really what we are trying to work on with the participants: to help them develop their own photographic voice. I think that’s what makes the best documentary photography – when it’s very personal.”

    And what can be most inspiring to the participants is learning from the careers of the tutors themselves- that there’s no ‘one-size-fits-all’ route to becoming a photojournalist. Wherever they are, they have an opportunity to find their own niche and tell stories in their own voice. For Bénédicte this is paramount. “The best thing we can do as photographers ourselves is to share with them our personal story. Because there are three of us, there are three very different stories. Yuri did it one way, Sebastián did it another way, and my own story is also quite specific. For them the main idea is to understand that there’s not just one way to do it, but their way to do it.”

    Tutor Yuri Kozyrev rarely leads workshops, but made an exception for #NOORNikonKZ because it was so groundbreaking for the region. “It’s the first time we have had such an event here. It’s a really big deal. I heard from many photographers that they would never even have expected that this kind of event could happen here. It’s very new for them, so it’s not like just another workshop in Europe. We’re sharing ideas, what’s new in our industry, and what’s vital to know if you want to be a photojournalist. Considering the circumstances of all the countries where these photographers come from, it’s really important to be here.”

    Nikon was also present

    Frank Zuidweg, of Nikon Professional Services – who joins the team of tutors at each of the masterclasses – stressed how important it is to Nikon to give something back to the world of photography. “The areas where we host masterclasses are usually the outside borders of Europe where photographers – especially young, ambitious photographers in news and documentary photography – don’t have the opportunities that we have in the Western part of Europe, to develop ourselves and learn photography in the way it should be done. Our collaboration with NOOR photographers – well-known for their extreme quality in documentary photography and storytelling – means it’s possible to make a huge difference in the careers of the participants.”

    What was gained?

    The proof of the power of a masterclass lies in the results.  Matic Zorman, a participant in last year’s Belgrade masterclass has just picked up a World Press Photo Award for his image of a child waiting in line to register at a refugee camp in Syria. We’re expecting great things of our Almaty alumni this year, too. Elyor told us he had more inspiration to continue his work, and his experience in the class echoed Bénédicte’s commitment to a collaborative approach. “What was significant for me during the workshop is that they gave me a chance to explain a little bit about my personal experience in the region. I’m honoured to have the trust that I would have something valuable to share with the other participants, and that gives me more confidence to stay focused on my work and continue.”

    He summed up his time at #NOORNikonKZ as a revelation for his approach to photography. “The masterclass helps you to organise your way of thinking, to clarify who you are and what you can do. It even helps you to investigate what you didn’t know about yourself. You discover how many options you have for photography and to work in a wider way.  It’s good to know that even the best photographers have the same problems that we are having right now: finding a job and finding our voice. No-one becomes a photographer overnight. Everybody has their own way and this is something that is really inspiring.”

    05_Masterclass_-¬Izturgan Aldauev

    Image by Izturgan Aldauev

    Follow our live feed from this year’s masterclass #NOORNikonKZ.

    Find out more about upcoming NOOR-Nikon Masterclasses on the NOOR Images blog: http://noorimages.com/news-blog/ or at Nikon Life: http://nikonlife.eu/inspirers/master-classes/.

    03_Masterclass_-¬Turar Kazangapov

    Image by participant Turar Kazangapov