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Photographers will soon be
invading Platte City
Public invited to a welcome dinner Sunday, Sept. 21

by Ivan Foley
Landmark editor

Platte City, get ready.

In less than two weeks 43 photographers from all corners of the U.S. and 13 foreign countries will be converging on Platte City for the 66th annual Missouri Photo Workshop.

This year's workshop runs from Sept. 21-27.

Final preparations are being made by a welcoming committee that was organized by Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt.

An open-to-the-public welcome dinner will greet the photographers and dozens of MU staffers on Sunday, Sept. 21 at a practice field on the Platte County R-3 campus. The practice field is located along Hwy. 92, across from QuikTrip.

The welcome dinner will run from 5-7 p.m. It is open to the public and will include free hot dogs.

Workshop activities, in which the photographers will pick a local subject and spend the week photographing that subject, will be held Monday through Friday, Sept. 22-26, with the group being based at the Platte City Civic Center.

A public showing of the photographic displays will be held on Saturday, Sept. 27 at the Platte City Middle School from 10-2. The public is invited to come view the displays of about 400 photographs made during the week.

Offutt first pursued the idea of attracting the MU Photo Workshop to Platte City at the suggestion of Bill Hankins, a retired photojournalist for The Landmark. Hankins is a past participant in the workshop and is a member of the Missouri Press Association’s Photojournalism Hall of Fame.

In a news release, Jim Curley, co-director of the MU Photo Workshop, said that for two-thirds of a century MPW has focused on teaching the fundamentals of researching, shooting, and editing photo stories while emphasizing ethical practices. The faculty--past and present-- include some of the leading photojournalists, editors, and educators in the field. They encourage, and demand participants to follow founder Cliff Edom's edict, to “show truth with a camera” throughout the week.

Is this enough of an attraction to bring people across the country and half way around the globe? Victor Blue, an alumnus of MPW.57 in 2005, wrote in a letter of support for one of this year's applicants: “Spending time learning storytelling in the environment of the Missouri Photo Workshop was one of the defining experiences of my life.” Now successful as a photographer freelancing for many clients, including the New York Times, Victor says he's been evangelizing for the workshop ever since, telling photographers he meets, “to head there and learn like I did. I use the framework I learned there every single day I shoot. It's never left me.”

In Curley’s news release, he details some of this year’s participants. Here's what a few of this year's 43 photographers have to say about why they're traveling to Platte City.

Peter Mather is traveling from Whitehorse, in Canada's Yukon Territory. His photos are sometimes published in the Whitehorse newspaper and he's also contributed work to both Canadian Geographic and National Geographic magazines. In 2013 he was accepted as a member of the International League of Conservation Photographers. Between assignments he's working on a long-term project on the Gwich'in aboriginal people and their cultural and physical dependence on the Porcupine Caribou Herd in northern Canada and Alaska. One of the photographs shows a clash of cultures as a Gwich'in youth documents the harvest of a recent caribou hunt with an iPad while boating back to his village in northern Canada.

He has hopes this workshop “will be instrumental in defining and producing” his story on the Gwich'in people. Mather has heard an earful about the workshop from friends and colleagues, “and they all say the same thing. 'Hardest thing I've ever done,' and, 'you've got to do it. You will be so challenged and you'll learn so much.'”

Born and raised in Italy, Federica Armstrong worked in a variety of other countries before settling in northern California. Armstrong describes herself as, “a documentary photographer focused on issues of social equality, the environment and sustainability.” Working mainly with non-profit organizations in the Bay Area, she creates images for their websites, social media and annual reports. Her client list includes Habitat for Humanity, UNICEF, and Ravenswood Family Health Center of East Palo Alto.

“I use my photography to document untold stories,” Armstrong says. And she seems to understand what MPW is all about when she says, ”In my experience, much of the work we do as photographers has little to do with our cameras but in how we approach our subjects and how capable we are in connecting with individuals to bring our the essence of a story.” In attending MPW she hopes to ”gain tremendous insight in how to look at stories, elaborate the content, and focus on the elements that distinguish great storytelling from ordinary photography.”

Benjamin Petit earned his Masters degree in photography and imagery engineering in 2010 from the Ecole Nationale Superieure Louis-Lumiere in Paris before heading to study in New York on a Fulbright Scholarship. He spent a year refining his craft there at the International Center of Photography studying documentary photography and photojournalism. Since then he has gone on to do freelance work for the New York Times while producing long-term stories in Morocco, Mexico, Colombia and Yemen. He's making his way to Platte City because he feels “MPW is a space where award-winning mentors are able to share their experience and vision with the participants.” He realizes how important constructive criticism can be in developing a personal vision and refining photographic style and says “I wish to participate in the Missouri Photo Workshop in order to take my practice to a new level.”

Alexandra Demenkova will make the trek from Russia to attend the workshop. She studied in the foreign languages department of the State Pedagogical University in St. Petersburg before concentrating on photography in 2000. Since then she's done master classes in Amsterdam, Denmark, St. Petersburg and New York.

“Although I asked my parents to buy me a camera at the age of nine,” she says, “I only got my first camera at the age of 19.” Since then she's used it a lot to document life in rural areas of Russia. “When I photograph I feel much better than when I don't. It's as if I start to feel the firm ground under my feet, or I forget that it is there at all.” In the end she feels the philosophy of the Missouri Photo Workshop is very much in line with her own philosophy as a photographer. “Photographing small town America is something that inspires and appeals to me a lot.”

These four photographers typify the goals of all 43 who will be traveling to Platte City later this month. All are passionate about photography and all want to learn to be better visual storytellers.

Since many of these participants will be traveling great distances at great expense, workshop organizers are hoping a few Platte City residents might be willing to consider housing one of the participants during the week, and/or to loan a bicycle for the week. It would be much appreciated, especially for some of the international participants. Anyone wishing to help in either of these two areas can call or email co-director Jim Curley at (573) 673-5134 or curleyj@missouri.edu David Rees at (573) 289-3783 or reesd@missouri.edu.