I just took a seminar at CFAAHP this weekend up in New York City. This is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Alternative Processes. Several members here are instructors with CFAAHP, so some of you all may be familiar with them already.

I took a seminar with John Dugdale on "the history of the auto-portrait". I didn't know what exactly I was going to get into with this class, because the description made it sound more like a lecture than a hands-on class. The first day was just that. Five students gathered in Eric Taubman's studio in Chelsea. John Dugdale came over with his guide dog Marley. For those of you not familiar with his story, in 1993 he was a very busy working commercial photographer, when he suffered a stroke that damaged his vision and his hearing. He is completely blind in one eye, and will shortly be completely blind in the other as well. He used his photography as a tool to help him survive his experiences, and frequently uses himself as the subject of his work. Because of his situation, he was unable to keep working in silver-gelatin based processes, and so he began working with cyanotypes, which require three steps to produce, and a minimum of chemistry.

John discussed the history of self-portraiture in photography, from the very earliest days to the onset of the 20th century. He presented examples from William Henry Fox-Talbot to Nadar, Julia-Margaret Cameron, and Jacques-Henri Lartigue. He also discussed his own work, and showed examples of how a self-portrait can be broadly defined, to include things, places and people who are not explicitly the self-portraitist, but depict some aspect of their personality.

The next day we met at his studio in Greenwich Village to shoot some self-portraits. John's studio is on the fourth floor of an early 1800s rowhouse. It is a daylight studio with a north-facing skylight. John's camera of choice is a 1910-vintage Deardorff 11x14 studio camera with an 8x10 reducing back. John talked about his methodology for shooting self-portraits with such a big beast, and then we set to work composing and shooting our portraits. Given the small group size, each person was able to take several shots. Every shot was a collaborative experience, under the expert guidance of John. At the end of the class, John was moved to shoot a self-portrait of his own, so we all contributed to creating his latest self-portrait.

John deserves a huge round of thanks for taking all of us in and being so open with sharing his life and his techniques with us, and so does Patty with CFAAHP. She organized the event and made certain that everything ran smoothly. This was an absolutely unforgettable experience for all of us who attended, and it would be worth it at three times the price.

NOTE: this is an unsolicited testimonial. I'm just posting it here in case anyone is interested in the CFAAHP programs. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to PM me.