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Earlier this month, I headed to Buffalo, New York to take part in a photography workshop hosted by photographers Mark Maio and Julio Alvarez and sponsored by Capture Integration. Our subject for the weekend was Silo City, a network of old grain elevators and heavy machinery that once made Buffalo the largest milling port in the world.

Now, much of the area is unused or abandoned. But part of what’s left is the Silo City area, plus nearby facilities Francis G. Ward Pumping Station and Concrete Central, which all make for some breathtaking views. Maio has been documenting life in the area for the past 17 years, and now he occasionally hosts photography workshops where a wide mix of photographers can have access to otherwise inaccessible areas..

A study in light

I attended the workshop with Bill Woody and Bill Welch, two really good photographers as well as fellow members of the Tripod Camera Club here in Dayton. Bill Woody had attended the workshop before and does a lot of work  photographing abandoned spaces; Bill Welch is just an incredible wildlife photographer. It was great to work with and learn from the two of them, as well as the other professional photographers who attended.

The buildings we explored, full of centuries-old equipment and long-paned, dirty broken windows, made for a perfect study in existing light.  It was fun finding ways to deal with the light streaming in through doors and windows in the old warehouses. I spent a good amount of time with Bill Welsh and we played with the multiple exposure function on his Canon 5D, Mark III (among a bunch of other stuff).  Chris Snipes from Capture Integration was demoing a bunch of really cool equipment, including the new Leica T system camera’s…what an advanced yet simple system, Steve Jobs would have loved one (actually, so would I).  We even played with a little light painting. (Check out the results here.)

The three-day trip had us answering wake-up calls at 4 a.m. to catch the sunrise over the Buffalo River and climbing rusty metal ladders up hundreds of feet in search of just the right shot. Each night, we’d return to our hotel exhausted, share pizza and wine, and talk about what we’d learned.

Seeing things from a new perspective

Believe it or not, that’s where some of the trip’s most valuable lessons took place. By sitting down with photographers from all walks of life and different areas of expertise and listening to their stories, I got outside of my comfort zone. And I saw my own work differently in the process. What was interesting was not how different our lives and professions were, but rather how much they overlap.

That got me thinking about the digital print industry and Oregon’s place in it. Digital imaging has brought commercial printers’ work closer to that of art printers, design firms, and graphic artists. And although I think our industries will remain separate, there are lots of similarities in where we’re all headed. That makes it more important than ever for each of us to clearly define who we are and what we do.

It’s one thing to visit the Grand Canyon and snap a picture of a view that’s been captured a thousand times before. It’s another to photograph a place that few people have ever seen. Doing so forces you to develop a point of view that’s uniquely yours.

Sometimes, it takes getting out of town to see what’s right under your nose.