Imagining a mid-October workshop in Marfa, Texas.

The road from Marfa to Marathon at 5:30 in the morning. 

I have this recurring fantasy of creating a photography workshop for a week in Marfa, Texas. Here's how it would all play out. I would cast two models from Austin's theater scene. A beautiful and mysterious looking young woman and an equally handsome and vaguely dangerous looking young man of about the same age. We would hop in a big, black, rented Chevy Suburban and head West on I-10 heading for Balmorhea Springs State Park, about six hours away. We'd get there after a monotonous drive and we'd change into our swim gear and do laps in the big pools until the sun set and we were too hungry to think straight. We'd pitch three tents and I'd get the grill going and grill up some big ribeye steaks, pull out some nice side dishes from the battered, old Igloo cooler and sit around on camp chairs eating, drinking some nice Bordeaux, and watching the stars creep up into the darkening sky. Just the three of us discussing how the upcoming workshop would go...

We head into Marfa the next day around ten a.m. and head over to El Cosmico, an eclectic combination of Airstream Trailers and Teepees that constitute the coolest hotel/motel complex in all of Texas. It's here at El Cosmico that we'll meet up with you guys and start our workshop adventure. Over lunch on the deck at the Hotel Paisano we'd meet everyone and talk through our upcoming process. We'll have a multi-page shooting script that involves our two talents and we'll take turns setting up wildly imaginative shots, like scenes from movies, and shooting them. Fun, strange shots. A lover's quarrel in the middle of the Trans-Pecos desert. An intimate lunch at an abandoned rest stop, the couple sitting on the tailgate of an old pick up truck. Moments of betrayal. Moments of despair and abandonment. Swimming at dusk in the Springs. Dusty explorations of run down ranches. And whatever other story lines we can cobble together. The idea is to come up with concepts that involve our talents and then light them and shoot them, leveraging this desolate landscape and oddly jangly, isolated town as our stage and our backdrop. Our sets.

We'll set up lights and overpower the sun at midday. We'll put up big diffusers over our talent to control and combat the hard, high light. And every evening we'll retreat to a different restaurant to ask questions, share observations, tell stories and share more ideas. And then go out shooting into the night.

We'll lure my friend, James, into the mix to shoot behind-the-scenes video of us, the actors, the landscape, the action. 

We'll shoot tight head and shoulders portraits, medium length shots, wide, establishing shots. Pensive shots, joyous shots. No one will ask me if "Canon is better than Nikon" or whether "mirror-free is better than DSLR". No one will hit on the models. No one will break hotel furniture, or get arrested.

If you are an early riser you'll head into town in and grab coffee, maybe look at yesterday's paper. The rest of us will be sleeping in so we can work later into the night. 

We'll head over to Alpine, Tx. and slouch around the town, shooting our models in the streets and in one of the two coffee shops. We'll pretend they are students at Sol Ross University and photograph them walking hand in hand across the eccentric campus. And sometimes we'll just drive out to see what's over the next hill and soak it in. We'll use each other in our shots and that will work because we'll have each remembered to pack his beat up cowboy boots and an old straw Stetson. Old work clothes and nothing with company logos silkscreen or embroidered on.

We'll keep attendance small. Eight shooters; maybe. No one will make much money but we'll pay the models well and the generous ones amongst us will offer the talent the best of their photographic take to be used in the talent's portfolios. 

On the last night we'll crack open bottles of wine and beer and Bourbon around a campfire at El Cosmico and start planning our next creative outing at someplace daring....like Terlinqua. And in the morning we'll pack up, wish each other well and head back to our respective home bases to think about why we so rarely decide to go crazy and have more therapeutic doses of fun. 

It's just a thought. That's the way I'd do a workshop if I was coming up with something from scratch. How would you do it?

The ladder to the high diving board at Balmorhea Springs. 

Rocky hills in the middle of nowhere. 

A backyard fence in Marfa.

A musician passing through.

On the edge of Marfa.

The Forum. Marfa style.

historic desolation.

At Eve's Bed and Breakfast in Marathon. 


Michael said...


Unknown said...

Sign me up.

Joel Bartlett said...

In 2010, my wife and I drove from northern California to Big Bend for a landscape workshop with Steve Kossack. We spent a few days in Marfa on either end, and while I enjoy shooting with Steve, the time spent in Marfa and the road trip was the best part. But if you're going to do a workshop in Marfa, you've got to incorporate Chinati and Donald Judd's compound. Having said that, if you do it, I'm ready to go. And if you'd like to see some pictures from our time there, check out: https://jfb.smugmug.com/RoadTrips. And if we had a covered space to store it, we would have bought "Ride for A Lifetime."

photodoug said...

Yes. Yes. Yes. Would love it. I would travel from the east coast for it! I stayed in Terlingua last fall and made a video about my adventure: https://vimeo.com/185429493

Gary Miller said...

Sounds great! I would go.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a great experience would it be! Great!

Wally said...

Is this limited to 4 photographers?

Frank Grygier said...

What would I do? SIGN UP TO GO!

Peter said...

Sounds like a lot of fun! I would seriously try to come to this.

MY workshop would be set in Edinburgh, Scotland, and for the models we would want a female raven haired beauty with the very pale skin that is rarely found outside norther latitudes, and a male of indeterminate age, perhaps somewhat rundown, who looks like he has seen many battles and knows the underside of this beautiful city. We explore the relationship: are they father, daughter? Something else? Is one rescuing the other? We would photograph against the cobble streets that plunge and turn past stone buildings and bridges that have been in place for many centuries. We would also use the ancient graveyards that still have the towers to house those who guarded the dead from body snatchers. One day would be spent on the cliffs (crags), hills and lakes of Arthur's Seat, a huge 'park' in the middle of the city that makes Central Park look like a suburban backlot.

We would not worry about overcast skies, mist or rain, simply incorporating these into our stories. (We would hope not to encounter a heatwave where the temperature soars to 80F, as the streets would then become deserted except for American tourists with puzzled expressions.) We would plan one session to take place from 3.00 am to 5.00, a magical time when the cobbled streets are deserted by everyone and lit only by street lights and then the early light from the north-east.

We would relax in the evening by trying to identify the best combination of pub and single malt scotch on Rose Street, before walking back to the hotel.

Anyone taking a picture of someone wearing a kilt in full sun, or of someone playing the bagpipes for tourists would be politely invited to leave the workshop.

Peter Wright.

Simon said...

Hi Kirk,
Great workshop fantasy, thank you. I wondered if you could recall where the rocky cliffs in the middle of nowhere were?

many thanks


Phillip Harris said...

Sorry Kirk,
I think you may have stumbled upon a new branch of your photographic career.
That will teach you for having a popular site.
Very doable now your about to have a reduction in overheads.
Just think all of travel possibilities!

Anonymous said...
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Joe V said...

Several years ago we had a short vacation in Marfa, rented a small casita and had a blast. If you get there on Sunday, Monday or Tuesday the town is closed up. Most everything is based on the back end of the week tourist crowd. I'd love to attend such a workshop.

Del Bomberger said...

Where do I sign up? Though I'd need to know soon as I'm looking for an October photographic adventure.

Anonymous said...

The workshop I want to see:

8 photographers, 0 models.

The photographers light and capture images of each other.

It's good to be on the other side of the camera every so often...

I did this exercise in a portrait class and it was pretty eye-opening.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Anonymous, while that might be a useful exercise I would never want to do that as a workshop. Sorry.

Michael Meissner said...

While I'm not in the target market for such a tour, it sounds like it would be great if it came off like you suggest.

As I was in the shower and randomly musing, I thought if it was successful, it might be useful to have a different photographer set up a similar thing in a different locale, so that it would be fresh each time.