Showing truth with a camera

For more than seven decades, the Missouri Photo Workshop has brought renowned photographers to small towns throughout Missouri. Last year, in response to the pandemic, it went global.

May 18, 2021
Contact: Kenny Gerling, 
gerlingk@missouri.edu

Cindy Liu, a professional photojournalist based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, didn’t know Lee Zing when she approached him with a question: “Can I follow you around and take some photos?”

Liu eventually featured Zing, the leader of an amateur K-pop-influenced group, as the subject of her portfolio for the 2020 Missouri Photo Workshop (MPW). The workshop is an annual event hosted by the Missouri School of Journalism that challenges photojournalists — many with already impressive credentials — to pitch, report and present an original photo story in just one week. Participants also receive close mentorship from the workshop’s faculty, composed of industry-leading photojournalists and MU professors.

In most years, the workshop group travels to a pre-selected small town in Missouri. Last fall, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Liu and other participating photographers worked were they lived. Each day they completed virtual check-ins and editorial meetings with faculty. Thanks to the global scope, students were based in Cambodia, Australia, Mexico, Canada and, of course, Missouri — among many other locations.

Liu said that since she isn’t based in the U.S., the decentralized format allowed her to participate after learning about MPW from photographers and workshop alums on social media. “I’d heard how it really made them grow as photographers,” she said.

A learning experience

Despite changes in 2020, the values defining the workshop remained, said Brian Kratzer, an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the co-director of MPW. “A deep tradition of the workshop is that the photographers are not allowed to make a single frame until the story is pitched and approved by our faculty,” he said.

Alyssa Schukar, a 2020 MPW faculty member and independent photojournalist based in Washington D.C., added that, though the sense of “camaraderie and completion” was hard to duplicate when spread around the world, the experience was still powerful for those who participated. “This workshop is a wonderful example of how interconnected we are,” she said.

  • Zing and members of his dance team “The Bling” practice in a studio in Phnom Penh for an upcoming social media video. Since many of Zing’s performances were canceled due to COVID-19, he has had more time to practice with his team. Photo by Cindy Liu
    Zing and members of his dance team “The Bling” practice in a studio in Phnom Penh for an upcoming social media video. Since many of Zing’s performances were canceled due to COVID-19, he has had more time to practice with his team. Photo by Cindy Liu
Snapshot of a time and place

After a week of hard work, the completed photo stories were displayed at a virtual event. The stories will soon be available on the workshop's website, where they join an archive stretching back to 1949.

Liu’s photo story follows Zing through outdoor performances and his work in an all-night coffee shop. She said the experience was tiring — she averaged about four hours of sleep per day — but worth it. "The biggest challenge was learning how to slow down," she said. "I was used to making a lot of images while working on a story, but the faculty and the workshop limit of only being able to use 400 frames really pushed me to listen, observe and understand the story before picking up my camera."

Apply for the 2021 Missouri Photo Workshop
  • The 2021 MPW is planned for September 19-25. Applications are open now and close on June 15.
  • After the success of last year, photojournalists will again have the option to participate from anywhere in the world.
  • Mizzou students can also volunteer at the workshop by managing the social media accounts and publishing the workshop’s daily newsletter.
  • For more about the Missouri Photo Workshop and to apply for 2021, visit mophotoworkshop.org.

 

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