IMG_4119 by Steve Goldenberg
A few weeks ago I encouraged those of you who are interested in photography to hone your skills by shooting a series on a subject that strikes your fancy, thereby building a solid body of work. It’s OK if you like to wander around town on the weekends to photograph things that catch your eye, but by focusing your efforts on one idea you will find that it can take your game to the next level. Think of your favorite photographers. Did Robert Frank take pictures of cupcakes, fire hydrants, and kitty cats? Perhaps, but they would have never made it past the darkroom.
One local photographer who has caught my eye with a particular series is Steve Goldenberg. While he wasn’t able to reply to my e-mails to explain the work in his own words, he did mention in his Flickr comment that he has “shot them (cheerleaders) three times so far” and is “trying to decide what direction to take the project in.” If you click through his set you will see some incredible shots that would make for a great slideshow or even a book. While it may not turn out to be on the same level as The Americans, his series does an excellent job of capturing the passion and emotion of these girls for everyone to see.
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Good idea to focus on one subject. I’ve thought about doing that myself but am not sure what that one subject might be – it won’t be kittens. Any suggestions on how to find that one subject matter?
It’s best to start with something you’re interested in (which also makes the work more enjoyable). If you’re into snowboarding, shoot from the slopes, in the parking lot, at the lodge – every time you go. If you’re interested in a local figure, contact them and see if they’ll allow you to document them. Pick a theme, think it through, and go at it with all you’ve got.
Also, you don’t have to necessarily pick ONE subject to focus on. It depends on how much free time and motivation you have.
Here’s some background: One of my colleagues at my company, Interfolio, is a cheerleading coach for a group of local girls. They’re called Cougars Competitive Cheer and are affiliated with the Harry Thomas Community Center. They range in age from 6-18 and compete locally and nationally. They are very good: they have four groups of girls (based on skill level) and the top three skill groups win first place all the time. They are going to nationals later this year (which I believe is in April in DC at the convention center). Yesterday’s event was the Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, MD. The Cougar’s Elite team took first place.
Since I’m a documentary and street photographer I thought this would be a great project to pursue. It’s a total spectacle – there are dozens of teams of girls; the parents go crazy when they perform; there are dance club like lights, blaring music, and tons of emotion – flowing tears when they lose and screams of exuberance when they win. You’ve never quite heard anything as shrill as 35 pre-teen and teenage girls screaming happiness at the top of their lungs. They perform remarkable acrobatics (some of them will be 15 feet in the air) and they spend a LOT of time practicing to be both athletic while also being pretty and cute. I’m trying to capture the rituals behind this sport and to find what makes this culture – and the people in it – tick.
Also, it’s funny: though there are a million cameras present, I’ve been the only one shooting the process of the event. Everyone else only captures the performances and award ceremonies. I think there is a lot more to this world….
I’ll agree with Max’s approach to picking a topic – choose something you love.
The advice I’d offer is to plan on investing lots of time with the project and go back to it multiple times. The opportunities really blossom the more you go.
Great work! I love the perspective you took on this.
Very interesting to hear how the project came together, and the images are excellent. Nice work, Steve.
Steve I think this would make a great book project. Trampoline photo as the cover and keep going until you have a solid 50 images for the inside. Would love to see some staged/informal color portraits go with the B&W action.