Five Questions with Dana Pugh
Current Occupation: Professional Photographer
Workshop: Project India
Instructors: Jamie Rose
1. What motivated you to take a workshop and why did you pick Momenta?
I have always had a bit of a documentary type approach to my family portraiture, but it was really just me flying by the seat of my pants. I wanted some real direction about how documentary work should look. I also wasn’t really interested in taking it from a documentary portrait photographer. I feel that many documentary family photographers have an approach that is kind of limited and I am not a fan of limitations. I liked Momenta because it gave me the opportunity to work on a project and receive critique over a period of days. I knew it would also expose me to photographers from other industries and I found that appealing. The real deal closer for me was the aspect of working with a nonprofit and the travel to India. It felt much more interesting to me than documenting a family making breakfast–not that I don’t find that interesting, just that, if I am going to spend a lot of money to learn, I wanted to be taken completely out of my comfort zone and be pushed as far as possible.
2. What surprised you most about the country you visited or the experience of working with a nonprofit?
I had the opportunity to work with a nonprofit, but then to extend that work and follow one child who was benefitting from the nonprofit. I spent a few days following him home and seeing how he lived. I think what surprised me the most was on the final night, so many locals approached me and said that they had no idea children in those clean school uniforms lived in such poor conditions. It surprised me that locals wouldn’t realize that. I mean, it was literally around the corner from their home. It made me realize that, no matter where you live in the world, you can be insulated from things that are happening right in your neighborhood.
3. What was the best lesson you took away from your workshop?
Jamie talks a lot about becoming a ‘thinking’ photographer. That was a huge one for me. I used to think more about how to get what I wanted in front of my camera and less about how to use my camera as a tool to make a better photograph. I thought that it was all about getting better things happening out front…if that makes sense. I think a lot of portrait photographers shoot everything wide open and consistently use similar settings. It felt odd to me to break out of that habit and use the camera to create, but, once I embraced that, I really saw a difference in my work. I was creating work that was different from other portrait photographers and, in today’s market, that has helped me stand out and earn a better living. Now, I use both what is happening out front and my camera to create something specific.
4. What was your favourite photograph from this workshop & why?
I feel like everyone who knows my work knows the answer to this question. It is still one of my favourite photographs that I have ever created. I think when I took this photograph, not only did all of my lessons from the workshop come together, but I saw that I had the potential to create great work. It was shot in the near dark on a freezing cold morning when most of the other students chose not to work. I had missed a few days due to illness, so I was itching to actually shoot. If I worried about ‘perfection’ in the portrait sense, I never could have got this image. I pushed my shutter speed so low, I had no idea how sharp anything was going to be. I let go of that and became a thinking photographer…how can I use my camera to create the best image of what was in front of me despite my limitations with light. And, honestly, that morning was incredible. I took some great pictures, but I also learned how to make roti. And, I ate it with jam while I drank some chai to stay warm. It was a special day for me.
5. What would you tell a potential student to help them prepare for their experience with Momenta?
Go with a clear idea about what you want to get from the workshop and don’t be afraid to ask for it. The team is so helpful and truly want you to succeed, but they can only do that if you tell them what you need for it to be a success for you. Jamie made my favourite project happen and I am so grateful she did (and to the amazing guide Abhay). I honestly would never have been able to do that myself.
Dana Pugh’s Biography:
Dana Pugh has been documenting families in the Calgary area since 2007. She was named the first ever Child Photographer of the Year by the NAPCP in 2010 and remains one of their most award winning photographers. Her work has been featured in countless industry publications and blogs, but, most importantly, hangs prominently in her client’s homes.
See Dana’s work: