Five Questions with Ray Alvareztorres
Current Occupation: Retired journalist and business executive
Workshops: Project Portland
Instructors: Jamie Rose, Matt Rose, Preston Gannaway, Tom Patterson
1. What motivated you to take a workshop and why did you pick Momenta?
After two years of self-taught photography, things had grown stale. I wanted to move beyond single images and explore projects and documentary storytelling. I wanted to put my work to better use. I needed new motivation and ideas. Technically, it was time to start learning what I didn’t know. Where to start? I’d heard about Momenta from a photographer whose work I admire. Their focus on nonprofits and on one-on-one coaching sessions with pros who love to teach seemed like a perfect fit.
2. What surprised you most about the country you visited or the experience of working with a nonprofit?
I had the pleasure of working with Sisters of the Road Café, who’ve been providing nutritious, locally sourced meals and safe spaces for Portland’s houseless community since 1979. I’d expected to work hard for access to my subjects. Instead, Sisters and their clients embraced the Momenta project, showing me warmth, access and flexibility that only served to double my commitment to telling their story. By week’s end I felt as though I were leaving a new family I’d see again.
The one-on-one coaching sessions also surprised. Watching Momenta’s team fly through my contact sheets, zeroing in on strengths and, more importantly, weaknesses was a textbook lesson in professional-grade editing and seeing. In particular, I’d become aware of two problems in my images that I’d put down to laziness and lack of commitment, which wasn’t exactly boosting my motivation. My coach identified both issues in my first editing session without my mentioning them, enabling me to see them as physical problems with how I was approaching my shooting and not moral blots on my photographer’s soul. What a relief! And what fun to see results in the next day’s shoot!
3. What was the best lesson you took away from your workshop?
With so many headlines to the contrary, it’s easy to forget there’s plenty of light in the world. My introduction to Sisters and the broader non-profit community reaffirmed that and left me excited to explore projects and storytelling in ways that might produce more useful work.
4. What was your favorite photograph from this workshop & why?
The photo of Jason sitting down to his lunch reservation at Sisters resonates on two levels. Like so many community members I met, Jason welcomed me and drew me into my work far more than I had to work to gain access to him, which was both a surprise and incredibly gratifying. Also, the final version of this image employed a very useful editing technique I learned in one of my coaching sessions, which I’ll put to good use going forward.
5. What would you tell a potential student to help them prepare for their experience with Momenta?
Researching your non-profit ahead of time goes a long way toward demonstrating your commitment to their story and helps them help you. Beyond that, check your trepidations at the door and have fun. Expect to be challenged by pros who won’t pull punches and who’ll push you to deliver a compelling story on deadline, all while (mostly) keeping you smiling. Expect also to leave the week with some new colleagues and fresh motivation as a better photographer.
Ray Alvareztorres’s Biography:
Formerly a print journalist for daily newspapers including the San Jose Mercury News, the Dallas Times Herald, and Gannett, Ray Alvareztorres is an amateur photographer now telling stories from behind the lens. Originally from metro New York City, he’s currently based in Washington DC.
See Ray’s work: