ADP Workshop: Interview With Jim & Carla Winn

The two of you started ADP while still in school, what was it that got you thinking to start this type of a project?

There were a whole slew of reasons involved, but the foundation of it all was our love for rural America, creative collaboration and long form visual stories.  It was also a small way for Carla and I to retain some creative independence.   Coming from a PJ program as heavily newspaper driven as WKU was, the job/creative market of newspapers when we were about to graduate was an ominous place to be diving into back then.  For us, and most of our peers, newspapers were the primary way for us to go out and produce creative work and then share that work with a broader audience.  Watching the newspaper industry fall on progressively harder, and harder times, there was the concern for a lot of us that those creative opportunities were quickly vanishing. ADP was a way for us provide photojournalists we believed in an opportunity to work together, produce important work about communities we cared about, and then share that work on a larger scale.

How do you see your backgrounds working at newspapers and in community focused storytelling influencing the beginnings of ADP? What other projects or organizations did you look at when first developing the project?

More than anything it allowed us to see the impact that long term, high quality storytelling can have.  Being able to take that a step farther, and create a collective document that lives for more than a couple of days, we thought, had the opportunity to produce of significance long-term.

Especially in the first few ADP’s there was a lot of common ground, structurally, with Western’s Mountain Workshops.  Carla and I had either shot or labbied the workshop several times prior to ADP, so having that experience really helped organize the Project initially.  The goal was never to solely as a one week group shoot, however, which is why we funded David Degner to stay on in Mississippi for an extra month in Clarksdale back in 2007.  Long term that is something we think there needs to be more of – ADP sponsoring a small, highly selective group of photographers to spend an extended amount of time in an area to focus on the community, social issue or story at hand.

Aside from Mountain Workshop influencing us from a structural standpoint, our primary influences were individual photographers.  All of the usual big names played a part, but on a personal level, one of our  biggest influences was a Chinese photographer named Li Zhensheng.  Zhensheng was a Chinese newspaper photographer during the Cultural Revolution for the Heilongjiang Daily. While the Daily followed the strict government dictate that only “positive” images could be published, he secretly documented the negative side of the revolution as well.  “The “negative” images, which are some of the only visual depictions of the atrocities of the time, were hidden beneath a floorboard in his house where they sat for over 40-years before he brought them to public light at a photo exhibit in 1988.” (Wikipedia)

Now that is powerful…  At a time when news was being pulled headlong into digital there was that   constant push for NOW – old news was worthless news, and the value of an image was being driven by how fast it could be published.  The power of Zhensheng’s work stood in stark contrast to that – strong journalism ALWAYS has a place, regardless of when or how fast it’s published.   Obviously not every news outlet or story can wait 40 years to publish, that’s not what we’re saying, but at that time in our life we felt (and still do) that it is important to create a space where photojournalists can slow down, forget about the timeline, and focus.  We believe, strongly, that good work finds an outlet.  That is the long term calling of ADP – to create that kind of space, and in turn help serve as the outlet for that work.

The towns that you held the first few gatherings in all seemed to have similarities, in that they’re small reflections of unique regions of the United States that have mostly been left out of timely conversations in recent decades. What drew you initially to host it in small towns? 

We’ve always felt strongly for the smaller, overlooked slices of life that make up the American fabric.  While cities like New York have obviously played an enormous role in our history, there’s little risk that their way of life, the identity of “New York” will fade away undocumented.  We wanted to seek out the broader icons of rural America – the cowboy, the miner, the farmer – and document them as they are today.  When you think about the emotional image that is painted when you picture the idea of “America”, these vanishing ways of life played an enormous role in defining who we are as a culture, a country and even before ADP preserving those images was something we felt very strongly about.

What criteria did you have for making the decision?

In selecting the towns themselves, our criteria was a little ambiguous.  We would spend a few months narrowing down the idea that we wanted ADP to focus on, and from there we would mostly take a few weeks and travel/wander around those areas until we found a town or county that seemed to have the best fit.  This appealed to our restless side, but also helped keep ADP flexible in terms of idea and location.

How did you see conversations develop when you brought ADP Workshop participants together, many of whom had never met one another, to critique and talk about work for the week? 

This was always one of our favorite aspects of the project, from a producer standpoint. Inevitably the groups would seem to be more mentally stuck on the idea of the shoot being like a workshop – the fact that it was structured very workshop-ish early on didn’t really help. By the end of the group shoot however, you could see the mindset evolve towards more of a larger, group documentary, which is of course the goal of ADP.  It takes time for that mindset to develop, as there are people coming together from all over the country with different goals, expectations and ideas. But given time, those individual goals merge together, and the group is pushing itself to produce a comprehensive document with meaning as opposed to a bunch of disconnected stories.  Long term, this comprehensive document will build strength because that mindset can carry over more fully from project to project, and the documentation will be more thorough.

There were a number of people who were involved with multiple ADP Workshops, did you see a change in any of that work or process stemming from the workshop? Do you recall any conversations pouring over from the time spent with ADP into a photographer’s personal work afterward?

We asked people to come back for any number of reasons, and it was always nice to have prior ADP people on hand so new people to soak up the sense of mission and purpose that had been built up the year before.  We like to think that after having a creative window, their work following ADP was changed ever so slightly.  We do know that whoever came back always seemed to push the boundaries faster, and farther than the year before, which really had an effect on the whole group.  In looking back, it really bled in both directions – ADP pushing the photographer’s work, and the photographer’s work in turn pushing ADP.