Instructor Karen Kasmauski and Photography Student Abby in the Folk School Vegetable Garden
Most folks who come to the Folk School like to take photos of the majestic Appalachian landscapes and natural world. Me? I love shooting photos of people and capturing stories. When I saw renowned National Geographic photographer Karen Kasmauski was teaching The Art of Visual Storytelling at the Folk School, I knew this was a class I could not miss.
On any given week at the Folk School, hundreds of stories play out on campus. Micro worlds exist in the studios, the gardens, the community rooms, on porches, in fields, and on paths. I have taken many classes in traditional craft subject genres at the Folk School, but until recently, I had never taken a photography class. I am so glad I checked out the photography class schedule and saw Karen Kasmauski’s The Art of Visual Storytelling class which focused on telling stories and shooting people and places.
Karen’s work on global health over a long career working as a photographer and filmmaker is so impressive and inspiring. She spent over two decades as a National Geographic photographer. Her portfolio is incredible. How lucky to be able to spend a week with her at the Folk School!
On Monday morning, we stopped by the Folk School Vegetable Garden. where Jason (Folk School Head Gardener) and his Work/Study Crew were tending vegetable rows. They were welcoming and wonderful to shoot. Here, we talked about shooting perspectives and how to navigate direct sunlight. One tactic I learned was to shoot a silhouette perspective and my silhouette of Jason by the garden gate came out great.
Due to COVID-19 visitor restrictions in the studio, Karen organized some special visits to off-campus locations. The first was Smoke in the Mountains Pottery, home of Rob Withrow, a Brasstown potter specializing in wood fired pottery and face jug vessels. Here we focused on portrait basics and how to best capture an artist at work in their studio environment. I loved shooting Rob at the wheel and by his impressive two-chambered noborigama-style wood fire kiln.
Next, we stopped by the home of Tim Ryan, raconteur, auctioneer, blacksmith, gardener, bibliophile, long-time Folk School friend, and all-around eccentric gentleman. We decided to spend time setting up a shot of Tim in his library. The shot was in a very dark room and I learn so much about how to shoot in low light in a small space. My portrait of Tim is one of my favorite s from the class.
Our last field trip was to Ridgefield Farm, the local supplier of Brasstown Beef. This beautiful 1023-acre agricultural property is just down the road from the Folk School. We were fortunate to have the friendly staff drive us around to see the most picturesque places on the property. It was a rare opportunity to capture the behind the scenes of a large beef farm. The variety of shooting locations provided the opportunity to really tell the story of “a day on the farm.”
I’ve been shooting with a DSLR camera for years, figuring things out on my own. The Art of Visual Storytelling was the first photo class I’ve taken. I left the week having really leveled-up my photographer’s eye, technical skills, and with tons of tips from Karen. It was priceless! I found myself wondering (and almost kicking myself) for not have taken a photography class sooner. I highly recommend enrolling in a photography class at the Folk School. It is invaluable to take a week off connect with your camera, lenses, subjects, environment, perspective, and ultimately your story and the story you want to tell.
Cory Marie Podielski is a freelance graphic designer, photographer, and writer for the John C. Campbell Folk School. She has been writing for the Folk School Blog since 2012 and enjoys interviewing artists, musicians, and craftspeople. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the banjo, dancing, printmaking, playing in clay, and assisting in Folk School bread baking classes. podielski.com