Attending a workshop with Patrick Zachmann* (Magnum Agency)

I became a photographer because I have no memory. Photography allows me to reconstruct the family albums I never had, the missing images becoming the engine of my research. My contact sheets are my personal diary. ” _Patrick Zachmann


As part of the Athens Photo Festival’s 2015 educational programme, the noted Magnum photographer, Patrick Zachmann, led an international four-day practical workshop, offering to a limited number of participants the opportunity to absorb the wisdom he has amassed over his long and distinguished career. The workshop was held at the Benaki Museum (Athens, Greece) from 6-9 June, 2015.

The aim of this workshop was to assist participants in developing their own unique personal vision and ability to tell a story visually. He talked about photography; the choice of the subject, the ‘right’ distance to find, the point of view, the composition, the ethics, how to approach the people, the content, the editing process, the story telling. We have analyzed together the difficulties faced in the field, review how to resolve them and understand how to combine the intention of the photographer with the result.

I had to nerve to submit some photos for the screening of the workshop. I somehow felt strong enough to do it. I was very excited when I received the good news! I would attend a workshop with one of the best photographers in the world!

I have to say that I am still trying to reflect on the importance of this experience. I was very touched that this man has exposed us not only to his work but mostly to his soul. His deeper thoughts, concerns and anxieties were revealed in an honest and sincere way. The last day when he showed us a short film he directed called The memory of my father, half of the participants were crying. It was like a group therapy, the one healing the other.

I will attempt herein below to summarize what I have learned from this workshop:

  • Challenge yourself by working out of my comfort zone, avoid putting the level too high and therefore evaluate the level I can reach.
  • When shooting an event like a theatre play or concern you cannot choose your distance, you cannot move a lot. Others control even the lights. It may be more interesting to go to the backstage, the rehearsals even the artist’s home.
  • Photo prints are essential!
  • Don’t worry so much about the technical part. Every project needs different techniques.
  • Despite being an amateur I have to shoot more than two or three versions of the same image.
  • Try to feel comfortable with any kind of came you have with you.
  • Accept to be exposed, accept to be criticized!
  • Make always choices based on who you are and what you feel.
  • Learn to eliminate, you can’t have it all, combine photos with similar photos (i.e. when submitting your work for a project).
  • Written signs can be disturbing in a photo especially when we understand what it says. But on the other hand they can have a graphic presence in the photo.
  • Confront yourself with your pictures, never forget to make prints, play with your prints, put them on a table and spend time looking at them.
  • In every personal project you have to find your viewpoint, your opinion, where you are, how you position yourself to your subject.
  • You have to know who you are and where you are. You need to know your identity. Through your pictures you can find who you are. What is your distance with the subject? It is essential to find the right distance. Henri Cartier-Bresson kept a distance from his subject (it is also a matter of lens). The right angle (i.e from the ground, somewhere high etc.). All these will define your own photography.
  • When you crop you don’t see the original version, so you are discouraged to crop. It is better to try to control from the beginning the right composition. Train yourself to master your frame.
  • You need a good reason in order to convert color into black and white. With black and white we may get closer to the subject and more emotional.
  • Your lens is capturing everything, our eyes see less, you have to instantly select.
  • Do not attend too many workshops. It can be dangerous; you may want to follow your teacher’s style while you should develop yours. It is a trap to be influenced too much from a certain photographer. You have to forget the photographer you follow.
  • Color can be flashy and vulgar, be careful!
  • You have to right to shot; you may not have the right to publish.
  • For a portfolio review you don’t send two photos from the same situation/project. Just the best. It may even be your best project (10 images per project).
  • In photography the distance with your subject is very important. It is up to you to decide what kind of distance you want to keep.
  • There shouldn’t be a gap between the intention and the result. You have to go through all the parameters in order to show your feelings to your public. Your first goal is visual vision.
  • In an exhibition you may have to put your best pictures, you are hanging art pieces.
  • Try many different things, experiment, not to repeat yourself. It can be boring to have a strong style. It can be a trap you cannot escape.
  • Many photographers have switched into video. They follow the trend and the market.


Patrick Zachmann has been a freelance photographer since 1976 and member of Magnum Photos since 1990. He has dedicated himself to long-term projects on the cultural identity, memory and immigration of different communities. Patrick Zachmann’s profile and portfolio are viewable on the Magnum website.


His has worked on China for many years, his work is amazing. At the time he went he was the only western photographer in China. (


Inquest on Identity or a Jew in search of his memory, very powerful idea and work.


Night a longterm project

Full details on his projects:

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