The Digital Journalist

The IMMF Hanoi Photo Workshop
June 2005

by Gaby Sommer

The start of the workshop was dramatic as we all were very concerned about the health of Horst Faas, who fell sick during his first day in Hanoi. During all the days of tutoring we all were very concerned about Horst, dedicating our work to him.

Jim Caccavo from Los Angeles, who was in town, happily agreed to join us as a tutor, though he had lots of difficulties to solve to be able to stay along. Nick Ut joined us as well; there was no question of his generosity in making time to help us out, as Chikako Yatabe had to depart on May 8. Without Charles Dharapak the workshop couldn't have taken place. He was the main brain of the computer system, setting it up perfectly so that we all could edit in a smooth manner. Steve Northup gave the workshop a harmonic and warm-hearted note through his official speeches. And Tim Page's fame and artistic approach to photography set the tone for the public's appreciation, which showed in daily interviews. He brought two of his students, Gemmarose Turnbull and David Nielsen from Brisbane, Australia. We named them "angels" since their hard-working will and knowledge in running the computer and printing systems helped us to achieve the daily production of prints as well as the final exhibition on the last day of the workshop.

The enthusiasm of the six photographers in my group, between 23 and 48 years of age, surprised me a lot. They all were very serious about the criticism of their pictures; one of them even taped them. There was no doubt about their will in getting good pictures. Even when I sent them out for the fourth time to complete their story they happily agreed to do so. They all learned during those eight days of tutoring that patience and endurance are as important as the right light and composition. Some of the teaching was about using the flash in the right mode. The editing was an important tool as they all learned from each other as well. After some days I was impressed by how much the teachings had changed their way of taking pictures: my group produced five photo essays besides the required daily assignments. The days in Hanoi were very fulfilling as we could see how our influence strengthened their abilities, which showed in the final exhibition of wonderful single pictures and photo essays.

© Gaby Sommer

Gaby Sommer is now a Germany-based independent photographer concentrating on environmental portraiture and documentary photo essays for magazines and public relations. After stints with The AP and Gamma, Gaby joined the staff photographer of Reuters in Berlin and Bonn. She was the first accredited photo correspondent in former East Germany. She can be reached at Her Web site is