Travel: Mark Hemmings' photography workshops

I’m doing a series about creatives who travel and thought I’d start with Mark Hemmings. Mark is a professional photographer from Saint John, NB who teaches photography workshops all over the world. He also is a part of the Hemmings House team as a photographer and filmmaker. Quiet and unassuming, this guy packs some serious creative punch. Mark takes photos with his iPhone that you’d want framed on your wall. In fact some of his shots from a trip to India were recently used in Thandi’s restaurant renovations as wall art with stunning effect. I caught up with him just as he was returning from Japan and packing up to go to Mexico so he could tell us about his workshops and share some of his photos.

How did you get into photography?

My introduction to photography came about via the film industry. In 1998 a friend of mine heard that I got a camera, and that I brought home some great photos from a recent Japan trip. He passed my name along to a movie production studio telling them that I was an experienced photographer! This of course was a great exaggeration, but I got the job in the feature film business doing advertising and location still photography. When the movie industry dried up in New Brunswick, I switched to advertising and travel photography, and also started my teaching business doing photo workshops in different parts of the world. So far I have taught workshops in South Korea. Japan, Transylvania & Romania, Hungary, England, and Mexico and Canada.

Why did you start organizing these photography workshops?

I started the workshops based on my love of travel, immersing myself in different cultures, and my genuine enjoyment of teaching. I thoroughly enjoy teaching photography and filmmaking, and the whole process is even better when learning in a different country.

Why a travelling photography workshop?

I live in a very cool and photogenic city, Saint John, New Brunswick. Yet, I still have a hard time “seeing” my surroundings when in Saint John, because of familiarity. When I leave Canada my perception becomes enhanced, and I am able to see the world with fresh eyes. I assume that this is similar for most people. That is why I mostly teach in different countries.

What was your favourite part of your recent trip to Japan?

My favourite part of my recent trip to Japan was an unexpected but incredibly welcomed snowstorm! It is so rare to get snow in Tokyo, but I was there to witness it and photograph it. Of course the snowstorm really enhanced the experience of photographing the Japanese snow monkeys as well, who live high up in the mountains of Nagano.

Can you share some favourite photos and why you like them?

I would like to share a favourite photo from each of the locations of our recent Japan Photo Workshop: Tokyo, Nagano, Kanazawa, and Kyoto.

TOKYO: I find this such a funny picture, as the boyfriend is lost in his own world of texting on his mobile device, and his girlfriend is trying to shield him from the falling snow.


NAGANO: This Japanese snow monkey was kind enough to pose for me! They often relax in the natural hot spring bath, but this time he sat grandly against a snowy mountain backdrop.


KANAZAWA: This was my bedroom in a traditional Japanese Inn. On our workshops we often stay in traditional inns like this, where we sleep on futons that are placed on straw mats called tatami. It was such a privilege to wake up to this view out of my bedroom window!


KYOTO: Since I started the Japan photo workshops in 2005, I have always been able to lead my students to the Geisha district where we all have come back with really great shots. These three geisha were travelling from tea room to tea room, and I got the shot just at the right time. What works for this photo is that there is a reflection in the car window of an admiring woman looking at the Geisha with a smile!


What's it like getting a group of strangers to travel and learn together for a week?

On workshops I find that strangers quickly become friends, and that friendship continues via social media interactions and further workshops. Having a strong common interest (photography) usually makes it much easier to create lasting friendships within the workshop environment.

What have you learned over the years of offering these workshops?

Over the years of leading various workshops in Asia, Eastern Europe, and North America, I have learned that if you genuinely appreciate and honour the residents of another culture, they will sense that authenticity in you, and will go out of their way to help you. As photographers the worst thing we can do is “take” photos of someone. We want to create photos of the people we see, and honour them by showing them in the best, dignified light as possible.

Why should I sign up for one of these trips?

An international photo workshop is a pressure cooker experience in regards to learning. I find that you can learn a few months worth of photography in just one week because all of your senses are heightened when visiting a foreign land. A potential metaphor would be that you are spending a week continually drinking double espressos. On travel workshops you are alert and productive!