Photojournalism and Documentary Photography: A VII Academy 12-week Seminar with Mary Gelman and Maciek Nabrdalik for Eastern Europe Participants

Project, Seminar in Online — July 23, 2020 until October 15, 2020

Join Mary Gelman and Maciek Nabrdalik in this 12-week pro­gram that has been specif­i­cal­ly adapt­ed to work­ing in a COVID 19 envi­ron­ment. It aims to equip you with the nec­es­sary method­olog­i­cal and prac­ti­cal tools for the research and pro­duc­tion of pho­to essays suit­able for pub­li­ca­tion in an edi­to­r­i­al con­text. You will progress from the shoot­ing of sin­gle pic­tures to the con­struc­tion of short jour­nal­is­ti­cal­ly dri­ven pho­to essays, explor­ing the rel­e­vant tech­ni­cal, aes­thet­ic and jour­nal­is­tic aspects. The sem­i­nar will also address issues of ideas gen­er­a­tion, research, cap­tion writ­ing, and pic­ture edit­ing. You will be required to pro­duce an extend­ed, in depth body of pho­to­jour­nal­is­tic or doc­u­men­tary work that explores a sto­ry in detail.


Mary Gelman and Maciek Nabrdalik


12 weeks

Class size


Skill level

All levels


The VII Academy will offer a schol­ar­ship to 10 cit­i­zens and res­i­dents of the fol­low­ing coun­tries: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Ukraine.

Apply until

July 10, 2020

Languages: This pro­gram will be con­duct­ed in English with occa­sion­al use of Russian and Polish.

Farmer’s in Straholesie, Chernobyl Outskirts 2010 © Maciek Nabrdalik / VII
Farmer’s in Straholesie, Chernobyl Outskirts 2010 © Maciek Nabrdalik / VII
Alyona, Saint-Petersburg: "Pig, sow, cow, oink-oink – I heard more often than my name. All the people in kindergarten and school insisted that I quit dancing, a fat girl in dancing, sounds like a scandal!" October 27, 2018. From the story, "No Shame", which features stories of overweight people from Russia who experienced fat shaming in the past or still have to face it.* © Mary Gelman / VII
Alyona, Saint-Petersburg: “Pig, sow, cow, oink-oink – I heard more often than my name. All the peo­ple in kinder­garten and school insist­ed that I quit danc­ing, a fat girl in danc­ing, sounds like a scan­dal!” October 27, 2018. From the sto­ry, “No Shame”, which fea­tures sto­ries of over­weight peo­ple from Russia who expe­ri­enced fat sham­ing in the past or still have to face it.* © Mary Gelman / VII


The VII Academy is tak­ing all its cours­es online for the fore­see­able future. We will resume res­i­den­tial cours­es at our cam­pus­es in Sarajevo and Arles when the envi­ron­ment is safe to do so. Access to our long term res­i­den­tial cours­es will be pri­ori­tised for stu­dents who have passed through one of our online inter­ac­tive sem­i­nars.

Over a peri­od of 12 weeks this inter­dis­ci­pli­nary sem­i­nar will be led by pho­tog­ra­phers Mary Gelman and Maciek Nabrdalik and will be com­ple­ment­ed with a series of pre­sen­ta­tions by lead­ing indus­try pro­fes­sion­als.

During the sem­i­nar, you’ll explore how to devel­op a last­ing career in visu­al sto­ry telling, includ­ing con­ceiv­ing, research­ing and plan­ning sto­ry ideas. You’ll be exposed to con­fronting eth­i­cal chal­lenges as you nav­i­gate the moral maze of doc­u­ment­ing the lives of oth­ers.

Problem-solving pho­to assign­ments will help you to unlock ways to work intu­itive­ly, intel­lec­tu­al­ly and emo­tion­al­ly, so that your pho­tog­ra­phy becomes more instinc­tive, pow­er­ful and sub­tle.

Expect a trans­for­ma­tive expe­ri­ence, where your cur­rent way of work­ing will be chal­lenged and refined through a series of one-on-one ses­sions, group ses­sions, and online live webi­nar lec­tures.


Each week will com­mence with a lec­ture on a rel­e­vant con­cept in pho­to­jour­nal­ism and doc­u­men­tary prac­tice. This lec­ture will be giv­en by the tutor pho­tog­ra­ph­er or a guest with high-level expe­ri­ence in the top­ic being dis­cussed.

After this lec­ture, the tutor will brief you on the week­ly assign­ment that you will have to work on. The assign­ments will rep­re­sent key sub­jects and approach­es in nar­ra­tive pho­to­jour­nal­ism and doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy.

During the week, you will work indi­vid­u­al­ly to pro­duce pho­tographs with­in week­ly dead­lines.

At the end of the week, dur­ing the week­ly feed­back tuto­ri­als, you will present your work for dis­cus­sion with tutors and oth­er stu­dents. Each group mem­ber will learn from the feed­backs for each student’s body of work. Everyone is expect­ed to con­tribute to the dis­cus­sion about each student’s work. You will also be encour­aged to work in pairs or small groups out­side of the feed­back tuto­ri­als to edit and cri­tique each other’s work.

The first weeks are tight­ly struc­tured with reg­u­lar assign­ments and feed­backs on your work. In the sec­ond half of the pro­gram, you will begin to shoot short pho­to essays of a few images, build­ing up towards a longer essay then a final extend­ed project to be pho­tographed and sub­mit­ted at the end of the pro­gram.

You will need to iden­ti­fy and research ideas for these short and longer projects that should be local to you and allow for repeat­ed access through the pro­gram. Find sub­jects that real­ly fas­ci­nate you and make sure that you can get access to. The more engross­ing you find the sub­jects you pho­to­graph, the bet­ter your pic­tures will be.


This sem­i­nar will devel­op your abil­i­ty to work on short pho­to essays in an edi­to­r­i­al con­text. It will help you to:
* Respond pro­fes­sion­al­ly and cre­ative­ly to pho­to­jour­nal­is­tic briefs;
* Shoot sin­gle doc­u­men­tary pic­tures and pic­ture sto­ries or series;
* Edit your work;
* Work to a dead­line;
* Professionally present your­self and your work to an edi­tor;
* Develop the social skills need­ed to get access to peo­ple at work and leisure and get per­mis­sion to pho­to­graph them;
* Understand the visu­al poten­tial of ideas / sit­u­a­tions you are research­ing.


The Tutors will adapt the above pro­gram to the var­i­ous COVID-19 lock­down sit­u­a­tions that the par­tic­i­pants are going through in their respec­tive coun­tries and com­mu­ni­ties.
Not know­ing at this time who our stu­dents are, where they live, what their cur­rent sit­u­a­tion is nor how their respec­tive sit­u­a­tions will evolve over the com­ing weeks and months, we have thought of var­i­ous assign­ments and essays that can be devel­oped in full con­sign­ment as well as in less rigid lock­down sit­u­a­tions. Whatever the briefs, they will enable you to fin­ish the sem­i­nar with the method­olog­i­cal and prac­ti­cal tools that we’ve promised to bring you.

*Full cap­tion for Mary Gelman’s image above: Alyona, Saint-Petersburg: ““Pig, sow, cow, oink-oink – I heard more often than my name. All the peo­ple in kinder­garten and school insist­ed that I quit danc­ing, a fat girl in danc­ing, sounds like a scan­dal! Once at school, we rehearsed a dance, and while I was danc­ing, about ten boys from the class sur­round­ed me. They were grunt­ing and laugh­ing at me. I always loved to dance, but I left this as each time I tried I was kicked and bul­lied. It was a lot hard­er at home. My moth­er was ashamed of me, my father beat me. He always thought I ate too much and con­trolled me. He dumped a plate with food on my head or smashed it against the wall. I was afraid to eat and could starve for weeks”. Mary Gelman’s photoessay“No shame” fea­tures sto­ries of over­weight peo­ple from Russia who expe­ri­enced fat sham­ing in the past or still have to face it. The sub­jects of the project are peo­ple of dif­fer­ent gen­ders and sex­u­al­i­ties, dif­fer­ent occu­pa­tions and pro­fes­sion­al activ­i­ties. They refuse to stay silent and put up with the sys­tem that makes mil­lions of human lives mis­er­able.



Maciek Nabrdalik

Mary Gelman

Mary Gelman

Apply Now


Eligible appli­cants (see details at the top of the page) who wish to be con­sid­ered accep­tance to this tuition-free pro­gram should com­plete the appli­ca­tion form linked below. Please reg­is­ter for AwardForce, and then select the cat­e­go­ry of “VII Academy” and then the name of this pro­gram.

Scholarship appli­ca­tion dead­line: July 10, 2020.

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