Developing a Personal Project with Tomas Van Houtryve

An in-depth personal project is often what it takes to transform a good photographer into a great one. Yet undertaking such a project can seem daunting. What are the required steps to start with an idea and build it into a meaningful body of work? Over the past fifteen years, Tomas Van Houtryve has based his photography career around personal projects. Analysing the successes and failures of multiple projects, he’ll guide you through the process, helping you to stay focused and avoid common pitfalls.

 Topics included:

  • Inspiration
  • Artistic and technical approach
  • Overcoming obstacles
  • Building a narrative structure
  • Editing

Participants should bring either a project idea or a work-in-progress that needs guidance. Each participant will be given time for personal instruction.

This workshop will inspire you to create your personal photographic language, develop your practice and manifest your surroundings as only you see them. You will learn a distinctive approach to storytelling and develop a project mentality. 

Leica Cameras are available to loan for the workshop (see participants notes) and other cameras of the participants choice are also welcome.

Dates: Saturday, 2nd & Sunday, 3rd November 2019

Location: Leica Store Mayfair, 64-66 Duke Street, Mayfair, W1K 6JD

 Lunch included

Day One:

10.30 - class starts

13.00 - 13.30 - lunch break

18.00 - class ends

Each participant should bring one photo to share at the beginning of the class. Most of the day will be spent discussing the inspiration, structure and practicalities of personal projects. Case studies from Tomas will be presented with an emphasis on learning from mistakes and overcoming obstacles. At the end of the day, participants will be given individual writing or shooting assignments.

Day Two:

Participants will work on their assignments in the morning

11.30 - class starts

13.30 - 14.00 -  lunch break

18.00 - class end

Each participant will be allotted a time slot to present their personal project. Each project will get individual feedback from the instructor and a short group discussion. Participants should come prepared to present 20 to 40 images in digital or print format.

This workshop is open to all levels of photography who are keen to develop their photography knowledge and skills specifically in developing a personal project.

For the first day, please bring prints or USB with your selection of 10-15 images that represent your style for discussion. For the second day, please bring your own laptop for editing and post production work. The workshop will include outdoor shooting, so please bring appropriate clothing and suitable protection for your camera.

A limited number of loan cameras are available on request.  If you’d like to borrow a Leica camera please email to reserve one.

If borrowing Leica equipment, you will need to bring two forms of ID to the session. The first form of ID should be a passport or UK driving license and the second form of ID a utility bill showing your home address.

Tomas van Houtryve is a conceptual artist, photographer and author whose major works interweave investigative journalism, philosophy and metaphor. Van Houtryve makes images using a wide range of processes, ranging from 19th century wet plate collodion to thermal imaging and Augmented Reality. His projects challenge our notions of identity, memory and power, often by highlighting the slippage of wartime structures into everyday life.

Van Houtryve’s works are widely exhibited including at the Baudoin Lebon gallery, Paris (2019), BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (2018), International Center for Photography Museum, New York (2017), Museum für Fotografie, Berlin (2017), Galerija Vartai, Vilnius (2017), Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art, Winston-Salem (2016-2017), Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (2016-2017), British Museum, London (2016), Anastasia Photo Gallery, New York (2016), Fotografisk Center, Copenhagen (2016), Nikola Rukaj Gallery, Toronto (2016), Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, St. Louis (2016), East Wing Gallery, Dubai (2015), Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2015), Drents Museum, Assen (2015), Arts Santa Monica, Barcelona (2015) and other venues.

Van Houtryve’s projects have gained significant attention among cultural institutions and the press. In 2016, the International Center of Photography broke with decades of tradition and acquired Van Houtryve’s Traces of Exile video installation, making it the first video added to the ICP’s permanent collection of over 200,000 prints. In 2014, van Houtryve’s Blue Sky Days series was published in Harper’s as the largest photo portfolio in the magazine’s 164-year history. James Estrin of the New York Times stated that “Blue Sky Days is one of the most important photo essays done in the last few years. It tackles issues that are very difficult to photograph but central to modern existence—privacy, government intrusion and modern antiseptic warfare.”

A selection of van Houtryve’s formal honors include the Roger Pic Award (2019), CENTER Producer’s Choice Award (2018), CatchLight / Pulitzer Fellowship (2017), Hasselblad Foundation Research and Development Award (2017), ICP Infinity Award (2015), World Press Photo, Second Prize (2015), Aaron Siskind Fellowship (2014), POY World Understanding Award (2012), POY Photographer of the Year (2010), Bayeux Prize for War Correspondents (2006), Visa pour l’Image Young Photographer Award (2006) and numerous others.

Van Houtryve’s first monograph book, Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism, was published in 2012. The seven-year photographic project documents life in the last countries where the Communist Party remains in power: North Korea, Cuba, China, Nepal, Vietnam, and Laos. His next monograph, Lines and Lineage, will be published by Radius Books in September, 2019.

Each year, van Houtryve devotes several weeks to educational outreach. In partnership with the Pulitzer Center, van Houtryve has given high school and college presentations in California, Colorado, District of Colombia, Maryland, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and France. Van Houtryve is also regularly invited for paid speaking engagements. In 2015, at a private event where he spoke before chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, van Houtryve explained how he infiltrated a delegation to North Korea.

Van Houtryve has also made television appearances on the BBC, CNN, MSNBC, ARTE and France 24. He is an Emeritus Member of VII Agency.

All Leica workshop dates and times are subject to availability. For up-to-date availability of workshops, please visit:

Leica workshops are intended for adults 18 years or older. Individuals under 18 years of age wishing to attend must be accompanied by a guardian. The guardian must make the booking on behalf of the attendee, and must notify the Leica Akademie when making the booking.

 Leica reserves the right to change any prices, services or other particulars contained in its website or printed materials at any time before entering into a booking. If there is any change, the Leica Akademie will notify the attendee before entering into such a booking.

If the workshop includes lunch, attendees are asked to e-mail the Leica Akademie ( regarding any special dietary requirements when making the booking.

Please refer to all information provided regarding individual workshop details and requirements. Confirmation of your booking will constitute your agreement to the terms and conditions outlined.

Payment and cancellation procedures

 Where charges apply, Leica workshops must be paid for in advance by bank transfer or credit/debit card. Refunds for cancellation on the part of the attendee will be given as follows:

◦    Cancellation made up to 14 days before the workshop date – full refund

◦    Cancellation made between 8 -13 days before the workshop date – 50% refund

◦    Cancellation made up to 7 days before the workshop date – no refund

 If payment for the workshop is not received in advance, we regret that the participant will not be able to attend.

The Leica Akademie reserves the right to cancel or alter any workshop. All workshop dates and times are subject to change, but Leica will endeavour to ensure workshops are held on the committed dates/times, unless there are exceptional circumstances, such as the tutor being unable to attend due to illness, or other unforeseen circumstances. Leica will inform the participants with as much notice as possible on these occasions.

 Should a cancellation become necessary by the Leica Akademie, the attendee will have the choice of attending an alternative workshop (and where this is of a lower price, Leica will refund the difference), or withdrawing from the workshop and, where applicable, accepting a refund of all monies paid for that specific workshop to Leica Camera Ltd.

In the event that the specific tutor is unable to attend due to illness or other circumstances beyond Leica’s control, then the workshop will be cancelled, if no suitable replacement tutor can be arranged.

For complimentary workshops, the workshop will be rearranged to another date and the attendee offered a place on that alternative date.

No cancellation penalties (including travel expenses to and from the workshop, or accommodation costs) will be paid out in the event of workshop cancellations by Leica Akademie. Please check your hotel and travel cancellation policy as this may be affected in the event of a cancellation or alteration to a workshop.


Attendees are responsible for the security and safety of all items brought to a Leica Akademie workshop, and are also responsible for both their own insurance and the insurance of their own equipment. At no time should any items brought to the workshop be left unattended. Leica Camera Ltd does not accept liability for any loss, injury or accident that may occur during a workshop.

 Use of Leica Akademie equipment

Please act responsibly when using any Leica Akademie equipment. We recommend, for instance, that refreshments are kept at a safe distance from all electrical appliances.


For workshops where Leica equipment is to be taken off the premises, attendees will be asked for two forms of I.D. on arrival and their full name and address, which will be kept for the duration of the workshop only. This information is required for security and insurance purposes, and will not be passed to any third parties. If two forms of I.D. are not provided, we regret that the participant will not be able to attend.

Suitable forms of I.D. are:

◦    First I.D. – a passport or UK driver’s licence

◦    Second I.D. – a utility bill or landline telephone bill showing the attendee’s home address

Outdoor workshops

If you are attending one of our workshops that involves an outside activity, please ensure you bring appropriate outdoor clothing and suitable protection for your camera.

Health & Safety and Security

In attending any workshop, you must comply with the provisions of the health and safety policy applying to the Leica Akademie, and with all conditions and regulations made in respect of the Leica Akademie by the relevant fire authority. Copies of these policies are available to view on request.

You must comply with all guidelines and policies issued to you in connection with your use of the Akademie and the equipment therein. If, in our opinion, we consider that at any time up to and during the Akademie workshop you may cause damage to people or property, we reserve the right to terminate the workshop forthwith and you shall not be entitled to any refund of your fees.


Arrival/departure times

The Leica Akademie facilities are to be found in the basement floor of 64-66 Duke Street, Mayfair W1K 6JD. Upon arrival, please enter through the Leica Gallery or Leica store entrance and make your way downstairs. We request that you arrive no earlier than 15 minutes before the start of the workshop, due to store opening hours and prior appointments. Due to other workshops, events and activities scheduled to take place at the Leica Akademie, Leica requests that attendees leave the Akademie training room promptly at the end of each workshop.


Please note that Leica Akademie group workshops usually take place in our training facility, which is located at the bottom of one flight of stairs (basement floor) at 64-66 Duke Street, as well as out on location. If you have any accessibility needs or any other special requirements to attend a workshop, please contact the Leica Akademie to let us know and we will happily discuss any reasonable adjustments with you, for example, we may be able to run the Akademie from Gallery space on the ground floor.