September, 2014

Herzen Cortez of PhotoXpeditions talks with Nancy McCrary about their Upcoming Workshops


Tino Soriano
Nancy McCrary: There is an impressive list of experts on your website,, who lead workshops for Photo Xpeditions. But the list is missing one name – yours! Tell us about your background, and what brought you to create Photo Xpeditions? Which workshops do you lead or participate in? And do you still get as much inspiration from it as you did in the beginning? 

Herzen Cortez: I view my roll as one of creating amazing experiences and unparalleled learning opportunities for the photographers that join our workshops. I love to work side by side with the instructors that teach on behalf of Photo Xpeditions because I get to learn a lot not only about photography, but also about their experiences and adventures.

Having spent 20 years in the high tech industry, I was not formed as a photographer by profession but by passion.

Shortly after I arrived to the US, 12 years ago I met a National Geographic Photographer with whom I discussed the idea of running a couple of photography workshops in the Yucatan Peninsula. We presented this project to National Geographic Expeditions and The Santa Fe Workshops and they embraced it immediately along with a couple of other workshops in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Since then, the amount of students, instructors and journeys that we have had the opportunity to produce and run has left an infinite amount of learning experiences. I lead a couple of journeys for National Geographic Expeditions along the Northern Coast of Spain, this is not a photographic journey in nature but we certainly do a lot of photographing. I also tend to participate in at least one of the workshops of each of our instructors every year although it is not always possible.

For me, every journey, every student, every instructor and every country with its traditions and culture represents a source of inspiration. Seeing what our students are capable of producing at the end of each workshop, or seeing the passion and dedication with which our instructors teach lecture after through the length of the trip is priceless.

NM: Mary Ellen Mark, Martin Bell, Magdalena Sole’, as well as the many other notable names in photography today, serve as your instructors. What particular skills do you seek in instructors, and does pairing them with a particular location matter just as much? 

HC: All of our instructors are not just amazing talented photographers, they are also really passionate about teaching. Producing photo workshop in places related to the photographers is fantastic although, not really a requirement. Photographers that admire the work of our instructors are familiarized with their body of work and giving them the possibility of photographing the same places, people and culture that have been documented before by their instructor knowing that it is going to be him or her the one to edit and critique their work, I believe is priceless.

The access, the connections, the relationships developed through the years of working in the same places over and over, make it ideal for a very unique opportunity for a much more intimate photography workshop.


Mary Ellen Mark
Take for example Mary Ellen Mark, she has taught in Oaxaca for the past 20 years, twice a year. Students keep coming back every year and even in some cases every edition of the workshop because they get the opportunity to work on a long term project based on the connections and contacts that we are able to provide for having worked in that city for so long.


Magdalena Sole’
The same is true with Magdalena Sole’s workshops in the Delta and Tino Soriano during the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico. It is about how to gain access beyond the obvious to the places, the people and the events, to be able to produce more meaningful photographs.

NM: You offer Tailor-Made Journeys, a unique experience crafted to the student’s specific requests. Is this a popular workshop idea? Are these workshops open to the public to join, or do they usually cater to a particular group? 

HC: We custom-design immersive and experiential-based journeys usually for organizations or particular groups, it can be a university, a corporation or a group of friends in the search for a new experience. These journeys are not photographic in nature necessarily although they can be it would be like a private workshop for a special interest group.

NM: Is there a maximum number of students per workshop? 

HC: It depends on the type of workshop. Some are small and intimate while some others allow bigger groups. The size ranges from 12 to 20 students.

NM: If you could give one piece of advice to first-time students undertaking a workshop with Photo Xpeditions what would it be? And what would you tell them to expect to learn from the experience? 

HC: As many other things in life, it is important to know yourself and decide what are your goals and intentions. Decide what do you want to get out of it or need to learn. Knowing this would help you to decide who is the ideal teacher for you at that moment in time. It is also important to choose a photographer whose work resonates with you. Some students actually develop a strong connection with their teachers and come back year after year. A good teacher will help you to find your own voice.

The location is also very important. It will provide the stories and the visual stimulation to your creativity. That is why all our workshops are held in locations and times where the celebrations are most fervent, while culture is alive and on display. During our workshops students can expect to work very hard and we can assure that they will come home being much stronger photographers.


Mary Ellen Mark
NM: Do you have any stories you would like to share with us from your workshops – inspirational, funny, helpful even?! 

HC: It is always very exciting at the end of every workshop to see the work produced. The last day is always emotional and inspiring. Our students work really hard each day. During that very last day we see all those images together. We usually have either an exhibition or a slideshow. That is the time when we relax, have a drink or two and enjoy the results.

NM: Thank you, Herzen! It’s been a pleasure.