Students flock to Rockport in the summer months like seagulls to a fishing vessel. I'm one of them -- the Maine Photographic Workshop is my destination.
As I drove into town, I spotted some of my fellow students, dotted through the village, one aiming his camera at the slimy rocks beneath the pier, another one belly down in the grass, peering through her macro lens at a miniature world of bugs and ferns.
Maine Photographic Workshop offers more than 80 courses between late May and early September, mostly one or two weeks in length. They range from basic ''crash courses'' to master classes with exotic names like ''Messages from the Interior,'' or ''The Intimate Moment.''
Some are technical, such as the one in dye transfer color printing. Others are commercial, for example the course in ''The Business of Art'' taught by Lucien Clergue.
Top photographers come to Rockport to give workshops: Jay Maisel, commercial photographer; Dick Durrance, former staff photographer for National Geographic; Ernst Haas, whose book ''The Creation'' is in its fifth printing; Barbara Bordnick, fashion photographer; and Eva Rubenstein, whose black-and-white photographs appear in major collections.
The 10-year-old Maine Photographic Workshop claims to be the largest summer photography program in the world (more than 1,000 registrations in 1981). Founder and director David Lyman speaks to us on opening night about growth and risk.
''You only learn from doing things wrong.''
My class, ''Intermediate Black and White,'' is the workshop's most popular course, covering shooting and darkroom work. The nine students in my class are housed in school dorms and private houses, and we eat together in the common dining room, which has excellent food.
Our course is a mix of lecture, shooting, darkroom work, and critique. Craig Stevens, our instructor, reassures us when he says the rule for critiques is ''Honor thy neighbor's images as much as thine own.'' Stevens urges, ''Put yourselves in the photographer's shoes and try to understand.''
Of all the steps in photography, including exposure, development, and printing, none is as important, Stevens tells us, as seeing. (One of the courses at the workshop is called ''Learning to See.'')
He urges us to photograph things that emotionally move us, for the feelings will come through. ''If you are bored, you will come up with boring photographs, '' he says. ''Think about photographing that which makes you feel most alive.''
We are asked to consider why we photograph one thing rather than another, why we put our ''photographic cookie cutter'' on one piece of reality rather than something else. Stevens suggests it is because ''something out there resonates with something in you.'' He says, ''You recognize a part of you, out there,'' commenting that, in a sense, ''every photograph is a self-portrait.''
Our assignments range from closely structured exercises to fairly free shooting. One morning, we shoot a roll of 36 exposures before leaving our bedrooms. Evenings are reserved for presentations by the master photographers on location that week.
My reason for taking the course was to upgrade my technical skill, but I learned much more than that as I experimented without the constrictions of deadlines and editorial assignments. I watched my photographs become less journalistic and more artistic, more poetic.
''Teaching is physically exhausting,'' Stevens comments at our group dinner at a restaurant the last night, ''but satisfying when you see your efforts end up with somebody being excited by the medium. People realize how important photography is to them, and how important they are to photography.''
Maine Photographic Workshop (Rockport, Maine 04856. (207) 236-8581) is, of course, not the only workshop of this kind in the United States.
The Ansel Adams Workshop, on the opposite side of the country, has been held since 1946 in Yosemite National Park. As many as 150 students have attended recent sessions, taught by master photographers, including Ansel Adams.
This year Adams transferred the administration and sponsorship of his workshop to The Friends of Photography (PO Box 500, Carmel, Calif. 93921. (408) 624-6330). Adams will continue to teach in his workshop, but the location has been moved to Carmel near Point Lobos and Big Sur.
In response to a telephone call, Ansel Adams comes out of his darkroom to comment on his teaching. Sounding like a courteous gentleman, he remarks that he likes to work on ''image management -- how to visualize in the mind's eye and make the adjustments of the camera to carry the visualization to the exposure.''
He adds that he likes to ''play it a little by ear,'' depending upon what the people at the workshop require.
''On the one hand, it's rather a rigorous program,'' comments Adams, ''but it's also a flexible one. We can be flexible because we are not a school -- we are a workshop. This is a very important advantage.''
The famous photographer likes being a teacher. ''It's a professional point of view where you carry on the art,'' he says. He adds, ''The teacher gains as much as, or more than, the pupils. The teacher understands it better by having to explain it and evaluate it in the work of others.''
The Ansel Adams Workshop, held in August, is but one of several workshops offered by the Friends of Photography. Others include the Fall Landscape Workshop, the Easter Landscape Workshop, and the Asilomar Master Classes.
A new photographic workshop, which opened in the summer of 1981, takes advantage of a beautiful setting near Lake Tahoe. The Tahoe Photographic Workshop (PO Box 3060M, Truckee, Calif. 95734. (916) 587-4500) is designed along the lines of the Maine Photographic Workshop, with master classes from leading photographers as a drawing card.
International Center of Photography in New York City (1130 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10028 (212) 860-1776) offers a wide variety of classes, seminars, workshops, and extended programs.
The Light Factory (110 East 7th Street, Charlotte, N.C. 28202. (704) 333-9755 ) is a photographic center offering courses and weekend workshops, a residence program, a regional photographic print auction, and a gallery.