Wednesday, November 16, 2011

a work (barely) in progress.

I've been in contact with a possible subject for my final project - a hairdresser who is in her 50's, and is separated from her husband. They are in the process of getting a divorce, yet her husband is already living with someone else. It fits the classic scenario, the only issue is that the woman isn't dating yet. She's a very interesting subject, and she would consider doing the story. I think my focus would shift slightly, but I think it would stay close to my initial theme.
I know it's crazy that I haven't made a move yet and started shooting, but for whatever reason it always takes me some time in the beginning to get over my fear and just submerge myself in the story. But I in the upcoming weeks I will dedicate myself fully to this.
In the meantime, I've considered continuing to work with my previous subject, and bridging the story from a job profile into a more comprehensive character profile. Although ideally I want to expand my experience and work with a new subject, I'm still open to continuing this story as well.
I shot these the last time I was with Susan, and these photos would kind of work as a transition from her work life into her personal life. She received flowers from someone she had just started dating, to total fascination and excitement of the children, who gathered around her while she was putting the flowers in a vase.

Monday, November 14, 2011


Last week I attended several CPOY judging categories, and as always it was a pleasure to be able to see all the great work as well as gain insight from the judges' feedback. The first category that I attended was Domestic Picture Story. I think the part that was most pleasing to me was realizing my own growth as a photographer and being able to quickly asses stories and analyze them for both their strengths and weaknesses. Everything that we've learned this semester came into focus, and I was able to utilize that knowledge while observing the category. I think the first thing that stood out immediately is the range in quality in the stories: instantly, one could either recognize a certain level of sophistication, or a glaring lack thereof. Because of this, a lot of stories fell short. In a way it also seemed like the judges had a bit of subject fatigue, as it seemed like there was an abundance of stories about either fighters or farmers. I think perhaps if the stories with subjects that are commonly seen started with something more unexpected, or surprising, they would have had a better chance. It's easy for all the stories with similar subjects to blend together, and while it might seem like an inherent disadvantage due to the subjects, it can also help you stand out. If among the stories with similar subjects you are able to tell the story in a unique way, and perhaps show great emotional insight, your story will certainly stand out within the category. Another example of this is the stories that dealt with natural disasters. The story that won bronze stood above the rest because the images showed true emotion, and had a more coherent style.
Another thing that stood out in the category was that it seemed like a lot of the stories had really loose edits that took away from its impact. There were a lot of visual redundancies that I noticed while the judges were quickly going through the stories. I also noticed the lack of lens variety in some of the stories, which upon quickly looking at overall images, stood out like an eye sore. Honestly, I think that a year ago, I wouldn't have even noticed it, but there was one story (something to do with a grocery store?) and all of the photos were equally wide, and it didn't seem like a stylistic choice. Equally as distracting was the surprising number of stories that relied on sign photos. When choosing the winners the judges placed a lot of importance on style and sophistication of shooting. The story (well, essay) that immediately stood out to me was the one about the San Clemente Pier. It was simple and effective, as I instantly got a sense of what this place was like, and all the different themes that function within it: isolation, young love, teen drinking, a community coming together. It evoked so many different emotions and feelings, and did so with really beautiful style.

The second category that I attended was Multimedia Project. The judges narrowed their choices down to ten pieces and then chose the best five to be awarded.
Born Into Coal. This story was awarded gold, and it focused on a W. Virginia mining town. The judges valued the fact that this story showed a different side of the coal issue, giving a human side to the issue. What impressed me the most was how effortlessly the story moved between subjects and stories. The pace of the story didn't really change throughout - it had a very steady and almost lazy pace that was reflective of the town. The fact that it stayed the same between different subjects was very indicative of the place, and its effect on the inhabitants. The opening shot of the girl in the pool, floating around in a circle was really gorgeous. Visually, the story was very strong and used visual continuity to move between the different families without interruption.
My Son's Eyes. An incredibly heartbreaking story told through a mother's point of view about her son's mental illness and a crime he committed. The story is incredibly gripping, and surprising. As the mother begins to tell the story, and as she begins to speak about her son - you almost feel like the story could be about something typically teen or juvenile. But the blows are gently delivered as the mental illness is revealed, and then the effects that it had on the son's behavior resulting in a violent crime. The camera work and the way the interview was shot is truly exceptional as it captures so much of the mother's emotion. During one moment, the mother leans back and her eyes go out of focus, and then as she finishes her sentence she moves back into the frame, her eyes once again in focus, but holding an entirely new set of emotions. The mother is such a captivating storyteller, and telling the story through her point of view really gave this piece an unusually expressive and poignant mood.
Grassroots. The piece about the Tea Party was very well done, and successfully weaved several different characters and points of view. I've never really attempted to tell a story with several different subjects, so I really admire the ability to move between them without losing coherence. However, this piece felt a bit too long. The part with the woman with the "art car" in particular felt too long. There were too many video portraits of her, and as the judges pointed out, it would have been nice to see her interacting and doing something, instead of just seeing the interview, as captivating as it may be.

reading reactions: lamott, jay+hurn, truth needs no ally.

Lamott Reading Reflections.
These three characters offer a lot of advice about some essential components that compromise stories: character, plot and dialogue. In this case, the author's insight comes as advice for writers who deal primarily with fiction. However, the traits that Lamott emphasizes are applicable to any story telling medium. Although initially it may seem that when these three ideas are applied to writing, they bare no resemblance to they way they are applied to photojournalism, it is approach that Lamott utilizes that creates a parallel. In terms of characters, the author encourages awareness of and knowledge of the character: get to know them, let there be something at stake, and then let it unfold. She encourages patience, as things take time to unfold and reveal themselves. The most important thing is to not allow preconceived notions about our characters to take over, or any other interference of the "self". "Stay open to your characters" is the message that the author sends, and I think it stresses the importance of being in tune with your subject and their ability to change overtime. The story might take a turn and all of a sudden, you could be telling an entirely different story. It's important not to hold on the the initial ideas, but to follow closely the changes that happen in front of us. By being observant and listening and seeing carefully, all of that can be accomplished. When speaking about plot, the author encourages allowing the characters to develop and move the action forward on their own. She stresses the importance of the plot being continuous and vivid - like dreams, and I think that when constructing a story its beneficial to keep this in mind. Making sure that the story flows continually, and that everything that is included merits its place in the story by being visually satisfying will ensure that the viewer is engaged. She even offers a helpful formula - ABDCE - action, background, development, climax, and ending.
The chapter dealing with dialogue points out that through dialogue is the way to "nail" a character. This relates to multimedia storytelling in many ways. When doing a story that includes audio of the subject speaking, it's essentially a reduction of a long interview that covered varying topics and issues. But knowing exactly how to cut it down to the essentials, and to capture and maintain the voice of the character is what will give a story a sense of who the person is. The things that are not included can be as important as the things that are explicitly said. Some things can be shown, or described, without having to be explicitly expressed.

The Jay and Hurn reading on selecting a subjects offers insight into the importance of choosing subject matter, and the meaning that it carries. The authors encourage to follow up on intense curiosities that we have, and to chose subjects that interests us. Making a list of topics that are of personal interest, and analyzing it for visual and practical aspects, as well as how interesting they might be to others is the best way to chose subjects. I thought it was particularly interesting when they say that subjects won't just "pop-out", but that you have to know what you're looking for by planning ahead. I can think of so many times while in Staff that I just walked around aimlessly, hoping that something would transpire, without really taking the matters into my own hands.
The authors use a particularly interesting analogy with the tree. Sometimes even having all the components that make a story isn't enough, because a connection with the subjects might be missing, that makes the story come alive. It's important to nurture the relationship with the subject from the beginning and to build on it over time.
A debate that they bring up that I find particularly interesting is one of photographers asserting themselves too much in the work, and interfering with the subject matter. The statement that the authors make is that the "self" is asserted inherently through choosing the photographic subject matter. The style should be the product of the visual exploration, not the goal.

The chapter titled The Picture Essay discusses the importance of knowing the purpose of the work you are doing. Since photography is a form of sharing communication, identifying the purpose and the audience is necessary.
One piece of advice that stood out to me is the authors' urging to concentrate on getting only the pictures that are necessary, so that you don't end up with unusable images in regard to the story. This is something I find myself guilty of, and although I most certainly understand their reasoning, I often can't help shooting slightly "off-topic".
Another topic that the authors tackle in this chapter is shyness, fear and anxiety. I think their perspective is certainly something to constantly keep in the back of your mind: a camera serves as an invisibility cloak and an excuse for entering the lives of others. Sometimes, it's easy to believe the opposite, but usually it's just fear taking over.

The reading from Truth Needs No Ally traces the history of photo essays starting with people like Eugene Smith, leading up to Donna Ferrato, and examines how the rules of creating photo essays have changed overtime. Technology and equipment have had a huge impact on hose changes, and that was even apparent in Smith's work. In just three years time, he went from creating The Country Doctor to Spanish Village. The Country Doctor had a lot more interference by Smith - for example the lead image was controlled and most likely set up by the photographer. On the other hand The Spanish Village, which Smith shot with a 35mm camera, feels a lot more spontaneous. It's just one example of how quickly the structure of photo essays has changed throughout history. The author highlights the fluid requirements for photographic essays at the end of the chapter, stressing the importance of having a clear focus, knowledge of the subject matter, and a vision to fulfill.
These requirements that are highlighted are a great place to start, but it's also important to realize the fluidity of the medium. Reading the history of the photographic essay and realizing all the changes that have happened over time, it's important to not remain static and only stick to the requirements. Photographers shouldn't be afraid to challenge the medium and extend the limitations of the requirements.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


For my job profile assignment I decided to do a story on Susan Levacy, a childcare provider of 18 years. I spent the past two weeks in Susan's home, shooting video for my first micro documentary as well as stills for this projects. When I shot video, I didn't take any stills, and when I took stills I didn't focus on video, because I wanted to dedicate myself to each to the fullest of my abilities.
Shooting the stills for this project was probably one of the most enjoyable experiences I've had while shooting, not just because I was surrounded by adorable children that were more than camera ready, but because I really felt that I was taking my time to carefully compose my shots. I really tried to stick with situations until I got the shot I wanted.
The interviews for the project were slightly more challenging. My first interview didn't go as well - there was a lot of noise that was picked up - nervous hands rubbing in front of the mic, or fingers tapping on the table, etc. But knowing that I was going to do another interview I wasn't as worried, since I would have the opportunity to correct my mistakes. For my second interview, I made sure to point out those issues to my subject before starting the interview. We talked more in depth and covered many different aspects of Susan's work and her relationship with her job. What I chose to focus on was the more visceral connection Susan has to childcare - her reasons for doing it, why she enjoys it, and how it influences her life. For my micro documentary I chose a slightly more straightforward approach of just documenting a typical day in the daycare and all the rituals. So for this piece I wanted to focus on a more emotional aspect of the relationship with the job.
Overall, I'm satisfied with the way my project has turned out. Aside from a couple of technical glitches (mostly with sound), I think I was able to successfully tell the story I wanted to tell. While working on this project I realized my inclination to tell people's stories through their emotions, and their state of mind. I hope that I was able to successfully portray the deep connection Susan has to her job.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

reading reflections.


In this chapter Lamott talks about the importance of being observant and paying attention to the world that unfolds around us. A sense of awareness is crucial in helping us understand and relate to others, particularly those that we initially don't recognize as similar to us. However, being aware and observant is not enough - one must also be compassionate in order to recognize meaning in what a subject might be feeling. It's not enough to just capture someone's joy, or suffering - as a photojournalist and a purveyor of human stories, it is important to "find some meaning therein," as Robert Stone said, and give a reason for why a story is told. This chapter also reminded me of a quote from Bill Cunningham New York, when the title characters says that if you look for beauty, you will find it. He's not referring to beauty in the most traditional sense, but to a shared experience, a moment that is captured and is complex, nuanced, and carefully observed. The same way, it's not possible to just find a subject, photograph it - capture what's on the surface and call it a story - the compassion and the understanding of the subject is what gives a story its meaning, and it cannot be achieved without paying careful attention.


In the next chapter, Lamott writes about what it means to have a moral point of view as the driving force in your work. As a working writer or a photojournalist, one doesn't always choose the work that they do - most of the time its impossible to only do work that you care or feel passionate about. If you are in a position where the work that you do isn't founded in the principles that drive you as a person, it's crucial to be aware of that, and to express it.
When Lamott writes how these truths don't come in a single sentence, but are manifested in the whole piece (of writing), it's easy to draw a connection to a photographic essay or a story, in which a single photograph doesn't contain all the truth, but functions as a piece of a whole that represents a much greater truth.
Lamott's ultimate advice is to "write about things that are most important to you" - to find your passion, the things that you believe are true and right, and to pursue them. Using your empathy and compassion to uncover the nuances and the complexities of subjects will reveal the most complete and honest portrayal