Monday, November 14, 2011

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.

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