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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2007-06-28
Preaching to the Choir: Four Ways of Saying It
By Paul Myers, Brooks Institute of Photography
Photo by Paul Myers
"Go, go and see."
Yesterday was the first time in over a year that I breathed in the air. I felt it push into my lungs, capillaries bursting, remembering what they knew all along, the involuntary repetitions taking over once the voluntary delusion had subsided. I had mistaken my last drowning gasps for life giving breaths; indeed, my eyes gouged out to see more clearly.
And today, today I walked quietly. The blue light of the latest afternoon light before evening held me. Eyes open wide, soaking in the movements and gestures, the interactions.
It is because she said, "Go, go and see."
Let your weary soul rest. You are the walking dead and you don't even know it. Can't you smell the putrid decay oozing through your pores, your ethic? Your cancer is the very camera you use.
Expand through the ages without this body, this form, without the weight of this history. The eternal is possible in every moment and in every communion. The camera is only one communion with humanity. Rejoice in the pluralism of this life. Rejoice in your freedom.
Seeing the waves flow in and out, smelling the ocean on the breeze, hearing the crashing waves, feeling the sand between toes, tasting memories foretold. The coast consumes my senses. An hour before sunset and the light burns deep.
It could have been any day but it was today. Two birds fly together just over the breaking waves, gliding together with the rolling contour where water meets earth. Dipping close to the green surf and then floating over the breaks they hold on, together.
Another pair, two dogs, retrievers, joins the chase.
These two hairy, slobbering beasts are complete with that silly dumb grin that plagues retrievers. They lead one another down the beach, playfully following the birds, teasing and daring each other to keep up the chase, happy, together.
The birds make a lazy arcing turn to glide back up the coast and past the dogs. The dogs, they stop, look at one another and turn to chase the birds back up the beach.
The birds never close to being caught.
The dogs never close to catching them.
The dogs in it for the chase, together.
The birds in it for the chase, together.
1. Everything counts.
2. All students are potentially genius. The instructor's duty is to call students to cultivate their personal genius.
3. Each instructor is arriving at the course from a unique perspective influenced by the totality of the relations over the course of life through the seeking of a question they are asking, "What is visual storytelling."
4. As educators we must educate ourselves. The ends of our task are manifest on a daily basis through our means comprised of lectures, demonstrations, discussions and critiques. There is a tenuous thread weaving method and theory together that is directly affected by the ways we instruct our students. Whether or not we recognize this thread the outcome is affected, as is the ability of our students to succeed as visual journalists. As such, we ask the question we are often heard asking our students, "Where do you imagine yourself working in five years?" But ours would have a different twist as we are facilitating the end for the student rather than following their path, "Where do we imagine our students working forty-five years from now?" For this appears to be the key question, that which is at the base of every assignment, that which is running through every conversation we have inside or outside of our classrooms, that which guides our research and our findings. Newspapers, magazines, web based media, television stations, non-profits, photographer-operated studios, photo agencies, are among the media where I imagine the need for visual journalists in the future. But this is a limited scope, dependent on my understanding of the market and where it might go.
This is an area over which I have no control and of which I can only imagine.
This is fantasy, an area of the unreal that is of no real use to educators.
Another question that might be of more use to instructors of visual journalism is, "What is a visual storyteller?" This is a question concerning the flexibility of mastery and allows for changes in technology and mediums over time. Visual storytelling is a path we have the opportunity to show our students during the course of our own lifelong journey becoming visual storytellers.
a. Thank you for your letter and kind words. I hope all is well in Illinois with your work and your life, your family and friends. I am glad to hear that there are still fireflies lighting up the dusk. They amaze me with their light so conspicuous, out there for all to see. Today it is hot here, hot and muggy except for a cool breeze blown off the ocean warning me not to confuse here with there, this coastal town for your Midwestern metropolis. I miss Illinois; my memories are strong, even lyrical in their sweet resentment for all I was and all I became because of Illinois. I am glad you are working there and more so for your question in relation to your experience. Somehow this shared origin lends certain validity to your inquiry in that it is my inquiry as well. Thank you for asking, "why (I) shifted from shooting to teaching."
At the risk of sounding absurd, delusional, schizophrenic, in a state of denial, I begin by telling you in all honesty, sincerity and self-reflection that there never was a shift from "shooting" to "teaching." Shooting or photography, as I will refer to the act of exposing a light sensitive plane to light through equipment called the camera for the purpose of manipulating time and space in light resulting in the production of a representation, is synonymous with teaching. "Yeah, yeah," you say, "stop kidding yourself, the two are not the same and you know it." "That is just an easy answer out of your situation." But I am not under a delusion for certainly these visions cannot be disproved and I am not under an illusion because these visions are of this world, in everyday life, everyday light revealing Human Beings existing as individuals between Birth and Death. This occurs just as I exist with them between my own Birth and Death that I will never experience though they are the only two non-"events" that define me as an individual. All that is between this Birth that threw me into a certain world and the impossibility of Death that is the utmost possibility of my Being is the potentiality for me to live my life, a life in which I choose the possibilities every step of the way.
This makes my life my life in the face of the alternative that is to ignore the responsibility of living my own life dying towards my own death and living a "they-life." The they-life is one where I look at a painting and like it because "everyone" likes it; I buy my car because "I've got to have one;" or, I take pictures in a certain style because "that's what wins awards." No, though it is hard because every step of the way I must ask myself why I am doing what I am doing, something that I do not do all the time, but I practice as much as possible, the decisions I make are mine along the way. This is what led me to "teach." Such is the daily practice being a photographer. I am grateful for you asking these questions because what I just wrote, this existentialism, is based on language used by Martin Heidegger in his inquiry as to the meaning of the question, "What is Being?" As a photographer these questions have arose again and again but only now, for the first time, is there the language-at-hand to express these feelings and ideas that arise from the practice of photography. For this I am grateful.
Photography and photojournalism have always been closely linked in my thoughts and actions. In fact, I use the terms interchangeably, which causes problems at times, problems I am willing to accept because they are specifically my problems, those that define me as a photographer and a photojournalist. It has been a constant struggle, a daily struggle over the past 13 years to Be a photographer. A photographer is a visual storyteller and a visual storyteller is, for lack of a better definition, "a process of becoming." That is, a visual storyteller is a lifelong journey. The struggle has been to photograph, to use the camera in a way that it produces the mistakes that are my limitations using the camera in a consistent manner. This means that I have struggled to fail to use the camera the way it is "supposed" to be used every time I pick up the camera. I have cultivated my failures in such a way as to perfect the process of failing in a consistency of inconsistency, a slight distortion of my sight, in order to "see."
This might take the form of a certain plane of focus, an exposure "technique," or a shake in the exposure particular to my finger as first noticed on a frigid day in October, the first day of practice for high school football playoffs in Freeport when it was 30 degrees, the coldest weather I had ever experienced before it hit the teens that very night leading into the progression of winter over the next six months. But this shake is something I have cultivated even as it changes in relation with all the time I spent this year writing and typing which has surely affected my finger as much as my posture and sense of sight. This cultivation of failure is similar to learning how to shoot in certain types of light to express the beauty and radiance of the light in ways no one else is aware.
Light is. I love light. I have long affairs with certain light, returning over and over again. There is a certain light that always reminds me of people in Guatemala: when I see the light, I feel the community with me. And the same with Chiapas or Texas and especially Santa Cruz or Freeport. Which brings me to fireflies, thunderstorms, the humidity, and long shadows purple in the winter. Light is precious. Seeing light, seeing light as a photographer, seeing people in light, light shared through layers of life, memories written in light, the light is the community, the communities over time and space which is a testimony to my life decisions; yes, most certainly this light carries these memories in ever-widening communities as light touches light-life caressing life-in light.
My first duty as a photographer, as a visual storyteller, is to the people I am photographing in the light which they are. This means leaving behind my aspirations and giving myself over to their light. This means not taking photographs I knew I was expected to take, a picture which has "worked" in this situation before, a picture devoid of fury, an "easy read," obvious or "safe." These are the pictures that editors congratulate you for taking because they were "understood" and everyone always wants to understand photographs at first glance lest they appear stupid. Yes, the ego response gets in the way of taking more than a couple of seconds looking and actively inhabiting the photograph for five minutes or ten years, each time returning to the photograph with new eyes for their new eye experiences and learning from the photographs over time in relation to their relations. And so for refusing to make photographs that other people expected me to make, "they-pictures," I was in constant struggle with editors, publications, clients, family, and friends. Most of the time these disputes occurred when money was involved. They thought that because they were paying me that I would make photos that other people make. And this kept me searching for pictures that were "true" to my relation with subjects through the camera in all the light that presented itself at the time.
For most of my time photographing I worked with a specific group of people who gave me the space in publication to display the images that I wished to show (more or less) on stories about people in their everyday lives in their everyday light struggling to survive. In these lives I found my life. And this group of people was a dysfunctional family, those who comprised the magazine, because we were working on this together and many of us doing so in the name of humanity. A very noble cause which we continue to address with the highest respect and most devout belief that there is no need for someone, any one, to suffer at the hands of another. But it did not last, the magazine, not for me. I needed to go so I pushed them away out of my frustration. Living in Santa Barbara working at Brooks I photograph my stories, the everyday stories that I want to tell. I tell stories with pictures because I must. I am drawn to do so by the light, by a gesture, by a mood or a "moment," by humanity.
Granted this opportunity to teach people beginning down this path of visual storytelling, I have encountered immense pleasure in the process. The is especially true in regards to working with photographers on asking certain questions as visual storytellers, questions which are not the industry standard. Photography is a sharing and a communicating, as is teaching. The lines are blurred. When I walk into a classroom, I teach the way I photograph: no easy answers. No "they-class." I aim to communicate information about photojournalism in class the same way that a photograph communicates to an audience. This is a shared process where the subject, the photographer and the audience only learn so much as they feel. Yes, this is emotive knowledge. It only occurs in the interaction, in the relation, as does the creative process. "Teaching" is giving me opportunities I never imagined I would have. It has allowed me to photograph in ways I only hoped possible. I have only just begun this journey as a visual storyteller. I do not have a complete answer to your question but the more I search, the more I inquire, the farther I live down this path, this glorious path of light.
5. The Project of Mastery is the process of unveiling origins that leads first to comprehension and then later to Mastery through the addition of new knowledge to the field by the Master.
6. The visual storyteller is aware of positivist, objective truth as well as the multiplicity of truth. The visual storyteller improvises and is a life-long learner, understanding the differences between the subject, the photographer and the audience as well as their interconnectedness. The visual storyteller accompanies the subject through life as the subject's life experiences and the storyteller's coincide and become one in various moments. The visual storyteller has a passionate commitment to communicating visual stories.
7. The thread stringing a visual storytelling course together is a progression from one thought to the next enacted through the completion of the assignments. Every assignment in this class concerns storytelling and culminates in the picture story. The picture story is a multiple image assignment that is comprised of single images. Again, this is a single image storytelling class in which every assignment is critiqued in specific ways illuminating the students to a variety of possibilities for editing and critiquing images. All of these strategies are made clear for the students through the single image assignments to provide some of the many tools necessary in the process of encountering, photographing and editing the picture story. As such, this course is a review of all previous materials in the core curriculum.
Photo by Paul Myers
8. There are grumblings and suspicions by students enrolled in this class. This is a normal course of events for this course and is expected behavior that should not alarm instructors. This is a difficult course for students because they are forced to realize the boundaries of their ignorance through attempting assignments and failing to meet their personal expectations for improvement. Indeed, the learning curve, though just as steep as in every class, is particularly difficult for the student to realize having seen the materials before, maybe two or three times, and still unable to attain the images which they hope to photograph. They are not as proficient as previously thought and there is the beginning of an awareness that visual storytelling is a lifelong learning process. This is a realization that some students of visual storytelling embrace and others resist. Those who resist the most lash out the most at the instructors, administration and institution; other students realize that there is no easy answer and begin to search for an easy way out in the form of another program or goal inside or outside of visual storytelling; other students simply give up and drop out of the program; other students dig in their heels and keep at the task, the signs of which are manifest much later in the form of internships, workshops, fellowships, grants, awards and jobs.
Furthermore, this class is difficult for instructors due to the close attention that must be paid to the subtleties of the student work. Much as a miner searches for the mother lode or a farmer awaits the hour window when a cow is at the optimal moment of heat for successful insemination, the instructor of visual journalism requires patience and scrutinizing attention to detail to ensure not only success but also survival. Student work must be mined in the moment of critique to encounter the best possible strategy for the course of the class depending on the particular class's level of understanding and visual competency. Pre-planned answers and strategies will break down at some point during instruction and are rendered useless by the class that either underachieves or exceeds the expectations of the instructor. This phenomenon where the subject determines the outcome of the work is also referred to as the counter-disciplinarity of the subject. The instructor teaching must walk into class prepared with strategies employed by photojournalists and jazz musicians: the score is written, you have practiced your scales for years and years, now, in this moment, you perform variations on the theme based in part on what the audience demands, today. Tomorrow is too late: no, this is not for the weak, the timid or unprepared.
a. Thanks for voicing your concerns. I am sorry that you feel this way about the course and my commitment to the course and students. I have a particular way of approaching photographic education that I continue to explain in class through lectures and critiques that I will continue to unveil until the last minute we are in class. Yes, this class is incomplete, thus far, and will be completed on the last day. I provided a "road map" of where we are going on the first day of class with my lecture. Please refer to your class notes on this subject as well as to the outline of "assignments due" which is a skeletal reference list, at best. The "life in balance" talk I gave was not the traditional talk of how most people comprehend what it means for life to be in balance. To summarize the point of that story, "Life in balance: when you make a goal, there are consequences; so, decide what goal you will set for yourself this session and accept the consequences." This goes as well for my grading, which I also explained the first day of class. A photograph that is ready for publication i.e., one that is toned, captioned, sized, with a "journalistically interesting" subject merits a "C." A "B" photograph is one in which all the prior standards are met as well as going the "extra yard." An "A" photograph is a photograph that enters your portfolio by meeting the aforementioned standards as well as being an "award winning" photograph. To me, this standard of excellence is that which you are paying for here in addition to the technical and visual storytelling skills. Please forgive me for keeping the class longer than usual today this was necessary do to the class activity on Monday and is not the norm. As for my office hours, I do inform the class that I am extremely busy putting the final touches on completing my course work at UCSB and I do graduate this coming weekend. This means that starting next weekend I will be in the office on a regular basis once again. Thanks for taking the time to voice your concerns about my performance as an instructor and as a communicator of the course goals. I will take this into consideration as we go forward this session. If you have further concerns about these issues or feel that I did not fully answer your questions, please reply at your convenience. Thanks again for the cookies today in class.
9. There is a small cache of stock visual examples for this course because the examples should be constantly taken from current publications as they appear in media for each class depending on what needs visual ingestion on the particular day of instruction. For example, if you are teaching two sections concurrently the course content might vary from the morning to the afternoon depending on the class and if the morning class is not responding it may be the case that you prepared and presented materials intended for the afternoon class which in turn was later amazed by your lecture. This is a visual storytelling course. A visual storytelling course is constructed with a fluid formula. It relies on the work of the students, both photos and discussions, to make the class complete much in the same way a photograph is completed with an audience. Listen to the comments and work of the students in the class and the course will flourish.
10. The assignments for this course are difficult. If you have not photographed all the assignments you might want to do so as soon as possible to understand the "point" of each assignment. Each of us will understand and teach the point of the assignment based on our experiences as photojournalists. However, there is an underlying point to each of the assignments that is best conveyed during the class critiques of assignments. The point, as I am able to communicate it to you at this moment, includes but is not to be ever limited to:
a. Features: journalistic interest, moments, emotions, compositions (color, form, light, spatial), captions.
i. Show me don't tell me. What are you afraid of? What do you feel when you are watching? Show me don't tell me. Make me feel. Make whoever your audience happens to be, feel. These photographs we make, we make them about other people. The stories we witness as they unfold in front of us are other people's stories. Treat them with respect. Take yourself out of the picture. This is not about you; this is about your subjects. Work hard and long on toning your photographs. They must look great if you want anyone to look at them. I would say you should spend at least an hour toning each photograph before you submit it for grading. Where are the moments? Where are the interactions? What are you afraid of? Show us what the world means to you, the little jokes you have with your friends...try to put them into photographs. What makes you laugh? What makes you cry? What makes you wake up in the morning? Show me don't tell me.
ii. Yes, is the answer to all three of the above. However, I do not think students are even ready by the time they get to XX's class to learn shortcuts as we see in his frustration with their toning skills.
I think the more they practice, the more they will fail towards success. I also know that though speed is the name of the game for wire photographers, it is also assumed that you know how to get a good tone in a photograph when you are hired. This includes not only proficiency with tools in Photoshop as well as third party plug-in software, but also the "eye" that sees the difference between a good and bad photograph which is an acquired taste. For example, two of the best eyes for color I know both worked at one-hour photo stores for years adjusting colors and contrasts during their developmental stages as photojournalists. Another spends hours toning every photograph in his extended picture packages that appear in the paper and on the web in addition to the time he spends learning tricks from the prepress guys. It takes a while to learn these skills and so "an hour" is a general amount of time I wrote down as code for students to "spend more time toning the photograph than they imagined possible in order to make a photograph with better colors and contrasts than they imagined possible." Our students do not have the eye by the time they reach this class to see the difference between a well toned and a poorly toned photograph. Practice makes perfect. Thanks for your response and I look forward to continuing this dialog.
b. General or Spot News: journalistic interest, composition, captions, moments, access.
i. This week you were confronted with the problem of making photographs in several situations, two concerning the issue of traffic congestion in the Southern Central Coast and one in either a spot news or general news setting. The first thing I must tell you is to shoot more in every situation. Make a picture; now, make a better picture: make a picture; now, make a better picture: etc. Persistence will open up many more opportunities to make photographs when you are confronted by the problems of light, geometry and humanity in any situation. News is current, actual, and happening in real time. A photojournalist is the author of the rough draft of history, the first take, recording events that are important to a broader audience and sharing these photographs with the public. In many ways, a photojournalist is a public servant, providing information about a community to the community so that they might act upon it. This is a reason to search out "journalistically interesting" situations. Situations that are important to a community are those which challenge a community and which celebrate a community. Most of the time these are not grand events, these are everyday community events. Open yourself up to the possibilities of the community. Technically, we must work on making the images visually appealing. This is a major part of your job. When working on a digital image, whether taken from scanned film or digital capture, the basics of setting a black point and correcting color casts in the photograph are the minimum for color correction. This is not optional. If you still have questions about this and you are not asking in class, please come to my office hours and we will tone images. Keep shooting. Make a picture; now, make a better picture. Only through trial and error, making photographs, editing your take and making better photographs will you become photojournalists.
c. Person at Work: journalistic interest, interactions, compositions, captions, access.
i. There were many interesting interactions between people in your work. Some chose to turn in a person working alone: remember, this was not the assignment. For those who did find people interacting with others, this is where you will find the gold. Interactions are golden. Once you tap into these living histories, look for the specific slices that most nearly tell the story that you are telling. You must play an active roll while photographing. This means that you must think about the ways in which your subject's actions and interactions relate to the story and be ready to make the photographs as the moments arise. Now, what is the value of work to your subject? Is this apparent in your photographs? Do we feel what it means to work in this situation when we look at your photographs? Is the work hard? Does the subject love the job or hate it? Take a stand. Show us with your photographs.
d. Group Portrait: journalistic interest, lighting, working with multiple subjects, compositions, captions, access.
i. Technically beautiful images. The light, the posing, etc. However, these fail as portraits. These are fashion photographs. The word portraiture implies a sense of narrative, a story that tells the audience something about the person in the photograph. The audience should walk away from a portrait feeling something about the person photographed. There is no story in these photographs. These photos tell me nothing about the woman or the scene in which she is photographed and, as the beautiful objects they are, tell me about the style and lighting chosen by the photographer based on where the photographer went to school, nothing more. What do you want to light in the world? This is a question of commercial photography. What do you want to say about the world? This is a question of visual journalism. These photographs are technically correct and completely devoid of content. You have achieved totally beautiful and totally hollow images in this exercise. The time is now to act as a portrait photographer. Now you must apply these techniques to tell the story of a human being if you are as serious as I believe you are about becoming a portrait photographer. What are you waiting for? If you want to talk about these photographs further, I will go through each image with you. If you want to talk about a theme for a series of portraits, I will be in the office tomorrow at 3pm. Keep up the good work,
Photo by Paul Myers
ii. There are a few things you may want to consider with dynalites:
How will they alter the ambient light? This may or may not be an issue depending on how important the light of a scene is to your theories and practices, your praxis of storytelling. Many photographers, if they are setting up powerful strobes attempt to mimic the ambient light so that even in lit situations the ambient light is respected and even exalted in hope that the camera might see what our eyes and souls understand as truth. Will there be restraints with the physical space? In checkout there is a box containing Pocket Wizards. This is a radio slave unit. You plug the receiver into the power pack and put the transmitter on your camera and then you are cordless inside the space. I would consider checking out this item when you check out the lights so you can move in a manner as free as that of dancers while photographing. Lights are wonderful equipment; only, they are bulky and the amount of light is good but not great for large spaces. What is your methodology? What do you want to preserve or utilize of the ambient light in your storytelling? Is it possible to use a smaller strobe and do just as much to further your work? These are only a few of the questions to consider before deciding how you would like to tell the story. Journalists use lights in many situations to tell the story and this may be a case where you should use them to further your goals. Remember to go early to set up the lights; will they be in the way of your subjects? Will your subjects feel self-conscious of the flash?
In the end, it is up to you to convince the audience with your work whether or not you may use dynalites to tell the specific story at hand. Does the equipment further the cause or does the technique get in the way of the storytelling (Does the picture's focus become the technique rather than the people?)? I can hardly wait to see the photos. Have fun shooting tonight.
e. Issue News: journalistic interest, captions, compositions, moments, interactions, access.
i. Well, you may still need to learn the difference between candid moments and portraits, I don't know, it depends how open minded you are about life. See, in this photo they are reacting to someone or something outside the frame, not to one another. Yes, there is a shared laughter but it is not candid, it is between one another because of someone outside the frame. Are you walking with the person with whom they are interacting? Take yourself out of the picture and tune into truly candid moments. Being very close to your subjects means understanding the subtleties of truth and fiction: how long did you spend with these people? Portraits and documentary moments both have the potential for truth, but there is a huge difference between the purpose and execution. The first is set up, the set up as subtle as the subject responding to us rather than to one another. We attempt to not disturb the second, to record it for what it is. I guess this could be completely spontaneous, there are also cases of spontaneous combustion reported from time to time but more common are self-immolations.
f. Sports Feature: journalistic interest at an event, moments, emotions, compositions, captions, access to an event.
i. Thanks for submitting the work. I am always amazed by photography and you all reaffirmed this love for photography with the photographs you showed me in this set of work.
Photography, as John Sexton reminded us last Friday night is light writing. And you all showed me that you understand and are capable of making a photograph. Using shutter speeds and apertures to utilize the light you are presented with to make a photograph. As visual storytellers, as photojournalists, though we make photographs for ourselves, we are also making photographs for an audience, for others to see and understand the life experiences to which we bear witness. Those instances where we are granted special permission to document another person's life are not to be taken lightly. To photograph is a privilege that we must approach with utmost respect if we are to make meaningful storytelling images.
When you are working a situation, looking for the subtleties of the actions that will tell a story about the person you are photographing, when your presence is no longer the focus of the photograph, when you finally become a transparent force in the photograph and your subject's story comes across, then you will have made a meaningful photograph.
There are tools that documentary photographers use to make powerful storytelling images.
Interactions. Two or more people, their gestures, movements and expressions many times lead to a more complete understanding of a situation. First, we have two people relating to each other and the life experience at hand meaning that built into the photo we have a confirmation that what is going on in the photograph is real and that others witnessed the event or the state of affairs as well. When we see how people interact with one another in the photograph there are many more possibilities for photographs than in photographs that we see one person and an object that relates to them. Many times this is the only photograph that we have the opportunity to make, a person with an object using a wide-angle lens. But it is the minimum. A person and an object do not relate any of the energy or urgency that two or more people interacting have the opportunity to make if the photographer opens up to the possibilities. This is a study that will lead you many places with your camera over the years.
Light. Yes, you mostly managed to use apertures and shutter speeds to achieve an equivalent exposure for your photographs. Now, we must take it a step further in our pursuit of light. How does the specific light of the situation add to the story we are trying to tell about the person/people involved in the issue? Golden hour light is not the best light for every situation. How will you see and use the light for each situation you encounter? This is the line of questioning that arises for one who is searching for an understanding of light. This too is a life long process for many people.
Moments. I am sure you have heard us speak of moments time and time again. Why do we hold this word, this concept in such high regard? Moments are the magical spaces where time and space come together in the viewfinder for a split second (though when it happens it can feel like hours between the recognition of the moment and when the action is taken to depress the shutter release.). Moments are magical because no one notices moments unless they are actively searching for moments. Many photojournalists search for moments. My definition of a moment has evolved through the years to where it is now comprised of three main elements: light, time and humanity. This is what I search for when I am out on the streets, covering an event, shooting a portrait in the studio, or at home sitting with my family for breakfast. If we do not search we will never see. Certain people dedicate their entire lives searching for moments. I believe that this is a decent way to live one's life.
These are a few of the issues, Interactions, Light and Moments that came up time and time again while I was looking at your photographs. These are the areas where I see room for your personal growth as photojournalists and as visual storytellers.
g. "Life in America:" Daily practice of photographing in the community.
i. Which also brings us to my thoughts behind the "Life in America" assignment. I give no minimum number of images necessary or maximum so that students will self-motivate and make photographs at the speed of life. This is about achieving quality in feature photography through quantity of failures. Once again, this assignment is about failing towards success.
ii. Little dogs tied to orange string, Children with huge shopping bags and their mom with a tiny one, the sunset fades to blue; life size posters of cartoons, star wars, lord of the rings and matrix characters outside a store, girls admiring new tattoos, happy people laughing to one another, lonely ticket collector in the movie theater, "punk" kids sharing a laugh and a cigarette, another reading the newspaper, reflections in an ice cream shop window, old friends at the bookshop, teens making eyes waiting for the light to turn, smelly people, fleeting conversations, people anticipating home as they get up off the bench for the bus, homeless looking people talking to themselves, business looking people talking to themselves on their cell phones, everyone with imaginary friends, these are mine.
h. Photo Illustration: journalistically interesting, the headline, visual metaphors, Photoshop.
i. Thinking Photojournalism: What is the story? Taking the picture is the easy part, the joy, the affirmation of all the events and hard work that has transpired along the journey to arrive at this perspective, to take this photograph. The hard work resides in finding the ideas, the everyday stories of humanity that make for strong visual storytelling narratives. The questions are simple, clear and interested in the subject. Photographs are the answers that raise the questions in the hearts and minds of the audience, for the subject. In this class we will revisit certain assignments and attempt new assignments always asking the question, what is the story?
i. Picture Story: journalistically interesting, the headline, the enrollment conversation, access, editing, narrative structure, moments, interactions, emotions, compositions, captions, written storytelling.
i. I hope you can see beyond the face value of the comments and the grade you received and think about what you actually photographed of Bob's life. Where is the story Bob has to tell? To tell a story with multiple photographs, they must each convey a certain set of meanings through the critical selection and chance arrangement of symbols through the lens in relation to the subject. We must take our audience by the heart and mind and tiptoe through all the distractions of their lives so that they leave their worlds and enter the life of our subject. And once here we carry our audience down a path of answers our subject provided through their particular story so that the audience might reflect upon humanity and other complications of consciousness. What is Bob's story? Is the story about loneliness or is it about being homeless or is it about the aluminum can recycling industry or is it about free donuts and the inherent problem with using wooden planks for construction material because of the inconsistency of the pattern of knots that plague wooden structures? And if it is about any or all of these issues what story does Bob have to tell us therein? How does it make him feel? Does Bob have any friends or family? What are Bob's relationships? If he is in fact alone 95% of the day perhaps the 5% of the day when he is not alone is the place to start. Even if they are only fleeting moments once or twice a day, a month or a year, how deep are you going to go? What of the moment with someone that happens once in ten years? How did Bob arrive at this destination? Where does Bob encounter God? What does Bob hold sacred? When we walk with people they open up to us on various levels at a pace we do not control.
At a certain point, maybe after ten minutes but more likely than not after five or twenty years of being with someone we discover something new about them, totally unexpected and completely sacred. They open up their lives and permit us into some core aspect of their existence. This is a precious gift. This is what sustains me as a photojournalist, these relationships, investing into relationships such as these with the hope that I might share these stories of humanity that I am told so that others might see. I happen to share this through a camera's lens. And this medium has served me well; indeed, I have yet to encounter the limits of photography. And if you choose the camera over the paint brush, the pen, musical instruments, dance, pottery and every other creative medium imagined and unimagined then it is your duty to tell these stories of humanity with images, representations of life. I hope that through this process, this training and vigilance of vision over the years that you might learn to open your soul to your subject and to experience therein other undreamed of levels of understanding of all the complexities and wonders of a single human soul. And here, somewhere in the fog of existence a story is born.
j. Final portfolio: a polished version of the work completed during the course.
11. The course is an exercise in challenging students along their paths towards becoming visual storytellers by breaking the boundaries of their ignorance through constantly questioning their intentions and their execution of assignments. Hopefully they will know more about what they don't know to provide more areas of improvement than those which they were previously aware of before experiencing the class. The most valuable content of the course is in providing the setting for a student to become a visually critical thinker, a crucial component of becoming a visual storyteller. Break the formulas apart! They do more damage than good!
12. This course is in my head, it bursts through me like an image of little children running, excited and giggling, with irreverence at all that is and in the same moment with utmost love and respect for visual storytelling and for the students. This course should be in each of your heads, too. It takes time to learn what each of us have to offer to the course, at least four sessions teaching the course to begin to become comfortable with the lectures. This is a shooting course for the students, but it especially is for the instructors. The goal is to teach this course, to convey the knowledge to the students, in the same way that a photograph conveys knowledge to an audience. The photograph orders time, space and humanity through light providing the audience a space to reflect through the lens of their life experiences on the representation of the subject photographed and presented via media. The successful result of photographic meaning is in the raising of an emotion in the audience such as compassion, anger or joy at that which has happened in the life of the subject through the interrelation of the photographer, the camera, subject and audience. In a similar way, the instructor of visual storytelling creates a space for students to encounter method and theory through the classroom and course materials, discussions and critiques, providing the student with the opportunity to reflect, interact and create instances of visual storytelling because of the relationship of the instructor, the course materials, the student, and the student's photographs. Through this process students will come to the self-realization of the tools and thoughts involved in visual storytelling.
13. Why are we here? This is the question we should be asking ourselves before stepping in front of the class. When I am asked this question I am inevitably forced to respond first to a varying set of questions that arise and include: Do I love listening? Do I love teaching? Do I love photography? Do I love the single image and do I love the picture story? Do I love working with students? Do I love life? Do I love being a visual storyteller? And, always, what does it mean to be a visual storyteller?
(Paul Myers is a faculty member of the Visual Journalism Program at Brooks Institute of Photography in Ventura, CA. Prior to his arrival at Brooks, Myers worked for a variety of publications including newspapers in Freeport, IL and Marysville, CA.)
Paul's member page
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