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|| News Item: Posted 2009-08-04

Gray Matters: Long live storytelling
Jim Merithew fulfilled a dream by being a team leader at the VJ Multimedia Workshop at Brooks Institute in Ventura, CA.

By Jim Merithew,

Photo by James Glover II / Ventura County Star

Photo by James Glover II / Ventura County Star

Judy Griesedieck of Minneapolis MN, right, talks with Jim Killen of Ojai at the Top Hat Burger Palace in Ventura. Griesedieck was doing a story on the burger stand during the VJ Multimedia Workshop.
"They are not subjects," shouted the Reverend Dave Labelle, from the VJ Multimedia Workshop pulpit. "They are people."

Labelle, who was speaking to a room of student photographers and professionals who have recently lost their jobs, implored them to be ready and willing to admit they are having a tough time.

"I'm not afraid to admit this has been a very difficult time in my life," said Labelle, who himself is without a fulltime job.

And thus kicked off the opening night of the first (annual) VJ Multimedia Workshop ( at Brooks Institute in Ventura, CA.

I have never been asked to be a team leader at the Eddie Adams Workshop or Mountain People's or The Missouri Photo Workshop. And yes, I am a little bitter. Not actually.

I never really expect to be asked, but it has been a dream of mine for sometime to have that kind of opportunity. I have always wanted to be immersed with fellow professionals and students for an extended workshop experience. You know, the whole shaping of young minds and giving back. So when the call came from Paul Myers to help him out at the workshop I was stoked.

This workshop was going to be different.

Myers was shaping the workshop to be less about the destination and more about the journey. Thus after the rousing Thursday night talks the students would only have Friday to hit the streets and collect as many snappies and as much audio as they could. If the phone calls I received on Friday were any indication how things were going for the entire group, then everyone was getting their money's worth (even if the workshop was free for everyone.)

"My subject is being uncooperative."

"They aren’t where they said they were going to be."

"This dude is boring as hell."

"I checked and double-checked to make sure everyone was cool with me hanging out and they just ran me off."

"This woman keeps calling me a child pornographer and won’t get out of my face."

As I have said many times before, doing great photo stories is like harnessing lightning and if the VJ Workshop taught us nothing more it taught us this: sometimes you get the bull and sometimes you get the horn.

And just like in the real world stories that sounded like they were going to be amazing were dogs and ones that sounded awful turned out to be little gems. The group returned to campus Saturday morning slightly bleary-eyed, but they dove right in.

"I am done commiserating about the sorry state of the newspaper industry. It's time to move forward," said Meryl Schenker, photographer from the now defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer ( "The words "Final Cut Pro" were always very intimidating to me. With the help of very experienced teaching assistants and producers, I learned a lot in a very short period of time, and am no longer scared of FCP."

Inspirational talks by faculty members Leo Kim, Myung Chun, Christopher Johnson, Pauline Lubens and Tom Kennedy were wedged in-between bouts of work.

Photo by Greg A. Cooper / Brooks Institute

Photo by Greg A. Cooper / Brooks Institute

VJ Workshop Students working on their edits in DL1 at the Ventura Campus of Brooks Institutein Ventura, Calif., Saturday morning, Aug. 1, 2009.
"This weekend was an inspirational kick in the behind,” said Ellen Webber.

The highlight for me had to be the unflappable Tom Kennedy. After stints at National Geographic and ( Kennedy finds himself without a fulltime job.

He shared openly about his own struggles with waking up in the morning and struggling to keep his spirits high and his plan on track. It is no longer enough to know what you know. You need to know more: more management techniques, more computer programs, more story telling techniques, more business skills, more ways of staying motivated, just more.

"I realized from the workshop that I was the one who never took a risk outside my own comfort zone," said Leo Kim from the The Virginian-Pilot. "I went to the workshop thinking how to inspire students, and came back greatly inspired by them."

In the end the closing slideshow was a miracle. Everyone made the deadlines and the show went off without a hitch. If you have ever attended any of these intensive workshops the final show is always a moving and amazing experience. To see the quality and breadth of work produced by this group of misfit photographers, in this crazy little beach town, during nothing more than one random Friday is awe inspiring.

"The VJ Multimedia Workshop was about so much more than multimedia and visual storytelling," said Ann Arbor Miller. “It gave me a chance to embrace the power that is photojournalism and restored my faith in myself as a photographer."
"The workshop was a resounding success," said workshop Founder and Executive Director Paul Myers. “Everyone failed, everyone learned through the failures."

It is still unclear what part multimedia will play in the economic futures of those teaching, helping or attending the VJ Workshop, but it is clear storytelling skills are a gift worthy of being pursued and nurtured. Long live storytelling.

As I was packing my bags I was reminded by one of the students about the controversial portfolio critique by Paul Myers.

You know the one.

It was here on a while back. Well, it seems some of the Hilltoppers might still be under the false misconception that Paul Myers is anything but a mench and an advocate for photography and photographers. I would like to think this workshop, that was Paul’s brainchild and for which he gave his heart and soul, might be what everyone thinks of when they hear his name in the future.

I know I will.

Photo by Greg A. Cooper / Brooks Institute

Photo by Greg A. Cooper / Brooks Institute

From left, Neal Menschel, formally with the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies and current participant in the Workshop gets his portfolio critiqued by Tom Kennedy of Kennedy Multimedia during the critiques.
Quick list of other lessons learned:
Myung Chun: Don’t let your still chops fall to the wayside just because you have picked up a video camera.
Grover Sanschagrin: Flash. Flash, my ass.
Grant Morris: Workshops can change lives.
Greg Cooper: Tough love is good love.
Christopher Johnson: Have a plan for your piece, but be prepared for it to go some place completely different than you originally thought.
Leo Kim: Don't be afraid to put your heart and soul out there.
Pauline Lubens: Build relationships and there is no such thing as a fly on the wall.
James Glover: It is nice when your birthday falls on workshop weekend.
Gwyneth Roberts: There are amazing photographers living in places as far away as Nebraska.
Hannah Foslien: It is always nice to get coffee for the competition, too.
Jim McNay: If you have to be introduced it might as well be by Mr. Jim McNay.
Jesse Groves: You can run a seamless AV show.
Mike “the man” Ruocco: There are just certain things you shouldn’t say in a group setting.
Tom Kennedy: All of those inspirational posters and books might actually have a place in your life. Tap in. Go for it.
Susan Bloom: It is possible to eat local and eat well.
Joe Gosen: They have nice hardware stores in Ventura and it is good to be king.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and the author alone. They do not represent the views of his employer, co-workers, friends or family.

(Jim Merithew is a picture editor at Jim invites you to direct your questions and comments about this column and other issues involving photojournalism ethics to him through his member page:

Related Links:
VJ Multimedia Workshop
Merithew's member page

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