Category : writing

Backlog: Beauty in darkness

9 years, 1 month ago blogging, internship, photography, writing 0


Leaving work at 2 or 3am was never that bad in Seattle. To walk outside and see this skyline made every hour worth it. (And of course, the finished products of my efforts.)

I miss Seattle immensely. My job was quite possibly one of the coolest I’ve ever had, and I got to work with brilliant, wonderful people. Being home in DC – freelancing and job searching – has given me some great time to reflect on the experience. Every minute away from home was worth every minute exploring my temporary city. A city that hasn’t quite left my blood.

There are new opportunities on the horizon here, and I am excited to see where they lead. Every step forward is possible because of Seattle. Yes, also because of many, many other things… but Seattle was that last solidifying brick in my foundation.

Picture Story: Did these photographers expect to become ‘prominent?’

A PSA for all my photojournalism friends writing theses this coming semester:

Please do not turn your thesis into a book unless it’s got unicorns and rainbows in it.

While I appreciate the hard work in researching and writing a thesis, academic writing does not make for a riveting read. Loup Langton, if you’re out there, many apologies. The work is thorough and excellent, but it’s really hard for me to write a blog post reaction to a very extensive academic chapter on the history of photojournalism. I feel like these reactions are to be something that maybe clicks in our heads that make us realize “oh! so that’s why I feel this way when XX happens” or “glad I’m not the only one who does XX.” With this chapter, I felt like I was being inundated with the entire history of photojournalism in just 30 pages.

There were some key points I flagged, including the importance of technology that pops up in almost every age of photojournalism. Boiling the history into one congruent chapter made the discussion of technology appear as a thread to tie all of the different events and changes together. From wet plates to flash bulbs to color film and eventually digital, technology was either the result or the cause for some major changes in the history of photojournalism.

I also took note of the addition of women and minorities into the field, which in comparison to most other changes, only happened very recently. I thank my predecessors for paving the way for kids like me to get into this industry and stand toe to toe with male tradition. Even today, I’ll find myself covering a sporting event and find that I’m the only woman photojournalist on the field or court. (In full disclosure, I named the new laptop I bought for graduate school ‘Margaret’ in honor of Margaret Bourke-White.)

Speaking of Ms. Margaret, I learned something I did not know when reading Chapnick’s chapter on the photographic essay. I knew she was considered the first woman photojournalist, but I did not know that it is believed she published the first true photographic essay. Granted, the photos are not what Chapnick considers documentary by modern definitions, but still, it seems as though the intent was there.

I thought this chapter was going to be very much like Langton’s, recounting historical photographers whom have been studied to extreme lengths, but the last page or so held a nice surprise. While not exclusive or exhaustive, I really appreciate the list of attributes for a successful photographic essay or story. Not every story needs to have every one of these, but to see the basic tenets of storytelling in one place is nice. I may write this list out more simply and put it on my wall.

Chapnick ended with a statement that I think has a strange choice in words.

“The serious photojournalist cannot afford to ignore this photojournalistic format if he or she aspires to prominence through publication in either magazines or newspapers of the world or, in that most perfect vehicle for individual statements on larger issues, photographically oriented books.” (p. 38)

Yes, on one hand. But not all of us want to be ‘prominent.’ If my name doesn’t end up in a history chapter written by people like Langton or Chapnick, that’s fine by me. I just want to share and record life, with the hope that my photographs help others in ways otherwise unreachable.

Picture Story: On the importance of subject

10 years, 2 months ago classwork, photography, writing 0

I know I love the Bird By Bird book, so for this set of readings, I decided to go with Bill Jay and David Hurn’s chapter called Selecting a Subject first. I thought maybe I wouldn’t like it as much if I put it second like last week’s selections. Instead, in the second paragraph, I found my inspiration for the day.

“You are not a photographer because you are interested in photography. […] These interests, no matter how personally enjoyable they might be, never lead to the person becoming a photographer. The reason is that photography is only a tool, a vehicle, for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else.” (p. 29-30)

When telling one of my staff photographers about this idea, something made us stand up in the photo bubble and shout “Yes!” as though we’ve finally found someone to vindicate us in our belief that there really is something that separates us from the rest of the world with a camera.

Hurn and Jay’s advice on finding a subject also made me laugh, as I just went through that process in finding one-day story ideas to pitch. I drew up a list and then went through the next day and picked out the most interesting visually and interesting subject to me options. The two stronger ideas were of things that I’m passionate about, or have a true curiosity about.

I also loved how they describe finding a style in your photography. “A unique style, which is what we are talking about, is the by-product of visual exploration, not it’s goal. […] Ironically, by starting with self, it is missed; ignore it, and it becomes evident.” (p. 34-35) I don’t know where they came up with this stuff, but I could eat it up all day.

In this installment of Bird by Bird, I finally saw what I was thinking since the beginning – this writer knows, and likely had met, Natalie Goldberg, the author of Writing Down the Bones. When I was a writer in college, someone recommended that book. It’s excellent in getting past your ‘writer’s block’ or ‘creative block’ or whatever ails you in writing. I see many connections between the two books. Perhaps that’s why I love this one so much.

In any case, the two chapters up for reading continue where we left off at content generating. Sometimes the story just isn’t clear yet, but we know we have a location and an event to get us started. Sometimes the main character doesn’t become apparent until we have collected almost all of our content and are nearing the end of the day. Just like the polaroid, she wrote. It all slowly comes into focus as time passes and the story – the picture – develops.

I feel like I’m going to encounter this with my one day story, which I hope will pan out into a final project as well. I have a willing subject, and an idea of what I may or want to see, but it’s just a partially developed polaroid right now. It needs some shaking and time to fully develop into a story.

These readings, as usual, make me want to get up and make pictures, to get started on shaking my polaroid.

(cue Outkast.)

Picture Story: On being inspired

10 years, 3 months ago classwork, photography, writing 0

First up. Bird by bird.

My book has 19 flags in four colors hanging out the side. We’re only four chapters in.

Each one of those flags marks a place where Anne Lamott wrote something so perfectly about the creative process – well, in her words, the writing process. But take out the word “writing” and put in “photograph” and we’ve got a manifesto, folks. Even in just the introduction, from her admission to seeing your name in print to the desires of her students to get published, but not necessarily to write, she’s nailed it on the head. All I could think about was my first day of class in Fundamentals, thinking, “Why am I in this class? I already HAVE experience. Can’t I move on and shoot for the paper already?” (Yes, I thought this. David Rees humbled me by the end of that first week.)

And I find it quite fitting that I’m so full of words and love for this book that it took me quite a while to sit here and actually write about it. All these words are just flying around my brain, trying to process everything that she writes about and I can’t quite make sense of it all. I bookmarked all those pages to try and remember pieces, but I think the most resonant idea that I can take away so far is that to write well – or in our case, to take good photographs – is to practice. To start small. Like our one day story project. Something simple to get us into the rhythm of making photographs that tell a story, so that by the time we’re faced with the final project, we’re already feeling the groove.

She likens the process to musicians. “What’s real is that if you do your scales every day, if you slowly try harder and harder pieces, if you listen to great musicians play music you love, you’ll get better.” (p.14) If we take photographs every day, if we try for more and more complex storytelling, and look at some amazing photographers’ work because we can’t get enough, we’ll all get better at telling the stories we need to tell.

And she tells us flat out – there will be shitty first drafts. We need those rough edits and first day’s takes to know where we are in a story and where we need to go. In order to kill our puppies, we need to have a brood to kill first. (For those of you who don’t understand that phrase, it has nothing to do with real killing. It’s more about editing out your most loved photograph because it doesn’t help the story along.) No photographer goes out on assignment and comes back with an entire take of portfolio quality images. It takes a first edit, and a second edit, and many times three or more edits to really discover the beauty in the full take.

The final chapter we were to read was on perfectionism. She writes, “Perfectionism means that you try to not leave so much mess to clean up. But clutter and mess show us that life is being lived.” (p. 28) I need to learn to embrace this idea that a little bit of mess can be a very good thing. I can get so nitpicky, so anal, so . . . perfect-obsessed about assignments and photographs and stories and portfolios and websites .and ohh, yeah. I need this. “… we need to make messes in order to find out who we are and why we are here – and by extension, what we’re supposed to be writing.”

And photographing.

Next. Langton.

I have to laugh here. The book on photojournalism makes me want to gouge my eyes out, and the book on writing has me dreaming about adventures. Not that Langton writes anything truly dull or incorrect, but that he’s writing about everything we hear, day in and day out, at a journalism school. Real people don’t talk about photojournalism like this. Yes, we talk at length about the importance – or the existence – of objectivity and symbolism in photographs, but outside of these walls, it’s just not so academic. He brings up some great points for discussion, how money drives the business while passion drives people, how editing can change the context and content of a story wildly, and how photographs can become icons and symbols out of context. I just wish it didn’t sound like a dissertation.

(Oh wait. I think it was one.)

And finally … the podcast.

Short, sweet and right to the point. Talent can only get you so far. You gotta put in the effort behind it to be really great. And when you start to reach that point, or at least understand it and work towards it, you’ll be noticed. Or we hope so. Do we put in enough hours in our program to get us on our way to really thinking about what we do and why we do it? What makes it good, and what makes it suck? Have we really devoted our lives to our craft, or are we coasting by on so-so grades and so-so effort?

But as we’ve seen on so many bad photographer’s websites – there needs to be a baseline of talent. That’s what will make you stand out among the crowd of time-investing enthusiasts. That little spark of brilliance we all know and see in each other every day.

Picture Story: Successes, and perhaps a failure.

10 years, 3 months ago classwork, photography, writing 0

It’s that time of year again – my blog will be hijacked for not one, but two classes this semester. I considered not using this blog for class, but then I thought that it might spark some interesting inspiration or conversation from readers. (If there are any readers.)

My first assignment for Picture Story (or capstone, as the undergrads call it) is to list some picture stories that I’ve seen that either work or don’t work, things that inspire and influence, and write a little about each.

1. The first I thought of immediately was by a colleague in DC, Amanda Lucidon. (No, not Amanda Lucier, the MU grad.) It’s a picture story of a deaf dancer. How much harder can you get in illustrating the non-visual concept? While I feel like the story could probably go for a tighter edit, I think the point is brought across to show that yeah, she’s different – deaf – but she still does everything that any normal ten-year old would do. Being able to tell a non-visual story (or a one-photo literal story as in this case) is an incredible talent. Perhaps someday I’ll give it a try.


2. I’m sure everyone will link to this story by Maisie Crow. It won (did it really win, or was it just a contender?) for CPOY, and it deserves all the attention the story has received since publication. It’s simple, beautiful, and so moving. Every time I look at the images, I want to cry. I can feel the love and loss in every frame. Somewhere, there’s an article about her experience photographing this story. It’s worth a read. This story also inspires me to try and find a touching, personal story someday. I mean, really personal. In depth. Caring. Illuminating life. It’s a lofty goal, but I’ll get there eventually.

http://www.maisiecrow.com/gallery.html?gallery=A LIFE ALONE

3. So, for my third story I wanted to find something that did well in a contest, but if I were a judge, I would have voted it out. I came across this one from CPOY 59 by a guy named Denis Rochefort from RIT. The story won an award of excellence. While I really like the opening frame, it just seems like a collection of photographs taken on a night out. It seems like there’s possibility for a great story in a club that’s drug and alcohol free, where kids can just be kids. But for me, there’s something missing. I’m interested to see what others think in class.


Procrastination: An always current art.

11 years, 2 months ago grad school, photography, writing 0

I don’t know why I’m procrastinating so much today. Maybe it’s the 32 hours + of gloom and rain we’ve had here. (Although I believe it has stopped raining now, it’s still pretty gloomy.) Or perhaps it’s because I’m in the middle of reading an article for my Mass Media Seminar class that’s so over my head, I don’t know half the words it uses. See sentence example #1:

“West argues that the epistemic skepticism found in some strands of faddish deconstructive criticism and the explanatory agnosticism, or nihilism, associated with the work of descriptivist anthropologists and historians have made the “categorical mistake” of collapsing epistemological concerns of justification in philosophy into methodological concerns of explanation in social theory.” (Kincheloe, McLaren. “Rethinking Critical Theory and Qualitative Research.” p141.)

Ummm, yeah. Maybe we should look at some pictures I’ve been meaning to post instead.

day252 :: year three
An outtake from my “Interaction” project for Fundamentals. I didn’t show it because you can’t really see either face, but there’s just something I like about it. Maybe it’s the angles? Or the idea of a hairdresser being an unsung artist?

day250 :: year three
These are some of the single images I submitted to CPOY this year. I doubt I’ll win anything, but at least I’ve entered. Next year though, watch out. I hope to have some stellar work.

Okay. Now that I’ve been productive in my procrastination, I’m feeling like I should be productive on some school work first. But where to start . . . the paper about MPW this year? Reading more dreadfully scholarly articles? Or maybe re-writing my lit review question to actually reflect what I wanted in the first place? (I’m hoping to research agenda/image setting through a question about the White House photo office.) Or figuring out the specifics on my ethics term paper topic? (Image manipulation and where the ethical line stands, something like that.)

:: sigh ::

I agree. Let me barrel through this reading. Only a few more pages to go on this one and three more interesting (hopefully) articles after that. Then I’ll write fun papers.


This story was worth a pair of sandals.

11 years, 3 months ago grad school, photography, writing 0

After long wait, the tomato and pepper festival story is now online (and hopefully in the paper, too)! A photo of the hard copy will be updated here.

MU’s Bradford Research Center to host annual Tomato Festival

Why the title of this post, though?

day215 :: year three

Byebye shoes.

Note to self: do not go tromping around in a tomato patch after a few days of rain. You will get stuck in the mud, and you will destroy your shoes. (At least I didn’t kill my sneakers!)

Never fails; my team always wins.

11 years, 3 months ago grad school, multimedia, photography, sports, writing 0

I got to do one of my favorite things today.

I covered football.

day217 :: year three

My main goal was to write a story about the game, but make it more about the players than the actual game. It’s not always easy – a game recap is technical, but simple. Just pay attention to the action on the field, and you’re set. Getting an interesting story though, is not as easy. It takes interviewing people, watching the players on and off the field, listening in on coaches giving pep talks, and keeping an eye out for anything interesting that may cross your path.

Tonight’s story, in my opinion, was pretty successful. I got some of the highlights of the action, plus an interesting angle – the team I was assigned to cover had a dismal 1-9 record last season, and actually did quite well at the jamboree tonight. The players were buzzing after the game, energized for the start of their season next week.

Preseason football jamboree energizes Rock Bridge
(My awesome editor wrote that headline. My original one was pretty blah.)

But the best part of the night is due in part to the fantastic photographer, Jarrad, assigned to the event. While he was off shooting photos, he had me working his Flip video recorder, trying to get some sound and video bites. My favorite clip of all was of a play that unfolded right in front of me, and then literally ended up where I had been standing. (Nothing like two 180lb+ guys hurtling at you while looking at a camera screen.) If I can get my hands on that, I’ll post it to the blog.

Then Jarrad needed to head up to the press box to get the video camera ready for some post-game interviews with players. Into my hands was thrust a D2Xs (I think?) with a 17-35mm lens, and I was told to see what I could get. I haven’t seen my take on a computer screen, but I may have gotten some neat shots of the players with awesome clouds and wide-angle goodness.

Once we got the interview area set up, he realized we needed extra audio, just in case the main camera didn’t pick that up. The Flip found its way back in my hands as I tried to capture alternative angle video and hopefully backup audio. We then crashed an interview being done my our other reporter, and I handheld the camera to record one of the coaches talking about the game. (The tripod was missing a plate for the camera. Oops.)

What a rush. What a learning experience. What fun!

I need to get in on more football action this fall. I don’t know how, but I must.

I really love covering football.

Pigs are awesome.

11 years, 3 months ago grad school, photography, writing 0

firstclip090816Yesterday, my classmate Maggie and I went to the State Fair in Sedalia, MO in search of a story. We really lucked out sticking with the pig competition, and met two amazing Boone County high school kids. But we were even luckier than that – one had just won the Grand Champion title.

We did all the reporting, research, interviewing, brainstorming, and draft writing together. She wrote the majority of the words, and I worked on photos to submit. Together, we put together a small, but strong package that was published on the Missourian website today, and ran in the print edition, too. I think we made an awesome team.


We saw this little piggy laying (lying? Where’s my AP Stylebook?) with his buddy, butt to butt, in their pen. Maggie noticed that his little tongue was sticking out and we had to get photos. I went ahead and submitted this to Cute Overload, too. They sure like animals with tongues!

day211 :: year three