december twenty fourteen

This concludes our broadcast day.

Onward and upward to 2015.

Enjoy the rectangles.




reflections on the mountain

I knew what was expected.

The hours would be long but rewarding.

It was about shaping good habits while stymieing bad ones.

What I didn’t know was the profound impression it would leave on me, which still echoes my mind: stories come from anywhere and anyone.

For that small powerful re-reminder lesson, I am grateful.

The Mountain Workshops have been shaping young visual journalists for 39 years. Four years longer than I have been alive. In that time it has produced Pulitzer winners and other successful career journalists. However, glamor and awards aside, the big lesson that is reiterated there is actually quite powerfully small: gain trust and find the story within the story.

I was in charge of, in no particular order, Ashton Songer, Erica Lafser, Sarah Shaw, Tom Brenner, Kris Connor and Michael Noble, Jr.

All of them made me proud.

The workshop started for us coaches with a social dinner on a Monday. The next day around noon, the participants, about 70+ participating in stills, video, editing and time lapse, drew from a hat their stories. Ashton drew a bean farmer. Erica, an alpaca business. Sarah, a music repair and sales shop. Tom, a coffee shop. Kris, a bookmobile worker. Michael, a traveling chaplain.

We all met, said intros and the kiddos were off to find their way through a local story.

That evening, four of the six had found a solid footing the others were waiting for the next day for activities to ramp up. We discussed the story within the story.

The most interesting gem came on Erica’s story when she said about how her subject didn’t talk much about her husband’s job because it’s a government job that pulls him away from the family for extended periods. “Oh, we don’t talk about his job,” said her subject. Right there I knew we were on to something.

Ashton felt a strong southern connection, she being from North Carolina, came back and said, “These are my people.” She also felt that it was too much of a ‘gimme’ story and the challenge wasn’t apparent enough, at first. I think as the week rolled on she realized that there was obstacles to overcome. In the end we made a nice edit. She found her visual voice through the process.

Tom’s story was fun in identifying because we were in a coffee shop but realized there was this character of a young Asian woman screaming to be told. The culture shock of trying to get accustomed to American life was overly apparent so we went with it. Tom grew immensely from the experience.

Kris had his share of challenges following a bookmobile, there was definitely a wall, not on his accord, he had to break down. His story was not an easy one. It was slow, long, drawn out and very quiet. I applaud him for the challenges he faced and overcame. In the end we made a tight edit and added some features he found. The only thing I was trying to get him to do was slow down, don’t tilt the frame and think about each moment. I think he reflected the most at the workshop.

Sarah had a challenge of working in a tight space and trying to go home with her subject. By the end of the week she explored the space and more importantly, the landscape of her subject’s emotion and mind. She really knocked it out of the park showing stories don’t require physical space, just the space you explore within.

Michael had a unique situation working on a sweet story of a mobile chaplain who catered to people with ailments and fulfilling religious needs in the community. He was extremely proficient in telling the story and came back with solid frames from each card drop. I think he will be a solid addition to any staff he belongs in the future and will make many an editor happy. He was always willing and never quit. His only snag, which was a blessing in disguise, was him nearing the end of his frame count when his subject left town. That meant he only had 22 frames for 1.5 days on his new subject and story. TWENTY TWO. His next story focused on a woman and her daughter living off the grid and living off the land. He made his frames, most which were solid. One. Frame. At. A. Time. He had to make pretty much a frame an hour. He made me proud showing patience in crafting each one.

I grew in the editor’s role rummaging for gems in 6,000 images and constructing a final product. I averaged 4-6 hours of sleep each night, toward the last two days – ate meals at my desk. I coordinated along the way juggling via text and phone calls. It reminded me what a lot of organizing editors manage. I have respect for those that enlist in such.

In the end, all grew and improved. That’s all a coach could ask for.

If you want a concentrated week of growth in finding your voice, or sharpening your skills or adding to your repertoire, look no further than The Mountain Workshops. Once you’ve been, you’ll be glad you forged the concentrated journey.

Some of my thoughts I wrote down during the week as I was meditating over the mental process of picture making…

01.) There’s a difference, visually speaking, of “what you want to say,” “what I am going to say” and “what is being said.”

02.) It’s easy to get emotional with an edit. Have a friend to intercept those attachments for an unbiased edit.

03.) Style over content can get in the way of your subject’s voice. Remember, it’s their story.

04.) Know thy self. If you don’t know yourself you can’t tell others stories effectively.

05.) The best way of communicating is by human contact. Don’t let social media or texting be of same value.

06.) Be prepared for heartache and heartbreak when getting into this field as well as telling stories. It’s the successes that make those tough-heart-moments heal.

07.) When working with subjects you need to have a professional relationship, despite having strong personal feelings. It’s a hard balance to strike at times. It’s hard not to “fall in love” with some subjects you follow. Compartmentalize your feelings.

08.) Photojournalism is the evidence of your relationship with others.

09.) Ask the right questions. Keep them specific. EXAMPLE: Less effective: Do you do spend a lot of time together? More effective: When do you see them next?

10.) Ask permission even if they say, “No.” At least you tried and can forget about fretting over the what ifs.

11.) Do other things in your life that would be conducive to being a good person. Give back to others, your community. This is a very “taking” profession, as in taking pictures, taking stories. Remember to give back, give prints, give of yourself to your subjects.

12.) Know your flaws. Know your strengths. Make your weaknesses your strengths but in the meantime play to your strengths.

13.) The holiest and hellish spot is behind a camera. You are either praying or swearing.

14.) Take visual risks when you have your butt covered on assignment.

15.) Look at video as an attribute in your bag of talents, not a replacement. Fifty percent of good videos are macro footage.

16.) Establish presence when you arrive, after awhile you melt into the scene, become an object to subjects and THEN you can start documenting.

17.) You ask so much of your subjects, make sure they are getting to know you in return. They are being vulnerable with you, you be vulnerable with them.

18.) Do things without being asked. Your future editors will love you for it.

19.) The most important work is in your own backyard. Document what is nearest to your home.

20.) Be fearless, a camera gives you license to do so.

“Stories, you find them and get out of the way of them…let them speak for themselves.” –Liz O. Baylen

Ashton: Sowing Heirlooms

Erica: Days Go By

Kris: Books on Wheels

Michael: Attending to Needs

Sarah: Unending Melodies

Tom: Work, Pray, Play

Enjoy the snaps from the week…

coaching @ the mountain workshops

I’m off on a rewarding, sleep-deprived week of coaching young journalists become better at their craft.

I’m honored, humbled to be asked to help.

This week coming to small town America reminds me of David LaBelle‘s work and philosophy. My friend Fran Gardler produced a piece on him…

Berea, Ky. or bust.

Here we gooooooooooooooo.

See you all in a week. –C