Archive for March 15th, 2011


Reading reflection: Lamott – False Start, et. al.

Lamott starts off the “False Starts” chapter with a story about a painter that I really like. “He keeps covering his work over with white paint each time that he discovers what it isn’t, and each time this brings him closer to discovering what it is.”

I think this is the essence of a photo story. I begin by photographing what someone does. Then that gets stripped away in the edit. Eventually, and hopefully, I photograph who a person is. This is a tough thing to do and I won’t pretend that I have ever done it completely. But that is the goal.

This is re-enforced in the chapter when she talks about her visits with the elderly. “[E]ven though these people are no longer useful in any traditional meaning of the word, they are there to be loved unconditionally, like trees in winter. [Trees in winter – that is a beautiful turn of phrase].”

Lamott continues, “When you write [photograph] about your characters, we want to know all about their leaves and colors and growth. But we also want to know who they are when stripped of the surface show. So if you want to get to know your characters, you have to hang out with them long enough to see beyond all the things they aren’t.”

These two passages are so right on so many levels. I subscribe to the Bryan Moss/Will Durant/MPW school of thought that ordinary people’s lives are worth recording and worth exploring even though they may not be the great historical events of the time. I know this dooms me to a life of poverty, but so be it.

Quality photojournalism comes from stripping away the excess baggage and helping people relate to one another on a human level. Hanging out with characters/subjects will get you to that level of intimacy were they will reveal themselves and show you who they are instead of showing you who they aren’t. Granted, I need to be accessible and reveal myself to subjects as well, that is only fair. Time seems to be in short supply at many newspapers these days and therefore the coverage seems superficial. But enough of my cynicism!

“You can see the underlying essence only when you strip away the busyness, and then some surprising connections appear.” ’nuff said.

On “Plot Treatment”:

“… you write [photograph] toward this scene [storyline], but when you get there, or close, you see that because of all you’ve learned about your characters along the way, it no longer works.”

To me this speaks of a change in direction. Observing what I have photographed and realizing that the “story” is not what I originally thought it would be. This is a tough thing to notice and something I am not good at doing. This is where an editor/mentor/someone outside of direct contact with the subject comes in to play. The trick is finding, and trusting, that “someone’s” guidance to visually communicate the true story of the subject and ultimately be willing to change direction during coverage.

I liked what Lamott had to say about laying a foundation. This is fundamental. I have to have those transition pictures and scene setters to move the story along. This is my Achilles heel in photographing picture stories. I get too wrapped up in capturing every moment with a face and framed tightly that I forget to photograph the scene setters and transitions.

I also liked her revelation about laying things out and seeing how they work together. I see the benefits of doing this in the work-in-progress sessions during class. (I will add that I’m frustrated when we do this and no one makes a peep. Then all of a sudden when the final prints are on the wall, all the suggestions come pouring out. That doesn’t seem equitable.)

On “How do you know when you’re done”:

“… perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor.”

I can’t help it, but I immediately think of the film adaption of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” where one of the main characters says something like “do not fear, for fear is the mind killer.” NOT being perfect in my storytelling is my fear and that kills my mind which is exactly what I need to be creative! I have been a perfectionist all my life. That is something I struggle with but rationally I know that no story will be photographed/told perfectly.

The bit about “getting all of one’s addictions under control is a little like putting an octopus to bed.” H-I-L-A-R-I-O-U-S and true. There is always something sticking out.

“… even though you  know that your manuscript [photo story] is not perfect and you’d hoped for so much more, but if you also know that there is simply no more steam in the pressure cooker and that it’s the very best you can do for now – well? I think this means that you are done.”

That is ultimately where my satisfaction lies. When everything is exhausted and I know I’ve put my best effort forward then I can rest. I was never pushed to get “A’s” in school or win awards, I was only pushed to do my best. And for that I’m grateful. Now if I can just stop being my own worst critic.


March 2011
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