capstone project: come and go

I've never done anything like this piece before.  It's quiet, it's simple, it's intimate. 
I have learned a great deal through working on this piece, and though it has some shortcomings, I think it tells a meaningful story.  This is definitely something I hope to continue working on, in a more limited sense, because I feel like I've really only scratched the surface of larger issues - life after tragedy and how one person's choices has lasting affects.

In terms of photographing, I had an easy time with access into Heather and Jack's life.  Heather has made the choice to be very open with her life and what happened.  I had a much more difficult time figuring out how to photograph in a way that visually shows something that is missing.  Two different types of images do this: 1 - the images of Heather showing things that tell the story, 2 - the images that visually have space that is empty.  While I depend on the first type to move the story along, I think the second type of images are more meaningful and communicate the feeling that this piece needs.

In working on this project, I set out to do a multimedia piece.  As I shot, I began to think that this story might better be told through a written story.  So much needed to be communicated and some of the most important images needed background context to tell why they were so important.  After two video interviews with Heather, I decided to make the final choice by seeing if I could edit together an interview that told what needed to be told. 

I started writing but, in the end, I chose to have Heather tell her story instead of me.  This was perhaps the most difficult multimedia piece I've ever made.  First off, it is a dangerous thing for me to have an hour and a half of interview to work with.  I had to loose huge chunks of story and skim over other parts to get this down to a workable size.  I also let go of some images that I felt were strong and visually telling but did not work into the multimedia piece.

The piece is quiet and simple.  I had natural sounds/video of interaction with Jack and story times, but it felt forced to me to work them into the direction of this piece.  So in the end there is very little beyond Heather telling her story.  The piece feels a bit static without any external sounds/video, but I felt like what Heather was sharing is captivating and holds attention by itself and the last thing I wanted to do was take away from that.  I also tried a few simple pieces of music, but again I felt the need to keep this as simple as I could. 

This piece tells their story and I hope it communicates to a larger audience.  I hope to continue working with Heather and Jack and make a second part to this one that really focuses on their ongoing life.  An additional part would be able to incorporate a lot more video and be a more engaging piece, but I felt like I needed this one to be simple an telling, which I believe it it does.


civil war: take 2

I also made a few minor changes to my "Possessing the Past" piece of the Civil War project.  I wanted to keep a bit more unity through working with a muted color pallet.  Particularly in the beginning where the re-enactment video goes from color to sepia, I kept that look going through into the the interview with Dr. Piston.  Also, throughout the piece I re-worked a few of the images, changed one of the images of the Weaver letters, and changed the font to a more hand-written type.  I would have loved to have the text of the letters actually written out on the page, but Final Cut is simply not able to do that and none of our machines have After Effects or Motion.  All in all, I'm pleased.

mizzou's observatory: take 2

I've made a few changes to my observatory piece and wanted to re-post it.  I went back for two more nights of shooting and got a new new images as well as some more natural audio from the observatory.  I think it improves the piece and helps it flow a bit better.  


missouri's civil war

This is not really the project I envisioned when I started working on this, but it turned out decent for my first historical/micro-documentary-ish piece.  We originally discussed this piece looking more at what remains from the Civil War and while this does that to some extent, when I watch it I think I am missing a feeling of reverence that I wanted to convey.

This has been a difficult semester with respect to connections and getting things to work out; this project takes the cake.  I have a laundry list of attempted contacts and connections that for one reason or another did not materialize into work for this project.  However, the people and organizations that did go into this were excellent and incredibly helpful and willing to do all they could to aid this piece.

I think the weakest part is the Omer Weaver section - while it does give a personal connection to historical documents, I had to lose other sections to keep it and I now wonder if the piece as a whole would have been better served by losing Omer.  Mostly, it is visually weak and was difficult to cover which I think shows in the end.

I would have liked to incorporate more video and more artifacts, but in the end I think the piece does communicate connections to the past and why it is important to preserve places and objects for others to experience.    


picture story: work-in-progress 2.0

Better late than never, right?  Heather and Jack are my subjects.  I'll be working with them for the next several weeks, with the end goal of producing a photo story that is strong and intimate.  For now at least, I'm not going to say much about the story itself, but I'll talk a bit about the shoot and plans from here.

It is great when a subject gets it.  There is always a learning curve for both the photographer and subject when beginning a new story.  That took no time at all here.  This being my first time, I wanted to keep things natural and easy as everyone involved got use to me being there.  The shoot went alright, although I had some flash battery issues - that will teach me to not double check my spares.  I was around for some cleaning, some playtime, bedtime stories, some house maintenance, and an evening walk with the dogs.  Most of these things have a larger significance than they sound, which I'll get into as time progresses.   

I'll be heading back over there Saturday morning for a second shoot before Thanksgiving break, when Heather is heading out of town, and I will be heading home to Ohio for part of it.  Shooting will resume Sunday or Monday after the break.



The 66th annual College Photographer of the Year was held this past week at Mizzou.  Since coming to school here, I have realized the great learning opportunity that photo competitions hold, and am grateful for the emphasis that the Journalism School puts on the educational aspects of these competitions.  Judging is open to students to sit though and listen to comments and thoughts by the panel.  Having worked with CPOY and then POYi last year and observing CPOY this year, I can honestly say I look at images differently, am a better editor, and gained helpful ideas/techniques that I incorporate into my own work.

I sat through the International Picture Story category last Tuesday and had some thoughts.  The category is defined as a story shot in a country other than the photographer's home country.  There were 108 entries and many excellent images/stories.  Working internationally is something I hope to do, and there is something to be said for photographers that are able to gain access and intimacy with subjects in their own culture, let alone cross-culturally.  On the other hand, and this may be true only in my mind, but looking at a different culture through your lens can also grant you special access to begin with; you are learning/validating someone else's culture.  It's basically what I have always wanted to do.

After a round or two of voting, the judges had narrowed it down to 18.  I'll comment on a few:  One story involved a predominately Islamic girl's middle school in Europe.  It was focused on girls in the period of their lives when they decide to wear a hijab - the head covering that is so often talked about and many times misunderstood.  The images in this story were not overly strong or powerful, but as the judges said it was such a good story and a unique look at a larger issue that it made it through voting rounds.  It did not end up winning anything, but the point made is that a truly good/unique way of approaching a topic is important.  There was a very well shot story on child wrestlers in India - images were very nice, but the judges felt a distance and there was a lack of intimacy.  At a point in the judging they read the intos. to the stories, there was one about Palestine that I thought had the best written into of any, but writing only gets you so far in a photo competition. 

The judges talked about what they were looking for in stories before the semi-final round of voting.  Here were the highlights: images that work together/stand as a story and as individuals; there has to be a consistency of quality; the individual images need to add info to the story as a whole; a comment was made that by the time they heard the story intros they already knew the story because of the images; stories don't just happen - you must think differently in the field when shooting and it is obvious which stories were put together after the fact and which ones were shot as a story from beginning to end; they looked for a thought process and unique surprises.
In the end they selected a story on a Texas Militia as gold.  It is a very well shot story, and one that as one judge put it - gave the biggest emotional reaction. Its a great story, but personally, I tire of militia stories - but I also really do not like guns.  Silver was a stripper story - these have been shot a lot too, but this one did something more.  It went beyond and incorporated the family and such to show the reasons why.  Bronze was awarded to a story on Iranian women pushing the bounds of their culture.  I thought this to be an excellent story.  Wearing head covering a bit looser and showing arms/legs, these women are brave and pushing back on what many would call an oppressive regime.  Two awards of excellence were awarded to a story on Libya and young construction workers in Egypt building super-elite housing for the rich and powerful when they themselves had very little.  Gold and silver had very clear subjects/ small group which I think helped them rise above the others because viewer and judge alike could connect more with the story.

Multimedia judging took place the second half of the week.  I sat through the individual project round.  These projects were made by single persons and was an incredibly broad category.  At one point in the judging a conversation broke out about lines becoming increasingly blurred between journalism, documentary, and short film; no category could serve as a better example of this.  One thing is for sure, all the projects that rose to the top were masterfully made with an extreme attention to every detail.  Some projects were longer than they needed to be, some had flaws, some even raised questions of the journalistic nature of the piece, but they all had incredible visuals.  Comments in the judging worth noting: END the intros of talking heads, look for bumps and polish the ruff edges - look for anything that takes away from the story (all about the details), and a new term for me - the natural narrative weave - which has to do with weaving in natural brakes so you don't have droning on of the subject.

Gold was given to Safekeeping - a story of a family that had been living in motel after motel and then the children were taken away.  This story may have not been the most original, but is accumulated a story instead of telling one, and the visuals were splendid.  Silver went to a piece on a modern-day loner cowboy - this piece got excellent statements from a man who doesn't talk much.  This piece has so many excellent and natural details.  One piece that surprised me greatly was called Here, After.  Visuals were incredible, and the piece kept me interested the entire time, but I have to say I was confused by it as a whole, and I am surprised that it was given an award of excellence in a photojournalism competition.  I know it was part of a larger site, and perhaps that site illuminated more, but just watching the piece that was entered looked incredible, held my interest, but left me with more questions than before watching it.  Very great multimedia piece, just surprising that it was awarded something in a journalism competition.    

Here's links:


Mizzou Observatory

Here's the video:

And here's my evaluation:

This was not exactly the project that I set out to do.  I had quite a bit that fell through, and had some major weather issues.  We have had about 85% beautifully clear evenings the past three weeks in mid-Missouri, but of course that leaves 15% rainy and cloud-covered which seems to happen every Wednesday evening when the observatory is to be open. 

I set out to show the observatory and how it is used, hoping to combing sciency/techy and human interaction with space.  I shot plenty of details, but for this I used relatively few because I wanted more of a human element in it.  This allowed my to incorporate a wider variety of things I shot, including the star gazing night with the Central Missouri Astronomers Association and some of the more captivating statements from Dr. Speck. 

Personal criticisms - my visuals get repetitive.  I have too many of the telescope/people.  I need to combine these with more details shot during observations (to keep the red light unified) and what I really hope to get still is a few astro-shots through the telescope. I included a few images that I are technically weak, but fit the story the best.  The weakest images were all from my first shoot, which I have planned on replacing once the observatory is open again.  Additionally, I began this project with a time-laps in mind  which would take the place to the single image of the observatory with the door open.  I still want to do this the next time weather permits.  Finally, I needed a little more natural audio - crickets and people talking in the background do very little to place a viewer in the situation.  I regret not collecting audio my second time in the observatory - my thinking was that I would focus on getting solid visuals since I was still unsure if I could make this work and collect audio the next time…which I am still waiting for.  There's a big lesson to learn here.

I plan on continuing work on this and when I have it in a form that I am more pleased with, I will re-post.  I need nat. sounds and I need a larger variety of images in the observatory.  I'll get these, and more, and then I'll be happier with it.