69th CPOY Judging

The only judging I was able to view in person at all was the documentary category, which is a shame, but I was glad I got to see this one out of all of the others. It’s a category with an extremely wide variety of subjects, and the winners from this category produce some of the best photojournalism I’ve ever seen. Documentary photojournalism to me is basically the essence of what photojournalism was created to accomplish. It shows people from all around world, particularly now in our modern age of high speed information sharing, issues that they couldn’t really see on their own. I think this category requires the most bravery and persistence. Because of this I’m usually in awe by what I see more so than in any other judging session.

This year there were a number of great stories, stories I would be particularly happy with being able to pull off. It amazes me how fast the judges go through these stories, considering the number of entries and how good most of them are. The judges are of course, trained professionals that have discerning eyes but it is nonetheless impressive to me.

In the first round of serious discussion and narrowing down in this category (I think they made it down to around 10 images), one of the judges remarked how difficult it was to choose. But what I really noticed was that the judges were largely in agreement. They immediately picked out a couple that they knew would be at the top of the pack, and spent more time discussing the ones at the bottom, and why they were there. They were doing this partially for our benefit, but I think if they had been sitting alone in a room together they probably would have said all the same things.

In my time as a photo editor at the Missourian I’ve found it’s useful to talk out what my initial reaction is, and to get the opinion of fellow editors or photographers. It’s reassuring, and it really explains where I’m coming from, which is useful from an editorial standpoint because we’re trying to show the most truthful image possible. If I have a reaction to something for a personal reason, that doesn’t benefit, or actually harms the journalistic integrity of the newspaper, then my opinion is pretty much moot and the edit needs to be given to fresh, less biased eyes.

The main justifications for stories being moved to the bottom of the pack were that the story didn’t have enough focus, and it wasn’t in depth or personal enough. If the story was too unfocused a comment such as, “it tried to do too many things,” was usually said. I find it hard as a photographer sometimes to just pick one thing to go for, but it’s necessary for cohesion. With words you can spell it out clearly to readers, with images they have to tell the story without words at least initially. The images have to be clear, especially when working as a group. There is no room for confusion or you lose the viewer. And it’s especially important for the documentary category to have depth. These stories are meant to be long term, with lots of time and research spent. You can practically feel the weight of the stories if they’re done well. As a photographer I sit in awe at how many hours the photographer had to spend and how much they had to care to do so much work. If the photographer doesn’t care about their work it shows, and it tells the viewer that they shouldn’t really care either.

False Starts

The Lamott chapter on false starts particularly spoke to me. I thought it was very true that people who are in a creative field, such as writing or photography, try and plan out everything in advance, and think they know exactly where their vision and story is going. It’s good to be prepared and do some brainstorming before they make the first stab at their project, but limiting themselves to their initial idea can blind them to other possibilities that can make the story more complex or finished. The coverage can turn into a falsity if the photographer tries to make a story something it’s not, just because it fits their framework. The photos in this type of situation usually end up looking forced and not genuine. Photojournalism is all about showing the truth, so this defeats the purpose. Opening your eyes up to every possibility can allow you to see some cool details you may have ignored before.

Another thing I really appreciated in this chapter was when she said it’s important to get to know your characters “beyond all the things they aren’t.” She said we basically have to plop down and spend time with our subjects, get to know them inside and out. Their quirks and beliefs, their habits, all of these things are a part of their humanity, and including them will only enhance the storytelling.

I really related to the chapter “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott very simply states, “You just do.” Creative people are often their hardest critics, and sometimes you’ll never be completely happy with how your story or essay turns out, but there comes a point when you just have to say there’s nothing more to do. I did my best with what was there. The mantra, “You just do”, also applies to when you know you need more. There’s just this itching feeling at the back of your brain saying, “but you need something else!” Follow that feeling until you know what it is you need. If it’s attainable, go for it! Or you’ll never forgive yourself.

Class Reading Reflection 10/13

In Hurn and Jay’s reading about photo essays, they said that most photographers work on projects, not making a single, fantastic image. And often “single images” are drawn from these projects that they have an integral part of. In my experience I’ve never gone out to make just one image. I’ve always thought there should be a story-making mentality, no matter how you think it will turn out.

They also said that how a project turns out depends greatly on what publication it’s supposed to be for. Magazines vs. newspapers, and if it was commissioned to tell a biased point of view, etc. Stories can be edited, and even manipulated, in many ways so that the feel of the entire piece can be altered significantly. It’s good for the photographer to whittle down these things and figure out why they’re doing a project so that they can shoot more in line with their intended outcome. They have to know what they’re trying to say, especially in essays, which are often about social issues and often take a more biased viewpoint than photo stories.

It’s especially important to lay out the ideas of the photo essay beforehand since they can be disjointed and confusing. It’s the photographer’s job to make sure that the story is as cohesive as possible, which is difficult when there are so many characters and settings in an essay. Doing “visual research”, as Hurn said, beforehand is very important to getting the story right.

I also found it really interesting when Hurn said that photographers often make the mistake of taking photos of the most visually interesting things, not necessarily what would represent the story or event the best. It seems counterintuitive to say that you shouldn’t only look for visually interesting things. As a photojournalist the first responsibility is to the reader, who needs to know the facts of the story. If the more true, informative images are less visually appealing, it’s the photographer’s job to make them as visually appealing as possible. The truth wins out in the end.

The Private Affairs of a Socialite

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Elizabeth stirred from her nap as the curtains burst apart to let a beam of light in. The wind made the room chillier than she had expected, so she quickly roused herself out of sleepiness and made for the double doors that led to the balcony.

After closing them she glanced around the hotel room. She hadn’t had the opportunity to really appreciate it since arriving in Cancun a couple hours before. It had great light, a cheerful bright blue color on the wall, and no lack of luxurious details sprinkled about. She had chosen well.

Unlike most people Elizabeth chose to vacation alone. Her work week consisted of luncheons, fundraisers, art shows, teas, and contrived parties. All of which involved her smiling without feeling. It was all very exhausting. She looked forward to the times of year when a smile would creep upon her like a happy surprise.

But Elizabeth spent most of her vacations without expression of any kind. She didn’t interact with others except for common courtesies, and avoided any sort of activity particularly stimulating. The events she regularly attended taxed her senses, and she preferred them dulled while away at some tropical destination. Only the distant sound of the ocean and rays of sunlight encasing her skin in a heavenly glow were acceptable.

When not at the beach, Elizabeth dined quietly within view of it. She used to believe in drinking alone on these occasions, but the drunkenness had more often than not brought robust, unpleasant emotions to the surface that she rather ignore. Her lifestyle distracted her, which is why she pursued it to the ridiculous degree that she did considering how much she detested the human race. But on vacation the distractions ceased, and she was still trying to find other means of occupying her mind away from wicked thoughts.

Elizabeth found driving to be therapeutic. So she asked at the front desk for a nice route for a couple hour excursion. She glided to her car, anticipating the beautiful sights to be seen and the resulting relief from her mind. Drawing a deep breath, Elizabeth put the car into drive and exhaled as she pulled out of the parking lot onto the main drag of the Zona Hotelera.

She drove cautiously and with ease past all of the bustling hotels teeming with tourists. The restaurants and bars seemed to be spewing brightly clothed people into the sun-soaked outdoors. Twice Elizabeth had to slow the car to allow a drunk or two scamper across the wide roadway to the beach, but she wasn’t perturbed. These people enjoyed their type of vacation, and she enjoyed hers.

Once outside of the Zona Hotelera, Elizabeth really started appreciating the scenery. The greenery that seemed endless made her wish disappear into it; she liked imagining walking deep into the thicket, and never having to return. But she kept driving, further and further away from the obnoxious city until she was quite certain she’d see no one but farmers.

The drive proved to be worthy. There were no rolling hills, but the ocean was nearly always visible. That beautiful blue of the water was often used at the events she attended and worn by the ladies in her circle; it really was “Cancun Blue”. She was certain she had a swimsuit of the same color somewhere, and in that moment she was inspired to find it, such was the majesty of this blue expanse.

Elizabeth decided she would stop for a bit, just to sit on the hood of her rental car and breathe in the salty, sea breeze. She had brought a small camera to document her excursion, her acquaintances back home needed documentation of her visit to believe she had actually gone alone. There was a running joke amongst her crowd that she had an exotic prince hidden somewhere that she would visit when on these “solitary” vacations. They couldn’t believe someone as beautiful as Elizabeth could keep the men at bay, and not revel in luring them. Such is what they would do, if they had her overwhelming beauty. But of course there was no one, and there never would be anyone. Elizabeth had never decided against romance, she simply had never been interested. She was surrounded by people all day and most nights. The last thing she wanted to do was return home to find yet another person, demanding her undivided attention and affection.

After taking the required photos, for which she chose not to bluntly smile, she leapt down from the hood of her car and walked into the tall grasses. She had brought a book to read, the book of the month for her book club that she attended back in the city. It was another dull title about a woman who had dealt with misgivings, usually in the form of a “no-good-man”. Elizabeth tired of this dialogue, and had recommended that the group read something different, perhaps an adventure story, fantasy, or science fiction. They never heeded her advice however; they were interested in but one story, the story of the Common Woman. She found this odd however, considering none of them were Common Women. These women had chauffeurs, nannies, hair appointments, wine cellars, yachts, and summer homes in the Hamptons. None of them would have an issue affording a child, paying back loans, or getting the best healthcare available. It all seemed rather shallow. They just wanted to make themselves feel less guilty for the affluence they had been raised with and married into. Elizabeth doubted any of them would actually answer the call of a “Common Woman”.

After laying in the grass for some time, Elizabeth sat up and saw that the sun was going down. I must have dozed, she thought to herself. She stood quickly and brushed off the skirt of her dress. As she was turning to her car she thought she saw a figure out of the corner of her eye. She quickly turned toward the figure, but found nothing. Just the grasses she had been admiring all day. A bit spooked, she approached her car and got in. She took a moment to drink from her Evian bottle, and realized she was quite dehydrated, and growing hungrier by the minute. Silly, she thought to herself, that silly book put me to sleep all day.

Elizabeth turned the ignition and pulled out onto the empty road. She did not appreciate the landscape nearly as much at night. Everything seemed ghoulish and foul, like the landscape was lusting after her flesh. The uneasiness gave her goosebumps, so she turned on the radio to cheer herself. The only station she could find all the way out there was a mariachi station that seemed to be playing the same song over and over again. For some reason, this gave her an even more sinister feeling, so she shut off the radio with a flick of her wrist and settled into the silence, trying to gain control over her nerves.

She drove another mile before glimpsing a figure down the road. It seemed human, but it was too far away to tell. Please, let it be cattle, Elizabeth begged. To much her consternation she recognized a human form as she drew nearer, and whoever it was walking alongside the road had no light, and was miles from any residence that she could tell. Yet their stride was easy, confident. Well, they’re not in distress, she thought. I can just pass them by and leave them to their wandering. But something told her that this person would not let her pass without a greeting. Was it that their pace seemed to slow upon seeing the headlights from her car? Or was it something else?

The figure turned around briskly as she neared and held up a solitary hand. It was a commanding gesture, and Elizabeth didn’t like it one bit. She was offended by this person, which looked to be a middle aged man, native to Mexico, abruptly putting a hand in the air to command her to do something. Elizabeth did not reciprocate the gesture and did not slow down. She felt herself pressing on the gas pedal harder, and her face unconsciously pulled into a frown. Elizabeth felt the rage coursing through her, at having her vacation ruined by this strange man on this empty road. The emptiness belonged to her, and he was violating it. These were the thoughts running through her head as she swerved her car at the last moment, thrashing into the solitary man who had stopped walking at the side of the road.

Elizabeth’s rental came to a screeching halt as she slammed on the breaks.

After a few minutes of heavy breathing, Elizabeth stepped out of her car and looked back at the road. The man was no longer standing there, violating her passage. She got back into her car, reversed onto the road, and continued on her trek to the Zona Hotelera.

Once inside the parking lot to her resort, she got gracefully out of her car and wandered up to her suite. In the shower, she put the water on scalding hot, and scrubbed the sand and salt from her hair and face. She dressed for dinner, and went to the dining room of the resort with the best view of the ocean. She cut apart her chicken, savoring the delicate spices and seasoning, and sipped on a glass of white wine.

After dinner Elizabeth retired to her room. She tried putting on the TV, but the noise only agitated her, so she shut it off and floated out to the balcony. Clouds had rolled in, covering what stars there were to be seen. So she sat on the chaise lounge, and gazed up into the darkness. She had never felt so alone, and it was lovely. Elizabeth wept tears of joy.

Don’t Abuse the Power of Pretty

I’ve met plenty a pretty person, and I think it’s good for beautiful people to have confidence and don’t shirk away from their attractiveness. But there comes a point when knowing you’re pretty can turn into an abusive power.

The type of power abuse I’m referring to is commonly known as a “tease”, “heartbreaker”, or a “flirt”. These have feminine connotations, but I have met a fair share of handsome gentlemen with the same tendencies as beautiful women. These power abusers know they’re beautiful, enjoy it, and like to see others reactions to their beauty. Often times I’ve noticed that it becomes a bit of a game to them, seeing the opposite sex (or same sex queer) squirm. It is an incredibly powerful feeling to not have to do much other than exist and smile to make someone melt. And like all other powerful feelings, it can become addictive.

Look at how many I have on the line!

Look at how many I have on the line!

The opposite is also true of beautiful people; they can also not like to address their beauty or use it per se, because they are embarrassed by the attention or it or would feel entirely too conceited for them to acknowledge it in any way, shape, or form. I used to be this way. And yes, if someone asks me now if I think I am attractive, I say yes. It is an objective quality determined by any number of things including general cultural cues, independent preferences, and moods. But if I think I am an attractive individual, for whatever reason, I shouldn’t be embarrassed to acknowledge it. Anything else would be demeaning. There’s a difference between that and modesty.

Modesty is important. If you do think you’re attractive, don’t make a point of bringing it up to people, or rubbing it in their faces. Such attitude would be what is known as a “sore winner”. Confidence is great, but crossing the bridge into braggart territory is just harmful. The abuse of power I’m talking about is another harmful effect of being a sore winner in the game of beauty.

I had a friend once, who was off and on in a committed relationship with a guy for several years. I thought for sure they were destined to be married (turns out they were, they are now married.) But she would always attract the attention of other people, guys and lesbians alike. When she was single she would flirt and smile and offer her attentions to almost anyone, leading them to believe that she was really on their side and interested. She had many offers to become romantic with these other people, but she always declined and ended up returning to her steady flame. What bothered me most was that even whilst she was taken she would continue the flirting and sending “I’m really interested in you” vibes to these other people that were quite obviously interested in more than just her vague friendship. I told her once that I felt she was leading them on and that it wasn’t very nice. She just looked at me and said, “It’s fun.”

While it was fun for her to see how many callers she could get from both sexes, it wasn’t as fun for the people who thought they had made a genuine connection with her. What a surprise when all that alone time she spent doting on them turned out to be nothing more than a mild entertainment for her. It usually left them confused, upset, and very down on themselves. Being played with like a toy isn’t fun for the person standing in as the “toy”- no matter what Toy Story leads us to believe.

I try to be wary of this. I’ve gained confidence since high school, but I want to be responsible with it. As much as it sucks, beauty is power to an extent. If a guy I don’t feel romantically inclined to or even physically attracted to asks me to do something like sit in his lap or hang out one-on-one in a romantic setting I turn them down. Better to let them know immediately that it’s not what you’re into than to lead them along and play with their emotions. That is just cruel. And you never know, you may be distracting them from opportunities to meet the real person for them.

Late Night Writing

Why is it easier to write late at night?
Or in the very early morning.
After the sun has long vanished
But hours before light reappears.

Are rays of light penetrating
To my mind’s inner workings?
Am I paranoid
Or just damn tired?

The thoughts come slower
But more deliberately.
With certainty,
Justification, and purpose.

They creep upon me
Like facts I had been ignoring.
But by computer screen light and darkness
Their honesty is striking.

Did the words decide to play this late?
Or did I beg them to
Because it’s easier being truthful
When there’s no one to reveal the truth to.

Lifeling

She thought she was okay. The tears rushing down her face seemed to say otherwise.

Why won’t this let me be? Why won’t I let myself be? Clare thought to herself. She was always thinking to herself, speaking truths and half truths and outright lies. But who was there to check her? No one else heard the snide remarks, the reprimands, the pitiful whimpers.

Or did they?

She could never tell. But usually she told herself they didn’t, or didn’t care. As if her emotions were of any monumental concern to anyone else. Puh-lease bitch. She thought to herself once again. Why you?

There was definitely something wrong. NO! The thought charged forward. Don’t you FUCKING CRY….Again. The again dropped off as her eyes blurred, once again.

I’m a strong woman. She often told herself. I am a badass bitch come down from on high like the fucking hammer of Thor! But once the empty arrogance retreated to its tiny bitch haven in her brain the unbidden thoughts returned.

That’s how Clare knew the truths from the half truths and the lies. The truth reared its depression prone head whenever it damn well felt like sauntering up to consciousness. The confidence had to be fabricated and forced upon her thoughts. The empowering thoughts never came unbidden, they were sent for with envoys, banners, and entreaties. And they could only be disturbed to respond a small percentage of the time they were beckoned.

When the boasts didn’t answer a summon the truth only became stronger. Weakling. Clare usually got that one unbidden. You’ve lost the courage to speak to anyone but yourself. A vicious voice would often say. Well, hello then lovely. Fancy seeing you here. It would jest.

She would jest. She had to force herself to admit that all of the voices were actually her. I really am a bitch. That brought the first smile to her face for days.

If people had noticed her smile they probably would have stared in awe. Stand and bow, bitch.

She had the urge to buy a Butterfinger from the vending machine. Clare had some self control, I mean, she did send envoys to her own brain. That was the small shred of dignity she retained. It didn’t really make her feel dignified. But people complimented her on it. “You’re so healthy!” and “I wish I had the discipline to exercise like you do!” No one could say anything about her personality, so they used the only material given them: Clare’s legs. “Man I would kill for those legs!” Was a favorite.

In truth Clare only restrained from gluttondom because she wanted to punish herself. It was a perfect way to show you had control, moulding the parts of your body that could be altered without a scalpel. Now I just need to take up knifing, she thought. Then I’ll really be in control. What a sick fuck, she thought next. That was more accurate.

The only other time Clare felt any relief was when she was singing. Alone. No one else would hear that wailing. Only the walls of her shower and the confines of her car echoed back to her.

The water could drown her out. The car could stifle her bellowing, when her notes would suddenly shatter and her tears broke free. She could choke to herself, allow her recovery to come when it pleased.

She hardly ever wiped her face anymore. She let the wetness evaporate on its own. The streaks were another shield. No one would bother her with a salty face. Why get trapped into the sad sack saga of a complete stranger. It’s so much easier to go about your day with nothing but your blind ambition and sense of self importance guiding you.

There was one thing that truly cheered her. She knew how to be alone.

Not everyone can do that, be alone. Some take it as a sign that they’re not worthy of attention, that they drive people away. Clare on the other hand boasted about her aloneness. Never loneliness, she was not lonely. There is a difference.

Clare could while away the hours as well as a cat could. She identified with feline nature, independent, sassy, almost effortless in her daily happenings. She didn’t think that this was a bad habit. Who wouldn’t want to be able to entertain, or at least occupy, themselves for hours on end? Life went by slowly and quickly in the same instance, and Clare thought there was something to that. As if she had unlocked the key to life itself.

Well, she wouldn’t go that far. She still cried at random junctures without apparent cause. She couldn’t claim to be the advisory to the world, much less to any single sap who would listen to her.

She would often read; magazines, novels, non fiction, science journals, even instruction manuals. Sometimes she retained the information with startling clarity, and other times her eyes would just glaze over and she would enjoy the simple physical act of reading. She found people left her alone more often when she read in the public places she was required to visit. No one wants to be that dick that interrupts an intellectual act.

Other times she would stare out of her dusty window above her bed. Again, sometimes processing information with great focus and sometimes completely shutting out the world and all of its petty stimuluses.

What really got her through her emotion filled days was the fact that nothing mattered much. She would die, just as all would die. She would live, just as people were meant to live. She could comfortably couple with solitude for the rest of her days without impact.

In the end, she was nothing more than a speck of carbon living out its life sentence on earth. No matter what decisions she made she would always have an expiration date. There was an odd comfort in that, but a comfort all the same. Viva la insignificant! She smiled.

I’m Trapped in a Glass Case of Emotion

So I’ve been freaking myself out lately. I’m stressed about finishing stories, getting people to return my calls, emails and messenger pigeons, and personal life is not helping matters. I normally have such a good memory and now I’m starting to forget things. Blerggggggg.

I hate admitting to being overwhelmed, but I am. It seems like every other minute someone is demanding something from me. And I know they’re not demanding in a mean way, they just expect me to fulfill my obligations. But my obligations are smothering me. Work, school, family and friends all want a piece, but I only have so much to give. I’m out of my comfort zone and it’s terrifying.

All I want to do is watch Anchorman and take photos of my adorable dogs.

See? Adorable.

See? Adorable.

But sadly and gratefully I’m in college. I have to take my own measures of de-stressing to clear my head, or I will keep forgetting things and crying in random intervals because I’m not sure what else to do.

So today I went to Rockbridge State Park, and it was beautiful and serene for that half hour I spent there. Leaving wasn’t something I wanted to do. As I drove back into city limits the pressures returned to my shoulders and I think I physically hunched over more. I’ll try to stop being so negative. And whiny. It’s annoying.

Autumn time is the best time.

Autumn time is the best time.

Phone Interviews

During my induced bed rest this week, I decided I couldn’t spend all of the day curled up in a ball cursing my body. I wanted to remain productive, so I attempted reading in small doses, and I even got an interview done.

No, I did not tell the individual to come to my sick bed, that would be highly unprofessional considering I was sweaty, crazy-eyed and switching between tearing my clothes off to throwing every blanket available upon my person every 30 minutes. (Such is fever folks.)

So I called the person. It helps them out often, because they see it as less of a hassle than meeting in person, and they’re thankful that you don’t wish your illness upon them. They’re busy people and have better things to do than be ill.

Phone interviews, while they shouldn’t be your first bet in all situations, are not the end of the world. If illness, distance, or time is an obstacle, suggest a phone interview. My experience with them has been positive. People speak candidly on the phone. I attribute that to the fact that you’re not looking at them while they speak, they essentially feel less on the spot. And what was helpful for me is that I could put them on speaker (in a private setting obviously) and type out what they were saying without it being rude. If you type while they’re speaking in person it comes off as rude and ruins the whole conversation vibe.

Interviews should be conversations, you’re getting information from the person, but you’re both generally invested and interested in what is being said. Feel free to discuss things related to, but not exactly what you were searching for when you set out to do the interview. Topics should flow easily, but still keep in mind the questions you need answered. It’s a bit of juggling act, but once it’s mastered it makes interviewing a much more enjoyable process, probably for both parties.

The main issue I found with phone interviews is that it’s easy for someone to ignore a voicemail. Be persistent, but not too pushy. I called and left a voicemail, waited a day and called again when I thought they may be free to get them personally, not an answering machine. It’s important to be clear in messages with your objective, who you work for, your name, and your contact information. If they don’t understand it they will just ignore you. They’re not responsible for the article, the reporter is.

Framing

We talked about framing in news lecture this week. I believe it’s a very important thing to know going into journalism. It’s something that I’ve thought about a lot as a photojournalist.

As a photojournalist, framing is key. As a photographer in general, framing is important because it can make or break the shot. Framing a photo is essentially choosing the content, just like when a painter decides what they want to paint. They may have a whole other world and imagination to choose from in their head, but what counts is what is seen. It’s the same with photojournalists. When they snap a photo they essentially blind the viewer to all of the things they kept out. Powerful stuff.

So of course, from an artists’ standpoint we want the photo to be pretty. “Visually appealing” would be a better way to phrase that. But from the journalist viewpoint, we need to find a way to make the photo both visually appealing and informative. It has to tell the story as it is, hopefully without bias or obvious neglect. If it’s not possible to do both, it’s more important to tell the story accurately than prettily.

I know it aches every artistic bone in the body to turn your back on the pretty, but journalism isn’t about presenting pretty things all the time. It’s about presenting the truth. And photojournalism is a great way to aid truth telling by adding that extra piece of evidence, when used correctly.

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