After attending my second Picture Kentucky workshop, the photojournalism workshop that inspired this blog, I have come back with similar feelings to those I had when I left the first. I couldn’t be happier about that, either.
The workshop assigns the 16 students to small groups, each lead by an accomplished photojournalist from around the country. Mine was the great Matt Detrich, a photographer from the Indianapolis Star and multiple winner of Indiana photographer of the year. He was a coach from the Beattyville workshop, and his presentation on the power of photojournalism had already changed how I perceived the career.
Now, I got four days of his time. I couldn’t imagine how much I would grow with his guidance.
My assignment this year was at the Deaton Funeral Home. The slip of paper I was given said that the embalmer was an interesting fellow, and to see what I could learn about him. When I got to the small funeral home, the embalmer was nowhere to be seen or heard of. The lady who answered the door, Mary Deaton – the owner, and eventual centerpiece of my story – delivered the bad news, but invited me in to talk.
After spending the first day with Mrs. Deaton, a retired Kentucky state social worker, Detrich and I decided she should be the focus of the story. (The embalmer was out of town that week). Her story was touching and real. See the video below:
Deaton and her son had taken over the family business when her husband passed away in 2008. Her home was fixated above the funeral home, keeping her in contact with business 24/7, but also tying her to it. What was special about her was her deep thoughts about death, and how it isn’t something to be feared, something to be ignored. Death is part of her daily life, and in some ways, she has already coped with the looming reality of the life cycle.
Photographically, the story was challenging. Her job on most days was simply to stay close to the phone, in case another body was to arrive, or need to be picked up. Sitting in an office all day doesn’t give a photographer a lot of options. But the light at the end of the tunnel was the funeral on Friday, the last full day of shooting for the workshop, where she would be more busy and interacting with other people.
Some things I learned from my four days as part of the Deaton Funeral Home family:
1. “That body ain’t gonna get ya, child,” – I had never personally seen a dead body in my life, until the day I introduced myself to Mary Deaton. Of course, I had seen pictures and videos, but the sudden rush of adrenaline and shock that flooded me with my first peak into that open casket snapped me back into reality. That quote was Mrs. Deaton’s response to my reaction. Too true, Mrs. D.
2. Don’t forget about that white balance – Natural light, flourescent, incandescent… they were all there. I thought to myself that every room must use a different type of light bulb, because even my automatic setting couldn’t keep up. I’m more aware now of that particular setting’s importance than ever before.
3. Stay focused – I’m talking about the photographer. Sitting in the office all day made me feel like I was wasting my time. That was wrong. Detrich put me in my place when I decided to skip out on Mrs. Deaton to hang out with the grave diggers for the afternoon. They weren’t the story. She was. Stay Focused.
Of course, the assignments only make up one part of the Picture Kentucky Workshop experience. In the evenings, like in previous workshops, each photojournalism coach gave what turned about to be huge inspirational talks.
The highlight this year was Jahi Chickwendiu, a staff photographer from the Washington Post, whose photographs of conflicts in Africa and the Middle East easily awed the audience. But his speech was more than just a display of his own talents. He was setting a fire in us, giving us a piece of his own passion that threw him from being a high school math teacher to his current position at one of the most prolific newspapers in the industry.
Words cannot due justice to the passion Jahi’s speech instilled in me about photojournalism. Here is that speech. Enjoy:
If you are interested in learning about photojournalism, and want to be pushed past your limits and more, check out Picture Kentucky’s website, and watch this video below:
After my internship at The Oklahoman this summer, I truly couldn’t agree more.
I didn’t realize how much I needed to improve this summer until I arrived at the Oklahoman, and my copy came under the scrutiny of the editors here.
My first few stories were under par, and I was worried I had failed the editors’ litmus test. As discouraged as I might have been, they kept their faith in me, and in a few weeks, I was pumping out cleaner copy every day.
One of those stories was the one shown on the right. With the patience of Rick Green, the local desk editor here, I turned what was a mind-numbing numbers story into something truly valuable to the reader.
I should say that I had two goals this summer, and I would have been happy with just one of them being accomplished: Either (A): Get good play on the front page, or (B): Have two stories run on the same day.
I guess I set my goals pretty low, because the staff did more than their share to ensure that I got great stories and that they were well-played on the page. For example, in my first week, I had two front page stories.
One was on FEMA’s response to Oklahoma’s tornado damage. The other was this one.
Not only that, but in one edition I claimed the front page CP, and then had a second article teased on the front page as well. That broke both goals I wanted to achieve.
Another time, in yesterday’s edition, August 4, I got CP on the Page 1 AND on the Metro front.
I really can’t believe all the good that has come out of this internship for me.
I’ve made some amazing connections with some extraordinary journalists and interns here.
My writing went from typical fresh-out-of-j-school approach, to a more polished, professional style.
I’m still nowhere close to where I want to be as a storyteller. But give me two more years, and I might just be hirable. *Hint, Hint to any newspaper recruiters reading this*.
The more that I think about live storytelling, the more I’m impressed with it.
Every story that I’m engaged with on a daily basis has been finely tweaked, edited, trimmed and polished with days or weeks of attention.
Yet there are people out there who participate in live, oral storytelling, who speak to an audience without notes or facts, and tell a story beautifully.
I’m truly fascinated with these speakers who can deliver compelling, gripping stories in their presentations. It isn’t an easy thing to do; more of an art form than anything else.
I came across this type of storytelling while listening to NPR. I tuned into a new station, and they introduced me to a new program called Moth Radio Hour, an anthology of stories told by speakers to a live audience at a theater hall. I can honestly tell you, I never remember the drive home on the days it broadcasts. My full audible attention was directed towards the speakers. It truly is an experience.
In any case, the program would be extraordinary to see live, a romantic and thoughtful alternative to the movies or a play. Many of these events take place in New York City, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles. If you are ever in town, be sure to hit up a show. Here’s the Moth Radio Hour’s scheduled events.
One speaker in particular, Edgar Oliver, with his haunting voice and presence, is a must listen. His true story account of his life growing up in Savannah, Georgia, with his sister, who both want desperately to escape the grasps of their paranoid and dementia-ridden mother’s controlling grasps.
This type of ancient storytelling has stood the test of time, and the power of these stories tell me that something about the medium is everlasting, so long as humans are capable of communicating.
While live storytelling isn’t a perfect science, and probably isn’t a recommended way for journalists to get their messages across, I think it ought to deserve an immense amount of respect from any kind of storyteller. Broadcast or print, fiction or non-fiction. These stories are masterful in their own way, and they are in no short supply.