The relationships you build with your subjects is at the fulcrum of your success or failure as a storyteller. Teeter the wrong way, and you’ll smack the ground.
I haven’t busted my bottom yet, but I there have been some close calls.
To date, I’ve forgotten to do two simple tasks that might have strained relationships with my subjects; going to an event, and sending a photo.
Of course, it occurred at Picture Kentucky. One of my subjects was a do-it-all man. Literally. He was the county magistrate, taxidermist, funeral director, grave digger and craftsman. My job was to document him in all his roles.
After spending several hours with him, he invited me to come back to an annual festival at his hometown (The Wooly -Worm festival). I quickly accepted. When a few months went by and time came for the event, I was just too bogged down to go.
I had planned to return with some friends and spend the day, but college life and newsrooms don’t allow much free time.
But there are no excuses for breaking promises.
It may not seem like a big deal, but I know Mr. Begle would remember. That’s all it takes. The relationship I built with him and the access I had been granted into his life and community might be severed or compromised for future work on that project.
Think of what could happen if you were a beat reporter, and you didn’t keep a promise to a vital source of information. Your entire job and career in that beat could be compromised.
As journalists, all we have is our name and integrity. Our reputation allows us to perform our job and let the people trust us as a source of accurate and timely information. Don’t go teetering the wrong way.
Stories from the Picture Kentucky workshop which sparked this blog are many. But the first I would like to share was the one I am still living down today. All it took was for Davide Labelle, a very well respected photojournalist, to ask me a simple question.
“Are you a writer?”
Harmless at first glance, but it was so much more than that.
So, at Picture Kentucky, it was a mixed bag of photojournalists and noobies looking to pick up the craft. Many of them worked at my student newspaper in a variety of roles, but all with print journalism backgrounds; writers in other words.
I was the assistant photo editor of my paper, the Kentucky Kernel, and I was proud of that. So proud, I wanted nothing else but to make the best pictures out of everyone, and impress everyone. I needed to prove to myself that I could take on the job responsibilities.
In short, I needed to impress Davide Labelle.
That didn’t happen.
In fact, I did the opposite. After the first day of the workshop, and I had returned with my first set of photos, David, as my team leader, started looking through my take.
He shook his head, muttering to himself “Brandon, Brandon, Brandon…” in that sad tone that any word which arrives in triple succession means bad news. Then, he gave me a good once over and asked, “Are you a writer?”
Or in other words, “Are you a noobie wannabe photographer who doesn’t know what he’s doing?”
Yes, you could say I’ve dwelled on it a bit. And when I told my friends about it, they have drug the joke on well past its prime. But after the incident, I knew I was nowhere close to where I needed to be.
I become a sponge during that workshop. Soaking in all the advice I could fit in my brain that four hours of sleep would allow.
Things like: “Its not what they are doing we care about, its where they are doing it,” a piece of advice that is still helping me today.
I think I’ve become a much better photographer because of that paranoia. To think someone would mistake me again for something I was not has propelled my need to make better pictures.
It’s only one fraction that pushes me to work hard, but its a part thats lasted with me through much of my photographic career.
Got any funny photo stories you want to share?
Email me a firstname.lastname@example.org with “Composition Notebook Post” in the subject line, and i’ll post it on the site.