Category Craft

Seeing the South

I have a couple of friends, photojournalists with common but wide backgrounds, and we keep talking about doing some kind of project together. A road trip, an essay, a deep exploration of a place.

But we just keep talking about it, mostly because that’s all we have time for. And seeing pieces like this Andrew Moore gallery on the Bitter Southerner just makes me want to go even more.

Now that’s great storytelling.

Seeing Where You Are

For every photographer who has ever said they need to travel somewhere to make better images, for every journalist who has driven to work with windows up and music playing, you must read this piece by Neeta Satam on how to see stories ethically.

Next week, students in our Documentary Photojournalism course will head a little south for our 13th Annual Woodall Weekend Workshop, three days in one rural community telling its story. They will focus in on one project, working with ten professionals acting as editors, coaches and mentors.

There is nothing unique or special about the communities we choose for them to cover, they are everyday places full of everyday happenings – stories we need to see to understand who we are.

These are the stories of our backyard.

(Thanks to Sean Elliot for the link.)

Secrets About Secrets

The New York Times just published 15, 15 women who were never profiled at the time of their death, in a series titled Overlooked.

The controversial Diane Arbus, a portrait photographer who has been the center of photographic discussions since her 1971 suicide, is featured in a piece by James Estrin.

Her work raises a lot of questions about purpose and ethics – no one has ever referred to her as a journalist but her work does document a certain time and place in history. The question I always come back to with her images is whether they are about those she photographed or about her, the photographer, and her own journey.

Worth a few minutes of your time this morning.

Storytelling Lessons

My friend Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute has broken down a couple of Super Bowl commercials to help us become better storytellers.

Worth clicking through for the other ad breakdown.

Getting the Big Picture, Leaving a Legacy

A wonderful piece by a gentleman whose work I admire and whose character I deeply respect – Billy Howard writes about making a group photo at a summer camp and becoming part of the camp’s legacy.

Too often we drop into people’s lives, quickly assess what makes them who they are and then dash off. If the photo succeeds, if it wins awards, maybe we get to stand on a platform in a darkened room before our peers and share our experience of how we made the image. But how often do we consider what it was like to have been on the other side of the image? What did that experience mean?

Mr. Howard knows for those he photographed last summer wrote a song about it.

Visuals for Radio

My friend Regina McCombs posted a gallery of the work her staff and stringers did this year for Minnesota Public Radio – a gallery of stunning visuals.

Think about that – great visuals made for radio. What a wonderful world we live in.

McCullin in Kolkata


Yes, this is a PR piece from Canon Europe. Yes, it’s designed to get you interested in spending many, many dollars on Canon gear.

But it’s Don McCullin talking about the way he makes images while he makes images in Kolkata.

Look Versus Feel

The New York Times’ Todd Heisler writes about covering tragic events like the church shooting in Texas.

Because of this, it is important to make images that go beyond grief and crime scenes. Step back. Give a sense of place. Show not just what a scene looks like but, more important, what it feels like. 

That last part – about making images that show what stories feel like … that’s the goal!, that’s always the goal. My friend Billy Weeks puts it this way: “Photos of something vs. photos about something.”

You can spend your career making photographs of things and, if you’re technically competent and reasonably personable, you can have a decent career I suspect. I’ll admit my early years fell into that category – I was a good photographer, always made a usable image and was easy to work with. I look back on some of those stories from the start of my career and I’m not always sure anyone would feel anything. They’d know what happened, but they might not care deeply about it. Lots of record shots, a recording of what was before me.

That’s where my students start because it’s where we all start. Master the mechanics, figure out the aesthetics, put it into practice in the field. Figure out what the story is, figure out who the story matters to, find the character that helps us understand and then make an image that will make an emotional connection, make someone who wasn’t there, who doesn’t know, feel something.

That’s the real challenge in photojournalism. It isn’t about getting sharp photos, it isn’t about getting proper exposures. It isn’t about having the right lens or the newer sensor or the better job at the bigger publication. Every time we raise a camera to our eye, regardless of who is before it or who will look at it, it is our responsibility to make an image that lets a viewer know what that moment feels like.

That’s when the power of photojournalism becomes ours,

A Little Larceny

I love this idea from J. Scott Applewhite:

Little stolen moments, some of my best pictures have a little larceny in them.

Scott Applewhite: Lifetime Achievement Award from The Associated Press on Vimeo.

Hops and Millimeters

I will admit, there is this internal conflict when it comes to one of my photographic heroes, Henry Cartier-Bresson. The work, the elegance of it, the preservation of a moment in time … it resonates with me deeply.

But then there are pieces I read, interviews and stories, and I’m left wondering whether he was a charlatan of sorts. He was, at times, so dismissive of the craft, of the effort.

Lines like this, excerpted from a 1973 interview with Sheila Turner-Seed:

I see different things, I presume. But not more, not less. The best pictures in The Decisive Moment were taken right away, after two weeks. [ . . . ] That’s why teaching and learning don’t make sense. You must live and look. All these photography schools are a gimmick. What are they teaching? Could you teach me how to walk?

So, I’ll put aside my defensiveness because of my occupation and say I agree there’s a certain level of innate vision the best have. But that vision needs to be developed, it needs to be explored and prodded and poked at, it needs to be put in context and critiqued. A photograph is not an isolated thing, it is an arc that connects moment and the witness and the viewer, bringing them back to the moment.

Maybe it’s more of a circle. Hmmm … maybe there’s something in there to teach …

The precision of his work and the way he talks about it, that has always resonated with me:

The difference between a good picture and a mediocre picture is a question of millimeters, a tiny difference. But it’s essential. I don’t think there’s so much difference between photographers, but it’s that tiny difference that counts, maybe.

And the way he talks about watching a great photographer work, the elegance with which they move, I get that, too. There’s a fluidity we should all be striving for, the insert ourselves into the ebb-and-flow of life, to be swept along but at just the right distance to be able to see not just this moment, but how it connects to all the others.

As I said, I have some inner conflict.