Archives for February 2012

What Do You Care About?

This weekend I attended a workshop with Ed Kashi, a well-known and very talented photojournalist. The workshop format included a review of several of Ed’s projects (still photography and multimedia), followed by Ed’s review and critique of participant portfolios.

As Ed critiqued portfolios he repeatedly asked the photographer, “What do you care about?” In the context of a portfolio review, Ed wants to know what motivates the photographer — because that provides the fuel to drive that photographer to improve his or her skills. Ed explained his approach in a photo project: he becomes “maniacal” in getting his shots (and/or video or sound, as he also works with multimedia). “It’s mentally exhausting,” he says, to produce work at the quality necessary to succeed at Agency VII and National Geographic. You’ve got to commit to your project — sometimes for years — and employ all your skills and concentration to realize your vision. “You’ve got to focus, focus, focus,” he says. “Find an area of passion, and then do whatever you need to do to complete your project. If it means raising money, figure out how to get the money. If it means gaining access, tap into your resources to get that access.”

After I left the workshop, I reflected on a project I worked on in 2010: Deer Creek to Columbine. I’ve never been satisfied with the completed project, but I care deeply about the topic. In 2010 a man entered a local Junior High School and shot two students. The school is close to our neighborhood and the students are peers of one of my sons. Coincidently, the school is just 2 1/4 miles from Columbine High School, site of another school shooting a decade earlier. In addition, in 2006 there was a 3rd school shooting in a high school just 30 miles away. Three school shootings in the span of 11 years — all within a close distance. What was going on?

My idea was to walk the 2 1/4 miles between the two schools, interviewing people along the way to see if anyone could make sense or draw any connections between these events. I interviewed a Deer Creek school administrator. I also interviewed the father of a Columbine student who was killed at that school.

The project faltered because no one in that journey wanted to discuss the Columbine or Deer Creek shootings. I trekked back and forth between the schools several times. I spoke with numerous people on route, but all declined to be interviewed. Doors shut; people turned away. I managed to get some interviews at the Columbine memorial (erected in memory of the 13 students killed at the school). I pulled together a piece — but it’s never seemed complete. All questions, no answers.

Based on Ed’s advice, I’ve decided to revisit this topic this year. I’m not sure exactly how I’ll frame the piece, because there is inherent ambiguity about these events and what, if anything, may connect them. But these events share one very obvious thing in common: guns. Guns — and especially gun control — is a raw topic (especially here in Colorado), but there it is. That’s the core of this situation, and I care about this situation.

Interrupted Lives: Portraits of Student Repression

This short preview of a longer documentary film contains some very well-done graphics and sound effects. The first 43 seconds draws the viewer into the piece without any narration: just text and simple sound. In fact the narration, when it starts, lasts but 20 seconds — roughly 1/6th of the entire 2 minute production.


(Click video player on top right)

The piece then returns to graphics. The simplicity and directness of the piece is outstanding – a great preview. Produced by Studio4.org for the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation.

Christopher Capozziello: The Distance Between Us

This is heavy, but interesting and well-crafted.

Christopher Capozziello, a photographer based in Connecticut, brings us a soundslide presentation about his brother who has cerebral palsy. Using his own voice as narrator, audio recordings of his brother’s voice, haunting B&W photographs, and some audio sound effects, Capozziello introduces us to his twin brother Nick. Capozziello also draws us into his own mind as he questions why someone has disease. The narrative is honest without being overly dramatic. The images provide enough drama – I think Capozziello has struck the right balance.

I particularly like the introduction of Nick’s voice: a question and answer. Wow – that introduces not just Nick but also his limitations and frustrations that Capozziello chronicles in this piece.

Denver School of Rock

Recently I had the opportunity to do a short piece on the Denver School of Rock “Psychadellic 60s” concert. I looked at it as an opportunity to (a) test out my new Canon XA10 video cam in about as bad a lighting condition as I’m likely to find, and (b) focus on telling the story through individual characters.

I chose Erica as the center of my story. Erica is one of the School of Rock bassists, and quite an accomplished musician. Even though she’s shy, Erica’s personality lit up when we spoke about the School of Rock and the upcoming concert. It was fun to film that enthusiasm and passion. I used Erica’s narration to pull the viewer through the story (although not exclusively – I also added a 2nd narrator), hoping to convey some of her enthusiasm. I also asked Erica to play a bit of the bass line to a song that she would play in the concert, with the plan to use that solo base line as a transition from interview to concert setting.

At about the same time I did this School of Rock video I was also doing a separate photo shoot. Oddly, I found that I really enjoyed the photo shoot and found the School of Rock production slightly, well, more like … work. I thought about that. The specific drag relating to film/video fell into 3 categories:

  • Spontaneity – the beauty of still photography is that, in many cases, you can “wing it” in a shoot and come out with some very satisfying results. In fact I’ve done shoots where I carefully planned out most of the shots, then did a burst or two of some new seat-of-the-pants stuff which far surpassed all the careful planning. It’s often very enjoyable to just grab a camera and see what you can come up with. Film doesn’t lend itself to “winging it”. Film requires much more planning and pre-production effort. And that can start to feel like, well, work.
  • Post-production – rendering my video files, in particular, was painfully slow. I would lay a few selections in Final Cut and then launch a render cycle which would often take 20-25 minutes. Ouch. That really extended the time I needed to put this film together.
  • Volume/quality trade-off – I didn’t notice this as much in this production, but when stringing stills (vs. video footage) together with audio into a 3-4 minute film, it’s frankly difficult to come up with enough still photographs that are both high-quality and also move the storyline forward. There’s a struggle between dropping in enough images to retain the viewer’s attention and maintaining the variety and quality of those images (i.e., avoiding less-interesting photographs as fill)

Bottom line: there are some inherent trade-offs when using different media. Film requires more planning, more discipline, longer post-production time — but may have the inherent value of facilitating a richer, deeper, more complex story. It also has the inherent weakness of requiring time to consume (and the consequent requirement of maintaining an intriguing flow of images and sound to keep the viewer engaged).