Bill Frakas

It’s been a long time since I’ve touched this blog due to some general craziness in my life – good, bad and everything in between.

Here are two short films by Bill Frakas, a renowned Sports Illustrated photographer who is getting his hands dirty in multimedia.

I prefer “Ada” to “Istanbul”. Ada slides me into into an individual’s life story. I walk away having learned something and having experienced something about a person I’m unlikely to meet. It’s not overwhelming but I like the vibe of the story.

I find Istanbul less satisfying. The images are undoubtedly excellent. But I don’t find a string of still photographs – even great photographs – intriguing enough to hold me for 5 minutes on the web. I’m not proud of it, but there you have it. I have a short attention span.

Norman Chichester, Poet (Reworked)

I revised this multimedia “portrait” of Norman Chichester, the poet that I introduced several posts ago. I think I’ve improved the storyline by restructuring some elements and introducing an opening question: how did this man overcome his physical impediment to write poetry?

I’m also testing out embedding video from YouTube instead of Vimeo.

Put the Gear Down

I’ve been focused recently on some outside projects – one of which was a trip with my son and some other boys in his Boy Scout troop to Moab, Utah for a canyoneering trip. As I was packing for the trip, I thought how wonderful this experience would be to capture in multimedia. It has all the attributes of a great multimedia story: characters, amazing location, exciting action, drama, etc.

There are times when doing multimedia can get in the way of the experience itself. This trip was really about exposing some boys to a great experience. To clutter that up with audio recorders, microphones, too many cameras, etc. would detract from the primary experience which was to … experience the canyons, not record the experience of the canyons. Even just taking photos I had to restrain myself and find that balance between memorializing the activity and disrupting the activity.

Once in awhile you have to put all the gear down. Just enjoy.

More Interesting Stuff

As Joe McNally says in his book The Moment It Clicks, “If you want to be a better photographer, stand in front of more interesting stuff.”

There’s no reason that McNally’s advice shouldn’t equally apply to multimedia.

I took this photo of Ian Robert McKown, a Denver-based tattoo artist. Ian is a very… interesting guy.

Go out there and find some unique stories. There are plenty.

Vexed By The Poet

Norman Chichester, a local poet, presents an interesting challenge. My goal is to create a multimedia portrait of Norman using still images and audio recordings of his voice. We met one evening to record Norman reading some of his poems and discussing their origin and source.

What I’m finding is that while Norman is a very interesting guy, he is essentially a content man who has lived a full life and relishes his memories. Creating a stimulating story about a quiet, content man is surprisingly difficult. I took a number of photos of him from a variety of angles – but despite the variation of angles and perspectives, at the end of the day what I now hold are quite similar-looking images of a man sitting in a chair reading. Norman’s vocal intonations are great, but you can only do so much… It’s anything but dynamic.

The fundamental problem is the lack of story. There’s no beginning, middle, and end — just an end: a vignette of Norman as he is today.

So I went back to Norman’s place this weekend to get something of his history — how this poetry thing came to be. It turns out Norman has a very interesting story. He was always interested in language, even in childhood. But a physical limitation (a tremor in his hands) prevented Norman from living the life of a poet. Norman’s writing was so poor, he told me, that it was virtually indeciperable to read. Instead of the life of a writer, Norman pursued a career for 35 years as a square dance caller and teacher. “A square dance teacher,” he told me, “is something of a bard. He creates poetry in the moment in the great tradition of the storyteller.” He has to create rhymes at the spur of the moment, directing his dancers around the floor. Norman’s 35 years of square dance calling served as his school for meter, rhyme and performance.

In his 50s, Norman acquired a word processing computer which served to liberate him from his physical limitation. “I was finally able to write poetry,” he said. And he’s continued to do so well into his 70s.

I’m now embedding some audio clips and still images within this larger story of how Norman overcame his physical limitations to write poetry after decades of frustration.

360 Degrees Multimedia Project

The 360 Degrees Project offers perspectives on the U.S. criminal justice system via stories, links, data, and graphics. This is an ongoing accumulation of content relating to the topic of incarceration and its effects on families and communities.

Apart from the interesting content that you can find throughout this site (example: “The U.S. population comprises only 5 percent of the total world population; however, our prison population constitutes 25 percent of the total world’s prison population”), the Flash version is very spiffy and well-crafted. Clearly someone is dumping a LOT of time and energy into this project.

Despite all the labor dumped into this site, I’m not enamored with it. I WANT to really, really like it, but I just don’t. Maybe it’s a sense of too much information. Maybe it’s a sense of information being presented as data – I’m not finding the emotional connection to pull me through the content. Or frankly to keep me looking through all the information.

Gina Ferazzi: Living on Black Tar Heroin

Gina Ferazzi is a reporter for the LA Times. In this audio slideshow, Ferazzi drops us into the world of two heroin addicts.

(click “Watch Audio Slideshow” just below the image on the LA Times site)

We spend a few minutes listening to their stories and watching them prepare and inject heroin in all spots of their bodies. I was struck by the “normality” of these people – something that really surprised me. We see images of the couple preparing dinner alongside photos of them injecting heroin. They explain how they borrow money and forego food to come up with enough cash to buy their “expensive medication.”

Pretty amazing access and intimacy that Ferazzi was able to coordinate.

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 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.