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.


  1. I’ll be eager to see what happens when you dive back into this project. Sounds absolutely worthy of pursuit.

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