Chicago Tribune staff photographer Scott Strazzante has built an Instagram following of more than 18,000, and is also author of a popular blog called Shooting from the Hip. He sat down for a video interview with PDN at the Look3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia last month to explain the tools and techniques he uses to capture unguarded moments of everyday people on the streets of Chicago, New York and other cities he visits while covering news and sports assignments for the Tribune.
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Among a number of noteworthy photo projects screened at the 2013 Look3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia earlier this month was “Pollinators,” a four-minute video featuring stunning macro images of insects and animals in the act of pollinating plants, by National Geographic contributor Mark Moffett. Part of the charm of the video is Moffett’s narration, which evokes the plodding soberness of nature documentaries of yore, and then takes a series of wry, tongue-in-cheek turns after about 90 seconds. (This video was provided courtesy of Look3 organizers, with Mark Moffett’s permission.)
In his short video “Open Lanes,” photographer Stephen M. Keller captures an honest, revealing portrait of a bowling alley owner struggling to keep his business alive. The video, with audio and visuals that are equally compelling, was one of several noteworthy projects by participants at the 2013 NPPA Multimedia Immersion workshop at Syracuse University last month. The five-day workshop was a hands-on course in multimedia story telling and production. Participants were given names of subjects and contact information, then turned loose to figure out the subject’s story, and gather the audio and video required to tell it. Coaches with experience in multimedia production helped the workshop participants shape and edit their stories. (PDN editor David Walker participated in the workshop at the invitation of organizers).
PDN: What was the assignment you got at the workshop?
Stephen Keller: It wasn’t detailed at all. It just said, Solvay Recreation Alleys and it gave a phone number. I called and talked to the [owner] for 20 or 30 minutes about the bowling alley, and what was going on with it. He seemed like a good guy who loved bowling, and the bowling industry, but he was also in tough times and I thought [the bowling alley] might be in some financial trouble. But he was a normal guy who you want to see succeed.
PDN: How in-depth was your pre-production interview?
SK: I was trying to get as much information as I could, to get an idea where I wanted to go with the story. I wanted to have idea what I might want to look for, what I might want to shoot, what I might want to ask in the interview. I like to preview [stories], to see if they will be worthwhile. It’s also a way to build rapport and get [the subject] familiar with me, even before the camera is there.
PDN: Were you concerned he might tell you the whole story in the pre-production interview, and then be less enthusiastic about telling it on tape because he’d already told you his story?
SK: Not really, because he was a guy who seemed like he liked to talk. I think pre-production interviews are a good thing. I usually do the regular [recorded] interview after all the footage is shot. So I’m familiar with the subject and the story, and I’m going to ask the same questions multiple times in different parts of the interview so I get it clean.
PDN: Did you have a clear idea of the story narrative in your head before you got there, and if so, what was it?
SK: A little bit–it was kind of like an economy story. I wanted to go in that direction because everyone can kind of relate to that. When I got there, it looked pretty much the way I imagined, but I was wondering: how do I shoot an empty bowling alley? That’s boring, so how do I make it visually interesting?
During the pre-production interview I got information about when there were likely to be customers, but when I arrived there was just nobody there. For the three hours that I was there, there has nothing happening, so I went back the next day to [film] some actual customers. I ended up shooting with people there, and without people there, and I tried to get the same angles, somewhat. I should have put marks on the floor to put the tripod in the same spot, to make jump cuts between those shots [with and without people]. I [also] showed that the clientele is [disappearing] by filming the senior citizens who bowl there.
PDN: Did you do the interview after all the shooting was finished?
SK: We did the interview at the end of the first day [after] nobody came in. We were in the same room together for three or four hours, just us. [Your subject] kind of gets familiar with the camera that way.
PDN: What were the biggest challenges you had?
SK: With this piece, because I’m more experienced shooter, I wanted to focus on the parts of my skill set that aren’t the best. My main thing was to focus on getting best interview I’ve ever gotten.
PDN: Your subject’s struggle and sense of resignation comes across so well in the interview. How did you get him to let his guard down?
SK: It was just being around each other. It was being up front, and building that rapport. He opened up, and was the kind of guy who wouldn’t hide anything [anyway]. I also noted his responses to the questions, and returned to some of them to get him to elaborate more.
[Workshop coach] Evan [Vucci's] “dumb dog” technique really helped. When the subject finished up a sentence, I would give him the “dumb dog” look and he would keep going, and elaborate further without [my] even having to [ask a follow-up question]. [Editor's note: With the "dumb dog" technique, an interviewer tilts his head and raises his eyebrows inquisitively as soon as the subject finishes responding to a question. The key is to make the gesture without saying a word. The purpose is to prompt the subject to continue talking, and it often leads the subject to give an unguarded response to the question at hand.]
PDN: Was it a challenge to edit the story?
SK: There were so may great quotes. The hardest part was cutting [them]. As Evan said to me, “You have to kill your babies” [i.e., the quotes that you love the most] to tell a great story about this guy. One thing [the subject] said that didn’t make it into the film was that he was an avid bowler, but he’s had a knee injury and hasn’t been able to bowl for a few years.
PDN Video Pick: Our Own Little World
Miller Mobley built a successful business as an editorial and commercial photographer in his native Alabama, then gave it up to start all over again in New York City. In this video produced by PDN, he discusses how he landed jobs in both places, and the importance of showing new work to potential clients every time he approaches them. To learn more about how Mobley launched and then re-launched his career, see our story, “Miller Mobley’s Transition,” at PDNonline.com.
Photographer Lori Waselchuk‘s three-minute video titled Our Own Little World was one of several noteworthy projects produced by participants at the 2013 NPPA Multimedia Immersion workshop at Syracuse University earlier this month. The five-day workshop, which was attended by a PDN editor David Walker at the invitation of the organizers, started with a crash course in multimedia storytelling and production, and quickly moved on to hands-on training in one-man-band video production. Workshop participants drew assignments out of a hat, then hit the streets to shoot the stories. Back at the Newhouse School of Public Communications, where the workshop was held, coaches helped participants shape and edit their stories.
We asked Waselchuk to tell us a little about her project, and how she pulled it together.
PDN: What was the assignment you got?
Lori Waselchuk: It said, “Keith (Traub) and Theresa (Daddona-Traub) are making furniture from recycled farm materials” and then it gave the name of their business (Unite Two Design) their address and contact info. It was very brief.
PDN: How did you conceive and construct the story from that?
LW: The workshop helped me walk into the story. Bruce Strong‘s lecture on story telling helped me take the basics–who, what, when, where and why– and develop a story arc that has commonality and universality for an audience. Keith and Theresa’s story came out in the interview. I interviewed Theresa first. She was really open. When I asked, ‘how did you start to make furniture?’, she was able to talk honestly and authentically about their journey.
PDN: Did you do the interviews before you started shooting? How did the interview inform what and how you shot?
LW: As a photographer, I get my visual cues from interviews. That was a natural process for me. I needed to know more about who these people were. As they were telling their story, I was able to figure out the important aspects. Theresa spoke about their journey and lessons learned. Keith was shyer about their journey. Working with the farm materials is what gives him his creative oxygen, so I had him talk about the craft, the artwork. He talked about collecting materials, and building relationships with farmers whose farms are no longer in use. He goes out to farms to collect stuff. So I asked if we could go out on one of his scavenging hunts. He made it happen the second day. I drove to Keith and Theresa’s place half an hour before they arrived so I could get the sunrise shots. I wanted to show the texture around their place in early morning light. Keith rolled in, then we went out to the farm, collected, then I spent the rest of the day shooting them at work.
PDN: Why was texture around their place important? What did it contribute to the story?
LW: it was a phenomenal space visually, so I needed to capitalize on that. I wanted to get the quietness, the peacefulness of the place. it’s a bit of a treasured space for them, so I wanted to be able to describe that color and texture.
PDN: What was the biggest challenge you had producing this story?
LW: Shooting felt quite natural. I felt good about photography. It was the sound that I would not have known how to handle. The challenge is to creature texture in editing between sound and visuals. McKenna Ewen (one of the workshop coaches) helped me create those complex mixtures of sound and visuals in the editing. The way he layers those things is something I would never have been able to do. The biggest challenging for me is the editing.
PDN: What were the biggest lessons you learned, about story telling or production?
LW: I loved the intensity of the workshop. It made me feel the way I used to when I was a photographer for a daily newspaper. I’m super excited about the demands of video, and the learning curve ahead. I needed that inspiration.
(Other videos from the workshop are posted on Vimeo. Search “NPPA immersion 2013″)
If you didn’t get a chance to attend the PDN‘s 30 panel at this year’s Palm Springs Photo Festival, you can now watch it below! The symposium, called “PDN Presents: Strategies for the Emerging Photographer,” took place on Monday April 29 and was moderated by PDN Editor Holly Stuart Hughes. The panelists were: 2013 PDN‘s 30 photographers Ian Allen, John Francis Peters and Jessica Sample; Photo Editor Emily Shornick, who works at NYMag.com’s The Cut; and Sony Artisan of Imagery Andy Katz. The photographers discuss how they transitioned to shooting professionally, while Shornick gives insight on what photo editors are looking for when hiring photographers.
You can see the complete list of 2013 PDN‘s 30 photographers at pdnevents.com/pdn30.
Since the 1990s, Magnum photographer Thomas Dworzak has explored the volatile republics of the Northern Caucasus. It’s a region that’s now in the news because alleged Boston bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev had ties there, but Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia and other republics of the Caucasus have long been a source of curiosity and geopolitical ambitions, especially in Russia.
In his 2010 book, Kavkas, Dworzak, who is now based in Georgia, wrote: “Having discovered the importance of the ‘Caucasus Experience’ in 19th century romantic Russian literature, I finally put together a book with all the images from my years spent in the Caucasus.” Kavkas includes images Dworzak took while covering the conflicts in Chechnya and Abkhazia and their aftermath, as well as scenes from Dagestan, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Ossetia.
In the book’s introduction, Dworzak called Kavkas “a toast to the Caucasus.” Magnum in Motion made a multimedia slide show of some of the images from the book. They appear on screen as in the book, interspersed with text from writers including Tolstoy, Lermontov and Pushkin.
While many of Dworzak’s images are poetic and allusive, and compliment the writers’ rhapsodic prose, at other times they make a sharp contrast, showing the violence and hardship the region has seen in recent years.
Notable Photo Books 2010 (review of Kavkas, published by Schilt)
(For PDN subscribers only.)
The team of Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele have long been using multimedia and video to get beyond statistics and portray the stories of individuals around the world whose lives are affected by climate change. The four new films in their Facing Climate Change are about people in the Pacific Northwest adapting to rising sea levels and atmospheric change. The films premiered this year at the Wild & Scenic Film Festival and are currently being shown around the country on a nationwide tour.
Their film “Oyster Farmers, Facing Climate Change” uses dramatic underwater footage, documentary photography and video, music and interviews to tell the story of Kathleen Nisbet and her father, Dave, who have for years farmed oysters in Washington’s Willapa Bay. Recently, however, oyster larvae and young oysters have been dying at an alarming rate because of the acidity of local waters, caused by the absorption of carbon dioxide. The problem is particularly acute off the Northwest coast. The Nisbets’ solution: moving some of their business to Hawaii, where there is less ocean upswell, and thus the acidity in the water is increasing less rapidly.
Drummond and Steele had many partners in the making of the new films, including the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington and Washington State Department of Ecology, and they received major funding from Nau’s Grant for Change and several other funders. You can read about the making of the film on Drummond and Steele’s blog, bdsjs.com/blog. You can view all the videos at bdsjs.com/facing-climate-change/ and on Vimeo.
The winners of the PDN Edu Student Photo Contest were announced last week. Alexander Kreher, of Virginia Commonwealth University, won the multimedia/video category
with an 18-minute short film, “Street Dreams,” about the young woman who became the first female to run alone and unsupported across the United States. She made the 2,867 mile-run to raise $17,000 for the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
In his other video submission, a piece called “All Those Wonderful Things,” Kreher uses a mix of stills, video and a compelling audio interview to tell the story of one woman’s struggles with hoarding, the financial problems it creates, and the disappointment she feels about her life. Kreher made that four-and-a-half minute piece while studying at the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, Maine.
“All Those Wonderful Things” can be found on Vimeo.
During a panel discussion at ASMP’s “Sustainable Business Models: Issues & Trends Facing Visual Artists” symposium, Stephen Mayes, managing director of the VII Photo Agency warned photographers not to think of themselves strictly as service providers. He suggested looking not for clients, but for “partnerships.” He said VII has successfully formed several such partnerships, in which the entity paying for the photos isn’t necessarily the same company that’s using the photos. One such partnership is the VII Photo Agency’s recent work creating videos and photo essays for Think Outside the Cell, a non-profit organization that works with the incarcerated, formerly incarcerated and their families to help end the stigma of incarceration
The campaign was funded by the Ford Foundation, and VII acted as Think Outside the Cell’s “exclusive visual communications partner,” according to the press release from VII. The photographs and video that VII photographers created for the Think Outside the Cell web site show the ordinary lives of people who were formerly incarcerated in order to raise awareness about the stigma and challenges they face upon release from prison— problems that go far beyond discrimination when applying for jobs. The stories the photographers tell also explore “the local, state and federal laws that prevent formerly incarcerated persons from accessing the resources necessary to establish a stable and productive life.”
The first of the videos, ten minutes long, debuted on the Think Outside the Cell web site this week. It’s a collaboration between Ed Kashi, Jessica Dimmock, Ashley Gilbertson and Ron Haviv; the videos are edited by Francisco Fagan.
Here’s a short trailer:
The Prison Photography blog has begun a five-part series on the Think Outside the Cell campaign, and will be running weekly interviews with each of the photographers. Part One of the series was posted this week. In it, writer Pete Brook talks to Sheila Rule and Joseph Robinson, co-founders of Think Outside The Cell, and one of the subjects featured in the video. They explain how the organization is addressing the problems of the formerly incarcerated, how the campaign was planned, and why the partnership with VII was, in Rule’s words, “a natural fit.” Says Rule, “We are both driven by storytelling. Stories change hearts and minds.”