Sunday, May 1, 2011

Growing Up Small: Life as a Little Person

Below is the multimedia piece I developed from my 30-Day story.

Untitled from Erin Hendry on Vimeo.

When working on this project, there were many things that I found difficult as well as some other things that made me happy with what I produced.
Over the course of the 30 days I spent three weekends and two different weekdays in St. Louis working on this story. It made things more difficult because I couldn't just drop by whenever I wanted. I am used to having a lot more material because in the past I have been able to visit my subjects more often. It was also hard to visit with Brendan and his family while I was there because his mom, Sally, had just put their house on the market and had to be out for a lot of different showings.
It was also hard working with a 14 year old boy on this story. I could tell Brendan was getting a little impatient with me when I kept coming back to work on the story, which isn't surprising because he is at that age where kids don't have much patience. Also, it was hard to get great audio clips from Brendan. As any teenage boy, Brendan had somewhat short answers that didn't work well with a multimedia piece. Because of this, I had to use a lot of his parents' audio clips because they said what he wanted to say, but in a way that flowed a little better. I was worried that because I used so much of his parents' audio that it would turn into more of a story about them than Brendan, but I am really hoping that I stayed true to Brendan's story and his experience.
Although there were a lot of things that I wasn't too happy with, there are also things I feel I accomplished well. Even though Brendan did get tired of me, I was able to gain access almost anywhere (except school, unfortunately). I hung out with him and his friends for hours, followed him in a mall with no complications and was present for some great moments, including Brendan wrestling his 22-year-old sister.
I think it helped to have known the family a little bit before entering the project. Even though I hadn't spoken with them in 4 years, they still seemed pretty comfortable around me, which gave me some great access. I also was aware that their family was quite open about addressing Brendan's dwarfism, so I had a good idea of what kind of questions to ask and how far to take my questions. Knowing that Brendan was a positive kid who never seemed to let his differences affect him negatively also helped me tell his story as accurately as possible. I felt that because the family already knew me, they trusted me with the project faster than if I hadn’t known them to begin with. Their trust led to a lot of great quotes and photos that I may have not gotten if I had been a complete stranger.
All in all, I wish I had more time on this piece. This project was hard because I felt that I needed more material even though I did so much traveling to work on this piece. I also ran into a lot of difficulties that I didn't expect to, which made it more challenging. Although I feel the piece could be even stronger with more time, I am glad I stuck through it and hopefully told Brendan's story well.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

30 Day Project: Works In Progress

So far my 30 day subject, Brendan, has been really open to everything that I have done with the project. Not only have I done a second interview with him, his mom and two older sisters, I also hung out with his friends after their school day on Friday and took pictures/ gathered audio and video of them playing basketball and video games. I was also able to get some photos/audio of Brendan roasting marshmallows with his mom and sisters after they ate dinner on Saturday night before I did the second round of interviewing.

I am happy with what I have so far, however there are certain things that are a little difficult. The lighting in Brendan's home is really dim and dark, so it was hard to find a great place for the interviews. I was able to make the interview sound and look better than the first, which I was happy about. It is also hard to get much time with Brendan with his mom because they are in the middle of selling their house and house hunting as well. Because they are so busy I have to take the time that I get, even if it isn't as much as I would like. I've only been able to be around at night, which adds to the dim lighting problems.

This week I am planning out a morning to ride with Brendan to middle school in the morning to photograph his mom dropping him off as well as his homeroom and lunch/recess. He and his sisters are also going to be at their dad's house this next weekend, and I plan on interviewing him about his experience and gather more photos of Brendan with his family.

Here is what I have gotten so far from the past weekend (note: none of them have been toned or color corrected in any way yet).

I have really enjoyed this project so far and look forward to the final product.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ann's Dancing Dogs

Here is the multimedia piece I produced about Ann Gafke, who has been training dogs for 50 years. She started choreographing dogs and their owners to music, which has led to many practices, costumes and performances.

I was very excited about this project because I have wanted to work on a story dealing with dogs for quite some time. I found Ann Gafke last semester, but never used her as a subject. I felt her job was so interesting, especially since she is one who started up choreographing dogs to music in the drill team at her dog school. Although it was an exciting story to work on, there were also a lot of complications that went along with it.

Gathering audio for the interviews was quite a challenge this time around. When I conducted my first interview, I couldn't tell whether the wireless mic had worked (it was hard to judge even with the headphones in). I came home to find there was a faint background sound. When I set up for my second interview, the wireless mic that I had checked out did not work at all. I started out setting the mic as close to her as I could without having to hold it because I was worried my hands would brush it and make fuzzy sounds. When I didn't think it sounded good I immediately picked it up and held it right by her, which sounded much better. It was frustrating when editing because I had two different interviews with different types of background noise. There were some great quotes that I really wanted to use from the first interview, but couldn't because of how different it sounded from the other interview. It was definitely frustrating for me because I always use a wireless mic and have much success with it. This time the equipment just didn't work in my favor.

It was also hard to get ideal answers out of my subject. While she gave me great material, each answer took over a couple of minutes and wouldn't make much sense if I tried to edit it down. I attempted to ask certain questions multiple times hoping for a shorter answer, but wasn't too lucky. I edited as much as I could to make the story make sense, but it was quite a challenge. Overall I wish I would have had more luck with the audio equipment and had been able to gather shorter, quality answers for my interview.

I also had some trouble when it came to toning my images. The building that I shot in was completely white inside, which made it difficult when toning my photographs. I couldn't tell when things looked too white or too yellow because of the way the camera captured the lights. The final cut video also washed out some of my images, which I wasn't quite sure how to fix. 

While I experienced difficulty in many things I did enjoy the variety of frames I captured. Along with using different lenses and getting low I also managed to climb onto a fridge that was in the building (with Ann's permission of course). It took me a lot of tries to master the video work, and although I'm not completely happy with the overall quality of the video, I really like the shots I took and am happy with how well the final shot went with the music. 

I'm glad that I was able to create a multimedia piece out of this story with music and video included. I think the music captures the feeling of that specific environment. It also kept the story nice and light- hearted, which is the feeling it gives off in the first place.
Overall, I am happy with what I was able to produce. There were many challenges and even though I went so many times to overcome them I wasn't always successful (and there usually was a new problem). However, I learned to work with what I had and to make it the best it could be despite all of the factors that were frustrating me. I hope to attend one of their public performances soon so that I can add onto the multimedia piece and make it better in the future.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

False Starts, Plot Treatment and How Do You Know When You Are Done

Although they were short, each of the three chapters from Lamott brought up situations that I could relate to from a photojournalist point of view.

The chapter "False Starts" said so much about what we go through in the process of finding a subject and the story behind them. Just as Lamott said about an artist painting something completely different than what he had in mind, we tend to predict that our stories are going to turn out a certain way. The minute we find an angle to the story we assume we will be able to take certain frames and envision what the photos will already look like before we even take any. Most of the time this backfires on us. If a photographer gets too wrapped up in looking for the shots they feel they must have to tell this story, they may miss the moments and key situations that are really happening in front of them (and it is also likely they will never get most of the shots they were waiting around for).

There is also a section where Lamott explained, "So if you want to get to know your characters, you have to hang out with them long enough to see beyond all the things they aren't."

When I first started my Boone Life with the story about the hair salon owner in Ashland, I was really hoping to find a great angle to my story. At first, the only idea that I found was how small the town was and how she knew everyone. Then when I asked her about it, she started telling me how Ashland had actually been growing and how she didn't know all of the gossip anymore as she used to. Immediately I had tried to put my finger on her as the woman who knew everything about everyone in this small town, when really she feels more detached than ever. It wasn't until I hung around for a month that the true story came out about how she styles her deceased clients' hair, and it was something that I most likely would have never heard about had I not been around for so long.

Lamott also said, "But with luck their tendrils will sneak out of the sides of the box you've put them in, and you will finally have to admit that who they are isn't who you thought they were."

 At the end of this chapter Lamott talked about how dying people can teach us this lesson more directly than most. When I first asked Bekki, the cancer patient, if I could interview her, she told me she was worried that she wouldn't have much of a story to tell since she really couldn't do much anymore. I told her we could try it and see what we came up with, and although she seemed hesitant she agreed. I was extremely nervous about doing this interview because I didn't want the story to be about her cancer, and I knew that's not what Bekki wanted either. I also didn't know how much she would tell me, especially if I didn't ask questions in the right way. I talked to my mom about it and she simply told me to ask her about her story and let it go from there.

When I sat down for her interview I simply said, "Tell me your story. It can be anything you want to say about anything."

I spent almost an hour with her, and that had been the only question I asked. She started out with how her family took in over 300 foster kids throughout her childhood. She also talked about how her favorite job was preventing people from foreclosure and how she loved to volunteer at her church. Then, without me even asking or directing, she transitioned through her life into the part where she was diagnosed with cancer last summer in 2010.

At the time I interviewed her, she was still fighting, but the doctors couldn't tell her how long she had. She talked about how one of the hardest things was not being able to do things for herself, but she also talked about death.

She said, "Whenever I do die, I want to be remembered for finding the good in people, for finding the good in life."

I believe that some of the things she told me came out the way they did because she was in a state of not knowing how long she had to live. She spent her whole life helping others, and I found this out by just one interview- by just listening.

She went into hospice a couple of weeks later on a Tuesday. She didn't make it to the end of the week. I often think about her and the things she told me. It is a message from someone who I only had met once before, but she was so open and gave me, as well as the people who saw her story, a chance to see who she really was.

Reading the "Plot Treatment" chapter was interesting because the part where Lamott described rearranging her story as well as cutting out favorite paragraphs to make the story stronger. After looking through our one-day stories, I noticed we did a lot of that as well. With certain stories we would change the order in a way that told more or told something different. In my story I had to cut out some of my favorite photos that I was sure should be in the story in order for the story to be stronger and more complete. Although it's a hard process at times, cutting and rearranging really does help out a story, especially when there are others to help with it.

The "How Do You Know You Are Done?" chapter was short and sweet, where Lamott basically said that while there is always more that you can put into a project, it can never be completely perfect. I have had that feeling of anxiety over stories where I feel that I could always have done something better, especially situations where there isn't a chance to retake any frames. For my one-day story, I really appreciated the photos I took during the day, while the story was more about the night. While I felt a little insecure about the piece, it was nice to be told that I had a story and that it was complete. It also helps to see from that story what I can do differently in the future with other stories.

Overall, I found a way to relate to each chapter while I read it. I really enjoy this book because there have been many experiences that I have had recently that I keep in the back of my mind. Without this book I don't think many of these ideas would have surfaced and helped me acknowledge how to grow as a photographer.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

A Night with Miss Missouri

Here is the final edit of my one-day story. The story focuses on Andrew Chow, the current junior class president at Missouri Military Academy in Mexico, Mo. and his night at the MMA Valentine's Day ball with Miss Missouri. As class president, Chow was responsible for escorting Erika Hebron, 24, as she made her appearance as 2010 Miss Missouri at the event. He was extremely nervous at the beginning of the night, especially about their height difference (Chow is 5-foot-6 while Hebron is 5-foot-8 without heels, so there would be around a 4-inch difference between the two of them). As the night continued, Chow relaxed and even pulled out some Micheal Jackson dance moves. At the end of the night Chow escorted Hebron to her car and she hugged him goodbye.

Andrew Chow, 16, looks out the window in his barracks at Missouri Military Academy in Mexico, Mo. on Saturday, Feb. 12.  As junior class president, Chow has the responsibility of escorting a special guest, Miss Missouri, to the Valentine’s Day Ball taking place later in the evening.

Chow walks through campus as he makes his way to the band room to practice for the military review that was set to take place that Sunday.

Chow and his date, Erika Hebron, 24, greet cadets and their dates at the Valentine’s Day Ball. Hebron is Miss Missouri for the year 2010 and is 5-foot-8 without heels while Chow is 5-foot-6. “I’m really nervous about the height difference,” Chow said.

Chow and Hebron participate in the grand march at the ball. Chow said he was really nervous at the beginning, but as the night continued he felt more comfortable with Hebron. “She’s actually really cool,” he said.

Chow and Hebron slow dance after crowning the queen of the ball. At the end of the night Hebron thanked Chow for being her escort and gave him a hug. Chow completed his responsibilities by walking Hebron to her car.

Below are two outtakes from the edit.

Hebron and Chow walk through the crowd to crown the queen of the ball on stage. The ball was a big night for Chow as he was responsible for escorting Miss Missouri, crowning the queen and making announcements on the microphone throughout the night.

Chow leads Hebron down from the stage after taking a picture together at the ball.

When I first started out with this story, I wasn't exactly sure what the focus would turn out to be. I followed Andrew all day as well as at night. I was really happy with the images I captured during the day, getting detail shots as well as others with good lighting. The gym was a little more challenging with lighting and I also wasn't able to get many details or distance shots because of the commotion that was going on during the ball. If I were to do it again I would make sure to change up my distance more as well as find more details that I could include in my edit. It was also a bit challenging because my subject kept talking to me and not doing what he would normally do without me there. While I kept trying to refocus his attention to what he would do without me there, however it didn't always work. All in all, I am happy with the story I produced from this situation and feel that it helped me keep certain tips and factors in mind for when I work on my job profile as well as my 30 day story.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

POYi Reactions: General News Picture Story

Christina and I decided to attend the General News Picture Story category on a Thursday night where the judges looked at 420 different news stories. It was interesting to see what worked and didn’t work as the stories were narrowed down as well as what stories ended up placing.
            The judges started out looking at a contact sheet view of each story for about 10 to 20 seconds each. From a missing child story to military stories to stories taking place in hospitals, both poor and standard, the judges were presented with quite a variety of international and local pieces.
 Looking through this round alone I found certain stories that weren’t executed well and could have been done better. Christina and I both agreed when we saw the elementary level spelling bee that there was no way it would make it to the next round.  The photographer didn’t change their distance from the contestants or use different angles or lenses. I would have loved to see tight portraits of the children’s faces while straining to spell a word or detail shots of the children’s hands fidgeting or their feet doing interesting things. Children give up so many interesting body movements and facial expressions and it made me sad not to see any of that in the story presented.
There was also another story that caught my eye that took place during surgery. The surgeons were wearing bright green scrubs and that immediately made it more visually interesting. While I am sure it is hard to get access, it was hard to see exactly what was going on. Even if the surgery itself is hard to get in the middle of, I wish there had been more detail shots on the tools and other things that are present during surgery. While it is a hard topic to cover, it is something that many don’t ever see. However, without the green scrubs I ‘m not sure if it would have caught my attention the way it did.
 While both stories could have been executed better, even if they had been extremely well done they wouldn’t have likely placed in this category this year.  Since there were many international disasters and issues, all of the general news picture stories that placed were on those tragic events. 
While I agree that the first place winner, “Haiti Earthquake” deserved first place, I feel that the third place winner, “Wrath of Fire Mountain” and second place, “Marks of a Catastrophe: Toxic Sludge Spill in Hungary,” should have been switched.
 Although the sludge story gave an eerie feeling by just showing the damage with no people present, I felt the volcano story brought out so much more fear and reaction in me to what was going on. While bodies and animals were covered in ash, there were soldiers and rescue workers fearing for their lives as the volcano still unexpectedly released heat clouds. Although it was after the initial deadly eruption, the story took place in the middle of the catastrophe and the danger that was still present. I also loved how the gray ash covered everyone and thing that was dead and damaged while the survivors popped out of each frame with vibrant colors. To me the colors represented life and I’m glad the story was presented in color. The photographer also captured emotion, details and different situations with different angles and lenses. They worked the scene and I feel they deserved second place.
When I first started watching this category, I wasn’t expecting all of the general news picture stories to be about international disasters. However, after it had ended and the winners were picked I felt that each story had something big to tell and told it in a way that worked well.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

School Lunches, Polaroids and Selecting a Subject

Both readings from Anne Lamott and Bill Jay with David Hurn were helpful when thinking about what ideas and subjects compel us and take our interest. The two most important ideas that I gathered from the readings is that, one, you have to produce work in order to be able to use it, and also make sure that the ideas you hope to cover visual, practical, interesting to others and something that you know enough about to tell the story correctly. They seem like two loaded ideas, but when they were broken down in the reading they made so much sense.

The one passage that really grabbed my eye in Lamott's chapter, "School Lunches," is when she talks about writing down things as simple as school lunches.

She said, "Now, who knows if any of this is usable material? There's no way to tell until you've got it all down, and then there might just be one sentence or one character or one theme that you end up using. But you get it all down. You just write."

I think this is also an extremely important point when it comes to producing picture stories. During our one-day story pitches today in class, there were some who weren't sure if certain parts of the topic they chose were important enough to cover. However, students encouraged them to cover that certain part anyway because it would be worse to not have produced anything from that moment and need it later on.

I agree that even though we may predict that certain parts of our idea won't provide us with any photos that we will edit into our story, it is still important to make some images from it. It is only when we make the photos that we are able to use them in our story, which is the point that Lamott was making about writing. Even if it is something we think won't be any good, we at least still produced images. The images may end up guiding us to further ideas or ways of capturing a story. This chapter mainly encouraged to produce something no matter how successful you think it will be.

Lamott's next chapter, "Polaroids," also brought an interesting point to my attention. There is a passage where Lamott talks about why you focus on something or someone in the first place for a story.

She said, "You couldn't have had any way of knowing what this piece of work would look like when you first started. You just knew that there was something about these people that compelled you, and you stayed with that something long enough for it to show you what it was about."

When I was working on my Boone Life, I met my subject on assignment at the Hartsburg Pumpkin Festival. She was an older woman who told me about her salon that she owned in Ashland and how it had been the first business on that street, which is now one of the busier streets in town. I immediately took interest in her and visited her salon so many times. At first I had a hard time finding a closer angle to my story about her hair salon, but after sticking through it and visiting enough, I found what I needed.

After hanging around for so many different days I found out that she does her clients' hair for their funeral after they pass away. It is like Lamott said, if you wait around long enough for someone or something that compelled you in the first place, there is a good chance you can find something further than what you first expected. Although I had no idea where my story with this woman and her salon would go in the first place, it ended up being one of my favorite pieces I have produced so far because I stuck with it for so long (I also just found out this month that it won third place in NPPA's multimedia contest for the month of January 2011!!).

This example also transitions into the main points that I found important in Bill Jay and David Hurn's "Selecting a Subject" reading.

The first point they bring up is that, " are not a photographer because you are interested in photography."

While it seems kind of strange, it is a great point to make. We don't choose this profession because we like the idea of photography, but we like to be able to show things to the world that they may never see with their own eyes. We like to interact and create relationships with so many different kinds of people that we would never meet in any other profession. I liked the fact that Hurn brought up this point because although it seems like a strange comment to make, it is pretty true.

Going along with this idea, both Jay and Hurn bring up the fact that you have to have an "intense curiosity" for the ideas and subjects you cover. While there are many things that we find interesting, Jay and Hurn also point out four main steps to help make a story more specific.

Is it visual? Is it practical? Is it a subject which I know enough? Is it interesting to others?

By following these four questions it can help us narrow down our idea into a specific story. By narrowing the idea down we can execute better research on the topic as well as make sure it will be interesting to a certain audience.

As I look further into my one-day story, I have looked at these questions and it has helped me focus in on what I need to as well as prepare for what I should look for while I am actually covering the event.