Sunday, February 21, 2010

Life as a Photojournalist for Only One Day

If you're familiar with my photographic style you probably know how, on the litmus scale of photography, I'm very far from the photojournalist side of things. I'd go so far as to say that, if photojournalism were blue, I'd be red. I'm really all that far away from it.

To give you a concrete example, I think nothing about photoshopping my work. I move things. I stage things. I direct lighting. I hire models. On the grand scheme of "I'm a reporter now!" things you can do in life, none of these really fall into the "photojournalism" side of life. No, if I had to classify myself, I'd have to say that I'm about as far away from photojournalism as I can get. I'm a fine art photographer, always have been, always will be, nothing more, nothing less.

For those of you reading this who *aren't* photographers, allow me to explain. Photographers, like musicians, cooks, or others of the many artsy types out there, fall into several "basic camps." A "basic camp" is really even more than that-it's more like a philosophy, and it cuts right to the "what drives you to take pictures" pressing questions of the day. Some people, for example, take up photography because they want to "cover stories." They want to be on the front line of the war, they want to be there as actions and events unfold. They bring us the news and we, in turn, rely upon them to bring us truth, justice, and all of that goodness and light. Other photographers don't do that at all. No, instead what they do is more like "make pretty pictures for you to hang on your walls." That's where I (usually) come in. I do that. I make art. Photographic or light-based art, yes, I'm still a photographer at heart, but art really-nothing more, nothing less. It's what I do. I'm a visual artist at the core, not a photojournalist, reporter, or any of that good stuff.

Now, it's not that I mind photojournalism; I don't. It's not that I think photojournalists are "not good." Some of them are quite good, some of them aren't any good at all. I like to think I'm a good enough photographer to spot a good picture, regardless of the approach of the photographer-remember that I'm still a photographer too, right? So even though I don't cover news events, I don't drag my gear to wars or historic events as they unfold around the globe, I do know a few things about making great pictures. Well, at least, I try.

And, that's where my little foray into photojournalism comes in. This week, with the events unfolding in Austin, I turned into a photojournalist, if only for a day. Yes, for one day and one day only, I put the paintbrush down and picked up the reporters credentials. I covered a story. I shot news. News that you can read, news that you can respond to, news as it was unfolding. I was on the scene, reporting live, in much the same way those reporters on the evening news do it. And, I'm happy to say, as you might guess, I learned a few things along the way. I learned a few things about photography, about myself, about Austin, about people. It was an interesting...experiment.

No, I'm not going to get all mushy on you and tell you that "I'm a reporter now!" No, that's not going to happen. I'm still, in my heart of hearts, a fine art photographer. But, this week, if only for a day, I got to wear the hat of a reporter. I got to stretch my photographic wings a little and see how the other half lives. I made some mistakes, yes, and I learned a lot. At the end of the day, I'd have to say, it was a good thing to do, even if it had painful points and fumbling moments over the course of events unfolding.

Some of the things I took away from the experience:

  • Not everybody shoots in RAW. Reporters, especially, sometimes don't shoot in RAW because they don't want to use Photoshop. It's that pesky "truth" thing-images should not be "processed" or should be "processed" as little as possible. Report the truth, show the facts, and nothing more.
  • This means no burning in the sky, and, horror of horrors, no clone stamp. Now, I'll be the first to admit that, while life without the clone stamp can be difficult, it's not impossible once you get used to it. It can be done, really, if you just think and try it a bit.
  • No cropping. Same rules apply here. Get used to shooting the entire frame and deal with it. Learn to love what you get.
  • At the end of the day, it's all about being there, not about seeing it (or making it.) Good images coming from this type of photography don't get designed, they happen unexpectedly. Learn to live with chaos and accept unpredictability. Life is full of these things.
  • The story isn't always the story. Sometimes, it's people's reaction to the story. Sometimes it's how the government handles the story. Sometimes it's a story within a story. Hunt "the story" like it's becoming extinct. Track it, follow it, watch it unfold, and hustle until you see it.

I could go one but you get the idea here. It's been an interesting time, shooting as a photojournalist. It's different, it's fun, it's not what I'm used to, and I've met a lot of interesting people over the course of my albeit brief travels. I can't say I want to do it again, but I've enjoyed my brief foray into this type of photography. It's been fun, a bit of a challenge, sometimes even a test. All I can do now is hope that I did well enough to capture things, in some small way, the way I saw them when I was there. At the end of the day, I think, that's what all photography, any kind of photography, is about, isn't it?

Until next time...

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