Tuesday, February 19, 2008


As yesterday was a holiday for Baltimore City public schools, we took advantage of the free time and perfect weather to take a group of students on a photo safari. Seanté Hatcher is the Youth & Community Liaison for the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I work with her and the students in the Youth Advisory Committee, otherwise known as the YAC, on a project called Photovoice. 

We work with the students to teach them how to express themselves and think critically. Our 
theme this year is the anti-gang experience, and the students have been tasked to come up with pictures that show an alternative to that lifestyle. Students have to think about what they want to say with their photography, make a photo, then write a caption explaining their thoughts about
the picture.

We walked down Broadway from the school campus to Fells Point, and the students made pictures along the way. Our emphasis was on composition and moments, and this expedition was a great opportunity to get out of a visual rut that a lot of the students had fallen into. 
It also gave us a chance to work directly with the students. In addition to Seanté we had help from Colby Ware, a brilliant photographer and associate member of Iris, and two design students from MICA, Jonathan and Alex Pines. 
The students had a good time, and I was glad to see them taking things in a little differently. I really wanted to see them get away from all the posed photos that had been coming in, and move toward moments and uncontrived shots. We were able to take some big steps in that direction.

All the students will continue to shoot on their own, and in the coming weeks we'll be wrapping up the shooting phase and moving toward the editing and captioning of the final project. The students will show their work as they did last year, and more than likely make another calendar. There are also some other ideas in the works, but I'll make sure to keep everyone updated as we move along. 


btw, here is a link to the Baltimore Sun's coverage of last year's Photovoice project.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Thoughts on Photojournalism

Foremost, I need to emphasize that photojournalism, at the upper levels of the practice, is something far greater than the intersection of light, composition and moment. These are academic blocks of the discipline that are a given in any good photograph, but do not necessarily add up to reportage. I am a reporter in the truest sense of the word; I research my stories beforehand, I ask questions, I listen, I make connections with the facts that I know, and I try to determine what the relationships are. For me, the relationships are the key to the formula: discovering what they are and capturing them is what elevates a photograph to photojournalism. How does a person who is infected with AIDS view themselves, or their family? How does that dynamic change if their entire family is HIV positive? What about their entire community? Is a mother's caress more or less tender if she knows that she hasn't infected her baby? How does an eleven-year-old girl relate to a world that does not include parents, education or opportunity?

Good journalism, whether writing or photography, is about the reporting.  My process is not unlike that of the writer. The obvious difference is that we work in a different medium, but there are finer distinctions as well. I work in the present, and I work directly with my subject. That proximity informs the work in a way that cannot be duplicated with any other method. One needs to stand there watching as a seven-year-old boy suddenly grows beyond his years in order to comfort his father's widow. If one bears witness as a boy too young for the task comforts and protects the mother who has done it for him throughout his short life, then their loss can be understood with greater depth and brought into the story. The writer might be there to see it, but the photojournalist will be there, because the photojournalist, myself, cannot do the work any other way.

 The perspective that I bring to a story, whether I use the camera or write, will emphasize the human response within the larger framework. I can do the research that may produce the context, "40 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS, and two-thirds are in Southern Africa". 

But to illustrate how they live with it I will give you quotes and pictures of the HIV positive pastor who has to perform funerals for the members of his congregation that die of AIDS. In this respect the perspective grows out of the methodology, which in turn informs the story. What makes this unique, and ultimately more intriguing is that one does not lose sight of the human component of the story, even when tackling complicated issues.