Perhaps it is all of the wonderfully sentimental Twitter and Facebook updates from UW grads and the tear-inducing farewell columns in the Herald, but I’m in a mood of reflection.
This past semester was pretty great: Trip to the Rose Bowl. Packers win the Super Bowl. Campus snowball fight. Protests that go on forever. Miami. College photographer of the year. Mifflin. Etc.
Also, this semester was the first semester in my college career where I wasn’t working at the Herald — which, was both good and bad in some respects. Bad because I’ll always remember the good times I’ve had with all of the talented people who work their every day. But good because I needed to move on and do new things (one of those new things being having time to do all my homework).
More than anything though, being away from the Herald gave me a new perspective on my college career and student life in Madison. While working at the Herald it’s pretty easy to get caught up in day-to-day operations and forget to add context to exactly what’s happening. Similarly, cranking out daily news leaves little room for thinking ahead and setting goals.
In the past semester I’ve tried to focus specifically on the direction I want to take my photography. Simply being a photojournalist and shooting a variety of events isn’t enough, and I found I was constantly asking myself what it is that I want my photos to illustrate. I know I can take pretty pictures — but so can anyone with any sense of photographic skill (or luck for that matter). If there is one thing I really want to push in my portfolio, it is to get away from the cutesy single images I have that prove nothing more than that I can operate a camera, compose and expose correctly. These single images fail to illustrate the oft forgotten part of being a photojournalist: the journalist part.
In some schools of thought (especially newspaper photography), the ideal is to get an image that says everything about the story in one frame. But the more I look at photojournalist’s work, the more I realize how this is a dangerous trap to get into. Just like serious journalists don’t write their best stories in 100 words, the best photojournalists don’t create their best work in one image. The best, most effective and inspiring work is always a sequence of images, building on one another to tell a story. While many people think this idea sounds obvious, many newspaper photographers (no better example than myself) get caught up in trying to fulfill the ideal of getting everything in one.
The idea of telling a story over just making pretty pictures became even more clear to me today at the WNPA convention in Milwaukee. All three speakers (David Joles especially) emphasized the importance of photojournalists finding their own stories and content. Instead of complaining about lame photo assignments, why not just make up your own assignment to shoot? And this is why I love going to these conventions…the speakers and attendees are so inspiring and humbling to me. Everyone is doing such wonderful work and, while all my professors in the j-school warn of the gloom and doom of the current journalism industry, these photojournalists remain competitive and effective storytellers who are redefining the field. They offer me hope and something to reach for — especially when I have people like Jack Gruber complimenting my work and taking the time to talk with me and other students about the opportunities we have as we enter the industry full time. It was humbling to receive the award of college photographer of the year, but what is much more important in the long run is to talk with the people who’ve been doing this for 10, 20, 30 years.
As the start of my internship at the Janesville-Gazette gets closer and closer (May 16th!), I’m becoming more driven to seek out long-term stories that do more than show I can take a pretty picture. I want to push my boundaries of journalistic ability to tell stories that have social context and value, and convey meaning to the reader unique to the photographic medium.