Friday, September 28, 2012

DC Day 4: USA Today & Ed Week

Today wasn't as full as the others in some ways, but going to the crystal palace that is USA Today's building was actually pretty fun. We had the chance to eat lunch with some of the men working there and further discussion with our professor after they left. I personally appreciate discussions like those more now that I'm no longer in his classes.  Truly, I'm not just saying that because he'll be reading this blog as part of a grade.

USA Today 
...was an excellent source for quotes. A selection from Andy, Mike and Sean the photo editors/shooters:

"I work every shift you can think of...Every dirty job...and all the good stuff too."

"The ones with business skills do much better. Market yourself. Identify with new skills needed to be acquired."

"You gota know what's going on in the world...The worst thing you could do is say, 'Who's that?' Gotta know."

"Communicating is really important. Being ahead of stories and having everything prepared. Being positive as much as you can. Enjoy your work as much as you can."

"The further along you get, the more you get shuffled into specific areas of expertise."

Looking for creativity, proven ability in subject matter assigned. Looking for something the general group wouldn't get. Everyone can get the catch. A different angle, a different look. Technical proficiency, more consideration to hire those worked with before or those who pitch ideas.

Education Week
with Charlie Borst

Looking for:
- communication skills
- passion for photography
- a POV

"I need people who take risks."

"I pay too much to suffer mediocrity."

"If there's one thing I've learned- it's all about networking."

"Even a part-time job is better than no job."

"Spend enough time with your subjects so that they can be themselves around you. Those are the best pictures."


"There are going to be times you screw up and there are going to be times you succeed. Live for those moments."

"Have some kind of passion outside of photography."

"Most of all, have fun with what you do. We're so lucky to be photographers."

*Most of the places we've gone have said very similar things. 
It really comes down to this, GET SHIT DONE. 

The Challenge, The Chase

The other day we were asked as a class, "Why are you doing this?" in regards to our projected career path. I immediately knew my answer but was also aware how bad I am at verbally communicating what's already had a lot of time mentally dedicated to it. Here it is:

The challenge, the chase. One has to choose something.

The danger of many options and interests is that it's easy to become reliant on that sort of living. After spending my life in a fairly stable but stagnant environment, college wasn't a chance to party all night long and crawl out of bed wasted but rather it was a great opportunity to take that SCUBA class, put bubble bath soap in the fountains at school, get a taste of another culture down South, learn to slowly unlearn judging people, and work my ass off to get every scholarship and grant offered in my department. (There were three. I won all of them). It was like, the world was finally at my fingertips and I wanted to taste and experience everything and be like, super awesome at it. 

I discovered I'd done a lot without accomplishing much. The world is far more complicated than it seems. Things are rarely straight up black and white- even in the darkroom. I mostly learned a lot about other people which created changes within my own personality. 

At some point someone people have said things to me straight that have made all the difference. One that stands out was Tracey Curran in New Zealand offhandedly saying as we watched a documentary on Africa, "You just need to get your shit together.You could do that."It's moments like that where I get smacked across the face with truth and I snap out of whatever contemplative funk I'd been in and all that's required to change is action.

There's that idea of commitment, too. Sure, there are people that love life simply going from one thing to the next and slowly accumulating skills and experiences. Like they'll just pick up the fiddle or decide to start a farm and they've decided to work with and love that. I don't get it. Somewhere along the way I realized I'm one of those people that have to quit thinking so god-damn much, make a decision and stick to it and then just do it. Just accept that I thought about it enough and deemed it worthy enough to go after and then go do it.

So that's it. I had to choose something and as fate would have it, of course I've landed in the journalism world. Life is so ridiculous. Everything this younger Jesse swore off to "never ever" do, I've done or plan to do.

It's funny, I was never a kid with serious plans to be anything like an astronaut. All I remember is watching Godzilla and seeing that obnoxious blonde reporter hackling everyone in the city, saying, "I will never be a reporter." But maybe that's why I'm so interested in things I've previously sworn off or set in the "judged" pile. Those first years of university weren't a waste. I learned some things are sometimes misunderstood or abused and thus seem unappealing or debase. The task isn't to decide what's "right" or "wrong", but rather to separate the bias and judgements from the facts.

Motorcycle gangs aren't all like the Sons of Anarchy.
Not all reporters are out to exploit people.
Alcohol is okay to be consumed by some but not all (thanks to AA for the lessons from birth).
Christians aren't all judgmental pricks with picket signs trying to steal your rights.
Muslims aren't out to kill all the infidels, esp. Christians, and take over the world.
Smoking isn't the worst thing you could do. In fact, Rocky Patels are pretty smooth cigars.

Pretty much, I've chosen to love visual journalism.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Day 3: NPR, Bloomberg, AARP, Tom Kennedy & an Indian Yellow Cab Driver

RIT student Lauren Petracca laughs as AndrewHarrer speaks with RIT professor William Snyder before giving a lecture. 

Andrew Harrer speaks about what it's like to work for Bloomberg News

In addition to Bloomberg news, our prior stop was at NPR to speak with Keith Jenkins and the rest of the photo and multimedia staff. Two RIT alumns were already working there. Emily Bogle of 2010 said, "Everyone's really excited about their work". 

They showed a really beautiful piece they did this year as one of their music field recordings"projects. It's pretty amazing and well worth your time. Far more skill involved in shooting and editing than a lot of music videos.

One thing that was emphasized is that it's important for us as visual journalists to have other people look at our work outside of our craft. A person removed from the shooting/editing process, without much knowledge of the story if any, should be able to tell what the subject's name was and what the story was about. 

They all suggested employees/prospective interns embody these characteristics:
- remain flexible
- be on time
- being able to think on one's feet
- improvisation 

"Photography is not a contest," Keith said. "It's about being a witness to your time...Don't be afraid of the future. Invent the future."

Our third stop was at AARP which, although was rather different from the previous visits, certainly gave the most accessible impression of a photo editor I've encountered in the form of Michael Wichita. He especially looks for "multigenerational stories". He and Jenna, the other editor, are very personable. Not necessarily less professional, but they seemed very transparent about the company and interested in how we as students could speak with them for feedback an maybe contribute. 

Lastly, came a lecture at American University by Tom Kennedy, former D.O.P. at National Geographic, entitled "Understanding the Changing Media Landscape. He began the lecture with one of my favourite, if not my most favourite, videos stories by Henrik Hansen. Please watch it. The sounds are gorgeous as is the shooting and personally, I'm a huge fan of the subject matter. I'd been aware of the video since it came out but it was rather reassuring and cool that a professional like Kennedy would showcase that piece. 

Kennedy showed a diagram like this: Vision> Skills>Incentives>Resources>Action Plan>Change. If any of those are missing, there's a whole graph, then bad things happen. He had a lot of good points which I typed up and aren't as interesting as what happened after I left.

After a bout of bad luck missing trains and taxis not arriving in a timely matter, I did in fact catch a cab and learned more in that twenty minutes about people than I had all day. My driver was an Indian man from Jakarta who moved here sixteen years ago. He says he can't get hired because he's Indian and no one will teach him any other trade so he can make $40-50,000 a year. "It's not asking a lot," he said. With two kids ages fourteen and twelve, he can't afford to not work. "If I could get another job I'd leave tomorrow." Unfortunately in this economy, a migrant Indian educated man with only taxi cab experience can't find a job anywhere else. He must pay for his car and all of the gear as well as the gas which doesn't leave much time for his family. Fourteen hour days. Car repairs. Rising gas prices and labor/parts rates to fix a car. It costs a great deal fiscally and mentally. He hopes and works so his children will be able to attend university, "I don't want them to be a cab driver like me, he explained. "I want something better." 

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

D.C. Day 2: White House, Teach for America, Reuters

This day began near the White House at the EEOB with Jenn Poggi who explained some of the differences between AP and working directly for the White House as a photographer. Ultimately the greatest difference is that photographers working for the White House have a responsibility to record the actions of this presidency and to create archival work representing it.

Jenn Poggi talks with some of the students outside the EEOB as we prepare to leave. 

Following EEOB, we made our way to Teach for America to meet Megan Rossman, formerly at the Washington Post as well as an RIT alumni.

Finally Reuters- the last place we visited, who made a point from the beginning to explain that they are as objective as possible. In stories and cutlines they do not use the label "terrorist" unless using a direct quote. The reason being that a terrorist to one side is a freedom fighter to the other which personally made me far more interested.

Mary Calvert: It was great to hear a women who's been in the business a long time speak about her work. She showed us work covering a wide geographic area but her work on a Nigerian decision to ban a polio vaccine was most intriguing. Calvert was very realistic about the trials involved in her work.

     I just do what I do so I can make my picture and not be bothered.

Louie Palu: An intense, hard-working journalist with an interesting body of work and firm dedication to it. 
William Snyder troubleshoots with Louie Palu before Palu spoke with us and showed his work. 

     "There's no silver bullet. It's hard work.

     It took me twenty years to be where I wanted to be. 

     It's my biggest regret: that I wasted any time bitching and complaining instead of working.

     People remember people who are professional all the time.

     Always be positive and just work hard. It's all about obstacles. I've got about four-hundred obstacles going on all the time."

Amanda Lucidon: Emphasized risk taking. Largely self-taught. Her work called "Legal Stranger" about lesbian and gay couples is solid. She, like myself, has realized her inclination in photography is towards  tackling stereotypes. 

     "I just take these steps and I don't know why I go that directions but I have to go that direction.

     The risk is so great but once you accomplish it…it's like, 'oh my gosh, I can actually do this.'

     The way I learned is by failing."

Lucian Perkins: He showed us some of his older work on Washington, D.C.'s early punk rock scene he's turning into a book and a piece of work I'm really excited to see completed on an older man named Doc who lives like he's in the 1920's. The heart of the story is his relationship with his wife Shoo-Shoo who has asberger's syndrome and autism but feels released in her relationship with her husband and while performing on stage.

*All of the photographers we've met so far have said, "If there's anything you can think of doing instead of this profession do it." Hearing they're always scraping for money is almost a relief because in a weird way it's like, "Okay, unlike my parents and people I've served coffee to in Pittsford, N.Y. they're also generally glad to have the opportunity to tell peoples' stories. Not that I'm anywhere near their level but just knowing there are professionals still working hard because they're passionate evokes a feeling of camaraderie. 

Monday, September 24, 2012

Day 1: McClatchy & AP

Another year completely different than the last. I love it. Riding the metro, navigating streets, running through foreign parts Arlington, V.A. and hearing a multitude of languages all is a rush. After travelling for a while in countries where all the ticket directions and signs are in languages I don't speak well, being in Washington, D.C. is almost a breeze.

We started today's journey at McClatchy Tribune with Linda Epstein. What I took away:

Are you ever going to make any money doing this? Ehh.. There can be money to be found. In newspapers it all depends on how you market yourself.

She recommended John Harrington's book Best Business Practices for Photographers.

What are we looking for in photographers? Able to do an assignment without anyone holding their hand. Don't ever take an assignment you don't know how to do..but hand me a name of someone who can- I will never cross your name off my list. You saved me a lot of trouble finding someone else.

    - Research: know you you're working with/for
    - Don't send an e-mail every week. Send updates when warranted
Do be a self-starter, find a mentor, network, look at other photographers' work
Don't underestimate your work and give your photos away for free, overestimate your abilities, "friend" an employer on Facebook

Photographers to check out: Olivier Douliery, Jonathan Alcorn, Tom Pennington "rocks", David BergmanScott Strazzante

*INCOMPLETE* No internet at the place I'm staying and Starbucks is closing. Continue tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rowing a Story

On 3 September classes started and I started working two jobs, then the next day rowing began at 4:40AM. Someone asked me yesterday when I sleep and after thinking replied, "I go to bed at 10 if possible and sleep in my car". Literally, I'll be heading out there in an hour or so for a nap. Two sleeping bags, a comforter and a pillow are always in the back of my Jeep. The days of each week are like a piece in practice where we do 10 strokes "on" or hard, and 10 "off" at a normal-paddle pace.

For anyone who's followed my blog since 2010, you have some idea of what an big decision it was to return to rowing (see February 2011 ). Sometimes after thinking and thinking and stressing you just have to decide what you want your life to say when you look back on it. I simply didn't want my story to include such a regretful cliff hanger that would never be fulfilled. There needed to be a but in there. "I quit but...I went back and left it all out on the water." Ironically, or maybe not, the same quotes in that post were the ones that have inspired me to get back in game. You can't live for anyone else and their expectations of you. Mentorship and leadership are invaluable, but ultimately you will be the one to give the account for your decisions and blaming it on someone else is weakness.

So often we get caught in a period of difficulty and in the face of decision don't consider the future, only how to escape the present misery. When we're gasping for air while working out, we don't push through. A relationship requires more attention and work so we leave or get divorced because things "just aren't working out". Too often we don't consider how those decisions under pressure will affect us in the future. We might be tempted, and very likely, will leave out those scenarios or breeze over them in conversation because they contain moments of weakness and missed opportunities.

During the summer I read and listened to podcasts, internalizing aspects involving direction, decision making, and story. All three of them are interconnected. You've just have to choose where you want to go and if the way you're living now is working towards that. (Says the soon-to-be graduate without post-graduation plans).

Photo: William J. Ingalls

"A character is someone who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."
(See Don Miller's blog on Living a Good Story. Usually, I despise anything with numbers in it telling you how to solve life's problems but he does make some good points). 

*I'll be posting some new work soon. Maybe even an audio piece, if you're lucky .