Monday, October 12, 2015

Freelance writer/photographer 2015

Writer/photographer? Is this what I once called a photojournalist? No a photojournalist simply tells the story visually and writes captions. This is an advertisement in U.S. News and World Report looking for help creating content for a "Best Places to Live" by the "digital products, real estate department.?
Reporter Jim Wood interviews Jimmy Breslin - 1973/SF Examiner

I immediately thought, or hoped, they were going to do a series, show real estate, the homes for sale like the Wall Street Journal. Thinking it may be like the stories I did for the Inquirer Sunday magazine showing the homes and how they reflect on the people that live in them. Using words and pictures.

With Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex coming in after New York for number of Fortune 500 corporations, it has three of the top ten fastest growing communities in the country.

For just $250, U.S. News and World Report wants "strong writers who feel comfortable and confident with a camera."

Back in 1969, I spent the summer in my home state of Colorado attending seminars at the Creative Eye in Aspen, Colorado. They gave me free tuition in trade for managing the darkroom, but to get money for room and board I walked into the local weekly newspaper office. The Aspen Times publisher said reporters took photos, but they didn't like developing the film and printing. He'd pay be $40/week to be a darkroom tech AND print any photos I wanted to submit.

After the summer I returned to the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, and the Aspen Times won first place at the Colorado Press Association's yearly competition, the two reporters refused to take photos, forcing the Aspen Times to hire a photographer.

Working at the San Francisco Examiner I was upset with the Newspaper Guild prevented me as a staff photographer from writing stories to go with my photos. They were out to save jobs, but I had to sell the reporter on doing the story. (A story I thought would make great photos, and never interested the writer.) News photographers usually simply wait for reporters to write the story then turn in a photo assignment.

Fran Ortiz had freelanced for Life magazine, and one of the photographers I admired most on the staff. He later helped the Guild negotiate a contract with the paper and in his 2007 obit was remembered by colleagues for having been "held down from jumping over the table" when the Examiner wanted to let reporters also take photos.

So I was struck when I read Paul Theroux's interview in the Wall Street Journal promoting his new travel book, Deep South. They asked him why he didn't take the photos. Instead getting award-winning professional photojournalist, Steve McCurry, to take pictures for the book.

He responded, "people who take pictures lose their capacity for close observation...taking a picture is a way of forgetting."

What? You often remember the photo of a family event and forget the event. Seeing a photo brings back memories.

But I think while a photographer concentrates on capturing the moment, they miss the smell and sounds, words help. Words can record what people say, confirm when and were the event took place. Words fill in the gaps. Together they tell the whole story.

Publishers and word people often see the photo as functioning like a headline, to pull viewers into reading their prose. A decoration, not the story.

Many think their words need to create the scene in the readers head and the photo is too literal, dampens the readers imagination! This is what Tom Wolfs "new journalism," wanted the writer to describe what they saw, what the people were wearing, what they were thinking, etc.

In the 21st Century the reader doesn't have time to read about John Doe's uncombed hair and worn jeans, when he can see it.

I'm a journalist. I grew up with LIFE magazine and felt reporting advanced when words and pictures told the whole story.

Words and pictures go together. Done right they tell the entire story so the reader knows what it was like to be there and understand how it effected the people who were there and how it affects the community.

Certainly when the reporter is taking photos, they are unable to take notes or ask questions. If they are asking questions they might be missing a picture.

I like coming up with my own story ideas. Having owned a business I enjoyed doing profiles on successful business owners for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. At first I thought I'd take a photo first and help the business owner relax before sitting down and interviewing them. But in talking they'd  tell me something I thought I could use for the story. So I'd stop shooting and start taking notes. It didn't work.

At the Star-Telegram covering a story with Barry Schlacter I listened to the interview and thought he missed following up on one angle. I asked if I could ask a question, then after the interview Barry told me how much he appreciated be asking the question because it gave him time to review his notes.

The best way I found was to do the interview first, then after all the questions have been asked. Try to get the owner to pose for a picture. This worked better, but we were both in a hurry to get it done. I took fewer photos, usually only one setting, just trying to get a good happy expression.

But as a photographer, a photojournalist, I look around for different angles, left, right, looking up, looking down, tight shots, change lenses, get them thinking, gesturing, smiling, etc. Then editing my "notes" down to find the best shot that tells the story:what, where and who was in the story.

For best results you can't do both.

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