These days it seems most people recognize me as a photographer, but I will always think of myself as a writer first and as a photographer second. Some of you already know I earned a bachelor’s in professional writing and editing and then a master’s in English from Youngstown State University. You may also know I once worked as a reporter for The Vindicator. (I still freelance.) In addition, I am in the process of publishing a historical novel, designing a photo book, and I have had poems and short stories published. I have been writing professionally since the late 1990s, and photography has been a hobby for just as long. However, I didn’t transition into a professional photographer until about four years ago.
In previous blogs I mentioned similarities between working as a professional photographer and as a journalist, and here I am declaring it again—photography and journalism have many parallels! This is what I was thinking about yesterday as I drove to a photo session. I always feel a little nervous before an appointment, and I remember experiencing an identical twinge of angst back when I was a full-time reporter en route to an assignment. While driving to the interview the same worried thoughts would circle in my mind: What will this person be like? What if the interview doesn’t go well? What if I can’t gather the necessary information? What if I can’t produce a story?
These days I feel the same nervous anticipation when I prepare for a photo session. The hamster wheel between my temples churns ideas that go something like this: What if I don’t get any good pictures? What if the subject(s) feels awkward and won’t relax? What if the camera malfunctions? (You get the idea. Anxiety is such a pain-in-the you-know-what!)
It occurred to me yesterday that preparing for a photo session and a newspaper interview are nearly the same. As you prepare, you know there’s going to be a story to ferret out, and you know you’re going to have to capture it and then present it to an audience. Doing so might not be easy–like raising a rifle and hitting a moving target, or netting an elusive butterfly.
Now, you might think it’s strange for me to liken capturing a photographic image to ferreting out a story, but really that’s what it is. Every picture tells a story, and you’ve got to know where to look and what to look for in order to find it. The “picture/story” thing is an old cliché, but it’s the truth. As a storyteller, this is my goal: if you see my photos and you feel something, if you imagine something, then I know I did my job. I know I told you a worthwhile story.
Journalists chase stories and bring them to light. Photographers chase light, color and the essence of the person who sits in front of their lens. For me, this is a never-ending pursuit that requires constant practice. You draw back that bow, you take aim, and—zing!—you fire. If you’re good, you hit a bulls-eye almost every time.
Hitting the bulls-eye in both journalism and photography essentially means you seized the poignancy of the moment and presented it to an audience, whether you used a keyboard to type it, or you used a camera to record it. In essence, it’s all about showing up, thinking fast, accessing the situation with your critical eye (or with your critical questions), and then lassoing the tale that begs to be told.
Granted, journalism is all about facts (well at least it should be!). Photography, eh, not so much (unless it’s straight-up photojournalism). Photography is often about painting things in the best light possible, and there’s plenty of sleight of hand involved. It’s about that wow moment when someone sees themselves as they’ve never seen themselves before. It’s about turning the volume up on the color or the texture. It’s about capturing an image from a new angle. In a way, it’s kind of like being a magician with a bag of tricks. (But I’ll save that topic for another blog, lol.)
A lot of people seem to enjoy my landscape photography. At an art show last year an attendee studied some of my local landscape photographs and then remarked: “These record the landscape but they turn up nature a notch or two.” Yes, I suppose they do. I have always had immense appreciation for nature and have felt keenly in tune with the beauty that unfolds around me every day, from misty dawn to rosy dusk. So I guess what you are seeing with my landscape photography is the landscape through my eyes, on high volume, as I experience it, with tremendous wonder, adoration and sensitivity.
It always pleases me to know people enjoy my images. If you look at one of my photographs and have an “Ahhh, wow, that looks awesome” moment, then thank you! You made my day! I am so happy to hear the presentation of my “story” brought some inspiration to your world. I will always be a storyteller, sometimes painting pictures with words and sometimes with a lens. Thank you for hearing me.