Photojournalism Course Completed!

Monday, August 26, 2013
I now know how Clem Inspeak, the fedora-wearing foreground gentleman above with the antiquated equipment, must have felt after being in a photojournalism class with students using Canon 5D Mark III cameras (photo by Larry Bessel and courtesy of The Los Angeles Times).

It's hard to believe that six weeks have past since I began JOURNAL 333, Introduction to Digital Photojournalism, my latest course with the University of Massachusetts Amherst's online journalism program.  Starting at the end of a personal "stay-cation" (I watched the household while my wife went on an Alaskan cruise with family members), the 16 students in the class were given weekly assignments to exemplify and demonstrate knowledge of the readings and other information provided by our instructor.  Subjects for these photo shoots ranged from a self-portrait to the selection of workplace-related images to submitting ones demonstrating personal relationships (the overall capstone project was a photographic essay).  With all of the picture taking I have done here over the past two years, I thought that I had a good bead on what would be required to pass the class and my grades and instructor feedback seem to back up that initial presumption.  Since I like to show off my work, I will post a few of the pics that I took

My first assignment wasn't a specific thing or place.  I was tasked to explore light and to see its effects (shadow, harshness, low light seen at dawn and dusk) upon an object of my choice.  I initially chose our town's 9/11 memorial but my attention was immediately diverted to an adjacent structure that seemed to turn almost azure in that day's first rays of sunlight.  I went back at around 1PM and then right at dusk to complete the project (the three images are chronologically arranged above).  In the midday photo, the previous gold was replaced by gray, beige and pink and the shadows were now cast downward instead of perpendicularly along the side of the building earlier in the day.  The near-night one displayed very little in the way of illumination or shadowing and the internal darkness appeared to be spreading to the outside areas as the sun's light waned.  I really liked how they turned out and, thankfully, so did my instructor.

A precocious rabbit poses with its handlers at the 2013 Greene County Fair in Xenia, Ohio.

Like the light assignment, the one on doing a personal portrait was not at my original location or with my intended subject.  My initial intent was to visit the Ohio State Fair, about an hour's drive away in Columbus, and find the celebrity impersonators of Jack Nicholson, Dolly Parton and Danny DeVito that were scheduled to walk around the grounds.  Rain on my originally scheduled day had me postpone my trip 24 hours to a day that looked absolutely gorgeous when I started on my way.  It wasn't until I was stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Interstate 71 smack dab in the center of the capital city that I realized that a lot of other people had the same idea for entertainment on that Sunday afternoon as I did.  After enduring about an hour at a virtual crawl, I abandoned this plan and made my way to my fallback location, the Clark County Fair outside Springfield.  When I drove up to the gates of the fairgrounds and didn't see any crowds, I decided to investigate this on my smartphone and found out that the event closed down two days earlier.

Greene County Democratic Party chairman Doris Adams takes a break from greeting booth visitors at the 2013 Greene County Fair in Xenia, Ohio.

At that point, I was desperate for any public venue and a quick online search indicated that my home county's fair was opening that very day down in Xenia which, if I would've gone there in the first place, is just a short 10 mile drive away from my house.  I made it to the site a little past 4PM (I originally left for Columbus shortly after noon) and walked around the exhibition buildings and vendor stands and taking in the atmosphere.  That was when I came across my subject, a friendly woman with a vast knowledge of politics that made our 15 minute chat seem to just fly by.  Doris Adams, the chairman of the Greene County Democratic Party, and another volunteer were engaging passers by and handing out literature on local, state and national issues.  She also invited me to a "meet-and-greet" barbeque for several 2014 candidates for statewide office (Cuyahoga County executive Ed Fitzgerald and current state senator Nina Turner are running for governor and secretary of state, respectively) but I politely declined.  Adams was nice enough to allow me to take her picture, wearing her ideological positions openly on her person (and very close to her literal sleeve).  Because of the southwestern Ohio location, that party's presence was unfortunately dwarfed by their Republican counterparts just two stalls away (it was twice as big and had four more volunteers on duty) but her enthusiasm was more compelling than that of her nearby rivals.

I chose my adopted hometown as my essay subject.  I've lived in Fairborn on and off for the past 14 years and I guess that I should start showing some level of affection towards it.  As a military member for a majority of my adult life, I never thought of any of my previous stateside assignments as a potential place to "settle down" and always kept my locality of my youth as my "home".  To push me in the direction of acceptance, I took my camera around to many of the areas in this locality (the town itself plus the adjacent Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and Wright State University) to take some photos of things that caught my eye.  To explore my digital creativity, I converted some of these photos into black and white versions and these are displayed here for your viewing.  In the picture above, I visited the local seasonal drive-in theater that, coincidentally, was screening the movie Planes just outside the fence line of a major military installation and aircraft runways.

Up through January 2000, the city had a year-round movie theater that showed second-run films (I can remember taking our two children to see Inspector Gadget right before it closed down) that is currently undergoing renovation to convert it into a performing arts theater.  The rest of the downtown area has seen similar restoration efforts in the wake of a $2 million StreetScape "face lift" to roads, sidewalks, infrastructure and landscaping in a bid to attract new businesses and customers for the existing establishments. 

Because of the significance of the Wright Brothers' aviation achievements, their name permeates nearly every facet of life in the greater Dayton area and Fairborn is no different (to include the military installation).  Just outside the base's Area B stands an official memorial to the duo, a stone obelisk made of North Carolina pink granite, that was dedicated on Orville's 69th birthday in August 1940 (Wilbur died of typhoid in May 1912 at the age of 45).

Nick Ut's camera and award-winning 1972 photograph of South Vietnamese villagers escaping a napalm attack are displayed in the Newseum's Pulitzer Prize Photograph permanent gallery during an August 2012 visit.

Like nearly all of the other courses I've taken in this certificate program, I earned an "A" grade (and carry a 3.9+ GPA over the six offerings).  Unfortunately, I had higher aspirations than just getting an overall evaluation between 0 and 4.  While I believe that I have the hang of the journalism part of the  course, it was the photography segment where I was hoping to get a little more in-depth instruction.  As I alluded to through my choice of the Clem Inspeak photo at the top of this post, I believe that I was severely handicapped due to my current camera equipment.  At the time, I chose one that had the appearance of one with much more "gravitas" and capabilities but it was definitely lacking "horsepower" when it came to employing simple photographic techniques such as depth of field (DoF) for class assignments.

The Pulitzer Prize Photograph gallery also features the camera and photograph taken by Charles Porter IV in the wake of the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

My Powershot's ultrazoom focus lens proved to be very convenient for framing and composition during my various assignments (and its 24-840mm film camera equivalency values cover a wide variety of distances with its single built-in lens); unfortunately, its "huge" aperture (at least when compared to those exhibited by DSLR lenses) precludes the creation of aesthetic effects like a shallow DoF and their potential role in the image's overall arrangement.  I paid a little over $400 for my set-up almost two years ago but the next "cheapest" camera in our group was a Canon EOS Rebel T3i (a kit that includes an 18-55mm lens has an MSRP of $599).  The most prevalent model among the students was the Nikon D5100 (with a similar lens and price tag as the aforementioned T3i) and three were using Canon 5D Mark III models (where the body alone goes for an estimated retail price of nearly $3500).  If I choose to go down the photojournalism path, I will really need to do my research to strike a good balance between capabilities and cost for my next one.

Another personal observation that surfaced during this class was the realization of just how much of a photographic "introvert" I really am.  When I was covering the 2012 presidential election, I was simply one of many faces in the crowd and/or the media gallery and my actions in covering those events were not questioned or assumed to be of a sinister nature.  I simply aimed my camera and took in the sights and sounds of everything around me and hardly anyone seemed to notice, an amazing accomplishment for someone over six feet tall.  Conversely, I got an almost opposite reaction during a couple of this class' assignments (the county fair one especially) when my exuberance to take pictures of people or things in a public place was seen as somehow invading their privacy (or, in the case of an Air Force jet fighter for my capstone, violating national security guidelines).  That uneasiness seemed to be compounded if the subject was a child when, due to my advanced age and unaccompanied status, I could almost hear people's "pervert" alarms going off inside their heads if I pointed my camera in the minor's direction.  I do have an SPJ membership card that I sometimes wear as a credential around my neck but I had no sponsoring organization to back me up if I was questioned about my imaging activities.  I remember having a similar hesitancy with my news writing and reporting class but I learned to get beyond it by simply walking up to people so it appears that continued photography practice will be in my future.

An early attempt at photojournalism during a 2009 visit to the Newseum's 9/11 permanent exhibit.

I'm in the middle of a short two-week break before I start my seventh course with the 2013 fall semester on September 3rd (JOURNAL 392S--Opinion Writing: Columns) so I need to get a few more things posted here before I get too enamored in expressing my beliefs to a worldwide audience.  Let me see if I can really stick to this promise this time.

1 comment:

Lisa Jones said...

To mention but a few there is a haunting photo from Dmitri Baltermants of Russian civilians at Kerch in 1942 locating their War-Dead, Rene Burris iconic photo of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara, Larry Burrows in Vietnam,Cartier-Bresson in London and Berlin and Luc Delahaye in Afghanistan at events nearly 50 years apart!A photograph of Joseph Goebbels when Hitlers Minister of Culture glaring at photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt a Jew really gives away the whole game about the intentions of HITLER and his followers even at THAT early stage!
There are many good photos and several GREAT compositions AND portraits which because of their given cirumstances are very moving,tragic.

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