As a University of Missouri masters candidate for the School of Journalism, I must complete a project or a thesis in order to earn my degree. For my bachelor's degree at Mizzou I studied journalism with an emphasis in photojournalism, for my master's degree I am studying journalism with and emphasis in visual editing.
The project I have chosen to work on is the Missouri Photo Workshop 68th edition book, which ties in skills I have learned during my five years of study. There are two parts to this project; the book and the professional analysis, which I have laid out in my project proposal. This entails photo editing, layout, design, interviews, research, and an analysis of the finished project with a reflection into my experience. All of which will be laid out into separate blog posts as each phase is completed.
This will be accomplished through close work with my professors including Jim Curley, adjunct faculty and co-director of MPW; David Rees, faculty chair and co-director of MPW; Jackie Bell, associate professor; and Brian Kratzer, director of photography for the Columbia Missourian.
Reaching almost seven decades, Missouri Photo Workshop has been renowned for bringing together photographers from around the world to work with a select staff of professional photojournalists who are devoted to the education of our field's future. MPW was started in 1949 by Clifton and Vi Edom, to whom some attribute the birth of photojournalism. This past year's workshop comprised 46 photographers from 15 different states and 10 foreign countries, all wanting to learn about the art of storytelling through photographs.
MPW 68 was stationed in a small, rural, Midwest town of about 3,300 residents called Cuba, Missouri. Photographers participating in the workshop were limited to the town and its surrounding farmland. Each photographer was assigned two faculty members, professional photojournalists tasked with helping formulate an edit. While each photographer is only given 400 frames during the weeklong workshop, their final edits are usually around 12 photographs with the aid of professional faculty members.
Selecting and sequencing the photographs was one of the best way to start this project. Photo editing is the skill that I have the most experience with and am comfortable doing. As someone who has little experience on how to design a book, this project was a little out of my comfort zone. Although I am always excited to push myself, it was nice to start someplace safe.
With the guidance of faculty, I have been making edits on groups of photographers every week. In order to complete every photographer's edit in a timely fashion. Once this is complete I will finalize my first rough draft of the layouts and continue moving forward from there.
My workflow for photo editing was simple. I would take a handful of photographers and, after reading their story summaries I would go through every photograph they took during the week. This number is roughly 500 photographs but may vary from person to person. After I had selected what I thought created the best visual narrative I would present them to my committee. From there we would discuss the edit and make suggestions on what I should incorporate into the layouts.
There were many factors that went into our decision of which photographs should or should not be included in the book. We considered repetition (within one story and the book as a whole), color effects the photos might face when printed, horizontal versus vertical, ethical concerns, and the strength of the narrative.
Within the photographs being considered, there are many different photo characteristics to keep in mind. Visual variety within a photo story is important to any narrative. Changing where the photographer stands and where the camera's viewpoint is can make a difference in the message of the photo. It can also mean the difference between an extraordinary shot and a basic shot we have all seen a thousand times. This is one of the most important lessons I learned during my time working as assistant director of photography for the Columbia Missourian.
The photographer's job is to shoot using their best professional instincts, while it is the editor's responsibility to choose the photos that create the most wide-ranging design and natural visual variation, (Lynn, 2013). As McDougall demonstrates in his 1990 book Picture Editing & Layout, redundant pictures dilute their impact. This is why it is important to avoid repetitive photographs not only within a particular story, but in the book as a whole.
There were many stories shot by photographers that seemed to overlap in some way. Many stories had families praying at dinner, going to church, feeding their baby, etc. It got to the point where I was concerned about stories looking too similar. One of the most difficult parts of the photo editing process was deciding if a photograph should be included when it's been overused but is essential to the narrative.
It's easy to wait and not think about print quality until you get to the layout and design stages. But if you wait too long it becomes a hassle to go back to step one and replace the image with something that works better. Throughout the photo selection process I would find a stunning image, one that worked well with the story and added to the narrative. However, it was often necessary to cut the image because it just did not work in black and white. Since the book is being printed in black and white it was difficult to adjust my perception of the photographs to make educated decisions on how the finished product will effect each story.
The color of a photo is often key in making it successful. Because color, or lack thereof, can make or break the quality of an image, it can also impact the perception of the viewer. Black and white can lead to fewer distractions and can sometimes elicit an emotional response from the viewer with its documentary style qualities. I also considered the size it would be running in the book while choosing photos initially.
All of these points show that it is important to think ahead in any project. If you fail to look at the broader project then you may end up having to go back and start from scratch. This is something I am glad I learned early on and saved me time.
For example, one story I looked at was called The Zimmermans - Living by the World by Andriana Mereuta. In her full take she had a beautiful vertical shot of dresses blowing in the wind. This was a perfect detail shot with colors that popped. However, when placed in black and white, it did not jump out as a strong photograph and had to be cut.
I had to consider this when it came to overly dark images as well. Cuban Wood by Dotan Saguy is an amazing story as well based on narrative and visuals. However, his shots are mostly dark and slow shutter, things that do not translate well into black and white in a book. After much consideration I chose photographs that kept to Saguy's style and his narrative but would also keep the quality sharp.
As in many cases, ethics played a large role in deciding which photos to choose for the MPW 68 book. For example, one ethical dilemma I faced was while working on the edit for Life and Limits by Clare Fieseler. This story was about a man, James Pettig, who pled guilty to a sex offense with a minor in 1989 and has had to live as a sex offender ever since. Pettig also serves as a care taker for his elderly mother and the story highlights many of his hobbies and activities.
When I first looked at the photographs it seemed very obvious to me that a story was trying to be forced here. The story summary did not describe any details of the offense and there were numerous photos where he was in the same room with children looking awkward. One photo even had him driving past a school bus on the road.
I was uncomfortable using any of these photographs and instead wanted to show him in a neutral manner rather than 'look, a sex offender.' After discussing this with my professors we decided it was best not to present a narrative that was clearly forced. Instead, I chose images of Pettig living his day-to-day life and am very happy with the results.
So many great stories came out of MPW 68. However, some have stood out more than others due to their visual variety, personal and documentary-style feel, natural narrative, and overall quality. In no particular order these stories are:
- Turtle Earth Family by Parker Michels-Boyce
- Queen of Moon Dance Farm by Roland Reinstadler
- Familia by Griselda San Martin
- Cowboy Colt by Micah Bond
- A Butcher’s Life by Connor Stefanison
- A Duke and a Cowboy by Guillem Sartorio
- Loose Ends by Tanya Bylinsky Fabian
I am very excited to continue to the next step with this book. Now that each photo has been chosen I will lay them out onto the pages and have a final version of that draft complete very soon. Once a rough draft has been completed my committee and I will look at the overall design. While this is happening I will be selecting and conducting interviews about how photo editing influences how people feel about photo stories and their narratives. I look forward to sharing my progress and discoveries.