Photojournalists are sometimes forced to complete work or projects that are, to say the least, messed up. Crisis and conflict photography, although gruesome, is needed to tell the stories of the people involved through dramatic and moving images. In order to document these stories with as little involvement as possible by the photographer, a delicate balance of ethics must be kept. This is demonstrated in Isabel Wilkerson’s section of the book where she stated, “Caring about our subjects without sacrificing our narratives, while caring about our narratives without sacrificing our subjects.” When dealing with delicate situations or subjects, I think it’s important to keep one thing in mind as a photographer: Just because I can take the photo, doesn’t mean I should. There is a line that if crossed, we are sometimes forced to intervene and play the role of a human being rather than a journalist. This was demonstrated strongly in the recent Boston Marathon bombings. In a video that went viral on the internet, a couple of photographers were seen removing a massive amount of barricades that were tangled up around a person lying on the ground trying to get out. This was a situation where the photographers knew they needed to put down their cameras and help another human being.
All in all the great ethical structure is unique and lies within each individual reporter. The line they cross when confronted with a dangerous situation may be to protect them, their subject, or to not act at all. I don’t think it matters what kind of ethical codes a journalist has, just as long as they have some that they actively practice and live by when out in the field.
Structure is everything. Without a strong structure houses would tumble down around us, bridges wouldn’t hold anything much less a car, and skyscrapers would be piles of rubble. An outline is essentially your structure; where your piece is going to take readers and how. What’s more, the reader must know and understand where the story is going in order to retain a high interest level. This is one of the most important things I got out of chapter 10 from The Art of Feature Writing. The Reader Interest Plane is kind of like five-card draw: Don’t show your cards too early. Generating a clever hook to initially grab a reader, then keeping them on the line by slowly reeling them in is the name of the game. Putting everything into the first couple of paragraphs will be a good story, but the end of it will be cut and dry. Who knows, the reader might not even make it to the end to see how dry it is.
The ideas that the writer has need to be organized in a manner that flows well, while also not revealing everything at once. The secret is in how these are organized. The book says this is the same between a newspaper article and a magazine feature (narrative hook, idea and transition). But, the paragraphs must also have climactic elements that build and build all the way through to the end. This will guarantee a lingering impression with the reader, and leave them impressed but also none the wiser to your carefully planned out story structure.
The readings from Chapter 7 of The Art of Feature Writing titled The Echo of Words proved to be very beneficial and offered tons of tips for adapting a unique writing style. One section that I found particularly useful was Pretentious Writing. When writing a paper I sometimes go into this mode that I can’t explain. I start to use language and vocabulary that I don’t normally use in real life. I guess it’s because I figure adding a little bit of word fluff never hurt anyone, but then I almost always go back and edit these words out later. This section makes it clear that using words that are too formal can create a barrier between the writer and reader, and only makes things more complicated. It becomes harder for the reader to understand what the writer is trying to communicate to them, and I know now that these words should be avoided.
The second part of the reading that I got the most out of was the section titled Wedding Sense to Sound: The Echoes of Words. As stated above, I tend to put a different voice into writing by adding fluff words without even realizing it. This section instructs that avoiding that and using a natural voice (the same voice used when speaking to someone casually) is encouraged. The sense of what we say, and how we say it, can be sensed in things that we write and it’s because we say them in our head before it goes down on paper. This is important to have because it builds a relationship with the reader, and allows the piece to flow naturally.
When reading through the section called “Part IV, Constructing a Structure”, I thought to myself: “Constructing a structure? What text book bull is going to be thrown my way now?” Well, I have to say that after reading Deneen L. Brown’s segment on the act of beginning to write, I now have some concrete advise that I will remember next time I sit down to write anything and everything.
I have always struggled with beginning to write. Anything at all, a short story, a research paper, or an essay; all of them I have to start days in advance because I spend my time staring at the blank screen. It’s not that I procrastinate, it’s just the problem of getting started that I struggle with the most. I love how Deneen L. Brown explained the idea of sitting down to write, and beginning the process of putting our thoughts into words. It was like she knew me, and I really related to her process, especially the part where she says, “The screen stares and cursor blinks nothingness, taunting me. It says, ‘Ready, set, go!’ What are you going to write this time?” But if there’s one thing I learned from what Brown had to say, it’s that it doesn’t matter what you write down; just tell a story. Tell the story like you’re telling your friend, mother, or like no one is listening at all. Grammar and punctuation can come later, what matters is that the true detail of the situation is told so it feels like the reader is there, and then pan the story out to give the reader the full scope of what is going on. Make the story you are telling a true journey. After all, everyone likes to go on adventures, especially if you don’t have to go anywhere.
The section about profiles is what I enjoyed most about this reading. I also realized how easily this relates to me, especially the Niche Profile featured on page 68. The Niche Profile is just a brief description of how this individual person came to be, and is exactly what I am working on right now through a portrait series about workers. The Paragraph Profile is also something I have experience with, and it pairs perfectly with a portrait of someone to tell someone who they are, and it makes them into a character.
I also enjoyed learning about how important the interview process is when profiling someone, and I have come to learn myself just how much of an art form it is. I liked how the author gave specific examples of interviews they have done, specifically with the people trekking across Antarctica and the Olympic runner. It explains just how deep in the interview process you have to go sometimes to get people to talk about themselves, even though what you asked them may be totally random. Another thing that stood out to me was what Tomas Alex Tizon said in Every Profile is an Epic Story. He said, “It’s very easy for journalists to create one-dimensional characters in their stories, especially when they consider only the person’s official role as soldier, mayor, victim, robber.” This is exactly why it’s important to delve deeper into the interview, almost as if you are trying to be annoying. Avoiding creating one-dimensional characters in your stories I think is the best piece of advice I have taken away from this reading.
There hasn’t been a reading from this book yet that has related to me as much as the chapter title “Being There.” As a photographer, the steps covered in this segment are what I practice daily in the field while on assignment. The hardest, but most crucial, part is capturing the action but making it look as if you weren’t there. If the photos seem as if they have you in the scene, or are “interrupted”, they will not be as strong. These tips help avoid that.
Minimizing your presence I think is the part that I practice the most. I used to struggle with this because I would find that my subjects would always be looking at me, or staring right into the camera lens when I snap a photo. It has taken a long time to learn how to fully immerse myself into a situation, and at the same time minimizing my presence so much that they forget I’m even there. Something I found that works is right away I’ll introduce myself and make it known who I am and why I’m there, then I’ll tell my subjects the same thing, for every assignment: “Pretend like I’m not even here.” For some reason this registers in everyone’s mind to not pay attention to me and go about their business while I document.
Live as they do is also I would say one of the most important tips. When I know I’ll be covering something that is in an underprivileged area, or higher crime rate than usual, I’ll wear less flashy clothes with no brand names, not wear a watch, leave my cell phone in the car, and tape over my camera logos. This just draws less attention to me, plus it immerses me into the environment more. All of these might make me feel like an outcast, but I’ve learned that this is ironically where I’m most comfortable.
In addition to learning about the hilarious past skeletons in politician’s closets, this chapter had much to say about one of the most important things a journalist can do in the field: the interview. Although it stresses the importance, what I found even was even more important were the other techniques that are just as crucial that should be done to prepare for said interview. As stated in “The Interview or The Only Wheel in Town”, direct observation, research, and gathering information from others and tips from non-officials are part of the process. Without these an interview will not be of much help, and just research alone would have gotten the same results.
Also from this chapter I would agree that what you do to prepare for the interview before it, like questions to ask or information to obtain, is also just as crucial. There is nothing more embarrassing than running out of material to keep the conversion going, like plateauing.I have learned this plenty of times from experience, and it’s best to prepare as much as possible so this doesn’t happen. Let’s be real, an interviewee is not going to ask you questions when you are the one that is supposed to be asking them.
I’ll close with what helps me the most with completing interviews: Just be yourself. I’ve found that during formal interviews, and impromptu out in the field, letting your character show and your true personality be known is the best way to get a genuine interview without any hiccups.