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Open For Business

February 20, 2010

I am back in the heat of it all……or should I say, back in the snowy lands of Syracuse.

Spring semester is in full gear, yet I haven’t been able to get into a stride.  This seems to be the common mode of operation though, never feeling like you are done with any multimedia project.

I am pursuing my interests in longer-form story telling through a documentary production class this semester.   My direction is unknown, but I feel I should explore any area of interest during this re-tooling period.   Will I return to newspapers as a more versatile player? Will I venture into independent production?  Will I explore specialized Internet start-ups providing content in new ways?   Will I even have a choice?

My final multimedia project from last semester grew into an overwhelming challenge, both in its story development and in the crafting of the edit. I felt like I was moving into a new realm of trial and error.  I might have moved too quickly into a longer-form project since there is great benefit in knowing how to really capture a focused story in two to three minutes.   Despite this, I felt like I was being boxed in with this limitation.  What if I wanted to tell a bigger story with more complexity? I have been giving that a try.

I returned to school eagerly wanting to finish this project and I immediately hit a wall with two of the three subjects in the piece.  They had moved on during the holiday break and it seems they didn’t fully grasp the time commitment this might involve.   This certainly was my fault; I have learned to be more upfront at the beginning, letting subjects know all my intentions.  After multiple cancellations or in the other’s case, no response, I realized I would have to stick with the footage that I had.

This experience makes me think about the dynamics between a subject and the photographer.  I get the privilege to enter into people’s lives very quickly and I try my best not to abuse this privilege.    I explain my goals, I proceed carefully and I remain respectful.  So now having had a subject back away before a project is complete, makes me wonder about a subject’s responsibility in this process.   In the end, the subject doesn’t have to responsible and the option to no longer play ball is always lingering.   Yet during those emotional moments of frustration, I can’t help but wish for the same level of respect – especially after many hours of work together.  It is bold to have those expectations; this is something I need to patiently adjust and reconfigure.

I was reading a book on documentary production and the author warned of this very situation, how a story can fall apart or shift so quickly due to the everyday realities of our subjects.   It is something all storytellers need to navigate.

A subject’s own life demands and needs are rarely dependent on any ambitious goal a photographer has stirred up.   It may just be a “school project” in their eyes, something that isn’t seen as significant or transformational due to their unfamiliarity with the process.

Maybe that crossing-of-paths moment just had to be short lived.

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Fall Semester Done – Cheers!

January 20, 2010

I survived my second semester at Syracuse University.  After a brief summer and challenging Fall semester, I managed to retain my sanity as I navigated final projects and exams.  I completed a class called “Designing Interactivity” focusing on web design through Photoshop, XHTML/HTML coding, CSS, and a bit of Word Press (php coding) and Flash.  I have a rough version of a working website for my future master’s project, yet I remain frustrated not having learned as much as I wanted.  I am not sure if my expectations were too high or if the reality of trying to learn this type of material requires more time and practice.  I appreciate knowing the basics and not fearing the idea of coding.  With the future so uncertain, it seems important to have diverse skills as I try to re-build my career; that is why I want to understand this coding world.  I don’t want to be a blind consumer or producer for that matter, as I navigate the online world.  I want to understand the world behind the pages we navigate.  Bring me into the matrix, but don’t let me get lost in it.

I was required to complete a research course and I was lucky to find a class called “Media and Diversity.” I enjoyed the class due to the wide range of issues discussed from the evolution of LGBT media coverage and heteronormativity to race and everyday pornography.   Fellow classmates seemed irritated by the class, but I knew this qualitative work would be more enjoyable then other classes focused on quantitative research.  The three-ring binder barely held our 451-page group research project on how transgendered characters are portrayed in entertainment media.  The class helped me practice my interviewing skills; each of us were asked to interview at least seven individuals, each 40 minutes or more, and transcribe the interviews.  The final paper resulted in findings that showed the transgender community searching for community and identity through other outlets rather than through film and television representations.

And finally, my multimedia storytelling class introduced me to the world of video and audio – the heart of why I am traveling down this academic road.  I completed six projects:  an autobiography and five other features on two sisters losing their memory in an assisted-living facility, a local lesbian community activist, a nurse practitioner running a house call medical service, a traveling juggler/entertainer, and final project on three members of the transgendered community.  At times, stress ran high as I battled with technical challenges like finding the correct white balance, using the tripod versus hand-holding, perfecting proper focusing, adding light on location and capturing good audio. I learned from my mistakes and grew.  There were certainly moments when I questioned why am I doing all of this, yet I came full circle to embrace the joy of documenting interesting stories with the moving image.

I continue to question the dynamics that this kind of academic environment stirs up.  Some teachers are more invested than others; it remains a challenge getting enough feedback without appearing to be too pushing.  Sometimes I don’t even know the questions to ask, yet I know that class time will not by itself provide the kind of guidance I am hoping for.  I felt like the system worked against me in my undergraduate program where I wandered around lost for too long.  I think, at that time, I just trusted in the program and somewhere along the line I missed out on some opportunities.  I thought the teachers would guide me, yet in that program it was more about supporting the rising stars.  So I remain sensitive now to every student having a chance to grow.   If I, by chance, produce an amazing piece, I don’t want to be placed in a group that is perceived to be too good or too advanced to get advice.  And if, by chance, I fall on my face on other project, I don’t want to be discounted as lacking in talent or potential.  It is rare to find that teaching mentor who really wants you to succeed and who has the time and will to really take you there.

I have been told recently that I have a documentary-feel to my work and I find it to be an interesting comment since I haven’t thought about what my style of story telling is like for a really long time.  I tend to just go in and try to answer the questions that I find interesting about a subject via the past, present and future.  I also try to look at one’s background and motivations to give the story more depth.  I am still learning how to perfect this as I attempt to do better at capturing the heart of the subject and the real emotion of the situation.   I am excited by the potential of having more clarity with my purpose.  I want to proceed in a direction where talent and passion are working hand in hand.  I am intrigued by more long-form work yet it is a complete mystery to me.  Does this mean I have a home in television programming or film work?  How do I even begin to navigate those arenas at this stage in my career?  Do I really have to work again at the lowest entry level and fight my way through advancement?  Maybe that won’t even matter if I simply love what I am doing.

Next semester, starting in mid-January, is already stirring up excitement.   I will have three classes:  Fashion and Portrait Photography, Multimedia Editing, and Documentary Production.  My hopes ride high for all three, as each will give me new perspectives on what I can achieve.  It is time to charge up that inner strength and embrace the opportunities ahead of me.

All advice welcomed  🙂

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Experience

November 15, 2009

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I have been living in the safe world of academia for over four months now.  It is a place intended to be a positive environment for experimentation and growth.

Emotions more associated with the “real world” were stirred up this week.

Syracuse University is one of several universities that participates in a program called News 21.  It is part of the Carnegie-Knight initiative structured around a class in the spring and an internship in the summer. The opportunity sounded interesting so I inquired only to find out that it is high competitive – few openings that are filled from multiple departments.

The process and outcome from this week are less interesting than the dynamics that were infused into the social environment here.  Suddenly, it felt like secrecy and competition were in the air.  Who was going to apply?  How were they preparing their applications?  Who got an interview?   Why was that person selected?

I was caught off guard at a bit.   I have come here to compete against myself.  I have set high standards for the colleagues I have managed in the past and I now place those standards on my own work.   At some point,  the idea of  competition becomes counterproductive.   Yet, it is all around us all the time.    I have been a bit removed from the pressures of New York City and having to interview for jobs –  constantly being judged on so many factors.   I felt empowered by choosing not to care what others think of me here….this is something that has pulled me down over the last few years.   Maybe we can never escape the idea of  competition and maybe my hope that all of us can excel and be successful is naive……..maybe the big bad world isn’t that accommodating.

I am left pondering how my 12 years of photo editing experience was quickly dismissed during my interview (in favor of my shooting experience).   I wonder (as the media industry continues to go through these monumental changes)  how I will be received when I start the job hunt again late next year.   Do employers really care about experience?  Experience in the real sense of the word – diverse and complex….layered and sophisticated…..tested experience.   I am fearing it is all about just having the immediate skills to do the job at hand and a willingness to work for little money.

What do you think?

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Juggling Video

November 15, 2009

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Sequences!   Over the past week, I have been learning how to handle story telling using dynamic vantage points and sequencing. The idea here is to attack each moment from multiple angles with cutaways and details to help with the transitions needed in the editing process.  I think the “eyes” of the average media consumer have become conditioned to seeing a wide range of quality when it comes to video and film work.   I have been paying closer attention to broadcast news and reality show programming.  There is so much content that isn’t steady, often abusing panning movements at the same time.  I wonder how much I noticed or even cared about this before and what the online user demands today.  It seems we are seeing more and more average video work online especially with some “news” sites throwing up “raw” unedited footage.   This is so counter to what the academic world is trying to teach us.   Does the average user coming to their computer for a limited amount of time each day even appreciate the higher quality of work that many serious multimedia students want to produce?  Or is this polished work only catering to the professional insiders who find it important?

I registered today for the Spring semester with an interesting mix of classes:  multimedia editing, fashion/portrait photography, and documentary production.  These challenges will surely round out my video and photography skills; I am excited by the possibilities of each class; yet, I remain a bit apprehensive about finding strong stories to tell.   It is quite the undertaking trying to find subjects that are relevant, timely, visual, and accessible.   I am also trying to build a strong portfolio which makes this process even more stressful.

My other related dilemma is whether or not I should try to finalize my master’s program by the end of June versus coming back for one more semester in the Fall.   The additional semester will no doubt help me a great deal; however, time away from the work force and money are big factors to consider at this point.    All of this work is an investment, yet my student loans have reached frightening levels.   As of today, I am planning a summer exit.  Advice?

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Regaining My Stride

October 28, 2009

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Coming off another tough week, I remained lost in my own thoughts.   Those thoughts still were about me questioning why am I pursuing this master’s degree.   Am I doing it because I have to or if I want to?     Filled with questions about how to sort though my work and goals,  I went to one of my professors and he said that I need to reconnect with my joy of photography and discover again what started me on this journey.  This was great advice from someone I have come to respect.   I admire his deep understanding of the evolution and sensitivities of the photo professional and I am impressed with his passion, accessibility, and experience.  He stands out.   I feel like he wants me to succeed; this is an ingredient that has been missing from my professional life for the past five years.   I made the jump to NYC five years ago due to my strong desire to live in the city.   And despite me not regretting it (0verall),  I realize now that somewhere along the line I forgot to make that “ingredient” a priority with my employment choices.

So I am looking for that joy and I am trying to slow down to really take in this experience.   All of this really is a gift to myself to be able to detach from the “real world”  and learn all that I can.  I am so very very thankful for my partner and friends who are helping make all this happen.  I can reconnect with my creative side – something I have longed to do.   This creative energy need to be a constant part of my “work” life.

The video camera is now in hand – a device unlocking a new world of exploration.  It is indeed still all about story telling and visual communication, yet I have been a bit perplexed with this creative leap.   I am perplexed in a positive way as I explore the different rhythms associated with this way of working…….all the while becoming more and more fascinated with the power of the “moving” image.   This may be an awkward association, but I have always been intrigued by the motion picture industry (the beauty of movie making)….so, as I  “logged and captured” my video footage this week, I felt a small spark…..something inside hinting that I can dream bigger….that there are more possibilities and more adventures to consider.

I hope the doors open………and I can find my way to them.

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Failing

October 16, 2009

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Professionals in the business say don’t be afraid of failing.

I can’t seem to find a way to get comfortable with that notion.   I know that approach makes us stronger, but when you are fighting your way through the pain those words don’t feel reassuring. Maybe they would bring a sense of calm if I knew the next three or four steps ahead of me.   The problem is I don’t know where some of the first steps are when I am down and trying to rebuild.

I can see how my editing experience is helping and hurting me.   It helps me sometimes as I anticipate my photo work – I have a general sense of what I need to accomplish with a developing project.  On the other hand, I am self-editing myself ahead of time or during a shoot.   This is causing me to shut down too early in those moments of exploration; I become too frustrated too quickly when the moments and images aren’t coming together.   I am placing that very “high bar” of expectation on myself.

The rhythm of my shooting has become too familiar and formulaic.   I am searching for a way to breaking through these walls.  I want to find a new way of seeing.  I am trying to find new ways of getting my vision on to the screen, composed with what I feel and with what I want to communicate.

For years I have been reviewing photography that is special and compelling.  I am now hoping I can channel that inspiration into my education.   I don’t know how to bridge the two sometimes.

I have been taught through many years of experience to display myself as patient and self-assured – to avoid excuses and don’t complain.   It seems it takes so long to build a reputation and so quickly for others to make wrong judgments.   As this point in my career, I no longer want to worry about this.  I only want to do good work – working with a supportive, creative team that striving to do the same.

I now have the opportunity to surround myself with supportive professionals and I only want to keep those who want the best for me in my life.

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Avoid the Ugly Place

October 10, 2009

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Leaves are falling from the trees and the long dreaded Winter isn’t far away.  I took a quick afternoon ride over to Skaneateles to drop off some gifts for my photo subjects from the Fall Workshop.   On the way back, I picked up a pumpkin at a roadside vendor; I immediately asked myself what the heck happened to Summer.

Central New York winters have been a frequent topic of discussion since I started my grad program back in July.   I have been warned to watch out for a change in attitude and mood as I make my way through the program.  Second-guessing why I have chosen to put myself through this growing process might lurk around the corner, I am told.   Yesterday was one of those days as I struggled setting up my next photo project.

A man running a hospice didn’t want to put his guests in a compromising position.  The health department said clinical environments were basically off limits.  A monastery refused access while commenting on the fact that Oprah Magazine had just interviewed them.

Somehow I started going to that ugly place – Why am I doing this?   Am I strong enough to take on these new skills and improve my career?  Will my photography improve?  How will I maintain my inspiration and motivation?   Not a very good day…..

Today, I reminded myself how lucky I am to be here and to have this chance to become who I want to be.  I was given a boost of support by an organization willing to help me show my future work in local galleries and in a possible traveling exhibit.   I left that meeting re-charged and eager to produce compeling stories.

The evolution continues…..