i looked up the latin for "inspire," because i get tired of hearing that word tossed around. this redefined it for me. inspiration is a gift, often unexpected. the implication of "addo" is that someone or something else gave, brought, or placed a new idea in your hands, blew a fresh wind in your heart. and that's life right now. it's funny, i usually find that in the changing seasons (when life is transitional), but lately it's come dead center of summer. i suppose that's inspirational in itself, as it's unexpected. unexpected is my favorite. and if it's ever not, i make it my favorite and tell myself it's my favorite.
anyhow. part of the addo was a conversation with my boss and two interns yesterday, about storytelling. they asked great questions, questions that made me stop and pause and consider the deeper implications of what i do.
what's your storytelling process, beginning to end?
how do you approach people?
does rapport happen naturally? how do you create it?
what kind of things do you look for in photographs and portfolios?
i didn't talk much. jon's been doing this forever and a day, so while i need a moment to contemplate questions like this, jon jumps right in with all his years of knowledge, experience, and wisdom. every time i talk to him about these things (and really, every time i talk to him), i'm struck by his deep compassion for people and also by what a fascinating person he is.
his thoughts are this: in portfolios, look for compassion and relationship with people. do you care about your subjects? do you consider them more important than yourself? what are you trying to communicate with your photographs? can you tell a story in a photo, not just make a nicely lit portrait?
for storytelling, begin with interviews. find out the back story. what are the key moments in this person's life? what's important to photograph? structure your schedule around the events in your subject's life — going to school, getting water, completing a challenge, etc. wait for good light. hang out. the best pictures happen when you're doing something unplanned. make your intentions known up front — you are doing this story FOR them, not OF them. make them feel special, because you are doing the story on their behalf, and there are those who need to hear their story.
the bottom line is: what is your heart? are you doing photography because it sounds like a cool job? because you like to travel? that's not impressive around here. at least not to jon. do you love people? do you care about telling meaningful stories? do you lay down your life for others? do you seek to understand them, enter into their lives for a time? do you allow compassion for them to move through you, and does that translate into your photos? that's what we hope for in our photos here.
i was super encouraged listening to him. it was a good reminder, stay the course, love God, love people, seek Jesus, and seek the good of others in all things, especially photography.
here's my thoughts on storytelling: interview first, make mental notes about the visual parts of the story, and how you'll communicate key moments. listen, pay attention. take lots of detail shots, because sometimes they tell the story better than the medium money shot. build that relationship with your subject — don't go in with canons blazing (har har, photo puns), but take time to greet them in their language, shake hands, hold their baby, smile, whatever you need to do to demonstrate love and care. it can be as brief as 30 seconds, or take a whole day of no shooting, but they have to let you in. wait for the moments — anticipate them, and keep your fingers crossed that they happen in good light and clean backgrounds. take photos for you, ones that in your head you say, "that's beautiful. maybe i'll make a print of it and put it on my wall, even if my editor hates it." the most recent body of work i had published is composed mostly of pictures that i took thinking, "i'll make a nice flickr set with these, or put them on facebook." and now they are the feature spread in our magazine (to see the full spread, you'll have to get the magazine, because all the photos aren't online). listen to your instincts, and don't ever shut them down in favor of time, fear, or coming back later. you won't, and you'll miss the shot, and you'll wonder for a long time if it would have been the centerpiece in your portfolio. if i had a dollar for every time i didn't take a picture but should have...
most importantly, i'm learning to pray more for a heart of compassion for those i spend time with and do stories about. i want God's heart for them.
so that's the philosophical inspiration of late. also feeling inspired by alyssa bistonath's photograps and blog. its beautiful every time i visit. she's a freelancer in canada for world vision and the days when i get to use her photos for things in our publications makes me happy.
musically, just when i thought i was sick of "home" by edward sharpe and the magnetic zeros, they came out with a remix. a lovely one. (hint: looking at alyssa's photos and listening to this at the same time just may bring about the same sense of serenity achieved by a one hour yoga session in a dim studio with an instructor with linen pants and a jesus beard. yep.)