Month: August 2013

Thanks for the photos, dad

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I first learned to smile at a camera. I’m not exactly sure how the whole learning to smile thing works, but I know I mastered my huge-grin, happy-eyed smile by staring at a strange flashing box my dad would tell me to look at while growing up. For every memory I have of my childhood, I also have a picture in my head of my dad holding, first a disposal camera, then a point and shoot camera and finally the manual camera he uses today. Thousands of memories and moments are captured in the negatives, photo books and digital slide shows my dad has compiled over the years.

Every time I look at one of those photos, I feel something. Take, for example, the photo above of my grandma and me. I look at this photo and feel overwhelmed with joy. I tear up every time I see it, as warm thoughts about my sweet, sweet grandma fill my heart. I love the way I look fearless, confident and worry-free, mimicking a lady who can do no wrong. I love the look in my grandma’s eyes even more–adoration, hope, happiness. And something about that Diet Coke can, for me, makes this my favorite photo. This photo is not only life captured, but a grandmother’s love captured. A spontaneous interaction, an outpouring of warmth.

All great photography has the same “there’s something about that” feel that you can’t always quite put your finger on. It is a moment in time, frozen as accurately as possible. It is the manifestation of feeling and action. There is a nostalgia about it, or at least a moment of deja vu, where you either feel like you’re stepping back in time or recognizing your own experiences in the frame.

I don’t think I’ve seen any photography better than that of LIFE Magazine in its prime. Everyone knows the V-J Day photo as well as a number of other LIFE “classics.” They’ve become classics because of how well they capture the human condition. I understand something new about young children every time I see the first photo in this gallery. In contrast, gallery’s like this one of the Vietnam War provide a shaking reminder of the devastation of conflict.  LIFE photographs capture stories first. I think that is what makes them such a success.

Good photography fits into any number of definitions and styles; however, all great photos tell a powerful story. Even though my father is not a professional photographer (although his great grandfather and a few other Darby’s were), my dad’s photos are great to me because they tell the most powerful stories of all, the stories of my memories. When I think of my dad’s photography from this perspective, I finally understand why he hardly ever puts a camera down. Next time he asks to take my picture, I won’t whine at him like I usually do; this time I’ll flash him a smile, the one I’ve practiced and perfected in front of his camera all along.

Life is not a destination

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“The best thing you’ve ever done for me, is to help me take my life less seriously…There’s more than one answer to these questions pointing me in a crooked line. The less I seek my source for some definitive, the closer I am to fine.” -“Closer to Fine”

Perhaps the greatest epiphany of my life thus far came to me while listening to a performance of “Closer to Fine” by the Indigo Girls. I and a group of nine Mizzou students had traveled to Slick Rock, Colo., for an alternative spring break trip. After a week of environmental community service work like fence building and trail maintenance, our trip host, Kathy, who works for the San Juan Mountains Association, held a BBQ for our group. Kathy invited local musicians and friends to entertain us at the BBQ. A group of four musicians covered classics such as “Wagon Wheel,” before MJ, who worked with us throughout the week, brought out her ukulele and started singing. The picture above captures MJ on her ukulele and two of the other musicians singing “Closer to Fine.”

Throughout the week, the simple lives of the local volunteers amazed me. People like Kathy and MJ were not wealthy by any standard, and they were not big shots in “successful” companies; yet they and the other volunteers had an extraordinary amount of community success. They were also extremely happy; the kind of infectious happy that makes you want to stick around to figure out the secret to such pure, untainted joy.

All of these observations came together for me during the performance of “Closer to Fine.” I realized I had been living my life in terms of someday, instead of today.  Success, to me, had been a destination, a place that I was working toward, a thing to be discovered and achieved only after long years of hard work, toil and sacrifice.

After much thought on the subject, I realized that this is the way many young, inexperienced journalists (including myself) often write stories. Sometimes the idea of a story is so compelling that we design our sources, our quotes and our story’s construction around a preconceived end result. There is huge fault in this approach to life and storytelling.

This semester, I am taking my last prerequisite journalism class, Multimedia 2150. I will be telling stories using new mediums such as photography, audio and video. With these new tools for storytelling, I want to challenge myself and you to tell a story and not create one. To me, multimedia is a process of carefully considering the medium best suited to tell a story as accurately as possible, which can be beneficial when print journalism can’t quite capture the story.

I’m excited to begin a new journey, this time with no destination in mind.

“Traveling forces you to trust strangers and lose sight of all that familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance–Nothing is yours except the essential things–air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky–all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.” -Cesare Pavese