A Flock of Seagulls' Eyes

August 12, 2011 

I started this blog three years ago with the goal of explaining some of the quirky and often misunderstood aspects of community photojournalism. It's a job seen as nothing but easy fun by some, and an afterthought by others — even in the newsroom. Just because a photo is capturing a split second in time doesn't mean you can always just pop in and snap a quick shot in five minutes.

Granted, a photo generally doesn't take as long to produce as the story its paired with, especially for the bulk of daily work, but visual journalists work with patience, anticipation and timing. You can write a fine story without leaving your desk, missing the event entirely, but if you're late for the photo, there's no ethical mulligan. Neither set of skills is better than the other, they're simply different.

I just happen to enjoy doing both.

Most of my writing these days comes in the form of these weekly ramblings, of which this is number 160. Fitting then, that on a recent Friday, somebody I met on assignment asked the insta-bristle question, "So are you working toward writing then?"

It's not nearly as bad as the offensive suggestion that if I keep at photography, I might get to do some journalism someday — an insult I wrote about in "On Crutches" — but it still implies a lower-class status of my chosen profession. Almost as upsetting is how illogical this question is.

Yes. I really want to write, so I spend all my time making photos.

What really pushed this common conversation into blog-worthy territory was what happened next. After telling her that photojournalism is my career choice, she said that I must be really good at Photoshop. I briefly explained the ethics of photojournalism — how all we do is adjust levels, color correct, crop and sharpen. That's when she started bragging about her Photoshop skills and how her friends love it when she digitally widens their eyes.

And if she can't widen them? "I give them seagull eyes," she said.

Uh...what?

Of course, relaying this encounter was the first order of business after getting back to the office, and in the spirit of the great "Chicks with Steve Buscemi Eyes," thanks to Andy Perdue for the suggestion of trying the technique out on some of my photos.

I should first note that these Photoshop hack jobs aren't making fun of any of the subjects in the photos and they don't live up to the digital craftsmanship of "Chicks with Steve Buscemi Eyes." But there's only so much time I could spend polishing these gems:



It might just be that my Photoshop skills aren't as great as hers, but I'm not seeing the improvement she claimed her friends raved about. My brother Ian wondered if I had maybe misheard her and that she replaced them with cute beagle eyes. That makes more sense, so here's one with both options to compare:

Still inconclusive, I'd say, and they somehow make these creepy barn owl chicks even more spine-tingling:

These kids look alien:

But it does amp up the intensity of this Marine chin-up bar at Water Follies:

Even sillier than this set of rushed Photoshop jobs is that this strange encounter of the perturbed kind happened on a day when a story I had written was on the front page.

It's the second such time I've written and photographed a story mostly because the events were about an hour away and our reporting staff is already bare bones. Last month, I covered a demobilization ceremony in Pendleton, but this time, it was a Mormon pioneer trek near Paterson.

It's fun to flex a different set of creative muscles and I'm happy to do so when it makes sense for me to pull double duty. My passion is still in photography, and here's a 10-photo edit from the trek:

The photos could use improvement (a better use of the frame in the first, the pile of distracting white in the second and too many tilted horizons), but I think these 10 capture the essence of the event and tell a story even without captions.

Of course, the narrative becomes complete when the images are paired with words that explore the non-visual and give voices to the subjects within.

I never expected to change the public's perception of community photojournalism single-handedly. With only 500 or so regular readers, that's clearly not in the works. And while there's plenty of room for improvement in both facets of my storytelling skills, I hope you can see how the relationship between photo and writing is complementary.

Even if you have seagull eyes.

And for a look at what people who produce more important work than me are up to...

The Virginian-Pilot recently published "A Chance in Hell," which chronicles the gruesome work being done at a trauma hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It's moving, gut-wrenching and brilliant work by photojournalist Ross Taylor and writer Corinne Reilly, and is as inspirational as it is heartbreaking. The gore isn't gratuitous, but I'm sure it will be tough to stomach for many. If you never click my links, please make an exception.

Dvafoto has a nice post complete with a wealth of links to information about knowing your rights when it comes to photographing in public.

Chris Jordan produced a short film for Earthjustice about some Paiute reservation residents' struggle against toxic coal ash that blows into their home from the Reid Gardner Power Station in Nevada.

~~~~~

kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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