Spotlight on Erika Schultz

(please note - all images in this interview are
under the copyright of The Seattle Times)


Erika, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. Please
tell us a little bit about the background of this week's
featured image:



Ross, thanks so much for creating The Image, Deconstructed.
It’s an inspiring and valuable resource for the photojournalism

Kim moved her two sons— including Jack, 9— from Chicago
to Seattle in April 2010 after looking for work for about a year.
Kim had heard there were good job opportunities in the
Northwest. But the housing vouchers she had been counting
on never materialized. They soon moved into a tent city called
Nickelsville, and tried to establish their lives in a new city with
very little.

This photograph of Jack was taken as he moved from the tent
city into the room his family was renting in the University District.
After weeks of living without running water or electricity, Jack and
Kim finally had a room of their own, and a kitchen and bathroom
to share with other residents on their floor.

The photo essay about Kim and Jack’s journey published in The
Seattle Times in August 2010 as part of the final installment in a
three-day, multiplatform series called “Invisible Families.”

You can see the gallery:
The Invisible Families project page:

After meeting Kim and Jack at Nickelsville tent city, I soon
realized they had a strong relationship. They constantly joked
with one another and were very affectionate. Kim was warm,
open and funny. Jack was curious, imaginative and gregarious.
During their time at Nickelsville, she worried about providing
Jack a normal childhood through this difficult transition.

They spent the majority of their money moving across the
country. Some evenings, dinner was made over a campfire.
Taking a shower sometimes meant walking a couple miles
to a community center.


(Jack and Kim share a moment while living in the tent city. Kim read
online that jobs would open up in Seattle at the end of the recession.
Without lining up a job, she moved to Seattle hoping to find secretarial
work and a fresh start.)

I wanted to try to share a realistic and personal glimpse into a
family that was trying to maintain a sense of normalcy while
homeless. I also wanted to show their relationship and humor as well
as their quirks — like Jack’s love for the paranormal and his ability
to enlist other tent city residents to look for worms.

TID: Since this image is part of a larger story, please talk about
that story, and how this image fits in within the story.


Reporter Lornet Turnbull and I started working on the project in the
spring of 2010 and it published at the end of that summer. Journalists
from within our community, including The Seattle Times, produced
stories about family homelessness as part of a fellowship
administered through Seattle University and funded by the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation.

The foundation said it sponsored the fellowship to focus attention
on homeless families, which are the fastest-growing, yet least visible
segment of the homeless population, both in Washington state and
nationally. It did not stipulate how fellows should pursue their work,
nor did it review what the fellows produced. Each fellow was granted
a $15,000 stipend. The Times used its stipend in part to enable a
staff member to serve as project manager of contributions from the
paper's online news partners. Our director of photography approached
me to work on the project after The Times received the fellowship.

While working on the project, Lornet and I talked to dozens of
organizations, caseworkers and families, both gathering information
together and separately. For weeks, we returned to shelters and
social-service organizations in search families who could share their stories.

I kept coming back to Nickelsville because I heard it was the only
tent city in the area that accepted families.


(Kim kisses Jack inside their tent during bedtime at Nickelsville.
"Our nighttime ritual is goodnight, I love you," she said. She made
their sleeping area out of a feather bed, couch cushions and more
than a dozen moving quilts.)

I met Kim and Jack while they were working at the tent city’s security
desk. Kim told me a little of their story, and I let them know about our
project and some the parameters it would include. After parting ways,
I was both hopeful and nervous. I thought they had a good story, and
hoped they would be open to sharing it.

Soon after our conversation, Kim agreed to be a part the project. We
discussed the importance of capturing candid images that could
communicate both big and small moments in their lives.
Kim really embraced it. She let me know when they were
taking showers at the community center, doing laundry at The Urban
Rest Stop and later when they were looking for apartments. I still find
it amazing how well she kept in touch, despite all of their stress and


(With his flashlight and family dog close by, Jack plays with his toy
plane before falling asleep in his tent at Nickelsville. He wears
“Transformers” and “Star Wars” pajamas.)

After we first met, they stayed in Nickeleville for about two weeks before
Kim found several agencies to help them secure a deposit and first
month’s rent for a room in the University District.

When the big day came for them to move, I knew when it was happening
and that I was invited to be there. Because we had developed trust and
understanding, I knew I could focus on the moments of the day through


(The day of the move, Jack marches through Nickelsville with a
bamboo stick given to him by a fellow resident.)


Ok, now onto the image itself. Tell us what led up to the moment
at hand, and also what was going on while you made the image.


This image of Jack was taken while they were moving from Nickelsville
in South Seattle to their rented room in the University District.


Once their bed was brought up a long staircase and into their room,
Jack immediately jumped on the bed. He wriggled around for a bit,
stretched out for a few moments (This is when I took the photograph)
and then reached for a soda. We talked about how he was feeling in
the new place. He played with a bamboo stick and his dog, Gracie.
Then he returned to moving.

Early on, while working with Jack, I realized that sometimes I could be
a fly on the wall. But other times, he wanted to talk and interact. Did
you see that spider? Guess what my brother is doing? Can I play with
your camera? Do you know there are werewolves hiding in the bushes?

I sometimes photographed Jack during these conversations. I'm not
a fly on the wall when I photograph people. I want to listen to Jack's
frustrations and achievements. Have lunch with him. Tag along when he
looks for worms and bugs. Photograph him as his mom tucks him in for the night.

I feel the more time you spend with people the better. It helps develop
a better understanding of who they are, and more times than not,
it can lead to a photograph.



Was there any point of conflict during the making of this picture, or
during the story, and if so, how did you manage it?


Homelessness and poverty are complex topics. I think one of the
challenges our reporter, editors and some of the multimedia storytellers
faced with the project was to how to share multiple perspectives of


(Most of their goods were stored in bags when moving. Kim, Jack, their friends
and Jack’s older brother Tom — who was around for only part of the time
during the story — took turns hauling up clothes and other items.)

Through a variety of mediums we tried to touch on issues involving a
lack of affordable housing in our region, the plight of refugee families,
single fathers, the working poor, programs in schools and workings of
the homeless support system. Even though we covered a lot of ground,
I think it’s challenging to concisely package the causes and solutions of
family homelessness in a three-day series. I think it takes continued

While working with other families in the series (not with Kim and Jack)
I learned that homeless parents sometimes grapple with a variety of
issues. They can be stressed, scared, depressed and have drama in their
lives. Sometimes they don’t take opportunities to help themselves.
Sometimes they may not know all of the resources available.

And not all of their decisions make sense to someone outside their
situation. At times, I wondered if one family was telling the truth. It was
difficult to keep track of another. Other families had histories of substance
abuse. At points, I received phone calls and texts during all hours of the
day and night. So, I often leaned on my colleagues and editors to help
me to navigate these interactions. My purpose is to be with families as
a journalist, not a social worker. So during parts of the project I struggled
with guilt and frustration because I hadn’t been in some of these situations

There were a lot of considerations while working on Kim and Jack’s story,
as well as other families' featured in the series.

We realized that caseworkers are sometimes protective of their clients,
because the families may be stressed or dealing with trauma. They may
want to refer you to a family who was previously homeless, versus a family
who is currently homeless.

Some parents feel fine discussing their struggles. But if their child or
one of the siblings does not want their friends to know at school, we
then knew they shouldn’t be involved in the project.

Other families may not want to be labeled as homeless. One of our
families in the series had second thoughts because they were nervous
about being the public face of homelessness. They were embarrassed
about their situation. They saw it as only temporary.

How much help we could provide to families while reporting
was also another important consideration.

Is it okay to purchase a meal for a family? Should we tell a family
about service providers that could help them in their area? Would
it alter the course of a family’s path by sharing certain resources?
Can we intervene in a story if a family is looking for a safe place to
spend the night? Can we help them after the story publishes?


(One of the first things Jack finds at their University District
apartment is a spider. Jack is seen through a small window
next to the front door. "They [the bugs] are amazing," Jack said.)


Was there any concern about you taking this picture at the
time, and if so, how did you handle it? (You mentioned the concept
of photographing children.)


While working on this project, we realized that kids would
likely be placed in the most sensitive position during our coverage.

With some of the families, we discussed scenarios that could occur
after the story published. We listened to their concerns, and tried to
address those issues the best we could before starting to work with them.

(Kim takes a break while moving into her new apartment with her dog Gracie.)

There were a handful of families who decided they didn’t want to
be a part of the project after learning more about it. We acknowledged
that school aged children could be teased by their peers after the
story published.

But we also discussed possible positive outcomes of sharing
their stories. Media coverage can increase the public’s awareness
of family homelessness, encourage community dialog and possibly
help others in a similar situation.

After the project published, I learned one of the families wished to have
their last names removed from the online stories. Overall, they had a good
experience with the project. But they didn't want the names to always
be linked to story and to the fact they were homelessness during one point in their life.

One of the effects of online reporting is that subjects with sensitive stories
may be linked to these articles for perpetuity.


What lessons did you learn from making this image?



I think this photo was created more by relationships than by
mechanics. Over a period of a couple weeks, Kim, Jack and I
had spent a lot of time together. By moving day, they both
seemed to be unguarded and open to my presence in their
lives. But I think our relationship worked twofold. Because
we developed trust, I felt like I could work without any major
insecurities or doubts. I felt like I had permission, a purpose
and an understanding of who they were.


What lessons did you learn from the overall story, and with this,
how did you change during this experience?


As of last year, I worked at The Seattle Times for about four
years, which isn’t all that long as a professional journalist.
Through this project, I learned to have more trust in my voice
and ideas as a storyteller, but also to rely on the support and
experience of my editors and colleagues. I believe that because
we worked together, and told stories through a wide variety of
mediums in print and online, we were able to give depth and
multiple perspectives to a very complex problem. I think there
is a lot of power in collaboration.

I also think my love for community journalism, and my belief in
the power of it, grew after this project.


In conclusion, what advice (think mentally) do you have for
photographers to gain access to these type of situations?


It’s important for photographers to be active in the reporting
and researching process. Photographers should initiate meetings
with sources and compile their own research while working with
a reporter. By being proactive as a visual storyteller, you can
put yourself on the path to telling more informed and visual stories.

Through this process, I’ve learned stories will inevitably fall through
and hit snags. It happened frequently during the series. But it’s
important to try to keep positive and realize that better stories and
situations will come if you keep searching.

Often the most difficult work wasn’t taking the photographs, but
putting myself in the physical or mental space to make them. I learned
it’s important to trust my instincts about people. Try to set boundaries.
And, in hindsight, I realized it’s good to take mental breaks from the

Also, I think it’s important to have a conversation with the subjects
in your stories about what it would be like for them to take part in a
documentary project. I think it’s helpful to let them know the purpose
of the story, how much time you’d like spend time with them, when
you’d like to spend time with them, where you’d like to see the photos
published (web or in print) and the possible outcomes/reactions to the

And I think it’s super valuable to bounce off ideas and share images
with an editor and peers you trust while working on a project. During
difficult days, I often got strength and rejuvenation from my colleagues,
which I am extremely grateful for.

A year later, Kim and Jack are doing really well. Kim found full-time
work and Jack’s elementary school is helping him both academically
and emotionally. They found permanent housing.


You can view the multimedia project, edited by Danny Gawlowski:


Erika Schultz was born and raised in central Wyoming. She attended college at Northern Arizona University, and works as a Seattle Times staff photographer. She loves the American West, Spanglish, well told tales and to travel.

Her work has been recognized by the Casey Medals for Meritorious Journalism, National Edward R. Murrow Awards, The Alexia Foundation for World Peace, Society of Professional Journalists and was a finalist for the 2010 ASNE Community Service Photojournalism award. She also was part of The Seattle Times’ 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning team for Breaking News Reporting.

Invisible Families:

You can view more of her work here:


Next week we'll feature this surprising image by Gerry McCarthy:


As always, if you have a suggestion of someone, or an image you
want to know more about, contact Ross Taylor or Logan Mock-Bunting:

For FAQ about the blog see here:

Spotlight on Andrew Craft


Andrew, thanks for your time. What a striking image.
Please tell us a little about it.



Thanks for having me. It is an honor to be featured here.
This photo is from the Moore County Hounds Fox Hunt
in Southern Pines, N.C. They hold the event every year on
Thanksgiving Day morning.

It starts with a parade of hounds down the street, followed
by the blessing of the hounds in a field, and lastly, the hunt.
They no longer hunt live foxes during the hunt. Instead, a
lead horse pulls a fox-scented drag.


What was the origin of the assignment?


The newspaper covers the yearly event every other year or
so. That year they wanted it for the cover story of the Sunday
Life section, which gets good play - usually about 7 or 8
photos. I've always wanted to cover it, but I was usually off
on Thanksgiving.

That year I requested the assignment.


Now onto the image itself. Tell us what led up to the
image, and what was going on in the moment.


As I was driving out that morning there was a beautiful
amount of fog on the ground. I prayed to the photo gods
that the fog would stick around for the shoot. Luckily, when
I rolled up to the field it was still there. The fog really helped
make the photograph - if it had been bright and sunny, I
don't think it would have worked as well. It gave the photograph
a timeless feel.

Since we have covered this event many times in the past,
I was able to go through the archives at work and see what
other photographers had gotten from the event. I did this to
make sure I photographed something the readers hadn't seen
before. The standard photo from the event is usually a shot
of the riders and hounds parading down the street adjacent
to the field where the hunt is held.

I intended to shoot this too, to see of I could make a better
image of it, but I actually missed it since I was busy shooting
a few of the riders who arrived early and were already in the field.


When I realized I missed the parade of hounds, I raced down to
where they were entering the field and tried to get shots of the
stragglers. Just as I got there, I decided to do a Hail Mary of the
riders entering the field.

(Editors note: a Hail Mary is when a photographer holds the camera
above his/her head and makes a hopeful guess at composition.)

I did this on my very first shot, and it scared the shit out of one
the horses. The horse ran towards a crowd of spectators and away
from me. The rider almost fell off the horse and had to fight to
regain control. Once he did, I had a number of spectators yelling
at me, which is always fun. This really put me off my game, and
I was worried about scaring the horses.

After that I nixed doing any high angles.


One of the biggest challenges was the spectators. Once all the
riders and the hounds are on the field, the spectators are supposed
to stay behind a roped off area, and only the photographers covering
the event for publication were allowed to be out with the riders. This
didn't last long. Soon enough, the rope came down and every spectator
that had a camera roamed around the field, trying to get a shot -
they kept getting in the way.

You wouldn't know this by looking at my take.

I made a conscious effort to not get any of the spectators in my shot.
I felt that it would diminish the strength of my photographs if you
could see some random person with a camera in the frame with the
riders and hounds. Most of the time I would either photograph a scene
that didn't have spectators, or I would use a horse to block the view
of the them.

Soon after, the hounds start gathering around the lead huntsman
for the Blessing of the Hounds, before the hunt begins. At first, I
really tried to get a low angle with dogs in the foreground and the
riders in the back. But it just wasn't working, the hounds never fell
into place properly. Also, when I knelt on the ground the hounds
would just come up to me. I wasn't able to get much of anything.

The other problem with the low angle was that I lost the feeling
of the fog - it ended up looking like an overcast day, and at
that angle the sun was right behind them, so that bluish fog
would turn a very unappealing pure white.


As I knelt to pet one of the dogs, I notice two more riders
come up behind the lead rider at a interesting angle. I stood
up and started shooting from eye level. The scene was perfect,
but I was at the mercy of the hounds falling into place. Also,
the riders in the background were obscured by the lead horse.
I was afraid that it just wasn't going to come together, because
the riders really don't stay in one place for very long, and the
hounds are a random element. It was mostly luck that the dogs
fell into a semi-circle around the riders.


Was there any points of conflict or struggle during the
making of this picture, and if so, how did you handle it?


The biggest struggle was with the spectators breaking across
the line. I really didn't want them in any of my frames. I think
subconsciously I didn't want them in the shots because I got
yelled at by a few them a bit earlier when I scared one of the
horses. I say subconsciously because when I looked through
my take I noticed I had shots of the spectators right up until
I got yelled at, after that I don't have one in the frame.

To not get any of the spectators in the shots took a lot of
patience. I think one of the best assets a photographer can
have is patience, which truthfully I don't usually have. If you
wait and watch for a moment to come together it usually
will and you will have a much better photograph because
of it. Also when you are patient you have a tendency to
really see the scene and make the best possible photo from
it. I think the spectators yelling at me earlier put me in a
slower, more thoughtful mindset, which helped create this picture.



It was such a fleeting moment in time, did you know when
you made the frame what kind of picture you had?


The scene lasted for about a minute or two. I had an idea
that I made a solid photo but I'm never really sure until I
get it onto the computer screen and look at it. A lot of
times I will look at an image on the back of my camera
and think I nailed an image only to get up on my laptop
and realize it just doesn't work. Looking at it on the camera's
small screen can be quite deceptive. Sometimes you think
you got that lead image and take it easy on the rest of
assignment only to get back and realize that supposed
lead image isn't even worth running as a secondary shot.

At least that is the case for me on occasion.



What surprised you most during this assignment?


I'm not sure if anything truly surprised me on the assignment.
The next day after the assignment there was a surprising
statement about it. I was toning my pics from the assignment,
and the other photographers were checking out the pics, when
one who had went to the fox hunt to take pics of it for himself,
said he could have made some decent pictures if it wasn't for
all that damn fog. All the other photographers just started
laughing because they thought he was joking but he wasn't.

It is always interesting to hear what another photographer has
to say about an event, and the issues they had with it. For the
most part the fog was an added benefit, until the hunt actually
started. Once it got underway, however, you couldn't see most
of the hunt because of the fog. I realized this was going to be
a problem beforehand, and asked one of the riders where they
would be jumping a fence or any kind of obstacle. So after getting
my Blessing of the Hounds shots, I picked a spot by a fence
where the riders would be jumping. I waited for the hunt to come
my way.



I think most people think of sports in the traditional sense:
basketball, baseball, football, etc.

What advice do you have for photographers to get find access
to such stories, and thus, such images?


I'm not much of a sports photographer, but I do enjoy
shooting these less covered sports. Probably because
they don't feel like your standard sports assignments
and the access is almost always 100 times better than
a standard sports event. Also, it is not a sport that you
cover dozens a times a year like the traditional sports,
so you don't get bored as easily.

To get access to events like this is relatively easy, it is
just up to the photographer to find the events, which
shouldn't be too hard if you know your community. Also,
most of these things are listed on the internet so it is
just a Google search away.


In conclusion, what lessons did you learn from the
making of this image?



Don't do a Hail Mary on an approaching horse.

It also taught me to take things a little slower. A lot of
times when I was at a shoot in the past, I would be
thinking and looking around for the next shot when
I hadn't gotten the picture I needed from the moment
happening in front of me. So, I just take it a lot slower
and try to be patient, but it is always a mental battle to
slow down for me.


Andrew Craft has been staff photographer at the Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina since 2006. His assignments vary from covering the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan to your typical building mug. Craft has been named North Carolina Photographer of the Year three years in a row and his work has been recognized by Pictures of the Year International, NPPA's Best of Photojournalism, Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar and the Southern Short Course in News Photography.

You can view his work here:


Next week we'll take a look at this lovely image by Erika Schultz:


As always, if you have a suggestion of someone, or an image you
want to know more about, contact Ross Taylor or Logan Mock-Bunting:

For FAQ about the blog see here:


Ants, Art and Ashtrays

This week we'll take a look at a photo illustration,
and examine its construction from the initial concept,
to its production.


I like to do photo illustrations, but that said, I also
like to do a lot of things that I'm terrible at.

Some of these include:

-the banjo



I'm not even going to talk about the banjo - I sound like
a street cat trapped in a chain link fence. My plants are
begging for hospice, and the only art I've ever pulled off
was a clay ashtray in 4th grade art class.

The ashtray was a wreck. It was orange and lumpy. Other
classmates got blue ribbons for theirs, and all I got was a
scratch and sniff sticker that said, "Keep Trying!"

Why we were told to make ashtrays, I have no idea, except
that my teacher smoked Pall Malls and she coughed a lot.

I liked her, though, and I like art in general. That's not the
problem - the real problem is I can't draw, I can't paint,
and I sure as hell can't sculpt.

Let's take a look at my art portfolio:



Just stunning.

SO, when I got the assignment to come up with a photo
illustration regarding picnic season, you can imagine
my panic.

Since I can't create anything, I have to rely on either pictures
I make, or stock images to create composites. We had a budget
of $75 dollars.

One of the things I always do is to create mockups with
low-res files from stock, then I show them to different people
in the office to get their reaction, before buying anything.

Here's one of the first images:


Just terrible.

It reminds me of tapioca, wicker chairs and fried chicken
steak at Cracker Barrel.


I tried working with something goofy next:


As if it wasn't already bad enough, I made it worse by trying to
make it better:


You know there's a problem when someone cringes,
and pats you on the shoulder. Sometimes you just
have to give up on an idea. My art teacher did the
same. I shrugged my shoulders, got some school
pizza, and regrouped.

While I do love school pizza, that's of no help to
us now.

When problem solving, it's helpful to include other people.
We held a meeting that included the editor of the section,
a designer, and one of our photo editors.

We kicked around and brainstormed for key words. This is
important for me because since I can't draw, if we had a key
driving word, perhaps we can use that as the driving force
of the visual.

The usual ideas came up:

hot dogs, hamburgers, wine and of course a picnic basket
and a picnic blanket. We all agreed we wanted to stay away
from the traditional (expected) picture of a red and white
picnic blanket.

One of the designers mentioned ants and it clicked. I thought
we could make something whimsical with them, so I started
making rudimentary compositesusing stock images (I often
pull low-res images from stock files when doing mockups).


Nobody liked the idea of the ant fighting someone, but we did
like the ant. I purchased a stock file of an ant, and started over.


I did a few other mockups to see what might work - neither of
which I really liked - but I felt we were tapping into the right
spirit at least.

I felt we were getting closer, so with the remaining balance of
the budget, we purchased a few more stock pictures. I created
these mockups, and while not quite right, we were getting closer.


Finally we came up with this. We duplicated the ant, then
dropped in the symbols of the picnic. We used a number
of layers and masking, as well as creative construction of
the clouds. If you don't know much about layers and masks,
I encourage you to try. Knowing these two parameters opens
up a new world in Photoshop.

A friend of mine asked this, and I think it's worth pointing
out that I often use stock images when we don't have a lot
of time to shoot the assignment, as in this case. If you have
a budget of at least $100, it's usually enough to build a
composite. Sometimes it's a mixture of shooting and stock,
it just depends on timing usually.

In this case, it was the quickest and easiest route to use
stock images for this composite.


We roughed up the edges a little for a final touch.


I'm happy to help anyone who wants to learn more about layering,
or anything else I can offer about photo illustrations. I'm not the best
at them, but it is fun to try to expand yourself.

I found this tutorial awhile back which is great at giving an example
on how to grunge edges. It's worth a look.:

When you have an idea, work to simplify it and play off key words
to help you focus. Look at other websites for inspiration. There are
many, but here are two illustrators I admire who have newspaper

Their work is striking and worth studying.


Next week we'll take a look at this fantastic image by
Andrew Craft:


As always, if you have a suggestion of someone, or an image you
want to know more about, contact Ross Taylor at:

For FAQ about the blog see here:

Spotlight on Jason Arthurs

Jason, thanks for taking part in TID. Please tell us
about this image:


This image is of Rachel Reich, it was included in a story that I
photographed for the Winston-Salem Journal newspaper in 2006.
Her story ran as a daily story for the paper, then a reporter
named Paul Garber and I decided to pursue it as a longer term
project. Rachel was battling cancer in her mouth and contacted the
newspaper because she thought she had a compelling story to share.
She had battled and fought cancer several times before, even as a
young woman, and each time hadn’t taken chemotherapy or radiation.
This time, her doctors said she would have to have a radical surgery
to save her life. The surgery would have put her unborn baby at risk
and would have left her unable to eat or speak for the rest of her life.
These were risks she was not willing to take. She had her baby, but
by then it was too late to do the surgery. She was hoping that bringing
her story to light would open up opportunities for more non-traditional
treatments that would be very expensive.

How did you get access to this moment?

Rachel was an amazing person and a great subject. She allowed
me into her home from the first day I met her, and the access that
she gave us was one of the reasons we wanted to follow her story.
The other reason was because a lot of things were going on in her
life. It was a crucial time in her life and there was so much unfolding
every day. Her house was close to the newspaper where I worked
(15 minutes) and once our initial story ran about Rachel, my photo
editor at the paper was very good about allowing me to spend my
down time between assignments working on this project.
After our first story about Rachel was published, there was an
outpouring of support from people who wanted her to beat this
cancer. Rachel was going to go to Houston, TX to seek an
experimental cancer treatment from a clinic there. She basically
viewed this as her last chance to beat a cancer that doctors said
would take her life before the end of the year.
I told her that Paul and I wanted to go with her on the trip, and
she agreed almost immediately. Her mom, two kids and best friend
were already going on the trip with her so I knew a lot of moments
would be happening and I wanted to be there while they unfolded.
Throughout the story, which I had been working on for a few
months at this point, I had a strong connection with Rachel. In
addition to her cancer, she had a lot of family problems. She was
being pulled in a lot of directions. She was very sick and trying to
take care of a newborn baby, as well as a rebellious teenager who
snuck out of the house all the time. I think that she viewed me as
some kind of therapist. I would spend hours at a time at her house,
watching her take care of the baby or folding clothes, but often
times just listening to her and talking. I think she saw time spent
with me as some kind of escape from the chaos of her life and saw
me as a way to validate some of the very difficult decisions she had
made in the recent months. 


Did the newspaper pay for your travel? 

Paul and I scheduled a meeting with our editors to pitch the
idea that we should travel with her to Texas to document her
efforts to get treated. At that point, her story had run on the
front page of the newspaper already and we felt our readers
would have an interest in following up. I remember the first
pitch to the editors, and how excited Paul and I were, and how
great of a pitch we made. I also vaguely remember it being well
received and walking away thinking it was a ‘go’ all we needed
was a sign-off from our managing editor.
Well, that sign-off never came.
So I told Rachel the newspaper wasn’t going to pay for me to go,
and she offered to pay for me. Obviously, I wasn’t going to let her
do that, but it definitely made me feel like it was something I
should follow through with. I struggled with the notion of self-
funding the trip. I remember when I found out I could get a
plane ticket for under $200, and could get a seat with Rachel
and her mom I seriously considered it as an option. The final
straw was when I found out my 4 consecutive days off at the
paper (during a schedule change) landed when the trip started.
I bought my ticket that day, and decided I would spend my
days off in Houston with Rachel. From that point on, I always
viewed this is more of a personal project and I would be much
more protective of the images I made from that point out.


What was going on in your mind in the moments
leading up to the image?

I met Rachel at her house as she was preparing for the trip with
her mother. Everything was happening very fast and I remember
it was total chaos. Somewhere amid the chaos she told me she
was afraid of flying, and had actually looked into other options
for getting to Houston. I don’t really remember considering NOT
having my camera with me on the plane but I didn’t really have
a plan for what, if anything, I would shoot from that one vantage
point I would have on the plane ride.


Now, onto the picture. Tell us what is going on, and what you were 
thinking and feeling at the time.

I remember being concerned that I didn’t know Rachel’s mom
very well. She would inevitably end up in photos but she wasn’t
as used to me being around. In one image you can actually see
that she’s leaning out of the way of the photo, but I wanted her
in the frame. It was a few seconds early, before she really noticed
I was shooting that I made the frame that ended up being in the
final edit.
It was an intense moment for me, Rachel was flooded with
emotions right before we took off and she wasn’t feeling well
physically either. But unlike some of the other images from the
plane where she looked very ill, I wanted an image to capture
her hope that she could be healed.

How do you handle your emotions while documenting not only this image,
but the entire story, especially in the more trying moments for her?

I tend to connect emotionally with the subject when I’m not
actually shooting, and that helps us both feel comfortable
sharing close physical space.  I remember with a lot of the
photos from this story, not really wanting to take the photos,
but feeling like I would because that’s what I was there to
do. I think that’s how I know I’m making a good storytelling
image, when I have to break through some mental block that
says ‘maybe don’t shoot right now’. I just shoot a few frames,
get what I need for the story, and go back to just being
around as fast as possible.  I think a good photojournalist has
to come to peace with being uncomfortable sometimes.



Was there any moments of conflict or reservation during the
making of this image?


I remember on one side of me was Rachel’s mom, to my right
were more passengers who had no idea what I was doing, and
walking up and down the aisle are flight attendants that probably
knew nothing about Rachel except that she came in a wheelchair
and looked weak.

There’s a ‘rule’ I learned at my first newspaper internship.
“Shoot first, ask permission later.” Of course it’s not always
the best idea but I think it would have been much more
difficult to get official ‘permission’ to shoot photos on the
plane. Mentally I justified this because technically I was there
on my own dime, with my own camera, so at that moment I
was less of a media representative and more of Rachel’s
personal documentarian. I was very selective about when I took
my camera out and just had one lens with a quieter body (Canon
10D, I think) so that I wouldn’t bring much attention to myself.
I didn’t show any of the other passengers or ever point my
camera anywhere besides Rachel’s direction. I didn't shoot
much at all during the actual flight, but mainly just during the
takeoff and landing and a few frames when she was sleeping
on the plane, which was probably unneeded. And once I made
the frame of her with her mom before the takeoff, I was able to
check the back of the camera and see I had a frame that would
work as a good transition to get her to Texas so I didn't feel
like it was worth the risk of disturbing her and possibly the
flight to get more images that would probably land on the
editing room floor.


What surprised you most while you were with her on the plane?

Rachel was a religious person, but I wouldn’t call her devout.
She went to church sometimes, and usually alone. This image
shows her saying a prayer to herself, something I had never
seen her do. Throughout the process of documenting her story
I saw her turn to faith when she felt most alone and most
desperate (I also documented her attending a miracle healing
service after she returned from Texas).

What lessons did you learn from the making of this image, and
how does it apply to your future work?


The main lesson was the importance of documenting transition
in people’s lives. I remember my newspaper editors talking
about sending the reporter and I down for a day or two to check
in on her in Texas because of a scheduling conflict with covering
shifts at work. And I felt like it would be better to be a part of
the trip, and part of the transition to her life there. It’s hard to
explain to ‘non-visual’ people why you have to be there to
capture those moments. The reason is because usually we don’t
actually know what we are going to see. Good photojournalists
will put themselves in the situations where they can expect to
be surprised.


It's very easy to get frustrated in that situation when you don't
see eye-to-eye with the editors. But over the course of time, if
you can repeatedly bring back images that stand out, the editors
will begin to trust your judgment.

What mental advice would you have for other photographers
who want to work in this type of situation?

With Rachel, I knew that this story was also a learning opportunity
for me. I was up front with her about that, that I was learning from
her and learning how to use my camera to tell these complicated
aspects of her life. Since this story, I feel much more equipped to
tell difficult and complicated stories.


As far as advice, I think you should be able to clearly explain to
your subject exactly why you want to shoot a moment before the
moment happens. It makes your intentions clear, makes them less
surprised when you shoot, helps them understand how you are
processing what they do and gives them the chance to explain why
they may be hesitant to allow you into a certain space. It also does
something that I didn’t put much value on until much later in my
career. It lets your subject know what you are thinking and gives
them a chance to correct you. Giving the subject more of a say in
how their story is documented, and giving them a chance to explain
their actions gives them more buy-in to the story and in the end
makes it more truthful and hopefully more compelling.
I don't remember the exact conversation I had with Rachel about
this, but I can imagine how it would go if I were to have it now.
Probably something like this "Rachel, I'm very interested and I
think our readers will be very interested that you are taking this
trip to Texas for treatment. If I were able to travel there with you,
I think I could be able to get a very good sense of the emotions
that you'll be going through on the trip and help show the effort
you are putting in to beat this cancer." Essentially, every ask of
a subject should be followed by an explanation of why.


In the end, what happened to her, and how did her life
impact you?

Rachel lost her battle with cancer a little more than a year after
this image was taken. Her last effort at a cure was chemotherapy,
but it was too little too late. I remember sitting with her and
talking while she was having chemotherapy one day. I couldn’t
shoot in the area they were giving it because there were too
many other patients around. Rachel asked me if I would come
help her set up her video camera to record a message for her
youngest child who probably wouldn’t remember her. I did, and
that was the last time I remember talking with Rachel.
I moved away from Winston-Salem and started a new job. A few
months into my new job, after Rachel passed away, I got a phone
call and “Rachel Cell” came up on my caller ID. I scrambled to
answer it only to hear the voice of her husband on the other
end of the phone.
He was the breadwinner of the family, and not around much.
He didn’t much like my camera, but he liked me. He said he
was going through some of Rachel’s stuff, and found her phone,
and saw my number and just wanted to call and chat. I don’t
remember exactly what he said but I remember his gruff voice
saying something like, “I just wanted you to know, Rachel
always liked having you around and thought of you as a good friend.”


Jason Arthurs is a documentary filmmaker and photographer based in North Carolina. His work has been repeatedly recognized by the National Press Photographers Associated, Pictures of the Year International and he was twice named North Carolina Photographer of the Year. He worked in newspapers for 5 years, and now freelances for editorial publications including the New York Times, Washington Post and TIME magazine. He also produces short documentary films for non-profits, and is currently directing his first feature length documentary film.

You can view more of his work here:
(has Rachel’s story and the accompanying video)
(a full length documentary)


Next week, by request, we'll take a look behind this photo illustration.
We'll talk about the beginning concept to it's construction:

As always, if you have a suggestion of someone, or an image you
want to know more about, contact Ross Taylor at:

For FAQ about the blog see here:


Spotlight on Johnny Andrews

Before we begin this week's interview, we wanted to let
folks now that we now have a website with all of the
interviews archived:

Thanks to Sam Saccone who designed the website, and
without his volunteer work, this would not have been possible.

Now onto this week's interview with Johnny Andrews.


Johnny, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. This is quite a
compelling image and fashion shoot, and I'm grateful you're taking
the time to talk about this image, and the ones that accompany it.



I really admire what you've created with The Image, Deconstructed and am truly honored that you picked a series of my photographs to profile.

This photograph represents the first image of a fashion series published
in a special section that our newspaper used to produce called LUXE. The
section itself was printed on nice glossy paper, as opposed to regular
newsprint, with all of the main images running in color as either a double
truck or for the full length of the broadsheet.


Can you tell us about the origin of the piece (how it was pitched),
and how long you worked on it?


Each year, a staff photographer was selected to work on the concept, planning,
logistics, securing props, lighting, location scouting and just about everything
else outside of the actual selection of models and clothing for the entire LUXE
fashion shoot. Needless to say, I was pretty happy they selected me. The entire
planning process lasted about a couple of weeks, in between daily assignments
of course.

Several concepts were tossed around in meetings between myself and editors
from our Features department before we finally settled on a film noir-like
theme. Since the photos would be bundled together in the same section, I
felt as though a storyline was needed, and thus "The Heist" was formulated.
In a nutshell, the premise of our photo shoot was that a handsome yet
conniving couple rob a bank, flaunt and spend the money all around town
while constantly on the run from a detective, and then get caught and thrown
in jail. The finale is when the lady betrays her boyfriend to escape jail time.

A key component of pulling off something like this was the input received
from so many people involved, including Fashion Editor Debra Bass, Features
Picture Editor Lynden Steele and Design Director Tippi Thole as well as staff
photographer Chris Lee who doubled as model stand-in and lighting guru.

The entire photo shoot lasted about five days, with two images from
two different locations made each day, except for the last day which involved
studio photography for detail pics. For each of the eight locations, we had
multiple wardrobe changes, hair and makeup for the models, and of course
we're breaking down and setting up all of our lighting equipment each time
while trying to stay on schedule. In between each of the main images created,
there were also what I like to call "mini photo shoots," where we took the
models to areas near our current location and took impromptu, on-the-street
pics. These would be published in black-and-white as surveillance photos taken
by the detective in our story.



In the end, eight main photos and about a dozen other supplementary images
were created for the section over the course of a week.


Please tell us about your mental approach to making the main image,
and the entire series.


Even though so many facets of the photo shoot were set in stone, from the
predetermined, thin horizontal or vertical shape to where the models would
look based upon layout considerations, I liked the fact that there was still
room for creativity and visual diversity within that framework. And I liked the
fact that there was still a storyline holding it all together.

This allowed me to focus on two things that, at the time, I had very little
experience with: directing multiple models at one time and crafting my light
to look more natural than over-blown. I know those both sound like technical
details, but I've learned over time that it needs to be more of a mental approach.


Whether the model is a pro and arrives on set with the best attitude, poses
and facial expressions or an amateur who doesn't yet understand the shapes
that her body creates with every movement, they all need direction from the
person behind the camera. For so many years, I've been the observant
photojournalist. I knew how to blend in and make myself somewhat invisible
and unobtrusive while trying to capture fleeting moments. Now I was learning
how to set the right mood with a dozen people on the same set and craft an
overall environment in which a moment would hopefully occur. I guess this
isn't too different from shooting a portrait, which we do almost every day as
newspaper photojournalists, except for having a professional poser in the
model, several hair and makeup people, a couple of photo assistants and a
couple of editors watching your every move. In this kind of situation, humor
is a must, at least for me. If everyone is having a good time and getting along,
they tend to have more faith in you and your vision. You, in turn, can hopefully
parlay that into a successful image.

In terms of lighting as a mental approach, I can't help but think of a post
I read on the Strobist blog awhile back about the "lighting journey" of
photographers who have chosen to wander down a path illuminated by
off-camera strobes. That blog post was written in 2006 but I didn't see it
until sometime last year. In it, David Hobby breaks down this journey into
seven steps - available light is best, competent on-camera flash, overdone
off-camera flash, experimentation, the bag of tricks, personal and unique
lighting style, and finally subject-driven light. I won't go into too much detail
because you can check out the blog for yourself but suffice it to say, I could
identify with pretty much every step of that process. At the time of this fashion
shoot, I was overlighting the heck out of everything. I had White Lightning
X1600 strobe units, an octabank softbox, grids, battery packs, etc. and my
philosophy was that I could always use one or two more strobe units no matter
how many I already had plugged in. At this moment, if you were to visualize
Dr. Frankenstein screaming at the sky, "It's aliiiiive!" then that would be me
every time I heard the huge popping sound and recycle confirmation beep
from my strobes.

There's nothing wrong with the aforementioned approach, other than
maybe the whole screaming at the sky thing, but this was essentially
my first foray into lighting high fashion from a softer perspective. This
approach was incredibly influenced by staff photographer Chris Lee, who
was invaluable as an assistant and lighting mentor. Our setups wrapped
light around the models in a more natural way instead of completely
overpowering them. I used to consider this boring light but now I was
able to appreciate it as more genuine.


I still love to break out my huge lights on occasion (cue the grunting sound
of Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor), but I'm much more discerning these days
because of the lessons learned from that fashion shoot and other shoots
since then. It's crucial that every photographer experiment and push their
own boundaries, but, in the words of the amazing photographer Dan
Winters, it's also important to have a reverence for your subject matter.


Ok, now onto the image itself. Tell us what led up to the image, and what
was going on in the moment.


This image set the tone for the rest of the series. It paints the characters
of our fashion shoot as suave, sophisticated, well-dressed criminals. When
we talked in meetings about the robbery scene, the first location that
immediately popped into my head was the bank vault at City Museum,
less than seven blocks away from the newspaper. City Museum is a former
ten-story shoe factory in downtown St. Louis that was turned into an
amazing museum / playground / obstacle course / wonderland / you
name it. One of the hundreds of visual attractions is an actual bank vault
room, complete with safe deposit drawers. Once permission was secured
with the museum, it was just a matter of pre-visualizing the image.

I took scouting pictures of the vault door area and brought them to the
planning meetings where we talked about how a double truck image could
be created. We knew that the page gutter would split the image right down
the middle so we definitely wanted to put one person on either side of the
image, each looking back at each other for visual continuity.


On the day of the shoot, there were only a few details that needed to be
worked out. Due to spacing between the camera and our female model, we
had her crouch down a bit to fit within the frame of the background, but
this worked out well because it just looked like she was creeping away from
the vault. We also spent time directing the male model on the angle of his
arm and legs so that the light hit him correctly and so that he separated
nicely from the background. We also increased the exposure on our strobe
units slightly to compensate for the dark clothing on both models.

Every ten minutes or so, we would pull the card from the camera and pull
up images on the laptop screen to make sure they fit into the pre-determined
shape of the layout.

Thanks to scouting and pre-planning, everything went as well as it could
have on the day of the shoot.



Were there any points of conflict or struggle during the making of these
pictures, and how did you handle it?


One of the best things about a photo shoot that is deemed this important
in terms of time and resource allocation is that you've got more than one
set of eyes on location. I'm behind the camera, I've got an amazing
assistant/staff photographer helping to set up lights, another staff
photographer who was on set as a background model and lighting
assistant for two days of the shoot, the fashion editor is not only
helping coordinate what the models are wearing but how it looks on
them, and the design editor is on location to proof the sizing of each
photo for layout purposes. There are also hair and makeup stylists
and the models themselves peeking over our shoulders when we look
at the images on my laptop while previewing the photos.

While this was great in terms of building a consensus, the more people
you have on the set of a photo shoot, the more potential there is for
conflict when there is a difference of opinion. Sometimes these
differences involved poses or facial expressions and sometimes they
involved our lighting setup or actual location and camera angle. The
most important thing to realize is that it's not personal, which can be
hard to recognize at the moment. I was totally invested in the project
and, at first, felt as though a non-photographer questioning a technical
aspect of the shoot was out of line when in reality it turned out to be a
valid concern. For this reason I think it's also important to at least take
all ideas into consideration, without giving up your overall vision.



Can you tell us some of the technical aspects of the shoot?


In terms of lighting, the photo was built up in layers.

The vault room itself is huge and regularly used by City Museum for
wedding receptions. A long row of loft-style windows line the wall
on the right side of the room and behind me, letting in lots of soft,
reflected light. This actually creates a perfect softbox effect if soft
light is the goal, but we wanted something more dramatic for this
particular shot. To this end, I underexposed the entire scene by
several stops to create a dark foundation layer. From there, assistants
Chris Lee, Emily Rasinski and I built up the scene, one strobe unit at a time.

We put the strobe unit in a large softbox at camera left,
aimed back towards the model. This created a soft shadow line on her
face and lit up half of her body. We then added another strobe unit to
camera right with a gridspot to create a hard edge light and separate
her from the background.

Also at camera right was a strobe on a short light stand with a tight
gridspot on it aimed directly at the vault door to create a reflective
punch of color from the brass. We kept moving that light farther back
while changing the angle and intensity of the exposure so that it
would still create a hot spot without being overwhelming.

Another strobe unit was placed in the vault with only a reflector to
create a bright light that would fill the darkness of the floor and the
backside of our male model. A bonus with this light was that it was
bright enough to also create a nice highlight on the gun.

The final strobe unit was a softbox placed to the left of the model
to light up the opposite side of his body. The nice surprise we got
from this was that the softbox from that strobe unit was at just the
right angle to be reflected in the wall behind him, creating a light
halo that further separated him from the wall.

All of the lights were triggered with Pocket Wizards or the built-in
slave cells on the back of the strobes.

For the outdoor black-and-white photos, we were moving quickly
so we needed a portable, battery-powered strobe unit that would
overpower the bright sun. We ended up having either assistant,
Chris Lee or Emily Rasinski, put on a backpack that had a Vagabond
II battery pack stuffed inside. A White Lightning X1600 or an Alien
Bees Ringflash was then attached to The Vagabond II (which weighs
about eighteen pounds, so they got a workout they didn't expect.)



What did you learn from this assignment?


I think one of the most important things I learned from this assignment
was to be patient and to be open to change if either you or other editors
on the set are not quite feeling what is coming out of your camera.

I tend to fully pre-visualize assignments like these where I'm dealing
with a fully controlled environment, much more so than I do for daily
news or feature work. I even have a notebook where I sketch out posing
scenarios and lighting setups the night before. Even though I anticipated
problems, because of course things don't always go according to the
best laid plans, I couldn't anticipate how I would react in the moment.

There were times when I was so sure that I had already gotten THE picture.
In my own mind, I had nailed it. We all gathered around my laptop to
preview the images moments after I shot them and I was quiet, waiting
for what I hoped were smiling faces and nods of approval. Maybe even
a high-five or two. They never came. Instead there were quizzical looks
and a lot of noises that sounded like "hmmmm" and "what if we try
something different?"


In the moment, you feel kind of hurt and start to question your own vision.
Maybe I don't have the best idea for this photo shoot? Maybe I'm not
directing the models as well as I could? Maybe my whole plan is flawed?
Maybe I should have stayed at Holiday Inn Express last night? But I digress…

All of the above could be true, or maybe some of it. I had to learn to stand
my ground on what I truly believed while taking nuggets of advice from
others on set and implementing it all into a final picture that would put a
smile on just about everyone's face. Easier said than done when you've got
six sets of eyes on a photo and a clock that's ticking. I also had to do it
diplomatically, because no one likes a dictator. Do you know how hard
this is for an only child? I'm just sayin'.


In conclusion, what advice do you have for photographers while
working on a more complex lighting situation like this (think in terms
of the mental strategy)?


The first thing you have to ask yourself is why are you lighting this?
What are you hoping to achieve? Are you aiming to produce something
more dramatic, more natural, more surreal? Before you start unpacking
lights, step back and visualize the entire scene. Where do you want to
locate your light and what is the purpose of each light? Is it going to be
soft or hard light? Will it need to be a narrow beam of light, requiring a
gridspot or do you want that light to illuminate more than just a
particular area of the photo? Are you going for the super, over-the-top,
ESPN the magazine, NFL football superstar lighting or are you trying to
simulate a lighting pattern that would normally be in that environment?
Ultimately, you get to determine the entire mood of the photo based
upon these decisions. No pressure.

There are no wrong answers to any of those questions depending, of
course, on the needs of your client. You should always shoot for
yourself and experiment as much as possible, but you also have to
keep in mind where this picture will be published and find common
ground between what you like and what's needed. It's not too
different from newspaper daily assignments in this respect. Shoot the
safe stuff that they expect to see, then start playing around with angles,
exposure, moments and lighting that push you, and maybe even your
subject, out of the comfort zone. At best, your editor goes with the
experimental images you made while playing around. At worst, you
have a bunch of pics that you wouldn't show your own grandma, but
you still learned something in the process.


Get there really early, if possible, and set up your lights to test and
troubleshoot before the models show up. If you don't have an assistant,
get used to bringing a tripod and use yourself as the stand-in model.
Don't have a tripod? Then try to grab someone nearby - a public relations
person, a secretary, a janitor, anybody. Offer them candy, an emailed
picture of themselves standing in your super hero lighting setup, a trip
to Cancun. Ok, that last one might not be in the client's budget. For a
heavily involved lighting setup with more than one person, the old, "I'll
just hold the camera at arm's length and point it back at myself to see
how the lighting looks" technique might work in a pinch, but you'll be
better off shooting your test pics at the same angle and focal length that
you will use when the actual model shows up.

I could easily say that you shouldn't over think it, but then I would be
lying to you because I over think the heck out of situations like this.
That's just how my mind works but each photographer has to find their
own methodology. I like to pre-visualize various scenarios, from poses
to lighting and then run my ideas by other photographers for more input.
By the time I pick up the camera, I already have a few ideas but then I
hope that in the process something will happen that I didn't expect and
make it even better. Sometimes you hit the jackpot and sometimes you
go home with the losing lottery ticket and a sad trombone sound following
you out the door, but don't let it be for lack of preparation.

And speaking of preparation, studying goes a long way. Study the work
of photographers you admire, the ones you personally know and the ones
whose blogs and websites you find yourself stalking every week. There is
an old photo axiom that goes something like, "It's all been done before,
but not by you." If you do enough research, you'll find that most of the
pictures you want to make have probably been made before, but they
haven't been made by you and creatively stamped with whatever
personal and unique vision that you bring to the picture...yet.


Johnny Andrews is a photographer based in St. Louis, Missouri. He has spent the last fourteen years making pictures of everything from community festivals and Super Bowls to spot news and high fashion. After realizing that business accounting just wasn't in his future, he switched to photojournalism and film at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has only looked back on occasion just to remind himself that he definitely made the right choice. He has worked as a staff photographer for The Florida Times-Union, The (Raleigh) News & Observer, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel and is currently on staff at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

His work has been recognized by the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar, the Southern Short Course in News Photography, the Society of Newspaper Design and with a Racial Justice Fellowship through the University of Southern California's Annenberg Institute for Justice and Journalism among others.

You can view more of his work here:


Next week on TID, we'll take a look behind this image from Jason Arthurs,
who will talk about documenting a sensitive subject from one spot, and
what it took to achieve this access:


As always, if you have a suggestion of someone, or an image you
want to know more about, contact Ross Taylor at:

For FAQ about the blog see here: