Spotlight on Nick Oza

ozamain

TID:

Nick, thanks for taking the time to speak with us. 
This is such a powerful image. Can you talk a little
about the background of the picture?


NICK:

Back in 2006, then-Arizona Republic reporter Judi Villa,
and I were shadowing a gang task force unit with Phoenix
Police Department. The story was focusing on how Phoenix
gangs were seeing an influx of members from Los Angeles.
We were working in neighborhoods just south of downtown
Phoenix when we heard from the police radio that shots had
been fired in a nearby predominately Hispanic neighborhood.

We were just a few blocks away from the scene. It was
pandemonium. A man had been shot. He was lying in
the middle of the road, dying of multiple gunshot wounds.
His friends and family were hunched over him, begging
him to not succumb to his wounds.

I asked the detective if I could approach the crime scene.
He said he would “take some heat,” but allowed me to take
photos because it was such an important story. Then the
detective told me that the man who had been shot was the
same man who just 10 minutes earlier had refused
to talk to me for our story.

I approached the scene. The man’s mother screamed, "Oh my
God, please don't leave me!" to her son, as she prayed over his
body. But it was too late - he was already gone.


FEATURED


TID:

This image is part of a larger story, can you tell us
what was the origin of the story (how it was pitched
and began), and how long you worked on it?


NICK:

The Republic’s Director of Photography, Mike Meister, put
full faith in me as the new kid on the block. It is very important
that your photo editors know your strength, instead of just
seeing who is available during the shift (I have always been one
of the "street guys," so this assignment was a good fit.}

At the time, I was just three months on the job, and didn’t know
the city’s neighborhoods well. Villa, who for years had reported
and written about crime in the Valley, pitched the story about a
resurgence of street gangs moving west from California to Phoenix.
Officials were reporting that the gangs were more violent and more
organized than before. So, we went with police for an 11-hour ride-along
to document the growing problem.


gangsearch1


Along the way, we made several stops looking for
gang associates, and documented as the police
responded to crimes related to the gangs – including
a carjacking and a drug search in a suspected
gang banger's car. Villa and I worked on the story for
a week. Our work resulted in a front page
Sunday story and an online slideshow.

While reporting the story, I kept in touch with Grace
Villavicencio, the mother of Andrew Vargas, who had died.
She allowed me to document her as she visited her son’s
body at the morgue, the funeral home, at the cemetery
where he was buried, and later, she invited me to her home.


TID:

This picture below is very disturbing. Can you tell us what
is going on here, and how you managed to get the picture?


NICK:

His mom called me on my cell phone and asked me if I wanted to join
her to see her son for the first time at the funeral home. It was the first time
I became emotional and I said, "Are you sure?" When I went to the morgue
the guys were yelling at me to get out but the mom said, "He's with me."
As soon as we got in the room I stayed behind. I was observing the scene,
and I started hearing a brother of the victim crying hard. This image was
when his mother was explaining what happened. Vargas said,
to her son Kiki, "Look what happen to your brother. They were trying to kill
you and now your brother is laying for you." It was such a surreal, dark, scene.

I hid my face behind the camera so they couldn't see my emotion.


morgue



TID:

One of the things I admired most about your coverage of this,
was how much you stuck with it. You eventually covered the
funeral of the person who was shot. How did you gain access?

NICK:

It was simple, they actually called me to let me know about
the wake. I had earned their trust enough for them to call me.



funeral


ozaheart




TID:

What was your approach to this story?


NICK:

I wanted to tell the story of a mother’s grief from her
point of view. Oftentimes, gang related stories are
told from the point of view of law enforcement, and
too often, the emotion behind the story – the gut-
wrenching grief of a family – is untold.

I set out to tell that story. I immediately got to work
to try to get to know the mother. Two days after the
shooting, I returned to the street where the man died.
I wanted to see where he came from, where he lived,
who his family was. Neighbors directed me to his mom’s
house. I knocked on the door, and made my pitch: I
wanted to illustrate how Phoenix’s gang problems
affected her family, and tell the story through their eyes.


home


She said she remembered me as being respectful at the
crime scene. She invited me into her home, showed me
her son’s room, and talked with me about her son, and
how he became a gang member. Since she was willing
to tell her story, others were, too. That credibility allowed
me to “work the streets” and find other gang members
who talked with us for the story.




TID:

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

NICK:

The crime scene was very surreal.

Over the years, I have covered emotional scenes. I’ve seen
people die in combat. I’ve photographed many murder scenes.
But this one was different knowing that I had just spoken to
the victim a few minutes earlier. (Later I learned from police
that the man was not even the intended target. The gang
members meant to shoot his brother).

On the scene, I heard two young men swearing and asking
the victim to not give up. The mom was crouched over her
son, crying. And the cops were trying to gather information
from witnesses and the man’s sisters.


oza4


It was a very sad scene. What shook me the most was the
way the mother was sobbing over the loss of her child. I’ll
never forget it. She was cradling her son’s upper body, rocking
him back and forth. As a father to a young child, I cannot
imagine losing my child in an instant – and so traumatically.

The memories of that day will haunt me forever.


TID:

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

NICK:

The biggest challenge in getting this photo was getting the
police to allow me to take pictures of the body. Because of the
sensitive nature of the scene, I had to stress to the
detective that the public had a right to know what was
happening. While sad, the man’s death illustrated the point
of the story: that increased gang activity was leading to more
crime and violence in certain areas of the city.

At first, the detective would not allow me to take photos. After
some back-and-forth on the issue, the detective finally allowed
to me to shoot photos, saying, “I’ll take the heat.” And he later did.
The detective also asked that I take only tasteful photos. I only
shot half a dozen frames - the least amount of photos I’ve ever
shot on any assignment.


oza3


Also some of the gang members and their friends were not happy
that I was there taking photos. But as time wore on, they grew
tolerant of me and didn’t get in my way. The lesson I learned there
is that patience and respect will overcome almost any story.


TID;

What was the reaction after the image was published?

NICK:

The images of that scene were very powerful. Response came
in from within and outside of the newspaper, saying that the
photos captured the mother’s grief. I heard from the family,
police, neighborhood activists, and my peers.


TID:

I'm sure this was a tough moment, and story, to work on.
What lessons did you learn from this experience?

NICK:

This story really instilled my belief that if you are honest,
persistent and respectful, you can work your way into any story.
When working on such sensitive stories, you often have only your
gut to rely on – those feelings that tell you to either keep pushing,
or stop pushing.


ozamain


TID:

In conclusion, what advice do you have for photographers to
get access to such moments, and also how to handle it
once you get access?

NICK:

I love challenges and I am not afraid to fail. My success is based
on all of the failures I’ve racked up over the years. My best advice
to photographers is to allow yourself to fail. Allow yourself to push
boundaries. Allow yourself to follow your gut feelings. Street
photographers must work fast on their feet and make snap
decisions that can either make or break access to a photo.

Oftentimes, photographers get stuck in the mindset that they
must quickly find photos and move on to the next assignment.
But I work on the philosophy that photography is a craft – a
means of exploration. Just work it and success will come.

As philosopher Muktananda has taught: if you are the master
of dancers, all of the dancers will follow you. If you are the master
of art, all artists will follow. But if you understand yourself,
everything will come to you.

TID:

You said, "I work on the philosophy that photography is a
craft - a means of exploration." Can you please elaborate?

NICK:

We as a photographer are too often driven by the narcissistic values
stemming from competition. Instead of focusing on this, I think we need
to explore and understand life issues more, as well as put yourself on
the other side of camera (imaging yourself in the shoes of others).


http://www.nickoza.com/

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/2010/08/the-images-of-sb-1070.html

http://www.azcentral.com/community/surprise/articles/2010/04/07/20100407-parkinson-brain-stimulation.html




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Next week we'll take a peek into celebrity portraiture with
this image of U2's Bono by Jay Clendenin of the Los Angeles Times.

153229_en-Bono_JLC_

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:

ross@imagedeconstructed.com
logan@imagedeconstructed.com

For FAQ about the blog go to:

http://www.imagedeconstructed.com/

Spotlight on Leah Nash

leahnash12
FEATURED



TID:

Leah, thanks for taking part in this. Please let us
know more about the background of this image.


LEAH:

No problem, I’m rather flattered to be a part of this
project, a lot of great and insightful work here. The
image pictured is from a long-term project I’m doing
following five people who have Asperger's syndrome, 
a form of high-functioning autism.  Asperger’s presents
in many forms, but in general, people with Asperger's
often experience difficulty with social interactions, they
have a flat affect and don't make eye contact.  They also
tend to fixate on one or two things, which is why they often
make brilliant lawyers or computer experts - because they
can spend hours working on minute details.  Anna Bauer,
the subject in these photos, is 21 and lives with her mother,
Mary. She loves scoreboards, alarms, roller coasters and
most importantly the 24-second shot clock - of which she
owns two.  Her dream job would be a professional scorekeeper. 


TID:

What was happening the day the image was made?


LEAH:

The day this image was made, Anna was moving from her
childhood home. Moving for anybody can be pretty disruptive,
but for people with Asperger’s, who tend to like routine, it is
an even bigger challenge. I was really excited to be there,
because I am always for looking for moments of change or
growth when I am photographing longer stories. It is a way
to move things forward visually, a marker of the passage of
time. And because it was a pretty highly emotional situation,
I knew it would be an opportunity to document something
visually rich.

Practically, too, I saw this as a chance to photograph Anna
with her shot clocks. These things are immense,
they weigh about 40 pounds each, and she has two of them
that she bought off of eBay for around $750. The ironic part is
that though she loves them for their design aspect, she hates
loud noises, and so disconnected the buzzer. At any rate, since
this is such a specific and interesting part of who Anna is (plus
so illustrative of Asperger’s) I considered it a pretty important
picture to make. The move was a chance to incorporate them
naturally. And because there are two, and two parts to the
move, it gave me several chances to experiment!


leahnash4




TID:

This is such a unique, intimate situation. Can you tell us
what was going on in your mind during the shoot?


LEAH:

Just that I felt really fortunate to be there. I haven’t been
able to really focus my attention on a long-term project in
a while; as a freelancer I am usually too busy with daily
newspaper and magazine work. That is the one downside
to being self-employed! I ended up getting a Regional Arts
and Culture Council grant (www.RACC.org) to spend a year
on this project and it has been such a gift. When you are
allowed the time to build a connection with people I think
it really shows in the work, that is how intimacy is created.
Plus, some people you just click with, and you know you have
something special. It doesn’t happen with every story or
subject, it is a fleeting, intangible sort of thing. You create
this magical little window of time where you have this
unusual but very connected relationship with someone
that would never exist anywhere else. Look, photographing
somebody’s life, that is a pretty big responsibility, one that
I take incredibly seriously. So during the shoot, I guess I was
feeling the weight of that, and the joy of it too. I could also
feel her getting more and more comfortable with me. This was
a day when she was at her most vulnerable, and she trusted
me with that. Experiences like this are why I became a
documentary photographer.


leahnash2


TID:

Now, lets talk about the image. Tell us what was going on,
and how you made the picture.


LEAH:

The final image was really a summation of the day. Overall,
Anna dealt with the move pretty well, but I could tell she
was feeling raw. Her old room was a cacophony of color and
mementos, and here is this new space, stark and white.
This was when most of the moving had already been done
and it was later in the day. Anna was getting tired and at first
she laid down on her mother’s bed. I made a few pictures
there, first from a distance and then getting more and more
into her personal space. I would say that my approach is pretty
low key. I talk very little when I am shooting, if at all. I always
love images that are made from above when people are sleeping
or in bed, because they really put you right into the story.

I also love them because they conjure images in my mind of
photographers in their bare feet, balancing on wobbly mattresses,
trying not to fall on their subjects! So me being in her personal space,
her feeling sleepy and vulnerable, and the trust that I had built up
with her, all led to the final image. She eventually moved to her room
and to the shot clock. The clock soothes her, it is her friend, and so
naturally that is where she sought solace. It was an unusual situation;
one that I had never encountered before, but I think so much of why
I am allowed access into the private parts of people’s lives is
because of my complete lack of judgment. I come from a place
where I view whatever anyone does as normal. Because, for them,
it is. That is their normality.


leahnash1



TID:

You said in a previous email:

"She has been bullied a lot over her lifetime because she is
different. Looking at these images I really feel and see a
progression of her getting more and more comfortable with me."

What do you mean by this?


LEAH:

Anna has mentioned several times that growing up and
being with her peers wasn’t the easiest thing for her. She
is different, or neuroatypical, to use the lingo, and high
school students love to crucify those who are different.
What she really wants is respect, and I respect her. I also
give her acceptance and attention; basically, I think she is
cool and interesting. And as a result she feels comfortable
around me, comfortable to be herself, with all the
idiosyncrasies that come with A, being human, and B,
being a human with Asperger’s. That day really seemed
to be a turning point for both of us and I think that is pretty
obvious visually.



leahnash7




leahnash8


TID:

Were there any moments of tension during the making of this
image or the story? If so, how did you handle it?


LEAH:

Photographing a project about Asperger’s is difficult because
everyone who has it experiences it so differently, so you can’t
make generalizations or definitive statements about the syndrome.
Then you have to look at why you are photographing the story.
One of my subject’s therapist told him he thought I was taking
advantage of him, and he and I had to discuss that (at 7 in the
morning). I have to be very careful about how I word things
and what phrasing to use, because many people with Asperger’s
don’t see it as a handicap. The people in the autism community
have a phrase, “Nothing about us, without us,” and so I very
much want this to be a collaborative project. The final published
piece I envision running will have all quotes instead of captions, and
two online pieces will have audio interviews. That way, my biases
can be minimized as much as possible. Even this interview I will
have Anna and her mother look over and approve.

In terms of this image specifically, during the day she and her
mother would sometimes fight or Anna would say something to
embarrass her. But that is just life. When people apologize
because their house isn’t clean or their children are
unruly, I always say, “Hey life is messy, that’s what is so great
about it.”

Shooting her with the clock was definitely a private moment
and I ended up taking a lot of pictures, because I wanted to
have a variety of angles and distances. That way when I was
building the story later I would have options to choose from
that would give visual variety. So it was clearly a moment I
considered important because I was pushing the shutter like
crazy. Anna and I have the understanding that if she doesn’t
want me to shoot anymore, she will tell me and I will stop.
She is good about making her wants and needs known. Better
than most of us, I imagine. Maybe a minute after I took the
final image, she told me she wanted to be alone and I left her
room. This one of the last images I made that day.


leahnash5



TID:

What surprised you most during this assignment?


LEAH:

I think what surprised me the most was the depth of her
relationship with the shot clock. It is easy to say that people
with Asperger’s fixate on things, but I have been struggling
with HOW to show that. Anna answered that question for
me. This assignment also had made me question societal norms
and really look at how society defines someone as “different.”
Our culture has a very limited, prescribed way we have deemed
appropriate to act and it is so interesting to see how
people respond when someone doesn’t follow that script. In
doing research for this project I spoke to a woman who made
the argument that as a species, we need people with Asperger’s
because they encourage out-of-the-box thinking and help
advance society. Many have made the claim that Einstein
and Issac Newton had Asperger’s, again, because they saw things
differently.


leahnash10


In regard to Anna's relationship with the shot clock, that day her
mother mentioned to me that she used to talk to the one at the
community center near her house. Also, she used to love the
gym floor there, and would lie face down on it, also for comfort
and companionship.


TID:

What did you learn about yourself during the making
of the image/story?


LEAH:

I think it just reminded me rewarding I find long-term
projects, and how difficult they are. I have been lucky
enough to work with photo editor extraordinaire, Mike
Davis (www.Michaelddavis.com) on this project and it
really is invaluable to have a second set of eyes and
someone to push me and my shooting. One of his
suggestions was to have me spend a day shooting no
more than three feet away from my subject! Plus,
I can bounce ideas and thoughts off of him. As a
freelancer, I get very little feedback from clients, and
so I feel lucky to have him on my team.

What this project has also reinforced for me is my belief
that you have to give parts of yourself to your subject;
otherwise, it’s not really a fair trade. And that no matter
how many experiences I have had or how many different
things I have photographed, people can always still surprise
me.


leahnash9



TID:

What mental advice would you have for other photographers 
who want to gain access to this type of intimacy?


LEAH:

Leave assumptions and judgment at the door. Make people
want to have you around. Be gracious but persistent. Everyone
works in different ways; you have to find what is authentic
for you. And remember that though you might take pictures
everyday, your subject isn’t photographed everyday, and that
you are leaving a significant footprint.


leahnash11


TID:

What do you want people to know about Bauer, that
you learned from your experience with her?


LEAH:

What I have realized with Anna and with many of the people
with Asperger’s that I have been documenting, is because
they can’t follow social cues, their guards seem to be lowered.
While most of us walk around acting a certain way, pretending
to be a certain way, Anna doesn’t have that. She will tell you
when she wants you to leave, order banana cream pie for dinner,
ride a roller coaster 20 times in a row. There is a certain beauty
in that lack of artifice, in that emotional honesty.

Overall, I just really want people to know her story. To see
what a day in her life is like. I have this crazy idea that
knowledge breeds acceptance and understanding. So if
people get a little insight into Asperger’s, then hopefully
when they meet someone who has it, (or when they realize
that their neighbor, or son, or the guy they work with has it),
then they will be a bit gentler and better equipped to
meet them halfway.

leahnash12

TID:

I was very moved by a letter her mother wrote to you, (see below)
and in conclusion, I wanted to share a part of it. I think it speaks
to your character and your work.

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"Your insights about Anna are very moving and accurate. I so
appreciate that you have accepted and understood her. I do
know that she feels that you are a good friend and that she
does feel open around you, as I think the photos reveal. You
have won her heart, which is saying something!....

...If there is anything that Anna and I want to contribute to the
world, it is to have people understand and be supportive of autistic
people. I think Anna is particularly well equipped to do that. She
has been working a lot on her autobiography…maybe she will
show that to you..to help with your captions.

Attached is a little drawing Anna did when she was 14... capturing
her affection and love for scoreboards and of course shot clocks..."



Anna loves scoreboard_2004


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Leah Nash has a passion for documenting the normal and the extreme, which she often finds are one and the same. Graduating Cum Laude from Vassar College with a degree in psychology she then went on to receive her Master’s in photojournalism at the University of Missouri where she was awarded a Fulbright Grant to photograph the AIDS crisis in India.

Over the years she has received the Marty Forscher Fellowship for Humanistic Photography, the NPPA Kit C. King Scholarship and was named a Magenta Foundation Emerging Photographer. Leah has also been honored by Photo District News, the Eddie Adam’s Workshop and by Pictures of the Year International. Her clients include Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, GEO Magazine, The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, Der Spiegel, Stern, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post.

Recently, she received a Society of Professional Journalists award for her photo essay exploring Asperger’s syndrome and homelessness and in 2011 was given a Regional Arts & Culture Council Grant to expand the project. She is also working on a book entitled, Monogamy?, looking at the viability of monogamy in today’s society and can often be found trailing Pick Up Artists, men who make their living teaching and learning the art of seduction.

Her work can be viewed at:

http://www.LeahNash.com/
http://www.LeahNash.com/blog


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Next week we'll feature this powerful image by Nick Oza:


ozatease



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:

ross@imagedeconstructed.com
logan@imagedeconstructed.com

For FAQ about the blog see here:

http://www.imagedeconstructed.com/

Spotlight on Chris Tyree

FEATURED
TID:

Chris, it's nice to connect with you. Lets talk about this image.



tyreemain




CHRIS:


The project was called Summer's End, and I photographed
my father-in-law's final days as he succumbed to cancer. It
was as much a project about how we, the family, deal with
loss, deep love, and hope. These images I'm sharing came on
the last time I saw him alive. It was earlier in the day when I
made them. He passed away that night. 

The project actually started when I'd stopped by after work
and had my camera with me. My son Jack had been at
their house with my wife since the morning and had gotten
use to seeing his grandfather in the bed by that point. Jack
had just turned three a couple months before. As I walked
into the dark room I saw Jack feeding his grandfather ice chips. 
It was the last solid food he ever had. There was something
about watching my little baby taking care of his grandfather
and I snapped a few frames. That night at home I looked at
what I shot and started crying. I felt that I needed to do something
or say something and it hit me in the face that what I needed
to do was not show the agony or pain, but show the devotion, 
love and life that was going on around that dark room. 



popfeed



TID:

You said you needed to do something, or say something. Why did
you feel that way, and what did you do about it?


CHRIS:

Over the years I’ve had assignments that dropped me into the
emotionally tumultuous lives of complete strangers. Some
really serious life and death issues, ya know? I never felt like a
vulture because I’ve always tried to establish a good relationship
right up front, but being in such a personal and intimate situation
with the focus of making a storytelling photo can make one feel
both exposed and vulnerable. I can only imagine what it must
feel like on the other end of the camera. The way I’ve always
handled these situations was to just to be me and be honest with
the subjects. I’m not an aggressive shooter by any means and,
maybe I shouldn’t admit this, but there have been many times when
I felt that making the image wasn’t worth the price the subjects
would have to pay and so I didn’t raise my lens. There is this
crazy balance in my mind, “What does making this image mean?
Will photographing the situation shed light on a larger issue that
needs to be addressed?” Then I hear myself reiterate something
I heard James Nachtwey say once, “If you don’t shoot it, who will?”



pop3



It all gets weighed together with the news value of the story and
the emotional place of the subject matter. Generally speaking,
the answer most often came back that the power of the intimate
situation provided a necessary moment to telling the larger story
that could have a profound impact if seen and so I snapped the
shutter.

But, what if it was my family... I really did think about that
sometimes when I was facing one of those situations. How would
I feel if someone was making a picture of me or a loved one
facing a serious situation? There is no easy answer. There never is.

So, when I walked into that room and saw Jack feeding his
grandfather ice chips I conjured up those questions again and
I had a really hard time answering them. But what dawned on
me was this: How could I make pictures of dying children or
victims of awful tragedy if I couldn’t focus a camera on the
people close to me too? And so I snapped the picture. It seemed
like too much of an important moment in the lives of everyone
involved not to be memorialized. Later that night when I started
reflecting on it and all the images I’ve ever made in similar
situations I felt like what I have been focused on for most of
my career was the tragedy right in front of me and not the life
that moves around it. Often it was the news of the day and that
mandated that I shoot from that more limited point of view. But
I started thinking, where there is pain and anguish there you can
also find love and compassion. That was the expression on Jack’s
young face and Pop’s sunken one.



pop4




So, I went back the next day to show my father-in-law, Pop,
the image and talk to him about what it meant and the realization
the photo brought to me about life revolving around him. It
wasn’t an easy discussion for me but he understood and knew
that telling it could help others be more at ease if they were in
his situation. He was so gracious.

And so, for the next few weeks of his life I focused on a story
of devotion, love, loss and rebirth.




pop5




TID:

You said in a previous email that you called the project "Summer's 
End." Why did you name it that, and to what extent did you document 
him?


CHRIS:

The name of the project is actually quite literal. Pop died as the
summer faded with most of his family keeping vigil at his home.
But it meant more to me too. Pop was always like the sunshine,
warm and happy. He filled a room with his shining smile. He was
summer in a body. I don’t think he liked the cold either, really.
He grew up in the Philippines and was happiest in brutal heat.
The other thing I liked about the title was this: it conjectured that
there would be something coming after summer. That life would
continue, just differently and just as beautiful if we care to look.




pop6




I was lucky that I was working at The Virginian-Pilot at the time
and was given time off not to necessarily work on this project, but
to also be there for my family. This was a pretty emotional time
for my wife as you can imagine. She loved him to pieces. So, I was
able to spend most of three weeks documenting this project. Many
times just spent sitting with him holding his hand and talking to
him about the times we spent rock hopping in El Paso, playing
golf and taking care of his “girls."

I think that is a really important lesson that is often overlooked or
an essential tool that separates the good from the great, that ability
to listen and be patient. To be in the moment and not necessarily
shooting it. When we are IN the moment, then everything we are
seeing, hearing, and feeling will come through the photographs
that follow and they will be powerful images that you can’t turn
away from.


TID:

Lets back up some. Did you have an initial thought to document
his final days, or did it stem from this day alone?


CHRIS:

Pop had been dealing with cancer for several months and though
I’d made a few pics here and there for some family events and
things, I guess I was shielding my innermost feelings and also
struggling with what to say visually about it that would add
anything new to the thinking about cancer or death.

I didn’t see the story that early and that was my mistake maybe.
I don’t know. Maybe it was fortunate that I didn’t see it so clearly
then and that it hit me near the end. Because for me, the focus
wasn’t about a person suffering from cancer, though that is certainly
an important subject, or a story about a person dying, as powerful
as that is. No, for me it was really about passion and love that
surrounded his bed in that dark room.




pop13




The whole project though stemmed from that image of Jack and
Pop. When I saw the love and the intimacy of the moment, I knew
what the focus would be and that I did have something to say with
my images that could be shared and contemplated for a deeper
understanding of what death means to all those involved. It was
the idea that there is so much love and life going on around him.

Ironically, I had already shot the bookend to this story on Pop a
year or so before when I photographed a story about Jane Does
and unclaimed bodies. How empty and sad that made me feel to
think about people who once were part of this community of life
and then were lost to the abyss with not so much as their name
placed on the ground above their name. Just a number, if even
that.

I thought about that story when I was looking at the picture I
made of Jack and Pop, it was a profound moment.


TID:

Now, lets talk about the image itself. Can you walk us through
your mental state that day before, as well as within, the moment.


CHRIS:

On the day this picture was made I’d actually gone into the
office to work and had an assignment to photograph at a
graveyard. I kind of remember thinking that that was a crappy
assignment given my circumstances but maybe it was just part
of the journey, ya know. I got over to Pop’s kind of late in the
afternoon and it was really quiet in the house. It seemed a bit
abnormal because for the previous three weeks there were people
constantly coming in and out, especially the grandkids.




pop8




It was evident that the mood was heavier and Pop’s wife, Sandi,
my wife, Mel, and her sister, Olivia, were in the room with him
when I walked in. Mel was crying by herself nearby and Olivia
and Mom where nestled by his bed. I made a few pics then took
Mel out into the living room for a while to talk. Pop’s breathing
had become shallow and he was sleeping. I was kind of caught
needing to counsel but also feeling the need to document what
was going on. It was kind of confusing. While in the past I had
a single purpose to make the image, here I was feeling that
my duty was to be a support system first and photographer last.
And that is how it should be.

I could just tell that the pendulum had shifted and that the end
was imminent. So I was respectful and really just sat and prayed
out in the living room for a while. When I walked back in, Sandy
had crawled up in bed with her husband. This was the first time
I’d seen her do that and immediately took a frame, then I
remember starting to shoot the scene closer than I usually
would have because there was a tear in her eye and I was afraid the
moment would change. I needed to start close. After I made
that picture, I started to pull back. In the span of about 10 minutes
I made 30 frames. Then I put the camera down and just sat with
my family. That night I went home to take care of things at our
house while my wife stayed the night with Pop. About 1 am I got
a call that Pop had passed away. So that moment of them in bed
together, the unconditional love, the long goodbye, the simple
touch, and the fact that in the framing of this picture they form a
heart has stuck in my head like a brand on a cow. It is one of the
most important pictures I’ve ever made.





pop9





TID:

Were there any moments of tension during the making of this
image, or the story? If so, how did you handle it?


CHRIS:

Actually one thing I remember about this day was how quiet
and calm things were in the house. By the point this
picture was made, everyone was comfortable with me being
around with the camera. One thing I never do is constantly
stay in someone's face with a camera. I wait, listen and watch
and only shoot when there is a good or intimate moment. So
when I walked into the room, I knew things were different.
Generally there had been levity around the room every day,
kind of taking the edge off the hardness of the situation, but
not this day. It was serious and still. I think we all knew the
end was imminent and so the family was spending time saying
their goodbyes. If anything this moment was peaceful.

There was never any real tension with the family about telling
this story but there was tension in my own head and heart. I
was still struggling internally about whether this was too
personal or if I was doing the story justice. What was I really
trying to say with the story? All these things were bottled up
and I was working through them as the story progressed.

What I did was to look myself in the mirror and ask myself what
my motivation was. I asked, “What did I hope would happen by
telling this story?” I also had to be confident that I could be both
a supportive husband and a photographer. But supportive
husband first.


TID:

What did you learn about your family during the making of these
images that you didn't know before?


CHRIS:

I always knew how much everyone adored Pop. I knew they would
do anything for him. What I didn’t know was how much they
trusted me to give this project the level of excellence it deserved.
Everyone supported what I was doing and spent time talking to
me about it. Even though I occasionally felt like I was intruding
into really private situations, I was always welcomed.




pop10




Some might think it would be much easier to shoot a situation
like this in your own family because of the access, but I actually
found it harder because of how close I was to it. Harder because
my first inclination wasn’t always to take the picture but to offer
support or help out around the house. My focus wasn’t totally about
the photography and I kept having to refresh my mind about the
narrative I was trying to tell with the images.

About the only thing that surprised me was how Jack related to
this dramatic scene. At three, he was still a baby but somehow
he realized what was going on but it didn’t frighten him though
he was sad. He was so loving to his grandfather and would
spend hours spinning around in a chair beside his bed while
talking to him.


TID:

What did you learn about yourself?


CHRIS:

I always preach about taking risks and, for the most part, that is
what I’ve done my entire career. Not every risk panned out but
more often than not, the result was often worth the risk. Yet for
some reason, I just couldn’t step off the ledge this time to start the
project. As I reflect on it, I think I learned that I can and should
be more open with my feelings as they permeate through my
camera when the issues are so personal. I also learned that it is
very important to take time with really deep subject matter and
reflect on what you are seeing while trying to make sense of it.
If we are always “on” and not taking the time to let the emotions
burn through our eyes and into our hearts, then we are missing
a greater part of the journey.

The feedback after the story published was so overwhelmingly
positive that I learned that I should trust my instincts more often,
not be afraid to share my personal feelings. I learned that I can slow
down the shooting and be a human being first and a photojournalist
second and still make emotional, powerful and important pictures.




pop11




TID:

What would you do differently?


CHRIS:

I believe I bottled stuff up and didn’t trust myself to do this
project in the first place. I also felt like I wouldn’t do it well
enough. And felt like I would be doing my family an injustice.
If I had to do it all over again, I would have had the
conversation with Pop much earlier on.

But in some ways, while I made mistakes, it was all a learning
experience. Photography, like life, is nothing but a learning
experience. I’ve been shooting professionally for almost 20
years now and I’m constantly learning something new about
myself or about photography. The two are married. So I really
wouldn’t do anything differently, even if I knew the outcome
would be the same or better. That’s part of the journey. It is
also what makes me stronger in the future.


TID:

In general, how you do approach intimate situations like
this?


CHRIS:

Quietly. I remember when I was at Ohio University and our first
assignment in picture story class was to go out and tell a story
using one roll of film in one day. All but one of us did a process
story or place story. Really easy projects with no emotional value
whatsoever. But one of my friends came back with an amazing
group of emotional and intimate pictures of a child living with
HIV/Aids. Everyone was blown away. We asked him how he got
such moving images and he basically said that since he was
from Korea and didn’t speak English that great (at the time)
they never talked to him and he just melted into the fabric of
their lives. I’ve carried that lesson with me since then.

I believe in being upfront with what my goals are with the project
and how the images will be used. After that, I just listen, watch,
feel and wait for the defining moments. I don’t click the shutter
unless there is a good moment or a good reason to do so. I give
people space and then work my way closer. I use my body
language to communicate and watch theirs to see when I’ve
intruded too much and then I back off.

The easiest part is making the picture. It is everything that leads
you up to the decisive moment that makes you the kind of
photographer you are and frankly, the kind of person you are
too. I think the best photographers are those who are psychologists,
anthropologists, sociologists, physicists and a bunch of other “ists”
before they are photojournalists. You have to gage the situation,
the moods and expectations of your subjects, the importance of the
moment, the quality of light and then you have to reach deep into
that spirit within you to find your voice both narratively and
artistically. Then you can click.




pop12





TID:

What suggestions do you have for photographers, especially
photographers who have never been in these situations?


CHRIS:

There are three things I think photographers should consider
when getting into a situation like this.

First, have a full and deep understanding of what and why. Look
yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you are doing this
coverage for noble reasons. If you are doing it to pad a portfolio
or win awards, you suck. If you know that you are doing it to
raise awareness and/or interest and have thought about how
the images will be used in the end then you can go to number 2.

Secondly, put the subject of your story ahead of yourself. It isn’t
about you, though the way you see it and the narrative you bring
to it will have your voice. So remember to let the story speak
through you. Give the subject everything you have in terms of
your sensibility and heart.

Finally, don’t be afraid to not click the shutter. That is probably
the hardest thing to say and I’ll probably hear from a lot of people
that you shouldn’t be afraid to take the picture, but I disagree. If
you know your subject well and the story well, then you will know
exactly what you need to shoot and what to watch for. Sometimes
simply watching and being there for the subject is more important
to both them and you as you journey in life. It will be those
moments that you treasure because it showed your vulnerability
and emotional involvement. It is what makes you human.



pop7


+++++

Chris is the owner of Re:Act Media, director of Truth With A Camera Workshops and an award-winning documentary photographer, filmmaker and writer with more than 20 years of experience covering assignments on nearly every continent for a variety of publications and agencies. Integrity, perseverance, wit and curiosity have been the building blocks for his success.
He graduated with honors from James Madison University with a bachelor’s degree in communication and a minor in anthropology. He earned a master’s degree in visual communication from Ohio University. His photography and editing have been recognized nationally and internationally, earning him numerous awards from esteemed competitions, including Pictures of the Year international, National Press Photographers Association, The Society for News Design, and The Associated Press. Christopher’s photographs have been displayed in exhibitions across the country and are held in several private collections. His work has also been published in many of the nation’s major newspapers and magazines, including Time, Newsweek, and Mother Jones.

You can see his work here:

http://www.christyree.com/


+++++



Next week we'll feature this surprising and intimate image by Leah Nash:


clockpromo


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:

ross_taylor@hotmail.com
logan@scott-free.com

For FAQ about the blog see here:

http://www.imagedeconstructed.com/

Spotlight on Melissa Golden

TID:

Thank you Melissa for taking the time to speak
with us. Can you tell us about the image's context
and the assignment that led up to it?




Rangelmain




MELISSA:

In July of 2009, I got my first assignment from Time Magazine.
They wanted me to photograph the legendary, scandal-plagued
Congressman Charles Rangel. The idea was to shoot a combination
of portraits and reportage. Getting to follow up a portrait session
with a day-in-the-life shoot is an absolute treat for me, and I really
like being able to do it in that order. The idea being that the subject
becomes inured to you by the end of the portrait session, freeing
them up for genuine moments the rest of the day. Of course, Charlie
Rangel is a public figure, and as such he had no problem forgetting
I was there once it came time for me to become a fly on the wall.



2
MELISSA: Another moment, shot in natural light.



I arrived early. Very early. The timestamp on my first pictures says
8:24 a.m. and my first shot of the congressman is at 11:32 a.m. Yes,
he was running a little bit behind, but that gave me the luxury of
shooting the hell out of his office and getting to know the space
intimately before he even showed up. I, along with my assistant for
the day, fellow photographer Brendan Hoffman, spent 3 hours scouting
and doing test shots. I had seven setups prepared before the congressman
showed up and I hit all seven in the generous 35 minutes he gave me.
I like to give my editors options and since this was a new and very
exciting client, I wanted to cover all my bases and nail the portraits.
I shot verticals and horizontals, strobed light and ambient light,
posed and candid. I also try to let the space and mood dictate
the feel of images as well. I try not to enter with too many preconceived
notions and I try to work with what I’m given and make it sing.




RangelBW01
MELISSA: This is the image that my assigning editor wanted to run.





TID:

Ok, onto the image - can you describe what was going on in
your mind as the image took shape? Please also tell us what you
were thinking when you made the image.

MELISSA:

We were 30 minutes into the shoot when I asked the congressman
to relocate yet again. He stood and I pointed to his couch by the
window. He walked across the room, sat down there and then he
took a moment. He broke character. This is not to say that he was
acting before that point, but public figures tend to have public
personas. We all do, to a certain extent. Most folks want to show
their best face to the camera, especially when one is being photographed
for a national magazine and is under the microscope for one’s actions
as Rangel was. I actually found him quite genuine and he gave up a
lot of “moments” that some other individuals with more tightly controlled
personas may not have. That didn’t change the fact that for the
majority of the shoot, he, like most of the people I’ve ever photographed
for a portrait, played to the camera.




3
MELISSA: I'm a fan of the body language in this shot. His legs say "relaxed" but I think his hands say "tense."





If I had been looking at the back of my camera or doing anything
else, I would have missed the moment of weariness - it could have
been the weariness of a long life, a tough career, a difficult road
ahead or a poor night’s sleep. I don’t know which it was. It didn’t
matter. He showed it, I photographed it and that was it.

A note about this: I definitely chimp when I move to a new setup -
I like to make sure the light and settings are right, but I was too
engaged by this shoot to be bothered to look.

I remember gasping a little to myself when I saw what I had. I
didn’t care about the rest of the pictures that day- I knew I had
the shoot in the bag from a client-pleasing perspective. That
one frame was “it” for me. It was my genuine story-telling image.
This is a picture of a tired man. Why is he tired? Let me count
the ways.




4
MELISSA: This is the image that actually ran with the article. I got some flack over the light reflected in the mirror, as though it was a mistake. I deliberately shot it that way after noticing in the first few frames that it was showing up. I even adjusted my aperture to give it more of a starburst effect. I admit it's a little cheesy, but I think it looks like his conscience.



TID:

What were some problems or challenges you encountered
during the coverage of this event, and how did you handle them?

MELISSA:

The congressman’s lateness proved to be beneficial, he gave me
a great deal of time to make his portrait and he did not limit my
access the rest of the day. It was actually a dream shoot by
Capitol Hill standards. Later in the day as I was shadowing him,
he met with then governor David Patterson behind closed doors.
I snuck into the room to get a few shots of them speaking
together alone and the congressman didn’t say anything. After
a minute or two, the governor, who is blind, must have heard me.
He cocked his head and gave the congressman a quizzical look as
if to say “am I really hearing a camera shutter right now?” Rangel
didn’t miss a beat and said to the governor, “That’s Melissa from
Time. Don’t worry, she’s deaf.”




2ndtolast
MELISSA: The private meeting between Rangel and Patterson churned out a couple of real nice moments.



It’s a funny story, but it illustrates the level of trust we operate on
in DC. Yes, I’m a journalist and no, nothing was technically off the
record, but for me to be in that room shooting that meeting, I
closed my ears. I can tell you that they were talking some serious
inside baseball about players I didn’t even know and the language
wasn’t entirely political, but that’s the extent of my reveal. As a
visual journalist, to gain trust and access to powerful figures, it helps
to observe a basic protocol of “deafness.” While this may sound
strange to those of you with journalism school degrees- I assure
you that I’m only ever half deaf, but my eyes are always open. I
observe and I try to use my other senses to inform what I see, but
it’s not my job to report on the details of secret meetings. My job
is to sometimes shoot them. It’s a privilege to be given that degree
of trust.

When I photographed Secretary of State Clinton at the State Department,
I was sitting in on meetings that I didn’t have any sort of clearance for.
We’re talking top-level discussions on foreign relations and intelligence.
Was any of it earth-shattering, revealing material? No, not really. If I
ever hear anything that could change the course of history, I’ll be sure
to tweet about it. Until then, I’m half deaf.




Rangel_69
MELISSA: Rangel's body language here says "I rule this room." Love it.



TID:

Could you talk about the process of photographing in DC, or with
politicians in general? Anything from logistics of getting gear through
security to dealing with handlers, setting up situations and having very
small amount of time, etc. Something that could give insight to students
or someone who has never worked in those situations.

MELISSA:

Working as a photographer in DC and on Capitol Hill in particular is
a little different from working most other places. In order to easily
get in and out of the Capitol complex, I have to have press credentials
issued by the Senate Press Photographers Gallery. I have to put all
my gear on a conveyer belt and walk through security when I first
enter a congressional office building or the Capitol itself, but once
I’m in, I can navigate through a warren of underground tunnels to
get to any other building in the complex. It’s great for rainy/snowy
days.

Congressman Rangel’s office (which is easily the best-decorated
office in DC that I’ve been to) is in the Rayburn House Office
Building. I get lost in the House and Senate office buildings all
the time. I also get lost in the basement of the Capitol. It’s
embarrassing to admit, but it’s true. Beyond the fact that I’m
directionally challenged and that you have to put all your gear
through security, shooting on the hill is pretty easy.



RangelBW06
MELISSA: Moving through the Capitol complex, it's always important to stay a few steps ahead. You get real good at walking backwards. This can get dangerous in crowded halls or on escalators.



Photographers must observe some basic protocol (no taking
pictures in the cafeterias and no shooting into the House or
Senate galleries) and while there’s no formal dress code, I try
to dress appropriately. No jeans. I live in jeans so this one
is hard for me, but I feel the need to respect the history and
gravity of the institution. Jeans are generally not appreciated
in DC. I remember my first time at the White House- I wore a
suit and got to go into the Oval Office, but some videographers
in jeans were not permitted access. It might seem uptight, but
that’s how we roll around these parts. As uptight as things can
be in DC, the access to politicians is remarkably good. I’ve
dealt with a few celebrity handlers in my time and they can make
any shoot an exercise in rage control. The handlers here (who
I’ve worked with) are shockingly laid back. It’s a little surprising,
but then again the politicians are not only public figures but
also public officials and they must remain accessible to the
public and the press to a greater degree than your
run-of-the-mill celeb.



TID:

What are your ideas/philosophy about capturing "moments" in
set-up or portrait situations?


MELISSA:

I got my start in newspapers, where “portrait” was kind of a
dirty word. If you had to make a portrait of someone, it meant
you couldn’t manage to get them in action, and there were
no real acceptable excuses. In newspapers, I got the strong
impression early on that portraits were the last resort of the
lazy/incompetent photographer. There are exceptions, like a
pre-conceived portrait series, but I tried to never shoot a
portrait for an assignment when an action shot was within
the remote realm of possibility.




last
MELISSA: He had to take some calls during the portrait session, so I kept shooting. This is what I mean when I talk about the spontaneous moment within the setup.




Nowadays, I shoot primarily for magazines and at least 80% of
my assignment work is portraiture. It was extremely counterintuitive
at first - I didn’t feel comfortable directing. It felt downright
unethical to tell a subject where to stand or how to look.
Slowly, I began to realize that the very nature of portraits
allows me to control elements that had previously been out
of my hands as a news photographer. I was no longer limited
to the confines of attempting to capture what was unfolding
before me. I could directly craft the image to tell the story.
I became increasingly hands-on, but never felt truly comfortable
with the images I took that were purely direction. I felt they
said more about me than my subject.

Over time, I learned that there is an exquisite middle ground -
the spontaneous moment within the setup. That is what I aim
for in every single one of my portrait sessions. I approach each
subject differently to achieve this. Sometimes I’ll bark orders.
Other times, I’ll have a friendly conversation and find common
ground to create a connection. Sometimes, I don’t say a word,
I just shoot and let the silence get awkward and uncomfortable
until the subject can’t stand it. It really is different with
everyone and I try to feel out my approach within the first
minute of meeting the subject. With Rangel, I put him through
the paces and just kept shooting. No one can smile for 5
minutes straight - the muscles start to give out after a while.


TID:

Was there anything that you learned or put to use in
later assignments that come about from this experience?


MELISSA:


When preparing for a big shoot like this, photographers have a
lot on their minds. They have to figure out gear and logistics
and be prepared for anything, and when you’re busy worrying
about that it can be easy to forget one of the easier things you
can do to ensure a good shoot. Research your subjects when
possible! There are a number of advantages to this. It can help
you make more informed images, but it also tends to put you on
a more level playing field when dealing with powerful people.
Knowing way more about them than they know about you shifts
the power dynamic instantly. You can use what you know about
them to either put them at ease or put them on edge, depending
on what the situation calls for.

I’d read up on the congressman before my shoot, but my
three hours in Rangel’s office before the shoot
allowed me to study him further. By the time he showed
up, I knew what I wanted to incorporate into the
images and why. To make him more comfortable, we could
have discussed African art, Harlem and Korean War history.
To put him on edge, I could have brought up any aspect of his
scandal with which I was intimately familiar thanks to some
reading in the days before the shoot.




Rangel_bw_76
MELISSA: While waiting in the congressman's office, I made sure to shoot some of his decor which consisted of medals, awards and a lot of art - most of it African. I thought this lion was a particularly nice detail because Rangel is known as the Lion of Harlem. He is also a war hero who fought in the Korean conflict. This made him electable early on, but in the context of his modern troubles I wanted to show that there is a depth and complexity to the man beyond your typical scandalous politician.



My extra long setup on this shoot clued me in to the notion that
it’s a lovely thing to have plenty of lead-time. I generally like to
jump into situations, guns blazing, but it’s nice when you can
provide yourself the luxury of a slower, more thoughtful shoot.

Additionally, there were many, many hours of post work on this
shoot. I toned up almost 100 selects to magazine print standards
because I wanted to make a good impression. When I worked in
newspapers, if I turned in more than ten images from an assignment,
I’d be chided. When I worked in wires, any more than twenty
pictures and I’d get in trouble. When I made the switch to
magazines, it was very strange to hear, “What else do you have
from this?” I thought I had gotten pretty good at picking a handful
of my very best selects and now I was being asked to submit entire
takes. My typical submission of selects for my magazine clients
ranges from 40-60 images. I’ve since learned that I can do a quick-
tone on the low-resolution files (which still takes me an hour or
two in Lightroom) and then I do the extra work on the requested
hi-resolution images when that order comes in. Getting my workflow
down for magazines has really helped me to be more efficient with
my time. I wasn’t kidding when I said it took me many hours of
post on the Rangel shoot. I watched six or seven movies while I
did it.




Rangelmain




I’ve learned most of these kinds of lessons through trial and error.
There really isn’t room for error as a freelancer because if you
screw up with a client, you don’t get hired again. My errors have
thankfully been mostly of the variety I could fix before the client
was affected. I subscribe to PDN and a lot of photography blogs to
make sure I’m up on the latest tools that can help me get my job
done faster/better/easier. I’m always self-educating. When I find
myself admiring a photographer’s output, I don’t sit back and
wonder how they did it. I buy ‘em a meal and a drink and start
asking questions. The Image Deconstructed blog is a valuable
resource that I wish had been around when I was first getting
started. That’s not to say I don’t learn anything from reading it
now, but I envy the kids in photo school today who have instant
access to incredible amounts of focused information on every
aspect of photography imaginable.



++++

Melissa Golden is an editorial photographer based in the DC metro area, but she isn’t really from anywhere in particular. Her nomadic childhood, courtesy of the United States military, has led to a life marked by continuous change, renewal and wanderlust. Her work is influenced by all the places she’s called home at some point- the brazen oddity and beauty of Southern California, the tradition of the Deep South, the storm light of rural Florida, the heady intrigue of the Middle East and the stiff formality of the District of Columbia. She may not know where she’s going next, but her pictures help her to keep track of where she’s been.

http://www.melissagolden.com/

http://www.goldenhourblog.com/


+++++



Next week we'll feature this wonderful image by Chris Tyree:


tyreepromo


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:

ross_taylor@hotmail.com
logan@scott-free.com

For FAQ about the blog see here:

http://www.imagedeconstructed.com/