As many of you know, I have made a big change in my career over the last couple of years, and have shifted my business to commercial cinematography, and wedding photography/cinema.
Although I continue to work for editorial clients regularly, I will no longer be posting to Visual Journalist. I will leave the site active, but expect no new content. Hopefully the sites archives will help out up and coming journalists one way or another.
If you’d like to continue to follow my work, you can catch me at the following sites:
All the best!
Check out the new promo video when you get a second. We just finished the edit, and are excited to launch it on the main Brent Foster Photography site.
Huge congrats to Katerina Cizek and The National Film Board of Canada for an amazingly innovative project, Out My Window. A the project and a few words on it can be found on my personal web site, Brent Foster Photography
A little update from Randy Risling: “Everything is done in FCP. Lucas was very organized on this one which made it an absolute pleasure to edit. Basically each timelapse was organized into folders. I would import that folder and then “nest” it right away. After nesting, I applied some motion to the nest which sort of creates an illusion that it’s running smoother than it actually is. If you watch back some of the interview shots you will notice a slight tracking from left to right with just a touch of zooming. I think it’s that smooth tracking that helps trick the eye.”
Our first Chapter of Wasteland featuring the people who live on Jharia’s fiery mines is featured today on the New York Times [Lens] Blog.
Check out the our piece and the rest of this inspirational blog designed by Zach Wise and crew at the Times.
From the blog: ““Wasteland”
Are you prepared to spend six minutes in hell? This is the question posed at the beginning of “Wasteland,” a mulitmedia documentary project by Bombay Flying Club. And with good reason: as the first installment of a series on industrial pollution, “Wasteland” explores the burning coal fields of northeastern India. Whole families live and work in the toxic dust, their homes built on burning ground. Many make a living by illegally collecting baskets of coal to sell for the equivalent of $1 to $1.50, enduring extremely hazardous conditions.
Bombay Flying Club is composed of two Danish photojournalists and one Canadian videojournalist. Their motto is “online journalism as it could be.” It’s easy to see why.
The entire multimedia package is presented in black and white, and the film delicately weaves video and still photography. The images are elegant and beautifully composed, which at times distracts from the horrific realities at hand — instead of sweltering suffocation, some images convey a cool detachment.
But the film is undeniably stunning. “Wasteland” should not be missed. (K.B.)”
Tracy Boyer of Innovative Interactivity discusses conceptualizing a series, and roles each team member had in their series Age of Uncertainty, which recently won Documentary project of the year in the POYi’s :
Age of Uncertainty, in my eyes, truly exemplified the potential of multimedia storytelling. This series was the direct result of passionate journalists combining their different talents to tell one story using multiple mediums.
Editor Carole Tarrant supported each producer and his/her own aspirations for the series by providing adequate time to perfect each part. Multimedia editor Seth Gitner successfully orchestrated the online coverage and pushed each producer to attempt something new. Having such strong support and encouragement really allowed this package to become more than just an “on-the-side” features story.
Photojournalist Josh Meltzer produced his first video series, consisting of four chapters, by documenting a woman caring for her husband with dementia. Meltzer also produced eight other videos and provided beautiful photography for each written story. By capturing dozens of hours of footage over a span of nine months, he successfully presented each subject’s story with the care and respect it deserved.
Reporter Beth Macy thoroughly researched multiple story-lines to give unique perspectives on Roanoke residents faced with different variations of healthcare crises. By scouring press releases, attending meetings and following-up on leads, Macy found poignant stories that, together, told the larger story of how Roanokers were caring for their elderly.
I was in charge of creating the interactive components on the site, which consisted of the introduction piece, the three assessment tools, the memory game, the video player, and the “Geography of Aging” map. The map consumed most of my time as we had high ambitions to visually display aging statistics for every locality in Virginia over 30 years, and then compare Virginia to the rest of the nation both in terms of demographic statistics and medicaid spending.
Database editor Matt Chittum processed all of the data for my map, as well as produced the map on senior care centers. To display the map data, he had to learn how to filter government data and parse it for an XML document, which was an incredibly daunting task.
Seth Gitner pushed himself to learn Drupal to serve as the CMS for this site, which was a big first for us. He was also responsible for the design and production of the entire site.
In terms of conceptualizing a series that spans several months and/or subtopics, I would recommend concentrating on finding the right story subjects to tell specialized cases that help make up the larger story. Then, brainstorm on graphics, images and other multimedia elements that can heighten the user’s understanding of the issue.
I strongly believe that our willingness to learn was the key to this project’s success. As long as there is a set of dedicated and passionate journalists, there is great potential for a powerful multimedia package.
In the summer of 2007 I started to think about shooting a film documentary
about street children in Bucharest, Romania.
At that time, I had seen some smaller documentaries and some footage on
Youtube about this issue and I was quite surprised to see, that children
in Romania were still suffering severely from political things that had
happened and taken place way back in the early nineties. At that time I
was still working as a staff photographer at a Danish daily called
Nyhedsavisen, and I was pretty upset with the working conditions there.
The news flow was so intense and fast, that I rarely had more than 10
minutes to shoot an assignment and I just really started to miss in depth
By fall 2007 I had managed to convince the photo-editor at the paper, that
they should fund a cheap one-week trip for me to Romania so that I could
do a multimedia piece for the website. I had managed to get in contact
with an American based NGO called Archway and I had also decided that I
would drop my film approach and instead try to develop a full screen
multimedia presentation about the issue. The thing is….I was kinda fed
up with Soundslides even before trying the software. I was fed up with
photographers who embraced the program but obviously didn’t know how to
tell stories in an way that could capture an audience. Danish news sites
were packed with basic sound- and slideshows and it just didn’t work for
me. I thought we could do better, or at least try to do better.
In late February 2008 I went to Romania with a good friend of mine who’s a
radio journalist. He’s always been up for a good adventure, he’s
consistent, dedicated, and even paid for his own trip because he
thought it could be an interesting story to do. We had a somewhat chaotic
week in Romania. It was bitterly cold, we had severe problems finding the
kids who lived in the sewers and after the first three days we still
didn’t have any footage or sound. I think we were quite lucky to pull this
one off. We ended up meeting two unfortunate and very different groups of
homeless people who were living right next to each other, and we decided
to stick to their story.
For us it was quite a schock to see this harsh reality. On our first
”field trip” to the sewers there was a fight going on within the group of
drug addicts. Bottles were flying throught the air and bloody syringes
we’re used pretty much as weapons. And then in the middle of it there were
these small kids running around barefooted in the dirty piles of trash,
outside in – 10 degrees celcius. It was just horrible to see. We ended up
spending 2-3 afternoons with the groups, trying to document their lives
When I came home I started to do the programming in between my assignments
at the paper. That’s why it took me two full months to do the story. Also
it was quite a task to do the full screen thing. I didn’t really know how
to approach it in Flash and it took me a long time to get the things to
work properly. I am not an advanced flash programmer at all. Everything is
really basic, but it works and I think that the full screen thing is super
cool. It draws you into a story in a completely different way when you’re
not disturbed by other elements on the screen. And today I am still using
a lot of the scripts from that project in my new stories.
Flash is a great tool, but time consuming. Too time consuming if you ask
me. But if we can use these tools to tell stories in a way that can draw
an audience into a world of powerful storytelling combined with still
photography, then we have an obligation as photojournalists to keep
exploring new ways of communicating. At the end of the day it’s all about
making a difference and about giving people a unique glimpse of what’s
actually going on this crazy world. And that’s a good thing, isn’t it?
From Kathy Kieliszewski:
There are more than 18,000 children living in foster care in the state of Michigan and of those, 6,000 are wards of the state; legal orphans. Over three years ago, Detroit Free Press photographers Kathleen Galligan and Regina Boone began photographing the foster children at Christ Child House, a sort of modern-day orphanage and therapeutic home on Detroit’s west side. Over the years, it has been home to countless dozens of Michigan’s legal orphans. Regina’s focus was on a boy that had been adopted from the house and was transitioning into his new family while Kathleen concentrated on the boys at the house.
As many photojournalist know, photographing juveniles in foster care usually results in backs of heads and silhouettes. The Michigan Department of Human Services, which rarely grants permission to openly photograph children in its custody, gave the Free Press this unusual access to highlight the plight of Michigan’s foster children. “It’s an effort to educate the public on the challenges we face,” said Bill Johnson, head of the Michigan Children’s Institute, the DHS division with legal custody of the kids.
Many kids spend three years or more in the system–if not whole childhoods. Those three years allowed us to follow the progression of children through the system; the birthdays, holidays, sports trophies, lost teeth, failed adoptions, new foster homes and new families.
Kathleen and to a smaller extent Regina, had been photographing off and on for nearly two years before videographer Brian Kaufman joined the project. We had given this problem a face, but now the kids had a voice. There was no expert in the system as qualified to talk about life in the system as the kids themselves. Over that final year, the focus shifted to complimenting the already existing photography with great interviews and key moments told best with video.
With the reporter assigned and web on board, advocacy for the boys of Christ Child House drove how we shaped the plan for print and online. The Free Press has a longstanding children first mission and this project was a natural extension of that. The goal was to tell the story of life at Christ Child House as well as highlighting boys still up for adoption and giving people resources on how they can help through donations, mentoring, foster parenting and even adoption.
From Preston Gannaway:
Reporter Chelsea Conaboy and I started following Carolynne and Rich St. Pierre and their family in March 2006 after a family friend called the Concord Monitor. They wanted a way to document Carolynne’s story for her children and share it with others who might be experiencing something similar. We saw it as an opportunity to tell a story that was both universal and unique, about a family facing death from a rare and aggressive illness while struggling to maintain the family unit.
What originally was intended to be a six-month story on a family dealing with illness evolved into five printed stories spanning nearly two years. We grew incredibly close to the family in that time.
When I first met them, I made a conscious decision to open up more to them emotionally than I had with other subjects. For a long time I had held the notion that a photojournalist should be like a “fly on a wall,” and I think that idea was keeping me from growing and telling more intimate stories.
At the onset, I agreed to give copies of all my photographs to Rich after the story published. The desire to create a document for the children to have later in life was a huge motivation for Rich. Carolynne was pleased with how the first story turned out and they both invited us to continue following them.
We followed them through changes in treatment, hospital stays, family outings, holidays and the emotional challenges of coping with the disease as Carolynne’s condition worsened. Chelsea and I worked constantly with our editors to get time away from our daily assignments. Because the Monitor is such a small paper, we were very fortunate to have been given the support and time that we had. As a journalist, one of the many lessons I learned from the St. Pierres was how much it means just to spend time. The more we were around, the more the family came to understand how much we cared and were invested in their story.
After Carolynne died we struggled with our own grief. I felt very strongly that we shouldn’t end the story with her death, because in many ways the story was just beginning. I thought it was important to document the grieving process as well because that’s a story that’s rarely told. Chelsea and I worked hard to depict the family’s changing relationships honestly and objectively. We had many discussions about ethical boundaries. And many discussions just trying to figure out what was going on below the surface and how best to illustrate that.
I wanted to create one entire story from our work — either in a newspaper reprint or online. I was lucky to be able to drag our photo intern, Kari Collins, along with me as I attempted to create a multimedia version of the work. She acted as my editor and spent many late nights at the Monitor with me as we tried to finish the project in time to launch with the final newspaper story.
Regrettably, I was only able to do one audio interview with Carolynne. The narrative used in the 6-chapter multimedia piece was compiled mostly from interviews that Chelsea and I did with Rich and the kids. One of first times I ever edited audio was of that first interview with Rich and Carolynne.
I feel proud of the completeness that we were able to create with the multimedia project. And the many emails of support from people around the world who have seen their story have provided a lot of comfort to the family. It goes to further honor the headline that accompanied the first story we published. The headline that Carolynne found so fitting — when she asked that people remember her.
From Ehrin Macksey:
About 11 months ago I met a journalist here in Hanoi, Vietnam. He told me about how there were these pockets of leprosy villages in Vietnam and how he had visited one. This peaked my curiosity, because in the 2 years I had lived in Vietnam I had not heard of them. He gave me some contacts of some doctors that worked with these Villages and that is how this project started.
After months of meeting different people and collecting my facts, I finally got permission to visit one of these Villages, Van Mon.
I went back to this Village 6 times, usually for 2 or 3 days, which is all I could afford. I started to be treated like one of the Villagers instead of an outsider. When this happened, I really started to experience the daily life of Van Mon. I woke up every morning at 3:00 AM. I got me gear together and would go to see the morning rituals of the residents. One of those mornings, I saw a man walking to church. This particular person grabbed my attention, not because he was going to church, but because he was going alone and he was blind. I went up to him and introduced myself. He seemed very nice and invited me to join him in the morning service. I watch him go pray in church. He sat by himself in the darkest part of the church and no one seemed to pay attention to him. At times during the service, I would catch him wiping away his tears.
I started talking to this man more and learned that his name is Bop. I spent many of my afternoons with him in his humble living quarters. He told me stories about how he survived an American bombing, how he came to Van Mon and what he thinks of his life now.
I was deeply touched by his stories. All of them seem to be full of hardships I could only imagine. Yet here is a man who still goes to church by himself, takes care of himself and even clean his own house, all while blind and disabled.
I told Bop I wanted to tell his story and he gave me permission to do so. As our relationship progressed, he would tell me about his childhood and how much he misses his family. He also told me, that even though he is religious, he feels like this life is just a test. There is no more happiness in this life. So he prays and looks forward to his next life where he hopes things will be different.
When I started to produce these pieces there was so much information. So many stories to focus on, but Bop’s story, was to me, the one that captured all the stories of all the people.
Documenting the life at Van Mon, was for me, emotional. After documenting such scenes like the washing of the patients or the local hospital I would be drained. I would finish shooting and walk away into the village banana field, the only place to be alone, feeling a mix of anger, sadness and helpless. When Bop told me about his family and started crying, I nearly cried with him. His pain was so deep. To see this grown man, older than my father, cry because his family, who is well off, did nothing to take care of him or show any love towards him.
I hope I have represented these people well with my work. I truly hope that more people will know about Van Mon and help them the best they can.
From Maisie Crow:
I first met Max when I was out on a daily assignment at Chimes School, a private institution for disabled students in Baltimore. After visiting a classroom where Max was working one on one with an instructor, I was intrigued by his behavior and curious as to why he was a student at the school. I connected with him immediately and my intuition told me to learn more about his situation. I asked the principal why he was at the school, but she could not give me too much information without his father’s consent so I left my business card with her in hopes she would keep her promise and pass my contact information along. In early December, I heard from Lon, Max’s father, who said he would be willing to talk with me further about Max and Prader-Willi Syndrome. He told me all about it the disorder and Max’s behavior issues. At the time, it was beyond my comprehension. How could someone always be hungry?
Prader-Willi Syndrome, PWS, is a rare-genetic disorder caused by variations in the fifteenth chromosome. Not only does PWS cause Max to have an insatiable appetite, it creates behavior disorders that can be hard to control. Lon understood from the beginning that I would have to document the behavior and the incessant eating.
One day, Max came home from school very upset that they had changed his school aide. Lon called me and suggested I come over, as he knew I needed the content to solidify the story. Filming video that day was difficult because I wanted to comfort Max. After spending so much time with Max and his father, I viewed them as friends as much as I did subjects. I felt helpless and wanted to do more than film what was happening but I also realized that my purpose as a journalist was to document their lives in order to share their story with others. I wanted the content to allow the viewer to feel the helplessness that I did at that moment.
I did not start any of the interviews until I was fairly close to being done shooting because I wanted to wait until Lon and Max were completely comfortable with me. Once they were able to trust me, they were more candid and open to sharing their emotions and feelings. Interviewing Lon was difficult at times because I wanted to put down the mic and just talk with him about what he was going through. At one point, I asked Lon if he had anything he wanted to add to the interview and he talked for nearly thirty minutes. He said, “In the past, it was always kids with Prader-Willi Syndrome are short, fat and retarded, and they’re not short and fat…and retarded.” It took Lon almost 10 seconds to say the last word of that sentence. His eyes started to water, and he almost couldn’t finish his thought. Those seconds of silence nearly broke my heart but they also created a pivotal point in the story. I used the silence in the multimedia piece with hopes that the viewer would pause, reflect and empathize with what Lon was trying to say. The audio allowed my subjects to have voices and narrate their own story. What they had to say was much more than my photos could ever give.
After observing Max and his father, I knew that the story wasn’t only about the disorder. It was about a relationship, and in order to show that I would have to spend a lot of time getting to know the two of them and letting them know me. Through watching Lon raise Max, I witnessed the lengths that a father’s love would go to care for his son.
I built a relationship with Max and his father. That is why I could enter their home, tell their story, share it with the community and hope that it provided an understanding of two special lives and a little known disorder.
From Travis Fox:
I was standing on a mound of debris more than a dozen stories high. Behind me was half a mountain, its face brown because a landslide slivered off the other half. In front of me was the ruined town of Beichuan, China, where not a single building remained standing. And under my feet was a mixture of dirt from the landslide, stones from the buildings, and dead bodies.
It had been several days after the earthquake that I arrived in Beichuan, but the scene was like nothing that I’ve seen before. In Aceh, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, I saw absolute destruction after the tsunami. And there were plenty of dead bodies littering the ground of Iraq during the invasion. What made this story different was the access we had, not only to the ravaged areas like Beichuan, but to the agony of the survivors.
I used “The Agony of Surviving” as the title of my video from Beichuan that day. It seemed like an apt description of the women that I ran into on top of the mound of debris. It was a frightening scene. She was digging with her bare hands, trying to find the remains of her daughter. Her screams echoed across the flattened town. At the time, I was too preoccupied with making sure my camera was functioning properly to fully grasp what was unfolding in front of me. Only later, translating the footage and watching it over and over, trying to transcribe quotes like “Mommy is here to pick you up,” did the pain fully hit me.
I was surprised at how articulate the Sichuanese were in describing their pain. Many of the victims were poor, some illiterate, but nearly everyone I spoke with was able to express himself or herself well. Believe it or not, this is one of the most difficult parts of being a videojournalist. Often people just don’t have anything to say. I remember riding in a rickety bus with a group of Afghans who were returning home to their village after a 20-year exile in Pakistan. When we arrived, I asked… What else?.. “How do you feel.” No matter how many different ways I phrased it, the answer was always, “We are fine.”
Li Shan Fu’s expressions were almost poetic. He lost his only daughter when her school collapsed in the town of Juyuan. Li’s wife saw their daughter pulled from the rubble, but since then theye weren’t able to locate her. Li spoke about being so sad that his legs barely functioned during his 10 day-long search for his daughter. He allowed us to be there when he reviewed pictures of dead children. His expressions told us everything about what he was going through. His legs no longer supported him.
From David Stephenson:
“A New Dawn” was by far the longest amount of time I have spent working on a story. Assignments come and go, the pictures are often forgotten by the next day. But this time was different.
I knew that following Dawn Nicole Smith through the Fayette County Drug Court program could take more than a year to complete – that’s how long it takes most drug court participants to finish, if they finish at all. Reporter Mary Meehan and I got to know Dawn for over three-and-a-half years.
Her story was far more complicated than I ever imagined. It tested me in ways I never predicted. There were occasional access issues. There were ethical dilemmas. There were scheduling problems (how do I do my job on a regular basis and still find the time to spend with Dawn? How many times do I have to apologize to my wife and family for being with Dawn on our anniversary or a birthday?)
And I’ll admit I had issues with motivation. I found it very difficult to make myself go back to see Dawn again and again and again, particularly when most of the time she was surrounded in chaos or crisis.
Finally, three and-a-half years after we met Dawn in the spring of 2004, we published her story on 23 pages in the newspaper and with a six-part multimedia presentation online.
When we began Dawn’s story, we weren’t doing a whole lot of multimedia. But using a minidisc recorder I had purchased in 2000, I recorded what I could knowing that by the time we finished we might know what to do with it.
I never listened to any of the audio until it came time to edit. As it turns out, the audio pretty much dictated the structure of the online piece. And fortunately, that five-chapter structure also closely followed the stories as they rolled out in print.
I chose to use Soundslides for the presentation for a number of reasons: It provided a large degree of user functionality – for such a heavy piece, I wanted viewers to have flexibility and options which you don’t really get with a video player. Soundslides also allowed me to have captions which I felt might be important to some viewers. Soundslides, being a Flash-based program, was light-weight and wouldn’t bog down a system like a 3 or 4 minute video could.
I did have to teach myself some Flash so I could build the chaptered interface, but I knew that would be a valuable skill to have for the future.
Almost a year later, I don’t think I would do anything differently with the online presentation. Of course, I do wish Dawn’s story would have turned out better. But sadly her story is a common one.
From Krista Schinagl:
The project was a semester long project that was supposed to combine all the skills we’ve learned while at Western. We had to write a proposal for it and it would be a combination of stills, ambient audio, graphics (if applicable) and video and it had to be presented in a web format.
After several weeks of not finding a project I decided I would do it on my sister. I knew she had a good story, I wasn’t sure what it was at first, but I knew there was a good story there to tell.
I didn’t realize going into the project what kind of impact it would have on me. At this point I barely knew my sister. We barely ever talked and I only saw her once or twice a year. I had never really talked to her husband or met his family. In my mind she was going to be just like any other project. I would commit just as much time and work just as hard as any other project I had ever worked on. The only difference was that I knew I wouldn’t have to work to gain access. I would already have access because I was family and she already knew me.
One of the hardest things was to not get involved. Watching my sister break down because she was so over whelmed with bills was the hardest situation to stay an outsider or just an observer looking in. I honestly was standing behind that camera crying for her and feeling helpless and trying not to get involved. I felt kind of guilty or like I was doing something wrong filming her crying and I kept having to tell myself that this was very important for people to see and that she’s going to work through these problems on her own. I felt like it was my responsibility to remain a viewer and show the world what happens when you don’t manage your money and that someone would learn from watching my project.
It actually stressed me out a lot. I would be at school and she would call me up crying and I just didn’t know what to say to her.
Our relationship grew so close during this project that we began talking on the phone several times a day. I knew everything going on in her life and she told me more than she would have if wasn’t her sister.
It was also hard to edit the project because I grew close to my sister and became emotionally attached to her and her situation. It was hard to edit some things out even if I knew it made the project a lot stronger. I spent so much time editing that I became numb and couldn’t see the mistakes anymore or couldn’t see the spots that repeated themselves.
Other small struggles were that she lived two hours away. I would miss things like having to go to the doctor with no health insurance or when they went shopping for a new camper. And living in the camper with them was not always easy because it was so small and I slept on the table.
The best thing that came from the project is that I got to know my sister and her family. Now that a couple months have passed we still talk on the phone at least once a day. And if I hadn’t done the project on her I probably wouldn’t have gotten to know her in-laws.
Ethically I think it’s important people realize Carly is my sister. I have it written on the about page but I don’t know how many people actually read the about before watching the project. I have plans to include a video interview of myself talking about the effect this project has had on me which will make the project more ethical, but it’s hard now that I’m out of school and don’t have access to cameras and programs.
From Scott Strazzante:
“Common Ground“, my collaboration with MediaStorm, is the latest and, I believe, the best incarnation of my personal project on cattle farmers Harlow and Jean Cagwin. The project had always been a still photography only endeavor and it wasn’t until I started working with MediaStorm did I incorporate interviews and video. The first years of shooting from 1994 to 1998 were for my personal photographic sanity. A place to go to make real photos when I got discouraged by the quality of assignments that I was being given at the Daily Southtown, a suburban Chicago daily that I worked at between 1987 and 1998. In 1999, after moving to the Herald News in Joliet, Illinois, I pitched the Cagwin story to my editors for publication in the newspaper.
Images were eventually published on two separate occasions during my stay at the Herald News. A version of the story was also part of my 2000 National Newspaper Photographer of the Year portfolio. By the time I had left Joliet in October 2001, the Cagwin story had gone from a feature on two senior citizen cattle farmers to one of deteriorating health, the family farm as a disappearing way of life and suburban sprawl. While working on the Cagwin story in Joliet, I had received permission to retain the copyright on the farm images. Upon arriving at the Chicago Tribune in 2001, I made the same request and it was honored. On July 2, 2002, I photographed the Cagwins as they watched their farmhouse being razed to make room for the Willow Walk subdivision. That day would mark the end of the story. Well, at least that is what I thought at the time. In the subsequent years, I thought from time to time about going back to the land to find a suburban family to document as a bookend to the Cagwin story.
Twice I made half-hearted attempts at finding a new family but the story never seemed to get off the ground. In March 2007, I gave a presentation of my farm story to a group of photo essay students at the College of DuPage. After showing my images, a student raised her hand and said, “I live in that subdivision.” By the next week I was at Amanda Grabenhofer’s home in the Willow Walk subdivision photographing her, her husband Ed and their 4 children. At that point, my only plan was to someday publish a book with chapter one being the Cagwins and chapter two being the Grabenhofers. On my third visit, I photographed Amanda’s son Ben wrestling with his cousin CJ with a jump rope tied around them. The photograph reminded me of a photo that I had made of Harlow Cagwin wrestling with a two-day old calf with a lasso tied around it.
The two photos got me thinking of life and the similarities between the farm and the subdivision that I had noticed in my few visits to the Grabenhofer home. After constructing the two “rope” photos into a diptych, I immediately was able to make three others. On my subsequent visits, I kept my mind open to similarities and differences as I documented life on Cinnamon Court, the cul de sac in the Willow Walk subdivision where the Grabenhofer home was located. In October 2007, I publicly presented my diptych essay for the first time while coaching at the Mountain Workshops in Kentucky. One of the people in the audience that day was Chad A. Stevens, a multimedia producer at MediaStorm. Stevens saw the multimedia possibilities in the project and he encouraged me to talk to his boss, Brian Storm, about a possible collaboration.
After a very short discussion, Storm and I agreed to give it a go. In the meantime, the Chicago Tribune published my diptych project in their Sunday Magazine and online under the title, “Another Country”. A month later, National Geographic featured the essay in the Photo Journal section of their February 2002 issue. In March 2008, I flew to New York City where Stevens, who Storm assigned to produce the project, and I went through every frame I had taken on the project.
I returned to Chicago and recruited Wes Pope, who at the time was my co-worker at the Chicago Tribune, to help me interview the Cagwins and the Grabenhofers and to shoot b-roll on life in the subdivision, In June 2008, after months of work, MediaStorm debuted a 6-minute piece at Look 3- The Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, Virginia. In July 2008, MediaStorm released a 7-minute version of “Common Ground on their website.
The entire multimedia piece was conceived and constructed by Stevens. He even located a musician named Andy Webster who provided a beautiful piece of original music as the score. I am very happy that the multimedia piece became reality. I always felt that I had missed a huge piece of the story by failing to interview the Cagwins as they were living thire final years on the farm. Most of all, I consider “Common Ground” an unbiased historical document on the issue of suburban sprawl overtaking the family farm in the shadow of America’s major metropolitan areas. The next and final step will be finding a publisher for the book.
From Sean Dunne(Very Ape Productions):
I first became interested in Paul’s story back in February ‘08, when I heard about the highly publicized eBay sale of his collection. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of him or his collection until then. So I researched him a little more and found out that it was declining sales in his store and health issues that were causing him to sell it. Unfortunately the sale fell through. I contacted Paul in June and asked him if I could make a short documentary about him and he agreed. Surprisingly no one else had contacted him about doing a profile. As a side note, this taught me a lesson to never assume that someone else is already covering something, find out for yourself.
I thought the story would be important for a number of reasons. First, because it was timely. His lease was ending and the collection hadn’t sold, there was a sense of a ticking clock surrounding the whole thing. Second, because his story seemed to serve as kind of a microcosm of a failing record industry and economy. And lastly, to try and bring some much needed attention to the collection and try to help him get it sold.
I happened to be passing through the Pittsburgh area later that month on another shoot and I arranged to shoot a day with Paul. Due to a schedule conflict we only had around 7 hours to shoot both Paul and his collection. It was tight but we got our shots. The initial edit took close to a week with another week for revision, tweaks, color-correction and mix. We didn’t really have any plans for it after that. Maybe sell it to a network like Current TV or sell it as web content for another network. I posted it on Vimeo to kind of test the waters and get a sense of whether people liked it. From there it kind of took on a life of its own. The Internet has taken this thing to places that no other forum could have, not even TV. The whole experience has been fun. I like instantly hearing feedback on the piece. It’s been encouraging and makes me want to pursue some other story ideas I have.