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A photo essay is a series of photographs that tell a story about a person, place, event, or trend. In this course, photojournalist Paul Taggart takes us on assignment as he photographs Kevin Carman, an artist in Ventura, California.
Paul, whose work has appeared in publications such the New York Times and National Geographic, shares insights into how he prepares for an assignment, how he engages his subject, and how he takes advantage of unpredictable and unforeseen situations. The course concludes with a look at how the final essay might be sequenced and distributed.
So, I'm down here at Green Art People, a community arts space in Ventura. Where Kevin's got a relationship with some of the people that run this space. And he's already got one of his amazing jellyfish sculptures up. And we've already seen him with detail shots of his hands beating some of the tentacles. So, I'm super excited to get in there, and see him install one of these pieces. And for our photo essay, it's going to be really great, 'cause right now we have Kevin not really interacting with that many people. He's really just doing his art solo and for the first in our narrative here, we're actually going to get him interacting with people and doing something physical outside of just sculpting. So, we're going to head in there and hopefully get some really great shots. (CROSSTALK) So, in this amazing space, with all these amazing people and all this amazing artwork on the walls and it's really, you know, intriguing to look at all the stuff that's around here.
But unfortunately, for me as a photographer, it's actually more of a distraction visually from what I'm trying to photograph. (SOUND) I'm trying to isolate my image, so I'm really just looking at Kevin and his artwork. And around here I've got all these other cool shapes and designs going on. And so one of the things I was trying to do today, was actually bring out that longer lens that I was talking about and trying to flatten that image. Actually, eliminate some of the other elements in the space. (CROSSTALK) And the lighting in here was a bit of an issue, it's really dark. I'm actually shooting at like 2,000 ASA and I'm swapping out lenses as I go.
I've got one 1.8 F-stop lens, it's really great in low light. It wasn't necessarily the lens of choice. because it was an 85 millimeters, but I had to use it just because it was the tool that I had that would capture the light that I needed in this really dark space. >> (SOUND) Yeah, I think, and if it's over the middle it'll be out of everyone's way. (CROSSTALK) Cool, cool, cool.
Alright, alright, I'm going to to start bringing them in. >> So, we're still installing the tentacles and we're going to continue shooting, but I just took this shot from up there and I know I've got what I need. It's got everything I needed, him interacting with people and him actually doing the actual installing it. So, it's everything we needed for the photo essay. But we're going to stick around and see what else we get, because it's only going to get better. So, while I'm shooting today. I was looking down at Kevin from above on the ladder. And it was a great angle for what I wanted.
And all of a sudden, I had that uh-huh, moment that you always want during the day as a photographer. I said, whoa, that's, that's the shot. That's the shot I need to tell this story. And I was 99% sure that I got it. It won't be until I get home tonight, and I bring it up on a laptop, and I blow it up real big. And make sure his eyes are nice and sharp and in focus. But I think I nailed it, and you get that adrenaline rush of yeah I got it. But at the same time you've got to stay steady and continue to shoot, because if that was good and it was in the first five minutes, it's only going to get better, and that range true here. I get a little bit visually bored after shooting for about ten minutes.
But then I realized, you know, what? Well, let's switch out the lenses, walk around the scene, take a moment. sometimes the best thing I can do is actually put my cameras down, breathe, and just look at everything that's going on, and find a new position. And that's what I did, is I went all the way across the room, put on the long lens, and shot through one of the other sculptures that he's got here. Another jellyfish and he's got the tentacles, and I put that in the foreground and then put Kevin installing it in the background. We had a whole new image. And it's okay, it's like, use your feet, walk around, breathe, and take it all in, and you're going to come up with something great.
So Kevin is probably well over half way finish installing all the tentacles on his jellyfish sculpture, that we've been sort of documenting. it's a difficult lighting situation, and there's all sorts of other stuff going on here. I don't want to disturb, so you got to kind of respect the space. So we've got some good stuff. So, I'm definitely happy we're doing it. One thing that's really important for me when I'm making images in a space, is being completely familiar with it. And letting everybody else around me know that I'm familiar with it, and I'm not intimidated about what elements are here.
And so when I walk into that space, I'm already looking at like what chairs can I stand on? What ladders are there? What weird areas? Can I maybe crawl up on the beams, or what have you? You know, and just always be thinking, what are the advantage points I can get? And how can I get there? you know, always be safe, and always be completely respectful of your space, and ask permission beforehand. But also sort of own the environment there, and take advantage of it, because it's just going to help your images.
(SOUND) I just finished photographing the installation of Kevin's amazing jellyfish lights. And I'm excited to see what these look like, with the images that I shot yesterday, I think within our story we actually have a mini story of his creation of these lamps, and now he's installation of these lamps. And I think within three images, we have a small story arc that's going to fit into our bigger essay. And I'm excited to get home or back to the hotel, and check this out, and see if it actually plays right.
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