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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.
I just got back from Art City, where I showed Kevin the final photoessay that I have. I've done the majority of the editing and most of the sequencing, and now I'm just going to do my last pass-through before I'v got to head out check out of the hotel and get a, catch a flight. So I just want to review these images real quick and see if I've got everything before I leave. This image I've shot in two separate ways because I didn't know if I was going to use the intro to Art City, or have the Art City sign as the last image of the essay.
So I shot it once with the angle going in this direction. And once from the other side, with it going in this direction. And I decided, you know, Art City is where we are. So I wanted to establish this is our place. So this is our first image. And then I'm looking for a story art here where the whole story takes place in a day. We did shoot over 48 hours, but for the story purposes it just establishes a viewer in a space that they're familiar with. So it's morning to night. So I went out and shot him in his outdoor kitchen which is unique and says something about his character.
Having a morning cup of coffee. We went out and shot this image to add a little motion to our photo essay. And I think it really works well. If I just review back these images, you see everything's very static. And then once you lay on this image you've got some movement. And it gives a little energy back to our sequence, which we were desperately needing. Kevin interacting with the dog. The campfire. Not that many people have campfires every morning. So I think it's a great moment to add to Kevin's character. Here I like I actually sequence these so I'm going wide here.
And then super tight on his eyes. And I think it just breaks up all those wide angles that I have. If you mix your lenses and mix your compositions a little bit. It's like these images don't look that similar right next to each other, which gives them nice variance. Again going from a tight shot to a wide shot. Also I thought this image I wasn't going to in, include the the botchy ball images cause I was a little bit torn about how I felt when I was shooting it; it seemed like a distraction. But I relooked at my edit this morning and I looked at the bachy ball stuff and I found this image, and it kind of made me laugh a little bit. And one thing we didn't have in this photo essay was any humor. And so I thought maybe we'll put this in there.
And it'd be a funny little moment. (SOUND). This image I could live without. I'm not quite sure if I want to keep it or not. I like that it's got other characters in it. I don't think we need it. But since this is our first pass of the edit, we're not tied into this. This isn't for a client. It's not for a newspaper that requires 5 images or a magazine that only requires two images. This is sort of a personal project for me and Kevin, so it's 31 images at the moment, so I can leave this in and I can take it out later. Also, an image like this where it's just a detail shot with no characters in it, no people, it gives the viewer just a breathing moment in the sequence, so it's not just Kevin Kevin Kevin in every single image.
So we've got people, people, and then just a little bit of a breather for a moment. It's like having a comma in a sentence. And then again after that soft moment we've got some action. We've got the the, the dust coming off of the angel statue as Kevin works. I'm not sure yet, but I think I may have a few too many images that have the angel statue in it. And a few too many images with Kevin on the left side of the frame. But again, this is a broader edit of about 31 images. I can take those out later, depending on what the final format of this essay's going to be. Another breathing image.
it's not a great photograph this, but I do think it says something about Kevin, and his space. He's a man that wears many hats, and he also travels back and forth from California to Florida, and so I think having the the suite case in the image kind of says something about that. And, again, depending on where this photo essay ends up, this image may not be in that final essay. This here is actually a photograph of Kevin's daughter that he keeps next to his nightstand. And I want to create is, another layer in our story, so a story within a story about.
how his daughter lives out of state and how his daughter is a, a reoccurring theme in his artwork. And right now he's doing this angel sculpture based off of a portrait of his daughter. so the next couple of images are actually a smaller sequence starting with this one. And then there's this image of Kevin on the phone. He's actually on the phone not with his daughter with somebody else I don't know who it was. But by placing this photograph in front of the picture of him sort of isolating in an intimate place, like his bedroom, the viewers, you know have the opportunity to assume that maybe he's talking to his daughter in another state. This is Kevin, in his, personal space in his home at art city. Again, when I was photographing this, I was so excited because the minute you're subject says hey, you can come home with me and photograph inside of my house. You're whole story just gets ramped up because you have the intimacy of being in someone's private area.
I think it really helped our essay. If we didn't have that, I think this would have been a little bit flat. And then we get to the night shot. So we started this photo essay in the morning and now we've finished the day and we're coming into the night. And this is probably one of the best decisions we've made to do was to shoot at night with a new lighting scenario, whole another ambiance. It looks great and I think we got some special stuff out of Kevin because it was later in the day. At this point he was sort of forgetting the cameras were there and weren't acting too much with the lens. Here we've got the wide shot, and then I worked that whole situation, and walked around the scenario to get a tighter shot and this is what I was talking about because I like to have lots of choices when I get back to the editing room. And this is a perfect example of having the wide shot, and then the tight shot to play with.
And they go great next to each other. And then this is another small story within our photo essay. This is the beginning shot of about five, five or six images in our photo story. Having to deal with Kevin's sculpture of a jellyfish. And these are some of the pieces he used to make the tentacles. And again, it's a quiet image because again, we don't have Kevin in the frame. And we need that breather every once in awhile. This is Kevin actually making one of the tentacles for the jellyfish sculpture.
And one of the reasons why I included this image is because I actually have Kevin on the right side of the frame, which I was lacking. And we desperately needed this to not keep, so it wasn't too repetitive. These are the finished tentacles in his room. Just a little detail shot of one of the pieces, or raw materials that he uses for his sculptures. And then the story comes to almost a conclusion with Kevin in a whole new space, which is great. Every time we can move our character to a new location, it's something new for the viewer to look at, which makes it really exciting.
This is Kevin finally installing one of these massive jellyfish sculptures in a local Ventura arts space. Finally getting to turn on the light, which we had a couple problems with the wiring. But he did get the light on in the sculpture. And the final moment of turning the sculpture on, and getting that amazing glow that you get from his, his jellyfish lamps which he's been working on. I love this image. And since it's dark and isolated light. It just feels like the end of something. It's like the last page of a book.
And then, I'm not sure how I'm going to include this, if it's going to go earlier in the essay, or later, but for now I've got it at the end. This is Kevin working. These are about four or five images of Kevin working on the angel sculpture. I think I have too many angel pictures in here, but I love the sculpture And I'll probably take them out depending on where this photo essay is going to end up. But I put them all at the end of the essay for now, so it's a little bitty segment. That's Kevin's daughter and he's basing the portrait of the angel statue off of that.
(SOUND). And regardless of whether I keep the angel pictures before this frame. This is, no matter what, going to be the last frame of my photo essay. When I shot this, I knew this is the last picture I wanted. And I think it looks really great. It looks like a bookend. We're looking at the angels, actually, from the back. It's at nighttime. It's the end of the day. Is the period D at the end of our sentence and it just feels right. So our final photo story today has about thirty images, this can be repackaged in a number of different ways whether it be for an editorial publication, a newspaper, or a personal website.
Which is where, I think, Kevin's going to use these images for, hopefully he likes them. He'll put these on his site and have a nice little slideshow or make postcard for publicity. I don't know but it was a really rewarding experience for me and what I was hoping to do by having the whole camera crew following me around while I'm shooting, is get you guys out there inspired to take photos too and not just take great frames or great compositions, but go out there in the real world and tell stories. Find someone who interests you. Maybe it's a family member or a grocery clerk or maybe it's your neighbor. But get out there.
Take your camera, and spend 24 or 48 hours with somebody. With a little bit of planning, anybody can do this. And I think you're going to come home and you're going to have really rewarding images, and a really meaningful experience for both you and your subject.
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