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Paul Taggart, whose work has appeared in publications such the New York Times and National Geographic, has photographed dozens of photo essays—from stories of civil unrest in faraway lands to a kid's first camping trip. Here, he discusses the key concepts behind great photojournalism: the types of photos that make up a photo essay, the research and planning that goes into shooting one, and the art of sequencing the final shots in a way that tells the story. He also talks about the prospects for storytellers in the Internet age, and shows examples of photo essays that he has shot for major magazines and for his own personal projects.
(MUSIC) My name's Paul Tigard/g, I'm a photographer. I mainly do photo journalism and documentary work. But I also do a little bit of multimedia and film making. I love telling stories and I love meeting people. And my entire career, since I've been about 17 years old, I'm 33 now. Has been traveling the world, meeting cool people, and telling stories through pictures. My passion is really photo essay, or photo stories. And taking lots of still images and putting them together in a meaningful and thoughtful sequence to tell, to tell a narrative.
And I've been doing it now for how ever many years that is, and I love it and I just can't stop. I'm addicted to it. So my interest in photography has always been pretty well defined, because from kind of an early age, I didn't, I didn't just want to be a photographer. I knew exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do. I was a stubborn kid, and (LAUGH), my brother took pictures, my mom took pictures, like everyone in my family took pictures and there was always cameras sitting around. but I remember, I was probably in like seventh or eighth grade, and my parents had a subscription to the Sunday New York Times.
And, that Sunday, there was a magazine, they have the magazine insert, and there was an image in there, and I didn't know who it was, I didn't know anything about photographers or any of that. And there was this amazing image and it just, for, I was like 12 or 13, it just didn't make any sense to me. But all I knew was like, something about it drew me in, it was a picture of this woman, and it was really close on her face, and it was black and white, and her eyes had this like glazed over look, and they were watery, and it just, it blew me away.
I was looking at this and it turned out, it was a photo essay on drug addiction, and (LAUGH) it was by this amazing photographer Eugene Richards. And there were so many things about this I didn't understand as like a kid growing up in Oklahoma, but something really struck it with me. And my brother, who was older than me.. Said well man, if you like Eugene Richards, you like this photograph, then you should look at this other photographer, Eugene Smith. And so, I went to the library and I got all the books I could find on Eugene Smith.
I'm like getting a little watery about this, because it still gets me to this day. But there's this one image by Eugene Smith called "Tonoko in the Bath," and it was a photo essay he did in Japan on mercury poisoning. And he took this one image of this woman who was poisoned, and the mother is holding her in this bath and bathing her, and it's, it's an absolute perfect photograph. And it's one photograph in an essay that Eugene Smith did that changed policy, changed the way people viewed some environmental issues that were going on at the time. This was at the end of Eugene Smith's career really, and he, there were some things that happened to him because of telling that story. But anyways, the point is, the it just struck me and I was a very young age, and then I looked at the rest of Eugene Smith's work, and he had very simple photo stories that he did.
He would do stories on, there was one called "Nurse Midwife," and another one just called "Country Doctor". And some of these, you know, would end up in Life magazine with just seven pictures and some would be much larger, but his life, and his career, and his photo stories, to this day are like, my guiding light on how you tell a story. like I said, now it's however many years later, and I can still perfectly imagine that Eugene Smith image in my head, and, you know, it's like the guiding light and if, you know, it's taunting too, it's awful, it's this awful thing, just like...
He got that one image, and that's what it's all about. Like, if you can get that one single photograph in your entire life, your entire career, then that's it. And like, I clearly have not gotten that yet. I've got friends who, who are photographers that have gotten that image. I don't know if they realize they've gotten that image yet but they've got it. and I want it. I want that one image that some kid's going to look at when they're 13 in like 50 years and go, hey I want to do that for a living. So, still working on it.
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