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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.
So it's really easy to look at these amazing bodies of work in war zones and places like this, but also, some of the best, most interesting photo essays and stories you're going to find are your neighbors and your family, and the things in your everyday life. I've been wanting to do a photo story on my nephew's football team for years. And, he was when I first got the idea he was probably like 12 or something, and I saw this picture of him and he's like this little bitty guy with like, the big shoulder pads and all this.
And I thought, man, this is, this is cool. I want to do like an entire season of this, a photo story of an entire season of Beggs, Oklahoma's Pee Wee Football League. And I didn't do it. I never did it. And every year I'd say, oh I'll go back and I'll do it. I'll do it. And now he's 21 or 22 years old and I didn't do it, and I'm kicking myself for it. But, you know, it's not just the big stories that you go do. You find the things that just interest you, and you go do it. And the, the, the access is what makes a great story. And we all have access to our brothers, and our sisters, and our nephews, and our nieces, and our neighbors, and our colleagues, and, you know, if you go to church, the people at your church or the, you know, the people you meet in the park when you walk your dog. And it's all about story telling.
You're sitting at the bench with your dog walking people and they tell you a story. And you go, wait a minute, that would make a great photo essay. but once you click that switch in your head and you say, you know, you're always thinking about stories, you know, and somebody tells you a story. Oh, I could photograph that. And in photographing that, I can put a piece of myself in it, because the way that I'm going to tell that story is going to mean something to me, as well as them, because you're representing them. photo students or aspiring photographers often times just say, well, I don't know what to photograph, or I don't have access because I don't have a press pass, or something like this. And it's like, you don't need a press pass to photograph your nephew's football game.
And you don't need a press pass if your grandfather is getting ready to die, and he's got one year left, and you have opportunity to sit down with him and make pictures and audio recordings and find out what it was like for him when he was a 19 year old man in the Depression or whatever. You know these are these great stories, and the camera gives you a reason to go ask the questions and be a part of these people's lives. And don't ever use the excuse, you know, I don't know what to photograph. It's all out there. Go do it.
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