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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 in the genre of working in photo stories, professionally I work a lot in journalism. But then, you know, I can't leave, I can't leave it alone just at work, I bring that home too. I'm always taking pictures, and in the last two years, (LAUGH), I my girlfriend at the time, my wife now, she had some back problems. And, I, I went to the hospital and photographed her, you know, getting ready for surgery and getting prepped. And then going into surgery and then coming out and the whole process, cause I just can't stop taking pictures. And even when I'm doing something like that, is that, I'm still thinking of making it into a narrative.
What picture I need at the beginning, what picture do I need at the end, what do I need in the middle? You know, what kind of filler elements do I want to make visually more interesting? You know, and then, also I've got a stepdaughter and she's in this really cool community garden program in Pennsylvania. And, I do all the photographs for that, and, you know, when we have our, we have a pesto day once a year. And we all get around the kitchen table and make pesto with all the kids, I do a photo essay of that. Because, for me, telling stories with photos, is a really satisfying experience, and I do it, for everything in my life.
I don't ever stop taking pictures, and the way that I do, that is with telling stories. I guess some people can do it in one frame and I try to do that, but I really enjoy the idea of grouping images together to tell a story. One of my more published photo essays, was a story that wasn't even my idea. It was a story that the agency that I was working for at the time, pitched to me, and they asked me if I would go do it. And it was a project down in Antartica on this organization called the Sea Sheperd. And now a lot of people know about this group, because they had a reality TV show, but this was before that reality show happened. I went down there and did this photo story for the agency, and it inevitably it ended up being for National Geographic Adventure magazine. we, I went down to Australia and I got on this boat full of, I don't know, 40 or 50 vegans, and they headed to the waters off of Antarctica. To battle it out with the Japanese whaling fleet who annually goes down there and slaughters whales.
And their idea was to go down there with their little-bitty boat that goes about 5 knots, and try to stop this huge industry boat. And something about this story at the time just connected with people, and, it's probably the most publicized full photo essay that I've ever had. I mean, I've had individual images from wars and things that have gone lots of places. But as far as like, a multiple picture essay, the project on Sea Sheperd, definitely went as a package to more places.
and I think it resonated for a number of reasons, 'cuz it was a cause that people could get behind. and then visually, it was shot in a very energetic way. There's this one image that people always sort of, sort of resonates with people. This guy named Joel who was on a small zodiac raft, and it's going around the front of the Nisshin Maru, it's a huge boat and as it's turning. Joel's got this look of fear on his face, like, oh, you know, this, this huge boat's going to just eat me. And it, you know, it would, if the zodiac had stopped, the Nisshin Maru would have ran him over. but I think it resonates with people.
And it's usually opening image to that essay. so, I guess the point of the story is, you know, if you, if you get one really great image to interesting story. It'll actually go far, because, people will remember that one.
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