Join Richard Koci Hernandez for an in-depth discussion in this video Interview and Q&A session with Richard Koci Hernandez, part of Creative Inspirations: Richard Koci Hernandez, Multimedia Journalist.
(Applause) Jeremey Rue> Real quick we're just going to want to have little bit of a Q&A. We just want to ask some questions and bring in some of the different things that Koci spoke about in the video, and also just take some questions for you guys that you guys might have. One of the things that kind of surprised me, I guess just because we both come from the journalism school, is a lot of people online that saw the video had a lot of questions about the street photography aspect and I thought before we get into some of the other questions, I was really curious what you think about that.
Mainly about people getting their photos taken and it seems like something that I've personally have always seen. So it's maybe that I'm inured to this idea of having someone having their photo taken in public, but what do you think about that? Maybe the idea that you take a photo of somebody out in public to kind of capture them in that natural state. Because if you introduced yourself before, it kind of affects the photo. So I don't know. What are your thoughts, Koci? Koci> First let me say thank you, all. Exactly what you need, more me, right? After sitting through that.
Thank you all for being here. I want to thank my wife and my daughter... No I'm just kidding. To answer that question, and people ask me that question a lot, you follow the law, first of all, and the law is that if people are out in public and they're not particularly in a place where they would expect privacy, you're able to take people's pictures. There's precedent for that. I think in this question you just have to realize there's two different schools of thought here.
One is the tradition of street photography and one is journalism. When you're doing journalism and you take pictures of people on the street, even if I were to start surreptitiously, I always would end by telling them what I did. Transparency in journalism on the street is really important, because I have to get their name and I have to tell them what I'm doing and "Hey, I just took your picture. Can I get your name? I'm working for San Jose Mercury News." When you saw me on the streets of the Mission, and often times I continue to do this, practicing the art of pure street photography, and there's a great tradition of street photography.
There's photography books, there's masters, there's... It's a huge part of our culture. You can just walk the street and take pictures of people in their natural state and it's okay and you won't go to jail and you're not a pervert and you're capturing life as it is. And I say the latter part because just recently there's a TV station in Boston that went out and noticed some people photographing on the streets and they did this whole sensational piece and made the photographers who were street photographers, doing really really good work actually, made them kind of look like they were being kind of suspicious and surreptitious.
And in this day and age it's something that I think, you know, it's just part of the culture that everybody is so hyperaware of the camera. But in terms of street photography, you know, it's okay. It's legal to take pictures of people of the street. When I do it for journalism, I clearly let people know what I'm doing. Because that picture will end up in a public place, in a public forum. My street photography is generally just mine. Jeremy> So one of the things that really got me when I watched this film is your training as a photographer is vast.
You've had a lot of experience and you've seen a lot of transitions in the industry. How is it that you're training has differed from the training that you teach to students? And I know there's a lot of differences, but can you talk a little bit about maybe some of the differences in the way we perceive stories now that there's all these new tools and all of these new ways that people are consuming the media? Koci> Boy, I'm a believer in the idea that we should teach all of the things we've always been teaching and we've done it right and we know what we're doing.
That we have to teach all of the basic foundations and that it is about story. And I think that we can get clouded by this idea of technology, and I think that we often do. And so I think we actually have to pull back a little bit from the idea of swallowing this pill that technology is the solution to journalism. Or that we need to teach more of it. I think that we actually need to be cautious in terms of what we're doing and think about it a little bit more.
And actually amp up the idea of teaching traditional skills, the same things that I make me the journalist I am, that make you the journalist you are, that make everybody the journalists that we are. And then once we get those, sprinkle, not hose down people with technology, but sprinkle in at some of the newer technologies. What's going on in journalism and the challenge in journalism today, it's not a crisis of journalism and journalists. It's the crisis of distribution basically.
So as journalists we seem to think that oh, it's somehow that the problems are our fault or we're doing something wrong. And it has nothing to do with us doing anything wrong. Journalism is performing well and doing well. I mean we're having to do more with less resources. So I think technology and the things we need to be focusing on in terms of technology in journalism have to do more with where it's going to be seen, making sure that the content we create is available on a phone, is available where the audiences are.
Not so much focusing on the actual journalism. Jeremy> One of the things that you said in the film, which I thought was a really interesting statement, you talked about how your passion was training a new-- what you call-- a breed of journalists who knows the rug will be pulled out from under them every five years. You want to train them in such a way that that won't scare them. So and a lot of this is about kind of quenching the fears of, you know, students and making the technology so it's not as scary and allowing them to basically be nimble and learn the new tools as they come along.
My question is what scares you about technology? What are some of the things that you're afraid of and the fears that you have as things are changing? Koci> I'm afraid of the things that everybody else is afraid. I'm afraid of the new Final Cut Pro. I have to learn Final Cut Pro all over again. They just changed the entire interface, okay? That scares me. I wasn't as scared when I was learning journalism and practicing journalism, because I felt like, oh well, I'm going to be really good photographer and I can do this for the rest of my life.
I learned the skill and just keep practicing and practicing and nothing's really going to change. Now it's completely different. I mean, we just have to expect that the camera will change and it will, the technology will change, the software will change. So I think everything's going to be in flux. It's always going to change, in that you have to embrace it. So I'm scared every time there's a new product announcement. I mean scared in the sense that maybe not scared, but maybe pissed or upset that I've got to learn it over and over again. You know I'm going to be like an expert amateur, continually being the amateur, but I'll be really good at being an amateur.
And I think that that's what students have to... Students and people learning are you know? My daughter Sophia-- listen-- have to just realize that no matter what you do in life I think now technology has put us in a position where we're going to have to continually learn more and more technology more often. You just don't learn something and then move on. It's like you to learn that and then relearn it and relearn it and relearn it, because it's going to change. Jeremy> One last question and I'd like to open it up to Q&A. The one thing, and this is kind of a request that a lot of people had, is can you just tell us a little but about one, for a two-part question, is one, the cameras you're using here, because a lot of people when they see these they say, what is that little camera that you're using? And also in the span of your career, what is your camera of choice now that you tend to use? I mean, of course it's evolved over the years.
Koci> The camera-- and I get that too in the film a lot since this has been recorded. Hopefully this will answer that. The small film camera that I used is called a lomo. It's got a great little story behind it, but it's just a tiny little film camera. You basically don't have to focus it or really set anything. It's just kind of this cool little rangefinder. You can just snap. Now my tool of choice is, as you know, and I'll try not to plug any particular brand, but is a mobile device. If this was a few years ago you would have seen me with a camera on my shoulder, as any good journalist should always be prepared for the roof to cave in right now, right? And if it happened, I'd say, do you have something with you? More and more these days, we do.
We have a device with us. I mean I think this is the reporter's notebook of the future. You can do-- not only can I report and shoot, I can send something out into the world with this right now. I'm in love with this particular thing. But you know, I just love new tools. And it's going to change. It's going to be something else soon, but the camera in there was a lomo and right now I'm pretty much in love with my iPhone. Audience member 1> One thing that was really interesting about this story was that the storytelling technique itself was very traditional.
And my question is whether you were aware of that as they were filming? Did you participate in that decision making? And is that the way you would have cut and arranged your own story. Koci> Wow, that's a great question. I remember a lot of handwringing when they were filming. These filmmakers made-- what's the PG version of this? They made lemonade from lemons. And when you basically just have someone who loves to talk and who all they do is talk and you don't have any b-roll you can cut to, I think they did an amazing job. But the handwringing for me was I kept looking at them going, really? Really, there's something here? And they're like no no, it's great.
You know, as an outsider, as not being part of the story, they have a particular perspective and they could see connections that they were making. So I didn't see this going on. I had absolutely zero input or control over it. They just, it was, we're here for three days, let's go. And I'm like okay, let's go. I think that's, the last question of whether I would've cut my own story, I think it's very difficult to cut your own story. If I was cutting my own story, I mean I know I would have done it different.
It's like asking, you know, Scorsese, would you cut it different than Tarantino? And it's absolutely true. Everybody would've cut it differently. But it's not to say that either one isn't good. I mean what they did was great. But I think it goes back to my point that I think sometimes we think that just because we're in a particular century with particular tools, that stories need to be told differently. And I think that's particularly true. I think that they did a good job with pretty traditional-- And I think that's another thing. I say traditional not in a bad sense. I think that's actually a good thing, so.
Audience member 2> I do have a question related to that. I mean what is it like for you, kind of being on the other side? You're always photographing and shooting video of subjects. What was this experience like? Koci> I said yes to this because I wanted to-- And this is a very honest answer. I wanted to see how much I could learn from the filmmakers. I really did. I'm like okay well, this will be great. I could use this as a learning experience. Journalists, you hardly ever get that experience. I mean, if anything else, other than I would not wish this experience on my worst enemy.
This is just truly truly embarrassing, as much-- anyway. Which is why I never saw it with the sound on. It's quite a learning experience in some sense, but I really like the uncomfortable feelings of being on the other side of the camera. It makes you sympathize when I'm, right, so I know what the people are feeling when the cameras there and I know how long it takes for somebody to kind of let their guard down after awhile.
How much production goes into it, how much you know bits of coaching or? There's so much you can learn by being interviewed yourself, by witnessing someone on the other side of the camera. So it was an amazingly amazing experience in that sense. And I was at some point, I love you guys, but I was like, would they please leave? Okay, I am so tired. And it's very important to realize that sometimes. Because as a storyteller I think you want to, you want to just stay until the very last moment and you know.
Now as I go out and tell stories, I'll be a little bit more sensitive to the idea. I think we all are, but to the idea of space and giving people space and working differently. But I was in good hands and it was really fun. Audience member 3> Your trip to Mexico City and Central America sounded crazy, mind-boggling, but life changing. Can you go into detail about some of the highlights and how you grew as a photojournalist and everything else as a person from that? Koci> My particular life experience was one of growing up in a particular place, being in that place for a long time, and not really getting outside of our comfort zone.
I think a trip to, you know, Weed, California could be just as powerful as a trip to Latin America. It doesn't have to be all the way somewhere else, you know. It just happened to be Latin America for me. So I think just getting out of the comfort zone, anybody's comfort zone in general, is a powerful experience. That's really what happened. It's kind of romance. There's a romantic feeling I think all journalists have, which is probably why some of you are here and continuing your graduate school. This idea of being a international correspondent or going to all these great places in the world.
I mean, my whole dream was literally as silly and not many of you will get this reference, but there was a David Carradine show in the 70s called Kung Fu and all that guy did was like just walk the earth and like to do kung fu. And I was like, I want to do that, but with a camera! Right? And that's like, you know journalism right? So I just kind of was feeding off that idea. The things I learned were that you have to get outside your comfort zone. You have to experience. I mean, it seems very elementary in some sense that you have to experience other cultures and peoples and all these kinds of things.
But I don't mean that in the sense that it has to be so far removed, that it has to be thousands and thousands of miles. Shoot, there are places in Fremont that are where you can experience different cultures and different people and different stories and all those things. And I think as storytellers that's what we need to do more of, right. You need to walk a little further. So like when I'm on the street shooting I have to go two blocks further. Then I'm outside of the Mission and I'm in somewhere else, right? And that's how you stumble upon stories.
For me that was the greatest experience, to just be able to kind of walk, you know, out and with no responsibilities and being young and all that stuff. So I'm lucky it all worked out.
In Bonus Features, Koci is interviewed by Graduate School of Journalism colleague Jeremy Rue at the Pacific Film Archive Theatre, University of California, Berkeley.