David Galalis is a documentary and street photographer based in Brooklyn, New York whose work is devoted to following beauty, mystery, and the longing for the infinite, particularly as these aspects of human existence find expression in religious and cultural experience. www.davidgalalis.com. We welcome David again to the blog, now for his 6th thoughtful guest blog post.
Mario asked me if I could share some "lessons learned" from my latest photo story. Go check it out and read the background first so that what follows will make sense.
By all expectations, the making of this story was a series of failures. Nothing worked as I had planned. My original concept was this: to show up and mingle for an hour or so, interviewing guests and Seeds about "why is there hope for peace in the world?" I would record their answers on my digital voice recorder, make a portrait of each person I interviewed, and then publish it all as a series.
Then the reality of the situation broke in. Here's the quick replay:
First, the party is too loud, too crowded, and too all-consuming of its guests to get anyone's undivided attention or make a clear recording of a conversation.
Luckily though, chance comes to the rescue: my media contact tells me about a conversation between three Seeds and the band happening in the green room. I am invited.
People are already talking and introducing themselves as I arrive. I am hesitant to interrupt, so I recede to a corner and quietly set up my voice recorder and start shooting. It's a great hour of conversation about peacemaking, with fairly decent light for making fairly decent candid portraits from my cramped and immobile location in the corner. So I'm thinking, "okay, this isn't too bad -- I'll transcribe the audio and match select quotations with their speakers, and that will be the photo story."
The conversation ends. I finally introduce myself in the chaos of everyone taking leave -- they are happy to meet me, but somewhat taken aback that I had been recording audio. Not angry, just surprised. I realize then with shame that I should have been more assertive in introducing myself upfront and stating my intentions. I fear that I have alienated my subjects.
I get home. I listen to the audio. It is unintelligible, due either to the noise of the party outside the room, my position in the room, the technical limitations of my recorder, or a combination of all three.
Plan C. I email the band and the Seeds to re-introduce myself and ask for written responses to the question. I wait. The responses all eventually trickle in and I begin putting together the story that you see here.
So, my take-away lessons:
(1) Know what the environment will be like, and be honest with yourself about what you likely will and won't be able to accomplish.
(2) Be ready to have your best-laid plans dashed and accept whatever new opportunities present themselves.
(3) At an organized event, introduce yourself to the organizers or media contacts (ahead of time if possible) so that they can help you make connections and find opportunities. Here, I applied for a media pass before the event and explained my project.
(4) Have a really good voice recorder and know where to place it in the room.
(5) Always introduce yourself to your subjects, or potential subjects, ahead of time, even if it means interrupting what is already happening. THEN go be a fly on the wall if the situation calls for it.
(6) This one is from Mario, and is well-taken: when putting the pieces of your story together, don't lead with a big blast of background information. First, catch the reader up with an intrigue, a provocation, a mystery, etc., and then give the background necessary to ground them, perhaps even in small pieces as the story develops, if the length allows.
And now, on to the next one.
Have you experienced anything like this? How have you overcome obstacles? Let us know in the comments below.
Disclaimer: While IGVP strives for unity and clarity of vision, each blog author is responsible for his or her own words, links, and references. They do not necessarily represent the many voices and opinions of individuals within the visual peacemakers movement, the Guild, or the IGVP Founders.