The first workshop of 2017 for the Institute of Writing and Mass Media at Southern Virginia University was held this week. Jeff Benedict is the wizard behind the curtain with this Institute. We meet in an intimate, warm, open environment at his barn, located a few miles off campus, for all of these workshops. The speakers are friends and colleagues he has worked with over his years as a journalist. They will assist the aspiring writers, photographers, videographers, and editors that we are as students; and light the flame for the fire that is our dream.
This month, we had the pleasure of learning from Deanne Fitzmaurice, a Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist.
While her stories were captivating and images breathtaking, Deanne drew our attention to a larger pool of information. Authenticity. Such a simple concept, and such an understated, underappreciated part of capturing someone’s story. There is immense power in opening our eyes to the world and directly engaging with our subject. To get the emotion to be portrayed through our lens or our pen, we need to be able to see the little details that will scream their raw character, and then capture that.
The main thought I pulled away from the 5 hour session was: “everyone has a nightstand.” This idea came from a story she and Jeff were telling about Jabari Parker, best high school basketball player since Lebron James. Back in 2012, Jeff was writing the story for Sports Illustrated, and brought Deanne in as the photographer. She took an amazing photo of Jabari’s nightstand after spending several days with him and his family. The nightstand displayed a Bible, a Book of Mormon, and a poster of Michael Jordan. It spoke volumes.
Everyone has a nightstand. As journalists or photojournalists, we are entering someone’s life and sticking a pen or a camera in their face. It is our job, both ethically and selfishly, to respect the individual enough to see their humanity. To be vulnerable with them. To be authentic and true to who we are so they let us into their lives on a personal level. We don’t want to get the story or the shot that everyone else is getting. We want the picture of the nightstand. We want the story behind the inner most dreams or the biggest fears. We want the words spoken in the locker room, the prayers whispered at night, the darkest pain and the brightest joy. And we don’t get those things by not engaging, by not opening our eyes on both a personal and impartial level. We need to be able to dive deep into the creativity of our art so that we don’t have expectations, and are always prepared. How do we do this? How do we expose our own vulnerability enough to get the story behind the nightstand?
Change our settings.
Whenever Deanne is out, she has her camera on her person. The minute she leaves it home is the minute she wishes she had it. She explained that whenever she goes inside, where the lighting is different, she changes her settings. The same thing happens when she walks outside again, or when her setting and light is changed dramatically. She changes her settings, and opens her eyes. She is ready to capture the moments that no one looks at. A child using a tire as a hula hoop, a man carrying half a cow home for his family to eat, a kiss, an act of service, a raindrop against a car window, a smile. She captures the precious, heavenly images that exist in this dark reality we live in. She changes her settings so that she is always ready to capture the light of simple joy. She sees it, she sees it everywhere, and it has made enough of an impact on her life that she wants to constantly be ready to show those moments to the rest of the world.
It is a privilege and an honor to be able to take our pens into the lives of our peers. There are stories to be told, lives to bless, families to bring together, and beauty to show. We need to grasp those things we are hungry for, and run after them with our whole hearts. Anyone can tell a story, anyone can take a picture, but not everyone is willing to work hard enough to bring a tear to the eye of their viewers.
Don’t be afraid to lose sleep over what you want. Effort is the pathway to success, and fear is the only thing holding us back. What are you hungry to tell?