The best of the best from my University of Miami Fall 2010 Introduction to Photojournalism students’ first assignment: The annual birthday party for MiChiMu, the Miami Childrens’ Museum mascot. Buncha rockstars.
It has been many, many, too many moons since my last entry here. I want to thank my loyal followers, all 1 of you, for hanging with me.
Chalk my quietude up to a crazy summer travel schedule that included four Central European countries in a month, another month of transitioning into my final (?) semester of grad school, and yet another month of assisting and advocating for my aging mother as she moves out of the home where she lived for fifty years and into a skilled nursing facility. (More on all of these topics later.)
It’s not that I’ve had no inspirations to write during this hiatus. On the contrary, inspirations have been plentiful, but inspirations are, as pioneering psychologist Abraham Maslow wrote, “a dime a dozen.” I’ve just not done the “awful lot of hard work” that Maslow describes as necessary to bring inspirations to fruition.
Chalk up my return to writing to my fabulous new students in the Intro to Photojournalism class I teach at the University of Miami School of Communication. These gals and guy (that’s right, an 8:1 ratio) really just are the coolest folks on the planet.
They tolerated me introducing myself, and the course, via Skype from North Carolina when I had to be at my mom’s bedside during her recent illness;
They patiently sat through a slide show of my own work as a college photojournalism student, during the mid-1980’s at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and even feigned interest by throwing a few well thought out questions back at me afterwards;
They continue to put up with me jumping around the room like a banshee as I try to express my deeply held belief that, as Edward Steichen said, “The role of photography is to explain man to man, and to explain each man to himself.”
And, God bless ‘em, they’re beginning to learn to shoot. The first assignment of their nascent “photographic life” (a wonderful term coined by my friend and mentor Sam Abell) was to go to the Miami Children’s Museum and cover the annual birthday party the museum throws for its mascot, MiChiMu. Just the kind of saccharine community event at which countless photojournalists aspiring for greatness have doubtlessly asked themselves, “What the hell am I DOING HERE???” It’s the kind of assignment where there are so many cute kids running around doing so many things that it’s very easy to just photograph the first thing you see, and not go below that surface level to find an image that tells the story of the event, and really covers the assignment.
And, frankly, covering this kind of event doesn’t have a lot of cache – it’s not likely to produce photographs for the cover of TIME magazine, or that win awards in the World Press Photo competition. But it is a good training ground, and it’s a the kind of assignment that teaches young photographers to do what good photojournalists do best – turn visual “straw into gold,” as another friend and mentor, Tom Kennedy, once told me.
But the students’ work from the assignment provided may avenues through which we began to explore photography, journalism and the intersection of the two during our classroom critique. And we discovered many areas in their shooting that will improve over the coming weeks – focus, composition, and a pervasive reticence to get in close, to embrace the world and allow one’s self to be embraced by the world using the best excuse ever invented for striking up a conversation – “Hi. I’m a photographer. I’d like to make a picture of you.”