1. Hi my name is Claire -- I work in NPR's multimedia department and I also edit a photoblog. And today Im taking about how to be a visual journalist. Which is funny because I have no background in visual journalism.
2. Like I'm sure a lot of you, my background is in liberal arts. But I have had the chance to get advice from a lot of people who know what they're talking about and I'll do my best to distill that knowledge in a 5 minute presentation.
So a few months ago, we had a group of students come through our department. They're studying &quot;Professional Practice in Photography.&quot; You know, they’re all like 20 -- these wide-eyed aspiring photographers who are like Yea, Wow .... NPR -- Photos -- this is awesome! How do I get in on this!
They're like: What kind of camera should I use, Where do I find stories, what should I be shooting, how many photos should I take? Tell me anything! And they’re looking at my boss Keith, who, if you haven’t met, is this totally quiet zen master yoda-type
And so I asked Keith I was like, Keith: You’ve been in this industry a long time -- you were a photographer at Globe, were a photo editor at the Post -- you were winding film in a dark room and now look at you with your iPad -- how about some pearls of wisdom for these aspiring photographers and journalists!
And in classic, cryptic keith fashion he said -- read fiction and listen to jazz. And those kids were like &quot;uhhhh.&quot; But he went on to say Those are the only things that have made sense after 30 or 40 years. ...&quot;
He said: &quot;Have other interests. Let them influence your work. Have a broad sense of the world, and be comfortable improvising.&quot; And -- I just really love that sentiment which -- I dont think is totally new to this group. But here's another anecdote:
I was writing a story about this photograph of jazz musicians. It's called a Great Day in Harlem, 1958. All the jazz greats are in this photos. And I end up talking to a man in his 80s named Steve Frankfurt.
You wouldn't know this guy's name but he was like one of the original mad men. He came up with This is Your Brain On Drugs , Pray for Rosemary's Baby and In Space Nobody Hears You Scream
And we had this amazing conversation -- about that photo, and about his life. And he told me that if he wasn't in media, he would have been a composer. He just had this inexhaustible curiosity and sort of chose advertising as his outlet for expression.
So he's telling me about what was going on the day that photo was made. He and this other famous art director were hired to take it but ... he had never used a camera. And I wish I recorded our conversation because he said in this awesome New York accent which I will now botch:
12. &quot;There I was in Harlem, loading the cameras backward. If anyone wanted to die it was me!&quot; But -- what's great about this -- is that Steve Frankfurt didn't pride himself on being a great photographer. He didnt' even know how the thing worked.
But he ended up creating what has become a totally iconic image because the idea was great, and he wasn't afraid to try something uncomfortable. He improvised, on the fly, just like every single person in that photo did with music. He really thrived by doing uncomfortable things.
In '68 he revolutionized movie marketing by starting with a visually striking ad but moving it out of entertainment and into birth announcements with the ominous &quot;Pray For Rosemary's Baby.&quot; The first instance of Guerilla Marketing. And a wild success.
I was recently talking to a bug scientist. For another story. This is like a super nerdy science guy. I mean his expertise is bugs. And he's ona mission to save endangered bugs. So he realized: Ive gotta get people to care about this. So he taught himself photography.
Now he has a book out -- and I gotta say -- the photos are pretty awesome. I dont want to say I care about bugs now but ... I kinda care about bugs now. Anyways, he talks a lot about evolution and adaptation and there's this interesting excerpt:
17. The quickest way toward extinction is to become too narrowly specialized. The one constant of earths ecosystems is the fact that they continually evolve, and if you become too dependent on a single set of conditions you are instantly in trouble when change unavoidably takes place.
I'm not saying you're gonna die if you're not a visual journalist. I'm just saying -- that to be a good one, you have to read fiction and listen to jazz -- have interests and know how to improvise -- and one other thing I learned.
I got to talk to one of my favorite photographers, just the year before he died. He actually photographed a lot of jazz musicians too. And when I asked him for advice to young photojournalists, he said -- and Ill spare the New York Accent: &quot;Listen, life is short, life is dangerous. You might as well know that you're close to your passions.&quot;
So the point is: This world is changing constantly, and fast. Telling stories is our passion. But reading fiction and listening to jazz -- or having interests and being able to improvise -- that helps you survive. If your passion is bugs, try something new and take a picture of it. It makes for better stories.