Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Autumn that Wasn't ...

"Have mercy on me, God, have mercy..."
-Psalm 57

This was going to be the Perfect Autumn. The Center for Civil War Photography planned their annual seminar to be at Gettysburg, with the main attraction being the reclusive William Frassanito, the dean of Civil War photography analysts. A former photo intelligence officer during the Vietnam war, Frassanito was the first to apply the techniques he learned to pictures shot by Brady, Gardner and others, exploding dozens of myths.

Then, the Leica Historical Society of America scheduled an epic trip to the heart of Leica: Wetzlar, Germany. Factory tours, seminars and the general atmosphere of the town where the Leica was born in the 1920s and is still assembled today, just one year after the premiere of the game-changing digital M9.

Naturally, both would be of great interest to me, just as a general principle, but it was more than that. I think I've mentioned Camera Aperta. It's a Grand Idea -- the equivalent, for me, of the Great American Novel that every journalist is famously working on. However, it's not a novel; it's nonfiction, a work in the first-person tradition of Tom Wolfe, or newer works by Michael Pollan or Jennifer 8 Lee. It's a history of photojournalism by way of the equipment and my personal experience with it. So, for example, when the Leica rangefinder came into use in the 1940s and (particularly) the 1950s, how did that affect news photography, and its style and content, and thus news in general? Where did it come from, and why do people still use it? Why was it important? I plan to deal with these kinds of questions, but in a firsthand, conversational sort of way, a way the makes it more like the chats I have with people who stop me at work and ask advice, or are curious about photography.

But now, they're over ... at least for me. LHSA's Carl Merkin is posting his pictures from the German trip on Facebook (a particularly agonizing one was a view of happy fellow travelers gathered around a table of tall glasses of lager in a tiny cafe, a view of the Teutonic village through the neighboring window), and I await the updates from the CCWP. The seminar doesn't start for a couple of days, but it has been sold out for weeks.

But, as you may know, there's no money (let alone time), so no conference. On top of that, I thought I had the perfect situation when NewsTilt arrived. I would be able to write the chapters and sub-chapters, send them out as articles, and thus provide some income as I ground away at the book. Or at least have an outlet. Not so much, after all.

So, the Perfect Autumn evolves into a disappointment, a reminder that I can't just blow through the drudgery of common life, that a great idea isn't enough -- logistics are required -- that just because I've been able to do stuff, I can't always do whatever I want. A little humility is in order. And a great idea deserves a little bit of effort.

I'm not letting go; someday you'll be seeing Camera Aperta, even if it's a soiled, wrinkled typesheet I force into your hand. But, I guess, it's gonna' take some work...

"I will turn their mourning into joy.
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows ...
and my people shall be filled with my blessings,
says the Lord."
- Jeremiah 31:13-14

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Remembering NewsTIlt...

It's dead, and even my early thoughts of continuing my content somehow have been lost in the chaotic life I've been living lately, but one of the founders of NewsTilt blogged a post mortem.

It's interesting how he sees it, and explains a few things. For one thing, it turns out their plan was nothing like what I thought I signed up for. They thought they were building a great commentary site for each individual journalist -- post the story and wait for dialog with readers. I thought that's what this is. If I wanted a glorified blog, I'd rebuild Cat Typing into that.

I thought they were building something that could perhaps be described as an online catalog of stories available for resale to other outlets. I was very excited about that thought. I produce material enthusiastically and often, but am a terrible marketer. If someone was going to do all the marketing (and incidentally, all that complicated internet coding crap, which I could learn but don't want to), then great: a perfect match. But in reality, not so much.

I've got to say, he raised my hackles a bit with the comment that the journalists weren't "hungry to succeed," but I think he's just choosing his words poorly. I think his idea of product is just different from mine, perhaps most sharply shown by his frequent admission that he isn't a big news reader. I am a constant news reader. I am a journalist by definition; it's not my job, it's what I am. I am one of those people who, as Christiane Amanpour described it, will run towards the big scary thing everyone else is running away from.

He is a computer guy. He clearly thinks that short stories, delivered quickly and frenetically online, with lots of reader commentary and interactivity is journalism. I thought NewsTilt was an opportunity to work on some of those big think pieces that I had been meaning to get around to. I wanted to do New Yorker, while he was building Gawker or TMZ.

And, apparently, they were expecting me and my fellow contributors to drive readership to NewsTilt, where I expected NewsTilt to drive readership (or rather secondary outlets, and thence readership) to me. See above: I thought it was a marketing scheme. If I could somehow create vast legions of readers, why would I need NewsTilt? Again, I'd just monetize this site somehow. (And, by the way, thank you once again six followers. I know where my readership is...)

The pity is I'm back at Square One, still with product and no outlet or marketing scheme. When I finish moving and various other things, I guess I'll go to Word Press or some such place and rebuild my site with the former NewsTilt content, but then what? How do I go about monetizing this stuff?

Anyway, I forgive him for implying that I wasn't willing to produce product and wasn't hungry for success. But am I the one he mentioned as an Emmy winner when speaking in the same breath as a Pulitzer winner?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meanwhile, In America...

Okay, I know I'm no Robert Frank. (Makes me think of The Online Photographer's immortal comment about how to shoot with a Leica. He said, when suggesting using a 35 mm lens, "I know Cartier-Bresson's favorite lens was a 50. You're not Cartier-Bresson." I can't find the link, but this is the start of the thread...) But I'm still stuck on my concept of "Meanwhile, In America ..." -- a modern, more upbeat version of Robert Frank's The Americans. So now you must suffer through more pictures of the sort I would do for that project...

Here we see the talent and producer (Kim Pinckney, the one holding the papers, is the producer) of WDBJ's weekday morning news show, Mornin'. (Yes, absent the G -- it amuses me.) They are looking at the ratings. They're number one.

Inside a Roanoke, Virginia, firehouse, shortly before it was closed and replaced with a new, more modern facility nearby. The stairs lead from the garage-like area where the fire trucks are kept to the living quarters for the firemen.

Jefferson Street, downtown (it always amuses me to say "downtown" in a town of 7,000) Lexington, Virginia.

The owner of Roanoke's Putt-Putt golf course, during a tournament involving both amateur and professional players. Yes, professional Putt-Putt golfers. Really. There's a tournament circuit, just like Tiger Woods plays, but with giant gorillas and giraffes and windmills and stuff. That's not why he's laughing; he was once a pro himself.

The president of Roanoke's Tea Party, shortly after I interviewed him for WDBJ7 at a July 4 rally in Elmwood Park. As I've mentioned before, I think the Tea Party movement is something to be respected and attended to, not ignored and dismissed. I still haven't grasped what it is -- and I asked him for the opportunity to talk some more in hopes of getting closer -- but I sense a geological force (not a "shift," as I think it taps into something quintessentially American, whatever that might mean) that the Tea Party represents.

I think there is a really important article, or story, or book maybe, to be done about this -- one that isn't snide or superior or disdainful. Something not written in the tone of an educated elite regarding the boobocracy as if they were animals in the zoo. Something not written by today's H.L. Menckens.

I had read about George Plimpton's fascination with fireworks a long time ago, but it stuck with me. I saw my opportunity this July 4, and convinced the station to let me cover the setup for Lexington's fireworks. I was surprised; just two guys, a lot of wood planks, some PVC tubes for mortars, and boxes and boxes of explosives shipped all the way from China. (That was a somewhat scary thought, I've got to say, when I learned it. There must be shipping containers full of high explosives [!] on the Pacific as I write.)

The guy in charge, shown here, just started when a friend suggested he help out on a show. His day job is as a barber. He's going to beautician school now, to expand his business.

Pray and Play, and effort by a black evangelical church to occupy youth in a poorer neighborhood in Roanoke. I ended up covering it when the minister called the newsroom one Saturday seeing if we were interested.

A gospel rap group, associated with the church, was also there. I gave them my card, and I hope they call. That would be a good story, I think.

This is Josh Harvey, a friend, playing organ for a wedding in Lee Chapel on the Washington and Lee University campus in Lexington. A nice picture of a nice guy.

All of the pictures have been shot with a Leica M3. For some I used a 34mm Leica Summicron, some a Zeiss 21 mm Biogon. Most were shot on Tri-X, though Josh's is on Plus-X, and I shot one roll of Fuji B&W film because it was in the fridge. (I'm working my way slowly through everything in the fridge, as I can't afford to buy new film. I'm also now out of negative sheets.)

NOTE: Keep checking back. On my first upload of these pictures, it's ten o'clock at night and I don't have all the data -- like names and dates -- in front of me. I plan to keep updating these entries as I get the chance.

Also, check back on previous entries. I've been adding pictures as I get them processed and scanned.