POYi Reaction

Unfortunately I didn’t get to watch as much POYi judging this year as I would have hoped, but what I was able to see was rewarding. One of the categories I took the most out of was the Feature Picture Story category. Most of the really good commentary from the judges happens during the final rounds of the judging, and for this category that was during the final 10. Maybe it’s the fact that I love editing so much but I really understood where these judges were coming from. One of the stories in particular from this category that stood out to me was the first place winner: Damon Winter’s “Where Steel Meets Sky.” In these photo competitions you can see the same story entered over and over but this is one I was surprised, and happy to see. With incredible access, Winter gives an amazing account at what it is like for the workers building the new World Trade Center tower. During the final looks at this story there were some interesting things said by judges. Patricia Lanza made the argument tat there wasn’t any interaction in the story. Michel duCille came back with an obvious answer of “well of course not it’s hard to do that up there” and that that doesn’t take away from the story at all for him. But really thinking about it, I think the story could benefit from some sort of interaction. Maybe as they are going down to the ground, some sort of transitional, interaction would work? It could only benefit the story. One element of the story that drew me in immediately was the portraits Winter was able to capture. 


This one in particular, has so much emotion. Combined with the light and the composition, it makes it one of my favorite photos of the story.

This story reminds me of Charles C. Ebbets work of the construction workers on top of Rockefeller Center. but more intimate. Winter wasn’t afraid to get closer, and with the variety of moments he got, whether the subject stood alone or not, he was extremely successful.

Towards the end of the category judging the judges offered some great insight to those sitting in the room about making picture stories. They went back and forth on what was the most important element of the story: the content or the strength of images. Michael made his argument that the strength of the images is what’s most important. In this iron workers story, it rose above for him because he is taken somewhere he’s never seen before and shown in an emotional way. He doesn’t like it just for the storyline, which is how he felt about Tom Fox’s ‘Zach’s Journey’ about a blind child in this category.  Judge MaryAnne Golon also commented on the pacing of this iron workers story, as well as its “monumental scale.” She put this story in first place because of that, and the surprises it offered, where other stories didn’t. Through this round of judging we were not only able to see what makes a good picture story but what makes a picture story rise above the rest. The winning story combined with the judges commentary was not only extremely beneficial to me as a student in Picture Story, but for my work in general.


One-Day Story

For my one-day story I photographed Shannon Stewart, shelter manager, at Columbia’s only ‘wet’ homeless shelter. Wet meaning residents can be intoxicated or under the influence, but cannot be in possession of alcohol or drugs. Stewart is a volunteer, but he is more than that. As shelter manager, he has spent just about every night since the place opened at the shelter, and even has his own room. He used to be homeless, so he knows many of those coming to stay at the shelter. He knows everyones name and their drink of choice. He understands them and they understand and trust him. And that is obvious. The shelter will remain open until March 12, 2012, but Stewart is getting tired. Tired of the long nights he spends at the shelter after working his full-time day job at Jimmy Johns. Tired of the stress that comes from intoxicated fights of the residents. Tired from giving his all.

Here is the edit I came up with, and a few outtakes at the end:

Shannon Stewart, shelter manager at the Room at the Inn, folds sheets for a cot while preparing a bed for a resident on Tuesday, February 21, 2012. The shelter has a capacity of ten people per night, but some nights Stewart and the other volunteers do all they can to give a bed to everyone who needs one.

Stewart mediates an argument between two residents on Tuesday. The Room at the Inn is the only ‘wet shelter’ in Columbia, meaning residents can be drunk while they are there, but cannot have alcohol or drugs on the property. With most of the residents coming to the shelter intoxicated each night, arguments and fights arise easily, Stewart says.

A sign hangs in the shelter saying “make checks payable to Shannon Stewart.” The building the shelter is located in is the old Total Environments building on Old 63. Stewart, other volunteers and local churches have worked together to transform the once empty building into a comfortable place for the homeless in Columbia to stay during the winter months. Stewart has taken over the managerial role at the shelter voluntarily, and the sign is an attempt to make a joke at his reality.

Stewart takes a moment to himself as residents ready themselves for sleep. Stewart, who was once homeless himself, knows every resident that stays at the shelter. Because he knows their stories, their problems and their tempers, he is able to communicate with everyone on a more personal level, making the shelter feel more like home. The residents trust him and that shows in their interactions with Stewart.

Stewart sits down to watch the movie being played at the shelter on Tuesday night while Jack, a resident, sleeps against the wall. With tight space, Stewart and other volunteers do all they can to fit as many people into the building comfortably, and safely, as they can.

Stewart rests his head and closes his eyes as his night comes to a close. Having volunteered at the shelter almost every night since the beginning of January, Stewart, who sleeps there, is growing tired of the long days at his day job at Jimmy Johns and the long nights at the shelter. The shelter will close for the season on March 12, 2012. After that, the residents will have to find a new place to stay.


One-Day Story Critique

For my one day story I spent some time at the Room at the Inn, one of Columbia’s homeless shelters. To change things up a bit, I decided to focus on the volunteers of the shelter. Since the beginning of January volunteers have been pulling all-nighters and waking up early to volunteer at the shelter from 7 p.m. when it opens to 7 a.m. when it closes. This idea of volunteering when most people are sleeping is what intrigued me, but when I met Shannon Stewart, the shelter manager, you could say, my story changed a bit. Stewart is a volunteer, but he is more than that. As shelter manager, he has spent just about every night since the place opened at the shelter, and even has his own room. He used to be homeless, so he knows many of those coming to stay at the shelter. He knows everyones name and their drink of choice. He understands them and they understand and trust him. And that is obvious. What makes the Room at the Inn unique to other shelters is that it is a ‘wet shelter’ meaning residents can be drunk or under the influence when they are there, but they are not allowed to bring it on the property. “These are the ones that the Salvation Army turns away,” Stewart said. The shelter will remain open until March 12, 2012, but Stewart is getting tired. Tired of the long nights he spends at the shelter after working his full-time day job at Jimmy Johns. Tired of the stress that comes from intoxicated fights of the residents. Tired from giving his all. He was a truly great subject to work with. 

As far as my story goes, I am pretty happy with it, given some of the conditions I had to work with. First of all, the lighting in that place is the WORST. We’re talking mixed light all over the place. With residents sleeping the entire time I was there, they had some of the lights off in corners of the room so I was nervous to use my strobe, and maybe I should have in the end. Shooting under tough light was my biggest hurdle, followed by not being able to take pictures of certain residents. Stewart told me that there were a few that were not able to give consent, so I tried to stay away from those. Another issue I ran into was finding a clean background. That place is so jam-packed with stuff that it made it really difficult. Technically, I am not too pleased with this story. I wish I could’ve tried new techniques and really played with the composition but I was so hung up on getting a linear story that I didn’t fully execute that. On the story side, I am happy with what I shot and would be interested in seeing it continue, though I think some of my shots would be pretty redundant if I went back. All that the volunteers do is sit around and make sure everyone is comfortable and has what they need. At this point in the season most of the residents have stayed every night and know the routine, as well as where everything is kept. That is another reason I focused on Stewart, because of all the volunteers, he is one of the only ones the residents can talk to about their problems and feel a sense of trust. He is also one of the only ones they will listen to when he says to back off or leave the building. He’s not afraid of that. Though I wish I had a larger variety of interaction with the residents, I think that Stewart’s role at the shelter is portrayed through my images. This assignment was one of the coolest ones I have done in a while (experience-wise) and I’m really happy that I met Stewart in the process.

Reading Reaction for 2/17

Hurn & Jay’s ‘Selecting a Subject’ was a really helpful read for me. I struggle with finding realistic story ideas and sometimes understanding my identity as a photographer. Some of the points made in the article will help me in the future.
Hurn and Jay begin the conversation about having a genuine interest in photography. Most people own some form of a camera these days (cell phone, iPod) and anyone can be interested in photography. For example, interest in owning a nice camera or interest in working in a darkroom, but the interest alone is not what makes a good photographer. Hurn describes photography as “a tool for expressing or transmitting a passion in something else. It is not the end result” (29). What makes this tool useful is having something to say, a story to tell, which segways into selecting a good subject. An interest in a good subject is at the core of photography and crucial for success.

In the article they discuss coming up with ideas and how to figure out what is possible and what is genuine. One of those things is to write down ideas as they come to you. I can’t even count how many times I have thought of a potential story idea or subject, thought I committed it to memory, only to find I forgot what it was. If I can be better about writing down my ideas I think I will have less of a hard time. At the same time those ideas that I think of randomly are things that I am genuinely interested in, and for anything be a successful story I need to be interested. Even if it is something I never could have imagined myself doing, I should find something that draws me to it. A forced subject will not result in as successful of a story because you are already dismissed from it, it’s just another thing to check off your list. This is an attitude and mentality I need to remember when brainstorming ideas and selecting subjects.

I’ve continued to enjoy Lamott’s writing in Bird by Bird. The chapters we read for today, School Lunches and Polaroids also hit home in the world of subject and story generation. In School Lunches she shows how you can dive so deep into a subject if you sit on it long enough, and to me it was quite hilarious what she came up with. The good and the bad of school lunches, what was cool to be seen with and what was totally off limits…it was great. In Polaroids, she came full circle with the idea that just like a polaroid, with a story you shouldn’t watch it develop (impatiently) and just wait to see how it turns out. If you go in with an idea too formulated you might miss out on what else there is to see.

Editing exercise


For the editing exercise Rachel and I worked together to edit down another photographer’s take of 500 or so pictures to 6-8 to tell the story we saw within the photos. We both thought it was important to show the father’s love for his daughter and his drive for her getting her involved in beauty competitions, even though she is still young. It was difficult because we didn’t know the whole story and there were elements missing that I felt were crucial to the story. There weren’t many pictures of the mother, and maybe that was on purpose, but I struggled deciding how important she was in the story. What came through is how much the father is involved in his daughter’s pageants and the relationship they have through that. Overall, the edit we made reflects that story and in the end, I added a portrait of her as the cover photo of the story because I thought it was necessary to see her alone, and with the tiara and trophy makes it relevant still to the pageant. Having the trophy in her mouth also shows her adolescence. 

Cover photo:


Inside page: