Shuters Notes: National Anxiety and Heart out at Bart & Urby’s

 Before I turned to the “dark side”.

and became a videographer, I was a budding amateur photographer. Even though I failed my first official photography class (still upsets me) I knew that visual storytelling was my passion. At the same time, I transitioned from being a DJ to a radio Disc Jockey.

It was a rough transition at first. I’m just old enough that when I used to say I was a DJ, people assumed I worked with turntables and vinyl. I worked with a few companies, mainly doing weddings and parties. Nothing B-Boy style, but it was fun working in front of a crowd as opposed to a being in a sound proof booth. But music was music, so I made it work.

It may sound weird, but all of my injuries lead me working into media. When I was finally sidelined I began broadcasting games. If I wasn’t calling a game I was shooting it. Eventually, I switched from sports coverage to focusing on music and that was it. I still dabbled (and still do) in working live sports, but music and music photography had taken hold. A few years later an internship had me standing behind a studio camera at a local PBS station. The dark side had won.

While I lamented being in TV and was still convinced I’d end up as an audio engineer, I did secretly enjoy shooting moving images. It was more forgiving than photography (which was still film) and allowed you to correct yourself. To this day I can still remember the exact moment I knew shooting video was my destiny.  Our studio show included live musical performances. There was a little old woman playing the piano. She was at least 65 and it was a slow piece of music. The director was calling for shots and wanted something creative. I noticed I was at an angle in which I could frame the woman playing the piano with the reflection of her hands on the underside of the grand piano’s lid. I framed it up and heard over the headset “Camera 3 (me) that shot is amazing…unfortunately, it’s a bit much for this piece.” I zoomed in so you could just see the reflection and began a slow zoom out that ended with her, the piano and her reflected hands. “Stand by to take Camera 3, take Camera 3! 3, are you sure video isn’t your things. That was pretty damn good”

That was it. I officially became a videographer that day. I’ve since gone on to shoot photo and video in various forms, but music has always been where it started.

One of my big goals for 2016 was to get back to my roots. Music, storytelling and just plain shooting. A good friend of mine is the bassist for National Anxiety, a local Wilkes-Barre band, and wanted some photos at a punk show he was playing. I figured, why not…got to start somewhere. It was an amazing time. While a little rust at first, I found my groove and had a great time. Having only moments to get a shot and tell the story of the band and their music is an amazing rush. It was truly the push I needed to kick off 2016. I ended up shooting two bands that evening and decided to revamp my band photography to try to get more gigs booked. It’s working pretty well so far!

Moral of the story, if you’ve been at this for a while and find yourself in a rut…get back to your original passion. Think back to when this was fun and go do that again. Even if you don’t make a dime on it, do it anyway. Sometimes we need to remember why the hell we got into this crazy business. If you’re new at it, find a passion. Find something that you love to shoot and shoot the hell out of it. And never forget what it is and how it makes you feel. As you grow and get better…every now and then, come back to that passion. It’s a great way to keep you motivated and get you out of a rut.

You can check out the rest of the photos on my flickr and if you like good Punk Music, check out National Anxiety and Heart Out.

 

 

On The Road: Jamaica, Land We Love

 Jamaica – Beaches, resorts, jerk chicken…ahhh.

That’s what most people think when someone says they’ve been or are going to Jamaica, but there is so much more to the island and it’s people.  I got the chance to visit in 2010 and do some volunteer work Kings Cross.

We spent time working with students at a local school and helping to repaint their church. Come to find out that in Jamaica, applying a fresh paint job to your home, business or church is part of how you bring in the new year. A way of starting the new year fresh and clean.

We also got a chance to volunteer and visit with some of the outcast elderly. Given the state of the country’s economy, many times families abandon the elderly because they are barely surviving as is. The care and needs of the elderly tend to cause a burden. A lot of the homeless population ends up being the elderly. Luckily there are many facilities in the country designed to take them in and care for them. While not as extravagant as our nursing homes, they have food, a place to sleep and a community of people around them. 

There is also a problem with sick children being abandoned as well. One of the sites we visited was Mustard Seeds, a community for HIV-positive children. It was amazing to see how much life these children who’ve been outcast had. Another stop was the St. John Bosco’s Boys Home. Many of the boys there had committed crimes or been abandoned for other reasons. Part of what we learned was that many were forced to commit the crimes by family members or local gangs. Once in trouble, many just gave up on them. St. John Bosco’s worked with the boys on learning trades and making a plan for bettering themselves so when they left the home, they’d have a chance.

Shooting these populations, though, often led to issues. Many of these communities don’t want their members photographed/filmed. There’s a lot of red-tape and having to have shots approved before and after you take them. When I asked why there was so much concern about photos being taken, a lot of the answers were what you’d expect. Some families feel ashamed because of a sick child or placing an elderly family member in a home. Protecting identities, no clearances (they are still people with rights) and so on.

The reason that shocked me the most though was fear of exploitation. The facilities didn’t want photographers coming to visit and using these images just to further their careers. Showing up and shooting poor black and brown people living in squalor and then returning home saying “See what I shot!” As photographers we often want to show people the world around us, but how often do we think about what it says about us and the places we’re displaying. Are you there just to document poverty or are you there to do something about it? And yes, it depends on why your there. I get that a photojournalist IS there to just document. But as a traveler or a travel photographer to impoverished areas, what’s the purpose of the images you’re taking? Do you plan on telling someone’s story or just telling yours?

I think we often get lost in creating powerful images and forget that there is often a story behind them that people should hear. Not your story, but the story of the who, what, when, where and WHY of your photographs.

It’s like stealing if we don’t go the extra distance to make sure that we follow the images with a story that, if nothing else, tells the plight of the impoverished we’re documenting. It really made me think when shooting in Jamaica and has had an impact on me when I travel and shoot. Making your photos about more than just the image you’ve ‘taken’. Making them about the story as well. We all have a story to tell and spreading those stories is far more important than just clicking the shutter.

I think HONY is one of the best examples of doing this. Not only are the pictures compelling, but the stories help to bring us all together. That’s story that came through in Jamaica, after interviewing and talking with the people I met and interviewing the students I traveled with…togetherness is how we get through this life.

On The Road: Wichita Falls, Texas

One of the perks of my ‘day job’ is getting to travel each year on various trips. Misericordia University’s Campus Ministry program does a Habitat for Humanity (among other types of trips) each spring break. I’ve been lucky enough to tag along six of the past seven years.

While my main focus is being a chaperone and helping to do much-needed work, each year I bring my camera(s) along and serve as the group photographer/videographer/documentarian. It get’s a little exhausting juggling it all. Keeping track of student needs, the physical exertion of building a house, doing interviews and grabbing photos when I can.

But it is totally worth it.

I think anyone, budding or advanced, should take the chance to travel with a group and document the experience. As a photographer and videographer, it’s a really great opportunity to sharpen your chops. You’re traveling…so you can’t take all of your equipment. You have to really plan and think “What’s the minimum I need to capture this experience?” We’d all love to pack tripods, lights, mics, lenses, excessive amounts of batteries and other “what if” items. In reality, you can’t. Even if you can afford the baggage fees to bring it all, how are you going to lug it around when shooting/working? Where are you going to store it? Where are you going to set up your expensive 3-point lighting set up on site?

You’re not. One still camera, one video camera, one mic, no tripod, no lights…and go.

You’ll be amazed at how well you can cope with less. And that’s the real lesson, doing more with less. You’re forced to get back to the basics of shooting. Is it well-lit? Is it framed properly? Is it in focus? Does it tell a story? Can we hear them clearly? Pushing yourself is one of the best ways to improve your craft. You’ll have to find ways to shoot steady, gather audio, keep subjects lit and so on with a minimal amount of equipment. What you often find is that you learn to shoot with a new perspective. Realizing that the “easy” way is often boring or clichéd. By having less to work with, you can get back to the things that matter. It’s not that the extra equipment is a bad thing, but we sometimes lose sight of the basics:

 Tell a story that sounds and/or looks good.

It’s fun to step out of your comfort zone now and then. This trip to Wichita Falls, as all trips do, presented many issues. The worst this time around, high winds and dirt. It took a week to clean the video camera and I have a zoom lens that still acts up from random grains of Texas clay. That said, the result was two houses, one started from the ground up, being built. For me, another great set of photos and an award-winning documentary short called “Home Is…” Most of the trips I do are for spring break and serve as a great catalyst for shooting since it gets me out of the doldrums of winter. It’s not always easy to do travel photography, but if you can, go! Take as little as you can and challenge yourself to improve.