When I first came across the Lexicon of Sustainability project, my first thought was “Damn this is so cool! I wish I had thought of this!”. This project combines some of my biggest passions in life: photography, travel and food. I love that the photographers are using their skills to educate themselves and the public on the complicated terms used in the modern food system. I agree with their philosophy that “people can’t be expected to live more sustainable lives if they don’t even know the most basic terms and principles that define sustainability”. More information is never, ever a bad thing – although you can choose to ignore it at times (like when a funnel cake at the State Fair seems like the best idea in the world). Access to education, learning, knowledge is how change and improvement are born and I love that these photographers have found a creative way to do that.

My lovely little herb garden, on a bookcase in my apartment.

This is a subject that I have become more and more passionate about over that last few years. In many ways, it feels very natural. As a Midwestern girl, I come from a long line of farmers and “sustainable”, “local”, “real” foods are what my grandparents (and parents) grew up eating. They just called it “dinner” or “food”. I grew up eating from gardens and homemade canned items – not because of a “food philosophy” but because my brothers and I thought it was pretty cool that you could plant a carrot seed and a few months later have a carrot (and because my grandmothers lovingly kept our pantry full of home-canned tomatoes,  yummm).

The point of these ramblings are to say that I think the Lexicon of Sustainability is a wonderful project. I love that they’re educating the public. I love that they’re supporting small farmers. And I love that they’re using their photography to improve the world (in their own way).

Below are a couple videos from the Lexicon of Sustainability project. Enjoy.

What do you think of the project? What words would you like to see added?

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If you’re interested in learning more, these are a few of my favorite blogs*:

100 Days of Real Foods

Take Part – Food Blog

Deliciously Organic

Poor Girl Eats Well

Food Babe

*To be clear, I didn’t write these blogs so I don’t necessarily agree with 100% of the content. But, I think they’re all doing good things by encouraging people to know where their food comes from.

A Year of Changes

April 21, 2011

This past Tuesday I defended my thesis for the University of South Carolina Honors College.  I’ve worked on this project for over a year now and I feel both sad and incredibly accomplished to see it finally complete.  Although, as my director Denise McGill wisely said, “Photo projects are never truly complete, just abandoned upon deadline”.  That pretty much sums up how I feel about this project.  It feels complete, yet there are many things I would love to go back and re-shoot or explore further.  But, I am incredibly proud of how far I’ve come in the past year and incredibly grateful to the Cashion family for letting me into their lives.

Below is the gist of what I presented on Tuesday.  If you have any questions, feel free to email me or post a comment below.

"When Emilee ran up to me in the airport, I thought 'Wow, she has gotten bigger'. I wasn’t gone that long, it was only about six months that I was away from the house," Joe Cashion said about his homecoming from a six-month deployment in Afghanistan.

Intro to Project

I first met Joe and Lindy Cashion on April 13 of last year.  They graciously allowed me into their lives to document their experiences with military deployment.  I doubt they knew what they were getting themselves into because I proceeded to spend nearly a year photographing and videotaping their everyday lives and sitting down with them for interviews.

Joe Cashion, a Public Affairs Officer for the Army National Guard, volunteered for a six-month deployment to Afghanistan. I wanted to document the struggles a soldier’s family faces during his deployment, to share the story of the Cashion family and their experience, and to give viewers a better understanding of the life of a soldier’s family.  Throughout the course of the project, I followed Lindy and her family through their daily lives, photographing both the simple moments and the big events all families experience, ultimately producing a fifteen-minute audio slideshow to tell their story

What I Learned/How I Changed

As a result of this project my photography skills, my interview skills, and my ability to connect with a subject all improved.  This project was very challenging, yet incredibly rewarding, in many ways.  One of the first issues I ran into was Joe and Lindy’s oldest daughter, Sarah’s resistance to being photographed.  While this was extremely normal behavior for a 13-year-old girl, it made it difficult for me to get to know her and to learn about her.  I finally realized that if I put the camera down and simply sat and talked to her, she was much more open with me.  I helped her with her math homework, I talked to her about school, what it’s like to be in college, I showed her my Facebook profile, we talked about boys.  All of this interaction helped me to get to know who Sarah is without needing to formally ask.  Once I started building that rapport with her, I noticed that she was much more receptive to being photographed.  That was a huge lesson for me – learning when to put the camera down.

I also became much more comfortable in my “photographer’s skin”.  Like many beginning photographers, I always felt uncomfortable getting inside people’s “bubbles”.  This project forced me to get over that in many ways.  First, at the airport when Joe left for deployment, I knew I only had one shot to get some good photos.  Therefore, I forced my apprehensions aside in pursuit of that goal.  Also, after a couple of visits to the Cashion house, I began to get very bored taking photos from the same perspectives.  To challenge myself and to enhance the quality of the photos for this project, I forced myself to try new angles and positions. I also learned to be more patient.  Rather than bouncing around from place to place, chasing a moment, I learned to wait for one to happen where I was.

Another challenge I encountered with this project came in the form of interviewing.  I repeatedly struggled with finding the right questions to ask.  But, I was very conscious of doing everything in an ethical way – I did not want to lead them to give me the answers I wanted.  But, there were times when I understood what the Cashions were trying to say, but they said it in a way that made it either difficult to understand or gave an impression I was sure they were not intending.  I learned that there are many implicit things about human communication that cannot be portrayed through a video camera or a tape recorder.  So, it’s up to the interviewer to ask questions that draw out the most articulate and thought out answers. 

Speaking of ethics, I was very conscious of ethical standards throughout this process.  I wanted to be sure that this story was told by Joe and Lindy and their family.  I didn’t want to narrate it.  I wanted it to be their story.  To me, the politics of the situation didn’t matter, any personal feelings or beliefs, positive or negative, that I held toward the military didn’t matter.  It was about what this family experienced during a military deployment and how that experience was indicative of other American families.  Because of this decision, I was very careful during my editing to remain true to what really happened.  While the story is not told in chronological order, I believe that it is not misleading either.  Throughout the editing process, I learned that what material you leave out is just as important as what material you leave in.

I also struggled with feeling like I constantly “took” from the Cashions yet gave them nothing in return.  I came into their home, was witness to intimate moments of their lives and made pictures of them.  I could not understand why they were so willing to let me in while receiving little in return.  I began to understand that they wanted their story told and they wanted this important moment in their lives documented.  I also realized that the best gift I could give them was to tell their story honestly and fairly.

Finally, I learned a lot about U.S. military.  I have little experience with the military and other than a few distant cousins, I know no one currently serving.  Honestly, I could go days without feeling like the current war even effects me.  I think that is partly what drove me to this project.  I wanted to know more about the current war and who it was affecting.  I knew there were people making huge, daily sacrifices for my safety and I wanted to learn about them.  I think the American public is very distanced from this war.   This story gave me a way to feel more connected to it.

In many ways, the Cashions were not at all what I expected.  First, I thought they would live on the base.  Second, I expected I would be paired with a young 20-something, newly married couple.  Instead, I met Joe and Lindy, married for more than a decade with two kids who lived in rural Ridgeway, SC on land formerly owned by Lindy’s parents.  In retrospect, it was the perfect family for this project.  I got to witness and document how a 13-year-old and a three-year-old reacted to their father’s absence – fascinating in both the similarities and differences.  I got to speak with Joe’s parents about their disagreements with his decision.  I got to witness life in rural South Carolina – something I was missing out on while I lived in Columbia.

I look back at the photos I was making a year ago and am shocked at the progress I’ve made.  This story gave me both the time and motivation to make mistakes and learn from them, to try new techniques and take new risks – all of which greatly benefited my photography. 

For the past couple of days, I’ve been working on a short video of the winners of this year’s Best of Photojournalism contest for the National Press Photographer’s Association‘s conference, Convergence 10.  As I’ve watched the winning pieces, I’ve felt so inspired by these photographers, videographers, and producers.  But, there is one story that immediately made an impression on me: “Leveling Appalachia: The Legacy of Mountaintop Removal Mining”.  This amazing video was a collaborative project by Yale e360, milesfrommaybe productions, and MediaStorm.

©2009 Yale University

“Leveling Appalachia” is about the practice of mountaintop removal mining which is destroying mountains and covering thousands of streams in southern West Virginia.  As the video shows, it has also affected the quality of the drinking water in the surrounding areas and has caused floods, though the WV Coal Association denies it.

Occasionally when I drive home to Ohio, I take a much more scenic, though slightly longer, route through West Virginia.  I drive right through the area focused on in this video and I am always stunned by the beautiful, mountainous scenery.  It breaks my heart to think that this area is slowly being destroyed.

On another note, I was incredibly impressed by this story.  The photography is amazing, the audio is impeccable, the story, compelling.  This and the other stories in this year’s Best of Photojournalism provide me with so much inspiration for my own projects.

I hope you take the time to watch this story and let me know what you think of it.

Click here for the story.

A photo from Frozen Land, Forgotten People (photo by Barbara Davidson, Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times)

A couple of weeks ago I attended the Southern Short Course in News Photography.  It’s a conference that’s held in Charlotte, NC and it’s basically a weekend filled with guest speakers and workshops all related to News Photography.  I meet so many amazing photographers and learned more than my brain can hold.  I wanted to share the work of one of those photographers, Barbara Davidson of the LA Times.  Click here to view her multimedia piece, Frozen Land, Forgotten People.  This audio slideshow won in NPPA’s 2010 Best Of Photojournalism contest, taking first place in the News Audio Slideshow category for Web sites that are affiliated with a major media organization.  It’s a story about an area of Navajo land in northeaster Arizona that was affected by the so-called Bennett Freeze which halted all development on the land for 40 years.  While this ban has been lifted, this area is still severely poor and undeveloped.  It’s an incredible story told with beautiful photography and I was shocked that this exists in America.  I found this piece especially inspiring because I am currently working on a couple of audio slideshows myself.  At the Short Course, Barbara spoke about this project and talked about the shock she felt when traveling from LA to this area.  Please watch this story and let me know what you think.

[http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-bennett-freeze-ss,0,760471.htmlstory ]

Over Easter weekend I had the opportunity to test out a new product on the market – The ColorRight Pro white balance corrector.  I had never heard of anything like this and after spending about 15 minutes learning how to use it (there is a tutorial video on the website), I was able to start shooting.

It took me a few tries to figure everything out, but it’s very easy to use.  You hold the product over your lens and take a photo pointing towards the light you want to use (the Auto Focus must be off for this part).  The photo will look like a gray scale.  You then change your white balance setting to use the last photo taken.  Then, you shoot the subject as you normally would.  When you change lighting situations, you have to re-calibrate the white balance.

In my photos, the difference was subtle but noticeable (in the photo above, the change is most apparent in the wall and skin) and I think this product would save a lot of time in post-production.  I must admit that at first I was not blown away by the ColorRight Pro, but in the past few days, I’ve realized how beneficial this product would be in constant light.  I can especially see this as a useful product for portrait photographers and others who use light that doesn’t change.  As a budding photojournalist, I can see this as being more useful when shooting indoor events.  Because it does take a few minutes to set up, it wouldn’t be ideal when shooting outdoor, news situations.  Overall, I had a blast trying out a new product and was fascinated that this little doohickey actually worked!

Have you used a ColorRight or another product like this?  What did you think of it?

(www.colorright.com)

Yesterday, I went to see the Ansel Adams Masterworks exhibit at the Columbia Museum of Art.  The Masterworks collection is one that Adams chose himself to represent his best work.  I was blown away by his photography.  The detail and striking contrast in his images is stunning.  Accompanying many of his images were quotations from Adams about taking and developing each image.  Reading his descriptions made me miss working in the darkroom.  Adams wrote about the hours he spent developing and redeveloping each photograph until it was perfect.  Today’s digital photography provides instant gratification.  In journalism, this is a huge advantage, but it also takes away the feeling of surprise and gratification you get when working in the darkroom.  I remember how exciting it was to watch your image appear on the paper. Adams’ photography reminded me of that.

One of the photos that stood out to me was Oak Tree, Snowstorm (above).  I thought this photograph was so different than Adams’ other work.  The large amount of white in this photo makes it very unique.  The snow in this photo must have made it an extremely difficult photo to take.   Another photo of Adams’ that surprised me was Trailer Camp Children (below).  I was unaware that Adams had many images of people.  The exhibit also described Adams’ work photographing the Japanese internment camps during WWII.  It was a side of Ansel Adams that I was surprise to discover.

I was so pleased with the exhibit and was thrilled that I managed to see it before it left Columbia.  If this exhibit ever comes to a town near you, I would highly recommend it.