Thursday, October 18, 2007

Photojournalism (32): Photo essays and themes

Examples of photo essays:

Trouble Shared (Brenda Ann Kennelly/ New York Times/Lens); A Country Doctor (W. Eugene Smith/Magnum for Life); A Young Father’s Balancing Act (Benjamin Norman/The New York Times); New York City Coffeehouse (Dima Gavrysh/Lens); Where Beauty Softens Your Grief (Gianni Cipriano/ICP); Gun Nation (Zed Nelson); What the World Eats (Time); Last Supper (2004; Celia A. Shapiro/Mother Jones); The Bitter Sweet Pill – GMB Akash; Happy Horsemeat (Alex Soth)

Unusual photo essays:

February Assignment: Photographing Pictures in Reflection; Magic in the Nearly Forgotten Mailbox; Andrew Moore Detroit; Dulce Pinzon (The real story of the Superheroes; A Photo Fright Most Viral; Jump Book – Phillippe Halsman
One way of teaching yourself to be more selective in your shots is to do a photo essay. Unlike indiscriminate shooting of subjects (or even a photo sequence), a photo essay requires planning: what to shoot, how to best shoot it, how this picture contributes to the essay, etc.

Limiting the topic for your photo essay

We’re all familiar with writing essays or themes for our English or Filipino subjects. What do teachers emphasize before you write out that essay? Limit your topic. The same advice holds true for a photo essay:

1. Decide first what your general topic or your subject will be - people, places, events, programs, universal truths, etc.

2. After deciding on your general topic, the next step is to come up with a limited topic. People- concentrate on one person or a specific group; places - your school, your community; activities - enrollment, graduation, summer class; universal truths - love between a mother and child, pizza’s the best thing ever to happen in history...

Using themes for your photo essay

A photo essay can make use of certain themes. Various pictures taken in different places, different times of the day, can be grouped together to illustrate a certain theme, whether serious or lighthearted, significant or trivial, like the pictures below which show students using chairs in creative ways other than sitting on them.

Photo essays and themes; photo by Atty. Galacio
Photo essays and themes; photo by Atty. Galacio
Photo essays and themes; photo by Atty. GalacioSpeaking of themes ... if you have seen the Oscar best picture for l989, “The Last Emperor” directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, then you probably know that the recurring thematic device used all through the movie was the opening and closing of all kinds of doors or entrances.

Relevant article: “Week Five_The Photo Essay” from CUNY Graduate School of Journalism (topics include kinds of shots like signature shot, process, interaction, clincher, etc., and how to structure your narrative)
Vary your shots

In whatever way you develop your photo essay, thematically or chronologically (we’ll discuss this next time), you have to vary your shots, your viewpoints. Use close-ups, medium shots, full shots and long shots. You have to employ a variety of lenses. You have to shoot at different times of the day; use different viewpoints (eye level, low and high). You also have to shoot using both horizontal and vertical formats.

Kinds of pictures in a photo essay

In a written essay, you have the introduction, the body, and the ending or conclusion. In a photo essay, you would need different kinds of pictures - (1) establishing shots to show your viewers the setting or context of your subject; (2) major actions, stages or developments, to illustrate your theme or subject: (3) minor pictures which can serve as transitions; and, (4) pictures that will effectively close out your photo essay.

In a written essay, you always try to end it with a punch, with a line or expression that gives it a sense of completeness, a sense that nothing has been left hanging. With a photo essay, you try to end it with a picture that also brings a sense of completeness. In literature, we call this sense of completeness as “catharsis” which means a purgation of the negative emotions created within the reader. In Hollywood film making and scriptwriting, it’s called “closure” which means that the ending must provide a sense of completeness, a sense that everything has been resolved satisfactorily.

National Geographic Live! - Alison Wright: Portraits of the Human Spirit: After confronting her own mortality in a near-fatal bus crash, photographer Alison Wright dedicates her career to capturing the human spirit through her photographs and writing.

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Anonymous said...

Hello po,

Si Grace Madriñan po ito, not sure if you will still remember me. I used to be the most quiet student of yours, batch 1992. Anyway, just want to say hello. Looking at these pictures makes me think of high school again, the ups and downs. And I miss photography too..Anyway, my e-mail address is just in case if you want to get in touch or may reunion.


kevin janvier said...

i m call kevin janvier i attend photo workshop and right now i want to become a photojournalist ,please contact me on I really like photojournalism