A community as classroom


Larry Stoops, 71, plays with his youngest granddaughter, Shaina Lee Frisbie, 4, at Eastside Park in Trenton, Mo. He and his wife watch Shaina two days a week.

I recently returned from the Missouri Photo Workshop, a weeklong photojournalism course comprised of about 45 young photographers from all over the country and world.

Every year since 1949, the workshop has invaded a different small Missouri town.

This year, we set up shop in Trenton, a town of about 6,000 in north-central Missouri.

It is staggering what we were able to produce in one week.

Each student found a unique story in the community, pitched it to skeptical editors, shot the story with a limited number of camera exposures, and made a final visual edit of about 10 pictures that told a clear and coherent story.

I told the story of an eccentric old man — a tinkerer and collector — who, in retirement, is realizing his health sets limits on his active mind.

His openness and willingness to let me document his life speaks to the depth of his character.

One of my teachers was a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner who smoked cigarettes commensurate with the 16-hour days everybody was logging.

The end product of the entire workshop was a beautiful historical document of the people and contours that make up Trenton, Mo., in the year 2013.

A few takeaways:

  •  Stories need to be character-driven. We’re talking individual people. The more focused the story, the better. Stories about individuals pique our emotions and can speak to larger issues or trends.
  •  Moment-driven pictures are gold. Show interaction and genuine emotion. Anticipate these moments and be there for them. Static and posed photos are boring.
  •  There needs to be visual variety. Change your distance, type of lens, perspective. Get up close. Similar photos mean boring photos.
  •  Time and honesty is needed to build rapport with your subject.

I’m eager to incorporate these lessons into my future work.

Here is the story I had the pleasure of telling. Also make sure to check out the wonderful stories that other students produced. I am extremely proud of the pictures and stories my peers came back with.

(Sidenote: I also learned that Bill Kuykendall, a former photo editor at the Daily Globe, was once a faculty member at the workshop.)

Veasey Conway is the night editor at the Daily Globe. If you have questions about photography or visual media, or have story ideas, contact him at vconway@dglobe.com or on Twitter @veaseyc.