Looking around — and forward

Roger Spofford, an aerial powerline inspector with Burnett County Power Line Service in Siren, Wis., pauses with his plane after fueling last week at Worthington Municipal Airport.

Call it an early holiday present. Or, maybe more accurately, a sneak peek.

The above photograph comes from a story reporter Aaron Hagen and I are working on. Look for the full story to appear in the Daily Globe after Christmas and before New Year’s.

I won’t say much more, other than that Hagen and I are taking a look at aviation. 

Talking with Roger Spofford, I learned that, yes, you can spot loose powerline bolts while flying in an aircraft. 

This tidbit is a great example of why I find journalism fascinating. 

When journalists push out to lesser-known places in the community, you meet people. You hear about their jobs and their families.  

Roger and his small single-seat aircraft wasn’t in some exotic locale. He was right around the corner, going about his day. 

There is value in learning about far-away people and places. But so too is there value in the local. 


Contact Veasey Conway at vconway@dglobe.com or on Twitter @veaseyc.

From the archive

In an earlier column I revisited a year when  I spent Thanksgiving in Egypt. 

 

Here’s another Egypt photograph from the archive.

 

(Perhaps it’s an ode to warmer climes.)

 

Much of my past photographs — including the one above — were shot with 35mm film and developed by hand in a darkroom.

 

Introduced to analog photography in high school, I kept up the craft into college. I still own film cameras. 

 

The vegetable drawer in my refrigerator holds rolls and rolls of film. (Film, like vegetables, keeps well when cold.)

 

A 35mm photography archive is an odd thing nowadays, I suppose.
Film negatives represent a strange mixture of permanence and fragility that their digital counterparts don’t embody.

 

Drop a laptop computer, and your pictures may vanish. Drop some negatives, and you brush off the dust.

 

My negatives have shadowed  my movements from place to place. Some have been brought back and forth across the country. As physical objects, they are susceptible to human forgetfulness and climactic shifts. 

 

The meaning and value of this past work ebbs and flows, too. Sometimes it’s helpful to forget about the archive — other times, to remember and learn from it.

Watching the weather

And just like that, it seems, fall is turning into winter. We’ve had our first snow, and a few days have had us breaking out our winter jackets. Leaves are gone on many of the trees.

This in between period — not quite fall, not quite winter — almost embodies reflection and anticipation.

There are days and moods and years when I dread the coming of winter in Minnesota. It requires plans or indoor destinations. You hunker down.

Winter won’t give you a pat on the back. He’s grouchy. But his tricks — the same ones that worked on snowbirds and southern California transplants — mask what he has to offer.

The march of the seasons puts distance between you and the frames of life that form good and bad memories. If nothing else, you gotta admire Winter and all the other guys for their dependability.

 

A tale of too many trophies

Whether they admit it or not, photographers deal in clichés.

They find themselves returning to oft-used subjects and ways of seeing.

Sometimes it’s laziness, or internal and external cobwebs, that force a retreat to one’s visual bread and butter.

When I started messing around in photography, for example, it seems like all I photographed were American flags. The words and history this piece of fabric called to mind (freedom! pride!) were, at the time, perfectly adequate substitutes for a lack of engaging visual content.

So I couldn’t help but chuckle when I recently found myself aiming my camera at a set of trophies (top). It was a near duplicate of a photograph I had made years earlier (bottom).

While both photographs originated with good intentions — hoping to find interesting details outside of the obvious — I scold myself, once again, for placing vague adjectives above what actually sits in the frame.

A sense of scale

Toy horses sit on a shelf Saturday in an antique store in Yankton, S.D. (Veasey Conway/Daily Globe)

I just returned from a weekend trip to South Dakota. Camping with the parents.

Being stuffy New Englanders by birth or choice, none of us thought, well, much of anything about South Dakota before this trip.

But I think our brief South Dakota foray provided some sense of scale — visual, mental — that otherwise might go unchallenged.

While southwest Minnesota and South Dakota both have a wealth of ground and sky, the latter includes more rolling terrain. (Stop me if this is old news.)

To an outsider, this undulating landscape offers hints at how much land you’re really dealing with.

Describing scale visually is one of the many tools in a photographer’s kit. When used effectively, it can stop viewers in their tracks and demand closer inspection.

And scale isn’t reserved for painters’ studios. At its best it challenges, in wonderful ways, the way we perceive the world to be.

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.

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.

Silver and gold

The actual picture-taking is the easy part.

Much more time and effort is spent putting yourself in a position to take the picture.

Sometimes it feels like you’re a step behind: you notice good picture opportunities, but your position, reflexes or decisiveness leave you without a photograph you’re proud to share.

On Thursday I noticed some interesting characters cruising slowly on bikes. I got out of my car and started fast-walking in pursuit.

This is ridiculous, I thought.

I ran back to my car, grabbed my bicycle stashed inside and soon caught up to my potential photo subjects.

Being on a bike allowed me to interact with my subjects at their pace.

While my photos of those first bike subjects left much to be desired, I later came across Martin Lopez and his awesome chromed-out cruiser bike with tall handlebars.

I stopped him long enough for a portrait lit by golden early-evening light.

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.

Making time

 

Curtis, from Louisiana, fishes along Lake Okabena Saturday afternoon. “I fish everywhere I go,” he said. (Veasey Conway/Daily Globe)

I love fishing. It’s the perfect antidote for a busy life. An excuse to slow down and simplify both surroundings and mind.

Without distractions ­— fish only bite occasionally, after all — you’re free to let your thoughts wander and pause.

Curtis and I talked fly fishing, line tests, striped bass, alligator, corn fields and cameras.
His work brought him away from home in Louisiana.

Like fishing, photography is part luck and part being in the right spot at the right time of day.
Both employ a devilish combination of skill, intuition and art.

And in the two pursuits, gadgets are pervasive. But simplicity is often better.

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.

Sunny Saturday

Last weekend I helped out at a photography workshop for 4-H youth. The event was conceived by my colleague (and 4-H leader) Julie Buntjer.

So, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, a small group sat in the Nobles County Government Center’s Farmers Room and listened to me drone about photography.

Luckily, this part of the workshop was brief. We soon went outside to make some photographs.

I was impressed by the energy and enthusiasm of the workshop participants.

And I had fun too — I managed to grab this frame of a man sitting on a bench in downtown Worthington.

A beautiful day to be outdoors.

And if I were you, I’d pay close attention to the photography contests at the state and county fairs, because I’m sure you’ll see some local 4-Hers being honored.

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.