In September, photographer Mitch Epstein spoke by phone with us about his project “American Power,” which was highlighted in Granta’s summer issue. Epstein has worked as a fine art photographer and a photojournalist, as well as a director, cinematographer, or production designer on several films. While “American Power” was not done as a commercial news narrative, it is rooted in story, and Epstein had some interesting things to say about how images do and don’t work as narratives. Here are some excerpts:
“With photography, I think one can suggest narrative. But it is not the same as literary storytelling. I think that I do maybe more storytelling and develop a kind of more definitive narrative with the way in which I put my pictures together as exhibitions and books. That’s part of what excites me about books. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The way in which the pictures get strong in their sequence does indeed lead you through an experience. And you have to arrive at a final point.”
“An individual photo can suggest a narrative. It can imply a narrative. They’re better in a way at articulating questions than they are at delivering answers.”
Read the full interview. Read more
“Trial by Fire,” from the September 7 issue of The New Yorker, recounts the story of Cameron Todd Willingham, executed in Texas for setting fire to his house and killing his three children. Reporter David Grann uses disturbing details to reinforce the doubt expressed in the article’s subhead (“Did Texas execute an innocent man?”) , and the drama continues to unfold as more evidence comes to light suggesting a mistake was made.
The facts of Willingham’s story are compelling enough, but Grann’s structure maximizes their impact. He opens the piece with the fire itself, giving readers just the information that was available for investigators to examine.
Those fire investigators are the next characters we meet—the people we count on to interpret the facts and explain what happened. Grann gives us a list of their credentials; one is a former firefighter and recipient of multiple Purple Hearts with decades of on-the-job experience. We follow as Grann recreates their visit to the ruins of the house, which leads them to classify what they find as a clear case of arson. Read more
Today the Online News Association wraps up its 2009 Conference in San Francisco. Thursday’s pre-conference video workshops from The Washington Post’s Chet Rhodes and Ford Fellow Richard Koci Hernandez sound particularly exciting, with sessions addressing when to use video (and … Read more
At last weekend’s American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors conference, keynote speaker Shawn Levy spoke about "getting the story" and the connections between writing books and journalism. The film critic at The Oregonian, Levy has written five books, including King of Comedy, about comedian Jerry Lewis, and his most recent biography—Paul Newman: A Life. In addition to his work at The Oregonian, he blogs about film and professional soccer, and tweets compusively, suffering from what he calls “monkey brain.”
Levy suggested reporters should “look high, look low, and look sideways” when researching, and he praised the investigative reporters who taught him how to dig for a story. He talked about the “high”—academic institutions and libraries that offer arcane documents and details. He connected the “low” with tabloid accounts and stories on a subject, and the concept of looking “sideways” with looking for what else was happening in the life and community of a subject at any given point in his life.
Read more from his talk. Read more
The St. Petersburg Times’ latest narrative project started with photographer John Pendygraft’s wife giving him an assignment. A medical reporter, she had been covering the policy issues of the health care … Read more
If fictional detective Philip Marlowe closed up shop and started traveling the country as an itinerant reporter, he might sound something like Charlie LeDuff in “End of the Line,” our latest Notable Narrative. This feature from Mother Jones chronicles … Read more
Today at the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors (AASFE) conference, St. Petersburg Times reporter Lane DeGregory talked about how her Pulitzer-winning feature “The Girl in the Window” came together. The multimedia project … Read more
Excerpts from a September 2009 interview with Peter Griffin, deputy editor of Esquire, about an August story on a helicopter crash off the coast of Newfoundland: Can you talk a little about your role in Chris Jones’ “The … Read more