I just finished with a week in Troy, Missouri during the Missouri Photo Workshop — what a whirlwind week of amazing coffee-fueled community journalism. I met so many amazing Missourians and photographers, soaked up a ton of knowledge from faculty members Dennis Dimmick and Randy Cox and just learned a lot all around. I did a story about a man with mental disabilities, Jeffrey Coyle. Though I was hesitant to do a story about someone with disabilities, it ended up being a very, very rewarding experience. I had such an incredible time with him, his roommates and his caretakers in his home and throughout his daily life, where it seems there is never a dull moment. I'm very thankful to have been able to have that experience, as I had never worked much with people with disabilities before and it was amazing beyond what I ever imagined.
Thanks to everyone who made the week so memorable and wonderful — whether it was through critiques, laughing at my terrible pool skills, dancing to terrible cover bands in dive bars or drinking beers.
Here's my story summary: Jeffrey is both old and young — his spirit is young, his body is old and his brain is in limbo. He enjoys Halloween, silly T-shirts and roller coasters, but as a mentally disabled man approaching 65, he is showing signs of dementia. Though he is a very social person that loves to introduce himself to strangers (much to the chagrin of his caretakers), he often forgets people he knows or mixes up names. Regardless of his fluctuating state of mind, Jeffrey is a lovable character with a contagious personality, but it remains to be seen how his developing age will affect his everyday life.
Not many people know this, but I'm from a very small town of 2,000 people north of Kansas City. I graduated in a class of 106 people. I don't know if most people think Missourians are bumpkins or that people from small towns aren't tolerant or educated, but it seems to come of a surprise when I tell some people that, yeah, I'm from a small town. I was the executive producer for the My Life, My Town short documentary series this semester. Teams of visual and audio producers put together multimedia pieces about teens in rural towns and the issues they face. There were some really great issues the producers tackled this semester — what it's like being gay in a small town or being Hispanic or religious. The pieces were really wonderful and it was so great working with different journalists to put together a very comprehensive portrait of these teens.
My issue, of course, is a little more frivolous than growing up gay and it's inspired by my high school experience in Lawson. For me, I remember people just talking about how "bored" they were all the time — how there was nothing to do, nowhere to go, etc., etc. Of course, I don't think that's just a problem in Lawson — I think teens, no matter if they live near the beach or in the mountains or have tons of things to do, I think teenagers will always be plagued by boredom.
But I only knew what it was like to be bored in Lawson, so I went with that. And though it may seem strange for a journalist to do this, I immediately gravitated toward interviewing my sister. She's 15 and is a sophomore at Lawson High and probably has the most similar experience to the one I had. It just seemed natural to want to interview her. Some may say it was "easy," but it wasn't because I didn't have access to tons of other kids. A simple phone call to old friends would've connected me to a slew of people. But I knew Mollie would be interesting and since this was already a personal story, I couldn't imagine not talking to her about it.
So, here is it — my own My Life, My Town. At the Ragtag Cinema on Thursday, we had a screening of all the My Life, My Town pieces from this year and a couple from last year. The screening went incredibly well — we had an amazing turnout and some great discussions afterwards. I'm so thankful to the other producers who were a part of this project that is close to my heart, plus the supporters who have been cheerleaders along the way. The discussions and conversations that have been derived from this project are incredible and I hope this project keeps people talking.
I'm still struggling with editing my "Off the Grid" story about the Possibility Alliance. A lot of people I've spoken to lately regarding the story have said I'm missing "moments." Not sure how I forgot to do that, since that's usually what I think I'm good at. Anyhow, we'll be having critique today so hopefully I get some feedback there and figure out how to edit this baby. In the meantime, enjoy some outtakes.
The people who come to the Possibility Alliance do so for different reasons. Some find the lack of electricity peaceful; others want to do their service to the planet by living simply; some want a break from the hustle and bustle of the city. But the message of the members of the alliance is simple: simply living so that others can simply live. This intentional community lives without electricity on an 80-acre homestead in northern Missouri, growing their food, biking to where they need to be and relishing in the simplicities of life. I spent the last few weeks tracking down and getting to know the people who live at the Possibility Alliance in northern Missouri. It's not easy, getting ahold of people who don't live with electricity — they have a phone, but I wouldn't wanna talk on the phone either if I had other awesome stuff to do like swim in ponds, play the banjo and read from their expansive library.
I was really inspired, working with the Possibility Alliance. The property is beautiful and everything was so visual and bright and happy. And the best thing about working with people who don't use electricity? Window light ALL THE TIME. No balancing different types of life, no struggling with tungsten bulbs — just the best type of light there is. Of course, there was candlelight, which was tricky, but it was fun to embrace the yellow and "embrace the shitty light" and make it work for the situation.
I'm actually pretty happy with this project. I like a lot of the pictures I took, though it was hard narrowing down the group, since about 10-12 people are present on the property at any given time. It's not easy to do a photo story about such a medium-sized group, because theoretically you could just do a bunch of shots of large groups of people, but there's not much room for lens choice there.
I naturally gravitated to the youngest of the bunch, Etta, who is the daughter of two of the founding members of the Possibility Alliance. She was free-spirited, precocious, inquisitive and fun to be with. I think the idea of growing up in a place with a bunch of people to care for you, living without electricity, with such space to roam and explore is such a utopian idea. I tried to use Etta as a transition between pictures, focusing a lot on her but also using her perspective and presence in group photos or photos where she was not present. I'm not sure if it worked, but that was the thought process. I hope it helped the story have more continuity and be presented as a better package.
I think I could definitely do a ton of edits on this — it's definitely a hard story to narrow down because there are so many questions raised by living without electricity. Where does their food come from? How do they bathe? How do they cook? How do they do their laundry? Why do they do this? I wanted to answer all of those questions, but I may have been a bit ambitious to tackle so much stuff. I hope the story doesn't go on too long, because I do not believe there are many weak photos. But I am concerned that there may be a lack of variety of shots because I wanted so much to include all of these things and may have only had one choice to pick from with the pictures.
I was really excited to tell this story, though, and believe that this is a bigger issue at the moment. Obviously not a lot of people are running off to live by candlelight and getting rid of all technology, but I think there are two facets that are largely present here that have larger movements. Firstly, I think many people have concerns that technology is interfering with basic human interaction. Though it spreads information and does keep people connected at large distances, it seems that some are concerned about daily interactions with people we see everyday. Some believe technology is moving in on that territory and changing the way we talk to one another, for the worse. Also, some, such as those in the Possibility Alliance, believe removing electricity removes a filter between them and their faith and allows them to worship more intensely and freely.
I also believe that there is a huge movement over concern with food and where it comes from. One of the members of the Possibility Alliance told me that his father died from cancer, a cancer that is typically linked to pesticides. Members of the Possibility Alliance believe in the pureness of food — growing with passion, without foreign objects that cloud their bodies with something they believe is unhealthy. They also believe in lessening their footprint on the planet, which is why they attempt to receive all of their food from within a 200-mile radius, to reduce the harmful pollutants that are put into the air from the transportation of goods. And living without electricity is definitely one of the best way to reduce one's carbon footprint.
It was an honor to work with such an inspiring, charitable and dedicated group of people and I am thankful that the Possibility Alliance let me spend time with them. I hope you have enjoyed my story. Feel free to provide any feedback or ask any questions!
Etta Wilcox-Hughes adjusts objects on her nightstand around the candlestick before someone reads her a bedtime story. Candles are stationed around the house on portable candlesticks to be carried from room to room as needed, but oftentimes bedtime comes around the time the sun goes down, as that is when one becomes naturally sleepy.
I've been really into sustainability and learning about responsible farms lately and I happened upon the blog for Chert Hollow Farm. Chert Hollow is a sustainable homestead in the rural areas of Columbia, run by husband/wife duo Eric and Joanna Reuter. After reading about their farm and spending some time talking to them, I ended up falling in love with their commitment to being certified organic and their approach to farm management and diversifying their farm. Joanna and Eric Reuter run the farm mostly by themselves (they have some volunteers) and they are very passionate, knowledgable and serious about their product. It was amazing spending the day with them and learning about their farm and I'm very thankful that they allowed me to spend time with them and learn about the great work they do.
For my capstone, Picture Story, this week we had some assigned readings. We've continued our reading on Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird," which is actually a book about writing but is still very applicable to photography. At first, I thought the chapters we were assigned this week — "School Lunches" & "Polaroids" were a bit less applicable to photography . But then I got to thinking. Lamott first writes about how she uses an exercise about writing about your school lunches as a kid. This exercise, she says, is interesting because the writer will remember details that he or she did not think were important before. And things will start to really come into focus about something from your childhood you never really thought about.
Lamott explores these things — such as the fact that grape jelly was the best jelly, hands down. And how apricot jelly was the absolute worst, only second to the icky raspberry jelly, with all of its seeds (funny, because I used to love grape jelly and now I can't stand the stuff and now only really like raspberry jelly). Lamott provides a sample of her writings about school lunches, which explores what one's brown bagged lunch actually means — she explores how it is a representation of how OK your family is. As she writes about that, she remembers a boy standing along the fence at recess, with scuffed shoes and a trumpet case — probably an outsider with not-so great school lunches. And this boy along the fence becomes an important character that Lamott will use later on when she actually writes something real.
I think this chapter, "School Lunches," is applicable in a few ways. First of all, I think the idea of photo exercises is important (these exercises are also outlined in the chapter "Polaroids," but I did not resonate as much with that chapter). I think when one goes out to shoot, especially on assignment, he or she can get bogged down by "the shot" — the front page picture, the expected single or the photo story. This is similar to how a writer can get bogged down with the idea of the elusive novel, the long piece ahead of them. For photographers, I think it's important to explore the edges of an event, what's on the perimeter of what's to be expected — it may not be journalistic, it may not run in the paper, but it's fun. And you may find someone completely unrelated to whatever you're covering at that point, as you "play around" while shooting. And they just may be an interesting character that develops into a story.
I also thought the point of "School Lunches" was that we should focus on things we care about. Every one, growing up, had their favorite part of a school lunch — whether it was school-provided or homemade. For me, my favorite lunch was the school-provided Chicken Patty Day, which was every Wednesday. This lunch always featured, without a doubt, a chicken patty, mashed potatoes with white gravy, peas, a dinner roll with butter and a carton of white 2% milk (OK, sometimes it was corn instead of peas, but I digress). I remember every part of this lunch was integral to its delicious-ness, and I would always eat it the exact same way. I would sit down, cut my chicken patty into bite size pieces and dip it into obnoxious amounts of ketchup. Then, my peas would be swirled in with the mashed potatoes, which I would then dip my butter-laden dinner roll in. Then, it would be washed down with the cardboard-flavored 2% milk. Looking back, I probably would not eat that food now, or even get that excited about it (we know those aren't real mashed potatoes), but to me, it was my favorite day — Chicken Patty Day, hump day, Wednesday — and I looked forward to its mundane-ness and routine-ness.
So, Chicken Patty Day was important to me. And that's what I would write about. But someone else might remember their favorite type of yogurt their mom put in their school lunch — which makes me think of the girl who sat at my table who only everate yogurt, which I didn't even realize until I graduated and found out she had an eating disorder. And exploring what we think is important, or what's affected us in the past, based on who we were surrounded by as children and growing up, will lead us to better stories. Because if we care about something, we'll be more passionate about it, which will drive our stories (photo or otherwise) to be that much better.
This reading was a great pair to the Hurn & Jay article "Selecting a Subject," which explores the same idea that a photographer must choose a subject (as in, topic, not a person) that he or she cares deeply about. The two authors go on to reflect past work, which they decided was trying too hard to photograph like other famous photographers. The authors assert that once one approaches a subject that one can be immersed in, the passion will drive the photographer to develop a style and take his or her best pictures.
I think this fact that is explored in this article — doing personal, passionate work — was something that it took me a long time to figure out. And it also too me a long time to figure out how to stop photographing like the photographers I admire — the Danes, the LUCEO team, etc. When I first got to Denmark, I went crazy and photographed as I thought the Danes did — stylized, blurry, high-contrast, out-of-focus. And although I still apply these types of things to my work, though they've still inspired me, I find that if I connect with my subjects and really care about it, I don't have to try to have a style — it just comes naturally. And I think that's something that's really hard to learn, but once you realize it, it just works.
I'm not a total obnoxious photo hipster, but there are just some bars I do not frequent in Columbia. I'm not a big Harpo's goer, due to my lack of a Greek affiliation, and I've never really had the desire to go to Whiskey Wild Saloon.
But when I found out there were some cage fights there on Friday night, I thought it might be an interesting cultural experience.
Interesting it was. I've never been to a cage fighting match before, but it's always kind of been on my photo bucket list. I was really concerned that the light would be absolutely terrible, but it was actually pretty manageable — I shot between 1/500-1/1250 depending on my ISO (between 1600 and 3200).
I was also pleasantly surprised to see some badass female fighters there. I was worried that, being in a relatively conservative bar, that people wouldn't be as into the female fights, but their fights were just as "entertaining" (as entertaining as two people beating the crap out of each other can be) as the male fighters, and people were just as crazy about them. That was really cool to see.
I went with fellow photographers Matthew Busch and Ryan Henriksen and we kind of made a night out of it. It was fun to be able to shoot with some other people just for kicks, which I haven't done for a long time.
But, I'm done with the Missourian now and am a "free woman" in some sort of sense — I'll just be finding my own photo stories all semester, and I'm looking forward to that!
Photographs copyright © Katie Currid 2012. Photos may not be used without permission. All rights reserved.
I was paired up with a writer from MU's intermediate writing class, who was pursuing a story about the Arbuckles, a family from La Plata that tries not to use electricity in their lives. The reason behind this is for simplicity — it brings their family closer together. If you can only light your house with candles, you'll be spending time in the room that has light in it — which is probably around the rest of the family.
The mother and father — Holly and John Arbuckle — don't just want to avoid electricity for the sake of avoiding it. They want to better their lives. Therefore, they also have a freezer, a fridge and a propane stove. This makes them waste less money on food — since, if they couldn't freeze things, it would go to waste. They also have a car, which they need to go about their livelihood — John is a butcher and also a farmer, and they sell their eggs to HyVees in Columbia.
I'm just putting up some of my favorite pictures here — not necessarily selects, but ones I like. The writer, Melanie Loth, is currently looking to sell the story to a magazine, perhaps one interested in rural Missouri life. I'm trying not to publish all the pictures on my blog — I've learned from my mistakes in the past with doing that prematurely — but she thought it would be a good idea to put some pictures out there, and maybe see if someone would be interested in it. So, if you see this and you're interested, please contact me! There are many more pictures to look at.
I can't tell you what a peaceful and interesting day it was spending the day with the Arbuckles. I attended a Quaker meeting with them, had lunch and dinner, watched Holly read a multitude of books to her kids, went around as John tended to the farm and also watched John teach his son, Noah, about life as they slaughtered a turkey. It was an enlightening day and I was pleased to spend it with such nice people.