The Inklings of Oxford: Photography Blog 2 by Jim Veneman
Ten days. That’s all the time we had to photograph our way through Hal Poe’s list of essential people and places. But with a book deadline heading our way even quicker than the autumn leaves, we needed to accomplish more on this trip than the photography.
Before leaving England, we needed to have made image selections for specific passages of text. This meant that when the shooting day came to a close, we were not quite finished. Evenings were reserved for editing.
Not that long ago for most photographers, film was still the medium of choice. Regardless of the assignment, the number of rolls to carry was always a major consideration. If one were working internationally, away from the convenience of the familiar, that number of rolls could grow easily into the hundreds. Even working across town, to prevent any moments of hyperventilation, the photographer would never leave without more than enough frames to cover the subject.
Now in this digital age, working in even distant locations, frame count is not nearly the hill it once was. We no longer need to check an extra bag just for film. Most all of the frames we could possibly need will fit comfortably into a small compartment in our camera bag. However, along with this convenience a new challenge has appeared. The number of frames we now take on assignment can be much larger compared to the past. That means having more, often many more, photographs to edit.
During all those years of film, image editing was almost always begun upon return to home soil. The Inklings project was not done in that fashion. Each evening, only minutes after experiencing our latest find of sticky toffee pudding, our first steps were to rename all of the day’s images and file them appropriately. Once that was complete we selected a top edit of the photographs to be considered, and copied them into folders representing each chapter of the book. Next came the most important step of the night, backing up everything we had just done on an external hard drive. Only then was it time to get some needed rest for the next day.
For me each evening’s edit was almost as much fun as the day of shooting. Hearing again the relevance of a particular setting or perspective was fascinating. Hal’s stories made the images come alive right on the screen of my laptop. This was truly one of my favorite parts of the project.
Back in Tennessee, it was time to prepare the files for publication. With a little jazz playing softly in the background, color was fine-tuned, slight cropping adjustments were made, and several other possible corrections might be performed. Although not usually sitting beside me for this part of the process, I could still hear Hal’s voice telling the story of each subject. Sometimes I wished that instead of text, as one turned the pages of the book one would hear Hal’s rich account of those photographs.
If time had not been a factor, the subjects for each day’s work might have been placed in a shooting order primarily contingent upon light. But in this instance, the subjects were photographed in an order that would allow us to complete our assignment and actually make our return flight. Although Hal and I always sought to find the best perspectives of a subject, there were a number of instances in which I turned the camera toward a subject in less than ideal conditions. A few weeks later as I relived image after image, I was reminded of the many times we were faced with the need to compromise.
Of course, I realize that without the diligence of the process and the ever-so-fast pace of Hal each day, the project would never have found completion. Seldom do the perfect, ideal conditions come together for any of us, whether we’re involved in photography or anything else. As for me, give me a little rain and Hal’s stories any day. I’m ready to go.
James Ray Veneman serves as assistant professor and director of visual communication at Union University. He covered the efforts in Iraq, spending time in Baghdad and on board an aircraft carrier in the eastern Mediterranean from which the book, A Greater Freedom, was produced. Other assignments include the days immediately following the World Trade Center attack and meetings in Cuba with Fidel Castro.
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