Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Big Warm Up

Land's End is creating a campaign "The Big Warm Up" to bring coats to homeless people this winter.  Great cause and fantastic website, filled with excellent infographics and photos.  The instrumental music flows nice with the website as well.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Weekly Post October 30

This week was important because I did intense research about one’s rights as a photographer.  Although the people in the tent community had verbally agreed to have their picture taken, I felt hesitant to put the pictures on my blog without written consent.  I spent over two hours researching the rights of individuals in having their picture taken; I looked at examples of release forms.  I spent another hour writing up and editing my own release form:

I spent about an hour coming up with a plan for December Review.  After looking at my calendar, I realized there are really only six weeks left until the presentation- and one of those weeks is Thanksgiving, meaning we really only have 5 weeks before end of semester.

I also had a great meeting today with Chelsea, the Coordinator of SOS.  I sat down with her for an hour and talked about the access I would need for my “ideal” project.  I communicated about how I would love to tell stories of families that are homeless, but I need access to families in the SOS shelter.  I discussed how I would give SOS all of the multi-media stories I create so that they could use this to present at auctions and other various events to raise money.  She was  very positive and completely on board with my idea; she is going to support me and try to work with the case manager to find families who will participate.  We are planning on putting together a schedule of times to work together to reach out to various families.

For another hour Chelsea gave me a tour of the SOS Crisis center, where they provide food, counseling, and other support.  Here are some photos of the Crisis Center I took today:

I also spent another two hours at a meeting at the tent community.  It was a night meeting where the board speaks to the campers and they both settle various issues.  Tonight’s discussion centered on if the campers would move to a new location if the police asked them to vacate the premises.  The group voted they would stay and not move to a new spot, and fight for their right to be at that location.  One of the board members of the tent community introduced me to all of the campers tonight.  I introduced myself and said I wanted to raise awareness for Camp Take Notice; they gave me a round of applause!  All of the campers are very smart; one homeless camper took me aside and asked if I had appropriate release forms before I take the pictures, which I told her I did.  

I took some photos tonight at the meeting, which took place in the large, communal tent.  The light was a challenge because they only had one small lantern for a light source in the crowded tent:

The photos of people were interesting; but in this case I think the most interesting of the photos are the ones I took from a distance, when the camp members were inside discussing the meeting and I was outside.  I tried to capture people's shadows, especially because the lantern created an interesting fluorescent blue light: 

This week I learned the importance of doing my research on protecting rights.  I am glad I went through with a release form.  The two people I photographed at the tent community were more than happy to sign it tonight.  Now that I have consent, I feel confident and will edit down the photos and post some of the pictures of the campers in later posts.

For SOS, Chelsea recommended I create a "mission statement" to send out to the families so they get an understanding of what I am trying to accomplish.  This is a great idea; I am going to create a mission statement of less than six concise sentences.  

Tomorrow I am going to meet with the Executive Director of Alpha House.  I look forward in meeting Julie and taking the next steps.  

Next week I am also going to return to the tent community and interview/record Jay's story.  I find his story very interesting and powerful.  I would love to share it with everyone. 

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Six Weeks

The December Review is only 6 weeks away.  Here's the plan:

Imagining Mozambique

Weiden & Kennedy, an agency in Amsterdam, just recently launched a campaign entitled “Imagining Mozambique."  Various artists volunteer to create artwork to raise awareness and help children and orphans of Mozambique.  Mozambique has been hit with economic hardship, war, and natural disasters.

The artists, who are all internationally renowned, created moving pieces, illustrating the children’s plight.  All sales of artwork go directly to an organization to help this cause.   Here is a look at some works:

I must constantly be thinking of the "call to action" part of my project.  Selling the artwork I create on my subject matter is one option to raise money for the homeless.    

The website for “Imagining Mozambique” is beautiful.  It is attractive and interactive.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Weekly Post October 23rd

This week was very exciting.  This past weekend I looked through all my research material and came across an article on an Ann Arbor tent community “Camp Take Notice.”  I e-mailed the writer of the article and asked him about the community and if they were approachable.  His response was to go for it and reach out to them because the members of the tent community were very friendly.  On the bottom comments of the article, I found a twitter page for the group (  I saw a phone number on the twitter page, called, and inquired about the group.  The woman on the other end of the line was extremely nice and told me to come to the board meeting that night at the AA District Library.

I spent two hours at the AA District Library learning about the tent community.  The board was very professional during the meeting.  They handed me a meeting agenda.  I sat back and listened as certain topics were discussed, such as how they were going to go about heating the tents, how two lawyers just signed on to back their cause (Hannah knows one of them!), and how to establish tent community rules.  Another woman attended the meeting and sat next to me; it was her first time at the meeting as well.  Her name is Susane and it turns out she is very good friends with Stephanie!  Very small world.

I spent another hour this week meeting with the Development Director of SOS in Ypsilanti.  It was great to see another shelter.  Next week she is going to give me a tour of the shelter.

I spent another two hours visiting and photographing the tent community.  Lily, one of the board members, was very nice to meet me yesterday to give me a tour of the tent community. It was fascinating.  I met some very, very interesting people with captivating stories.  I took over 150 photos, most of which include candids of two of the tent members.  Because I didn’t ask for their written consent, I am hesitant about posting their pictures until I get written consent next week; however, here are some others I took:

I spent time talking with four of the tent members.  Two of them, Jay and Ashanti, were very open about their situation.  When I got home, I spent another hour collecting my thoughts, and writing notes about everything they had told me.  Click on the text image below:

I also spent another hour reading “Good Magazine.”  One particular image in the magazine caught my eye:  a profile portrait of a woman; large, handwritten text overlapped the photograph.  I have always found handwritten type very unique and interesting.  I think it would be cool to use the handwriting of the homeless people I interview in creating some of the design work for my project.  I could title their individual multi-media stories using their handwriting.  This will provide another personal touch to their stories. 

What did you learn/encounter/discover?

This week I learned the importance of field experience.  I was so excited to meet and interact with people at the tent community.  I truly learned a tremendous amount this week.  My interaction with the tent community truly confirmed my interest in this project.  

During my meeting with Hannah, I showed a mock-up of a potential website idea.  When showing Hannah the copy that may go on the website, she reinforced the importance of understanding the difference between simple vs. simplistic writing.  It is vital I understand this concept because I aim striving for simple, direct design and text.  

I also learned about how to frame questions to my interviewees.  When talking to the individuals, it is important I establish a conversation with them before I ask any deep questions.  Smooth transitional questions are better than hitting them with direct personal inquiries. 

My plans for December review are:

  1. Explain the current crisis in America to the panel.  Familiarize with the topic.  I will do this by spending less than two minutes naming recent news headlines and discussing a few statistics.
  2. Show the panel the mediums I am thinking of using.  I will do so by showing examples of multi-media stories from “1 in 8 million” and “Cul-De-Sac of Closures.”
  3. Show at least one of my complete stories.  This story could be comprised of photographs & audio, just audio, or even just photographs.  I think it is too early to tell.
  4. Show a mock-up website idea to illustrate how I would potentially illustrate these stories.
  5. Illustrate to the board a plan for the next four months.
  6. Have a list of at least 5 questions for the panel. 

What Should I do next?

Next week I am meeting with the Executive Director of Alpha House to discuss next steps regarding interviewing/photographing the homeless in the shelter. 

I am also attending the tent community meeting on Monday & Thursday nights.  Monday’s meeting is at the Ann Arbor District Library, led by the volunteer board members, and Thursday’s meeting takes place at the actual Tent Community, where both the tent members and board members interact to ensure everyone is on the same page. 

Next week I am also taking a tour of SOS Shelter. 

I am also going to look into volunteering at Alpha House on a weekly or bi-monthly basis.  Hannah suggested I take this route so I get a new view of the shelter and possibly develop relationships.

I want to talk to Lily again (the woman who showed me around Camp Take Notice) and ask her if I can go with her again next week to photograph the tent community.  I am very drawn to the story of Jay, and I would like to investigate his story further.  It would be great if I could follow him around for a day and interview him with audio as well.  In next week's 30 minute meeting with Stephanie, I want to further discuss the use of audio and which microphones to purchase or rent.  I also need to create some sort of release/permission form that my subjects fill out, so I can publish the photos on my blog. 


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Weekly Post October 16th

What I did:

This week I contacted another shelter, SOS, located in Ypsilanti.  Erica told me about SOS a few weeks ago, so I reached out to the President of SOS, Denise Tanguay.  She is also a professor at Eastern University.  I spent 30 minutes talking to her on the phone.  She gave me many contacts within the shelter. She reinforced how this problem is a crisis.  Here is a clip from today's NYTimes about how homelessness has reached an all-time high.  

I also spent two hours really studying multiple multi-media stories from that website I mentioned in my last weekly post.  After watching these stories, I realize there are many ways I can go about portraying someone’s life/story. 

This made me think about the questions I want to ask the interviewees, so I spent one hour writing down possible questions I could ask the families I interview.

Another hour was spent on researching computer programs to use for my project, namely Final Cut Express.  I also spent another two hours reading my book, “Dreamweaver:  The Missing Manual.”  My goal is to create a powerful website to post all of these stories.  Only problem is I am not aware of website software.  Bought this book on Amazon and my goal is to do a chapter every week.  Picture of the 1,000 page book from my phone:

Spent another hour revising my project proposal and rewording some things.

There was also a homeless protest going on in downtown Ann Arbor today, so I ran home during studio time and got my camera and was so eager to photograph, but they were gone by the time I got to Central Campus. 

What I achieved/accomplished/learned:

I really moved forward in making additional contacts.  It is important I reached out to Denise because it will provide more opportunities; having access to multiple shelters increases my chances of families willing to tell their story.  The phone call went very well; she is very eager to work with me and see the work I create.  I have a meeting on Monday with the Executive Director and Development Director of SOS. 

I asked Denise how the economic climate has affected the shelter.  She went on to say there has been a 100% increase in attendance at the shelter, especially the food kitchen.   She used the term “couch surfing” to describe homeless families, because often they stay at their relative's houses for periods at a time.  

I also learned about how excited I am to start making!  On my way to the homeless protest today, I was so excited to photograph and meet people (even though nobody was there by the time I got there).  

I also feel more confident about my project.  I feel that the proposal was exactly what I needed: a one-page document articulating my objective.  This allows the opportunity to look back and remind myself of my project intent.  In addition, I really enjoyed meeting with other people in different sections on Tuesday; it forced me to come up with an elevator speech about my project.  My dad recommends I type up my objective in one sentence in huge type and paste it in my studio haha.

What I want to do next:

Next week I have a meeting with the two directors of SOS.  I am looking forward to discussing my project with them.

I am also going to investigate further the technical aspects of my project.  I need to set up a meeting with Stephanie about types of microphones/software I should be investigating for the interviews.

I need to set up a meeting with Hannah to discuss the overall design theme of my project.  I have already started thinking about various website mock-up layouts.  I know I am thinking way ahead, but envisioning the final product, the website, really helps me to see a goal and try and aim to achieve that outcome.

In addition, I have purchased “Doing Documentary Work” by Robert Coles and just got it in the mail today.  I am looking forward to reading this!

Lastly my Marketing/Advertising professor shared this quote with the class and I found it memorable:

"Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.”  -Albert Szent-Gyorgyi 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Technical Aspect

I have been reading up on how to approach my project from a technical standpoint.  I know I want strong audio and vivid photography.  But what comes first?  Do I record and photograph my subject the same day?  I found a Q & A in the Times, regarding the 1 in 8 million series.  This answer has provided me some insight:

"For One in 8, Todd Heisler doesn't shoot any photographs until we've interviewed the subject and edited the tape down to a manageable length, about 4 to 10 minutes. This allows us to be sure a piece is going to work from an audio story standpoint before we pursue images. It also allows Todd to listen to the tape and get to know the character and the story before he and Meaghan Looram, the project's picture editor, brainstorm photo situations. When everything goes right, I think this way of working helps us create the kind of intimate, cohesive pieces that we're trying for."

This is a smart approach.  This ensures that each story flows well with photographs and audio.  The audio story is vital to the piece- it is the soul of my project.  But the photographs will make this compelling.  I need to ensure there is a cohesive flow and that I can match the audio with strong photographs.  

Similar Content, Similar Format

Found this multi-media story on today, "Cul-de-sac of Closures", where they interviewed/photographed families on a cul-de-sac in Beth Court in Moreno Valley, California.  The nine families discuss their experiences on how the recession has reshaped their block.  The format of this is very similar to what I want to achieve, photography/audio to tell a story.

This photograph is from one of the stories, about a family who is at risk of losing their home because the father has lost his job and is struggling to find a new one.

The content of the story is very strong; however, I feel the piece could be stronger if black and white photography was utilized.  I also feel the transitions from slide to slide is too harsh, there needs to be a smoother transition.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Weekly Post, October 9th

What I did:  

This week I received great news!  Helen Starman, Director of Alpha House, gave me the go-ahead to have access the shelter.  She said we could set up meetings/get started after Oct. 20, which is great.  She discussed the issue of confidentiality- we don’t want the families to feel as if they have to participate in order to be housed in the shelter.  She said she has worked through these issues before, so she and I can work together to communicate to families that participating is optional.  

I have also reached out to SOS, a shelter in Ypsilanti.  Erica had told me about this shelter a few weeks ago.  I contacted the president of SOS and she said she would love to speak further about the project.  I feel it is important that I reach out to numerous places and make as many connections as possible.

This week I spent 2 hours carefully reading two lengthy PDF’s regarding homelessness on the rise due to the recession.  I shared one of these PDF’s in my previous post.  I went through these documents and highlighted importance aspects, and then took notes.

I spent another 2 hours putting together a document that illustrates the participants of family homelessness.  An important part of understanding the homeless is knowledge of professionals who provide the homeless support.  These professionals see firsthand the families as they go through the process of entering and exiting a homeless state.  In addition to interviewing/photographing homeless families, I believe it will be fascinating to interview/photograph the many professionals who touch the homeless in a variety of ways, namely doctors, therapists, psychologists, teachers, and social workers.  I think interviewing/photographing these individuals would provide another dimension to my project that would be very interesting.  Here is the pdf I made, you can click on it to enlarge:

I spent another hour researching photographers who photograph families.  I also spent another 30 minutes reading one of my books I got from the library three weeks ago.  

I spent another 2 hours creating the first draft of my proposal.  Found it very helpful to peer edit one another’s proposals in small groups.

What I achieved/accomplished/learned:

This week I found it very beneficial to organize my thoughts on paper.  I found that writing the proposal was exactly what I needed. I thought the questions outlined in the proposal were extremely helpful; they helped to reinforce the objective of my project.  I feel this document is important because I whenever I am stuck throughout the year, I can always look back to my proposal to remind myself what I am trying to accomplish.  It was also very helpful for me to outline professionals who are involved in family homelessness and describe why.

I also learned the importance of patience and understanding when it comes to reaching out to others.  My project this year is going to require reaching out to various people and making connections. 

I also discovered a great resource for my project:

This site collects multimedia stories on various subject matters.  I found a great one on homeless people living in NJ suburbs, completed by the NY Times.   Here are two photographs from that multimedia story that I found particularly strong:

I am drawn to these because of the photographer's use of light and depth of field.  Depth of field is something I practice very often in my photography.  Some photos from a photoseries I completed last year on construction workers:

I love practicing depth of field in my photography because it provides the viewer a different way of observing the scene.  My plan is to use my depth of field approach when documenting the homeless.

What I want to do next:

After further thinking about how my project is going to look/feel, I thought about the importance of storytelling.  My interviews with these individuals are going to be successful based on the questions I ask them.  Interesting answers will come from great questions, so I need to put a list together of questions I need to consider asking the families. 

We are so lucky that we have such great resources right here at the the U of M.  I am planning on attending a few lectures on campus pertaining to my topic, for instance November 12 "Addressing Poverty in Troubled Times: an International Perspective on the U.S., North America and the World."

Do you think it would be interesting to hear multimedia stories coming from some of the professionals I listed?  

I also need to learn more about technical issues.  Stephanie, I remember in your CFC class we used Audacity.  What sound programs do you use?  Do you recommend Sound Booth?


Sunday, October 4, 2009


Just found a great 17-page PDF with important facts about family homelessness strictly due to the recession.  Check it out here:

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Weekly Post, October 2nd

What I Did:

This week was very fulfilling because I met with Helen Starman, Development Director of Alpha House.  I spent over an hour talking with her; we discussed the rising issue of homelessness, talked about my project, and she gave me a tour of the facility.  Over 40 families are on the waitlist for the Alpha House, the most they have ever seen.  Alpha House recently hired someone who is solely dedicated to reaching out to the families on the waitlist.  Probably the most heartbreaking, memorable thing Helen said was that some families who are on the waitlist sleep in hospital Emergency Rooms because it is open 24/7 and they can blend in with the environment.  An image of an exhausted child in a fluorescent-lit hospital waiting room immediately surfaced in my head.

After the meeting, while it was fresh in my mind, I sat down for 30 minutes writing down everything Helen and I talked about.

For another hour this week, I talked with Jack Harrington, a contact I received from Carol Jacobsen.  After my meeting with Carol last week, she gave me Jack’s number because she heard he was working on a project with the homeless.  He is looking for a photographer because he wants to photograph portraits of homeless families and then give the families the prints.  A NYC artist, Dayna Brown, who photographs portraits of homeless families and gives them the photos, was Jack’s inspiration; he wants to do something similar in Detroit in mid-November so homeless families can have a picture of their family.  A family portrait is such a  simple possession we take for granted, yet so many families are without this.  I agreed to photograph and collaborate on this project and although I am not sure right now how this will relate to my project, it may spur more ideas.

I spent two hours reading more about this subject. published a sad article yesterday about the sudden increase in tent communities.

I took another hour to think about the other participants of “family homelessness” besides the actual families.  I wrote down a list of people (example: social workers, family psychologists, foreclosure workers, teachers, principles).  I thought about how all of these people have multiple perspectives on the issue.  Maybe it would be interesting to photograph and interview them throughout the year as well. 

I spent another two hours researching successful campaigns.  My favorite is the “Meth Project”, a groundbreaking non-profit campaign that changed the way teens view drugs.  See my last blog post for more about the project.  

Spent another 20 minutes reading about the controversy surrounding Gwen, the newest American Girl Doll.  She is portrayed as a homeless young girl who learns about friendship.  People are upset for two reasons: (1) a homeless child could never afford a $95 doll, and (2) none of that $95 goes toward any homeless organization.  This doll provides a first step towards raising awareness; however, the company needs to donate a portion of the profit towards helping the issue.  

What did you accomplish, discover, encounter?

Meeting with Helen Starman was extremely helpful.  I learned about the shelter’s source of funding (50% private funds, 50% government) and that because of the economy, government funding is decreasing significantly.   The shelter's food & supplies are donated weekly from different religious organizations.  Most of the shelter's money goes towards the hiring of specialists & psychologists.  Helen mentioned the rate of people who enter permanent housing after staying at the Alpha House was very good, over 60%.  Because of the economy, this percentage has decreased because people are entering the shelter in a much worse state than ever before.  

Helen is now talking to the director to see if I can have access to photograph & interview the families.  She is going to get back to me by early next week, so I am very anxious.  But, even if the director does not allow me access, I am glad I had a great conversation and learned more about the seriousness of this issue.

I also created my two sentences:

What: I want to bring family homelessness, a major crisis in America, to life through multi-media storytelling.

Why: I want to generate awareness for this increasing type of homelessness, by educating the viewer through a new visual perspective, creating a highly memorable and emotional impact.

What Should I Do Next?

I am still waiting to hear back from Helen, but in the meantime I am going to move forward and ask other shelters for access.  I am also going to “make something.”  Because I am interested in creating a campaign, I might create some kind of poster that targets a specific audience.

Another option:  I could visually map out the different participants in family homelessness and why they are involved.  For instance, teachers.  Why?  Teachers would have firsthand experience with homeless children.  Children who are homeless are significantly more likely to underperform academically, repeat a grade, and much less likely to complete high school.  

The Meth Project

The Montana Meth Project:  a groundbreaking campaign that completely transformed how teens view Meth.  The White House recognized it as one of the country’s best anti-drug campaigns.  Teen meth use dropped 63%. 

An agency created a non-profit campaign to scare away teens in Montana from using Meth “not even once.”  This campaign was successful because of the great copywriting and photography. Because of its success, the campaign has expanded to other states (Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Hawaii, Wyoming).   Check out the project here:

This project brings a serious issue to life, which is exactly what I want to accomplish.  In addition, this project used traditional media to communicate the message.  Here are some of their print ads: