Friday, November 23, 2007

Travis Dove interview - Part C

Jason Gillispie (left) and Aaron Levy ride to Vinton, Ohio's Fellowship Chapel for Sunday service in the back of a donated bus. Both men are disciples of Refuge Ministries, a three-step recovery program for people struggling with drug addiction. Levy, the 19-year-old grandson of a preacher, is finding his way back to God after struggling with an addiction to heroine.
© Travis Dove

Please read Travis Dove's biography, Parts A and B of this interview and see the images on his Web site.
You already have a BA degree. Why did you return to college to work on your master's degree?
Even when I was working with John [Loomis] and working on my internship at The Augusta Chronicle, I always saw myself as a student anyway. So it didn't seem like a huge leap for me at the time to go back to school.

I knew there were some gaps in my skill set that were going to be easier to fill in at school than in the industry - like multimedia.
How did you choose Ohio University?
I looked at several schools. I met a couple of students, who came out of OU. They seemed driven. They seemed competent, successful. They were everything that I wanted to be and couldn't at that point.

When I came here to visit with the professors, I got a sense that the coursework was very practical, and they allowed a lot of freedom to explore other venues like learning Flash, for instance, or design. [There were] a lot of other subjects that I was interested in.
Are you ready to enter the pro world?
Absolutely. For me, I know this was the best school for me. All I know is this has been really helpful for me.
What gaps did you have in your education?
I had never taken a formal journalism class. I didn't know about newsgathering really. I was just learning as I went along, which seemed a little dangerous to me at the time. I wasn't totally comfortable with it.

Certainly with multimedia. I didn't see myself picking up a video camera, picking up an audio recorder, learning Pro Tools and learning Final Cut on my own. I needed some direction, and that's what this place provided for me.

And, it was a photo community. I had picked up on the idea that it's important to surround yourself with people that are going to help you grow. I knew this was that type of place.
Do you have other language skills?

I took some foreign language classes (Spanish) in college. I did horribly.

It's not that I haven't tried. At Wake Forest, they require that you take a foreign language up to the level of foreign literature class. Man that was a struggle for me. (laughs)

By far the worst I did of any of my classes at Wake Forest.

I think it's important. It sounds hypocritical of me to say that because I'm not really fluent in another language. Before I found out that I'd have this opportunity at The Charlotte Observer, my plan was to go to Guatemala for the summer and get better at Spanish.

It's still a goal of mine to become fluent in a foreign language. Now it's a matter of finding the time to make it happen.
You completed three internships. What's the importance of internships?
It's important to think practically about your photography. There are a lot of great images that people have taken that are never going to be published because they're just not right for a newspaper or a magazine.

That's something you learn about when you go to a newspaper and do an internship. (laughs) You learn about news value. It's important to have some life experience in the field before you jump out there.
Do you think the number of internships you've had is helpful?
To be honest, I've actually had more than three internships. I've had like five or six internships, they just haven't been in photojournalism.

I don't think that there's a magic number as far as internships go. Every one of my internships has helped me personally. I think every case is different. You just need to do internships until you feel comfortable with your skill level. Feel comfortable with where you're at, and then go for it.

Well, I've got one coming up at National Geographic. So, that will be four for sure. (laughs)

Every internship that I've had has been a step forward. As long as I have an opportunity to take a step forward, I'm going to take it.
Have you ever had a raw-take edit?
That's what we do at OU. We did that in my Photo Essay class. They're displaying every photograph you took to the whole class. You're entire take. Every time for the entire essay.

That was pressure. (laughs)

It's like being naked in front of the class. It was so nerve wracking the first time we went through my entire shoot in front of everybody.

All the outtakes are like these dirty little secrets that you don't want anybody to know that you have. Gosh, it was a great learning experience. You started to think more about every picture that you were taking.

John Loomis told me the first day that I met him at the coffee shop, he said, "The only difference between me and any other guy with a camera is that I've taken more bad pictures." It's important to take bad pictures. It's important so you know what's good.

[The class] wasn't nit-picking the worst pictures and then critiquing them. But, we would talk about the way that everybody is approaching the subject. You can learn a lot by looking at how you got to certain pictures. The steps that you took to get to a certain frame.
Your Web site lists you as a freelancer. Is it important to freelance while in college?
I wouldn't say it's any more or less important than having an internship.

Freelancing for The Chapel Hill News taught me something about how to submit a photograph, some of the rules for toning, really practical things I had no idea about at the time.

As a graduate student, it's important to me because I don't have any money. (laughs)

It's good to eat every now and then when you have the opportunity. Freelancing is certainly important in that regard as a student.

It is good practice for what you're going to be doing later on in life, which is making a living. It teaches you something about how the business works, which is knowledge that you don't really get out of school.

That's one thing that I wish we had a little bit more of at OU:   the business of photography. Thankfully, I did have a little background from my undergraduate experience.
How do you view yourself professionally?
I don't think I do view myself professionally. I view myself as a student. I look at myself as a student first because I think I have a lot to learn.
What's the difference between you and a pro?
Experience. Experience.
How are you gaining experience?
I'm doing a lot of internships. I am trying to put myself out there as much as I can. I try to talk to people about my work whenever I have the opportunity. I seek advice when I can. I try to surround myself with photographers, who are going to push me to become better.
When does a photojournalist become a pro?
That's a tough question to answer because I don't know that there's a line. I think it's a self-perception.
When will you cross over the self-perception line?
I don't think I ever will.

I could see myself teaching. I don't think it's written in stone that I'm going to be a teacher when I get done with school. I'm just trying to stay open to all possibilities right now.
How important is it to be technically proficient?
I think the technical aspects are the things that people start grasping first when it comes to photography. Yes, it's extremely important to have that foundation.

Hopefully it's something that you can forget about and something that becomes a little more effortless as you progress.
Does lack of proficiency interfere with PJ work?
Oh yea. Absolutely. A lot of people might know what you want the final photograph to look like, but you don't know how to make it happen. That can be really frustrating.

For me, it was a process of trial and error when I was learning how the camera worked. There's still aspects where I could improve my technical proficiency like with studio lighting.
How important is studio lighting?
It depends on the type of work you want to do when you get done.

I was lucky in that I had assisted for a studio photographer before I came into photojournalism. So, I had a little bit of that knowledge when I started out. I'm not sure I would have gone after that later on in my career.

I'm glad that I've had that experience, but I'm by no means a seasoned studio photographer right now. That's one of those subjects where I'm still a student.

Studio lighting can definitely help you make money later on.

There are a lot of assignments that come out that only an experienced photographer that knows something about studio lighting is going to be able to accomplish successfully. If you don't have those skills, then you're out of the pool automatically.

You're really limiting yourself by not knowing anything about studio lighting.
How important is competition in the industry?
I think it's critical. I think one of the things that's helped me grow here at school is a healthy competition that we have between the students.

I feel we feed off each other's energy.

One of the things that's struck me since entering this field is people's willingness to help you out - even when that's in direct contradiction to their own goals.

When some of the students here are trying to put together portfolios for internships, a lot of us are applying to the same internships. But, we'll sit down together anyway, look over each other's work and try to make it as good as possible.

The competition is important, but it's also important that it doesn't override everything else.
Is it important for you to shoot overseas?
No. I don't think it's critical that I shoot overseas. I wouldn't say that I'll never shoot overseas.

Some of the most important work that's being done is conflict photography in places other than the U.S. That's very important work. So, I don't want to take anything away from people who are doing that. But, there's a lot of valuable work to be done in the U.S. as well.
What's the purpose of your work?
The purpose of my work is to increase understanding by taking people places that they wouldn't normally go, or don't want to go.

I hope there's some universality to it.

To some extent, I am shooting for myself right now because a lot of this work is not being published anywhere. The reason that I'm shooting for myself right now is because I want to improve as a photographer. I want to become better at the craft. So that when I'm shooting for a publication, I can say that I've done everything I could to be as good at this as I can.

I don't have a readership right now. Right now my readership is primarily other photographers. Literally, right now. When I was shooting for The Charlotte Observer, I was trying to shoot for their readership. When I was shooting for The Augusta Chronicle, I was shooting for their readership. When I'm at OU, I'm shooting for myself.
What are your thoughts on citizen journalism?
I can see the value in it. But, I see a lot of dangers in it as well. Obviously, these people are not held to the same journalistic standard that we are at all times. I don't think they have media ethics running through their heads when they're doing this work. You can't take anything away from the impact nonetheless.
What's your biggest visual pet peeve?
(Laughs) It might be the gratuitous silhouette photographs. Those strike me first.

It's probably the first creative device I learned as a photographer. It's probably because it's the one that I overused the most when I was first starting out.

I don't think that it's a rule that you can't ever have a silhouette in your portfolio. There's a time and a place for it.

You don't want to have too many of any one trick in your portfolio like rim lighting or silhouetting.
Throughout most PJ's career, they have one driving motivation. It underlies all their projects, stories and even single images. What's yours?
I think I'm obsessed with the power of photojournalism. That's it.

It has the ability to move people, to draw emotion out of people, to make people feel something and relate to others. I love being able to provide that.
Anything to add?
What's made this whole CPOY thing so special is the incredible response that I got after it was announced. I got so many e-mails and phone calls, hugs and everything from people from all different parts of my life. I would just like to thank everybody that's been so helpful to me and so supportive of me over the past few years.

Like Matt said last year, I'd be happy to talk to anybody about photography or about life - whenever.

Enough for now,

No comments: