Anatomy of a Story
Author’s note: I wrote this case study for National Geographic magazine in 1994 at a time when we were running film through our cameras. It provides a context for my National Geographic photographs of that period and remains true when describing the challenges a photographer faces while on assignment.
Click on images to see captions
Anatomy of a Story - The Cotton Project explores one article's creation. Focusing on the photographer's role, it looks at the project's inception as an idea, its course through National Geographic Magazine article-making apparatus, and its delivery in a form that can be translated to ink on paper.
Cotton was chosen because good documentation exists, and because this project demonstrates a broad range of processes within a single case study. However, it is a single case; different kinds of subjects necessitate vastly different ways of working.
Ideas are the embryos of dreams. They feed the creative imagination and charge the senses. Like a flaring match in cold darkness, one instinctively uses the tiny light of an idea to search for more fuel.
Where do ideas for National Geographic magazine articles come from? Anywhere and everywhere...a country the magazine hasn't visited in ten or fifteen years, something observed while on another assignment, a news item heard while driving in traffic, some new interest of a spouse or child. Ideas can build slowly over months or years; others come in a flash. A well-developed concept will be the basis of a story that will grab and hold a reader.
The idea for doing a story about cotton had its roots in another project.
In 1972, while photographing a story on Indian carpet-weaving villages, I had discovered that textiles can be the key to a more intimate understanding of a culture. I proposed the story of silk. It took two years to convince the Editor that it had potential as a story. In researching the silk proposal, I kept files on other textiles which put me in a knowledgeable position later to propose stories about wool and then cotton.
Among the more fragile things that exist, few ideas survive to the proposal stage. "We've got something like that in the works." "I don't get it." "Sounds expensive." "The Editor doesn't like that kind of story." The slightest remark can kill an idea that, only moments before, seemed strong and healthy.
An idea needs shepherding through potentially lethal mine fields. In addition to a thorough review of the NGS index and periodical guides for previously published material on the subject, I generally discuss the idea with editors, area specialists, and occasionally an interested writer.
In each case, if the idea is well received, it has a chance of being further shaped. Later, when it is brought before the planning council for a vote, it may find enthusiastic, informed supporters.
The idea is next put in proposal form for the Planning Council. Proposals are generally submitted either as two-to -three pages of well-researched material that builds a case for the idea or as one or two paragraphs which simply sketch out the idea. In either case, creating a proposal grounded in solid information is a time-consuming undertaking.
My assistant and I first assemble a basic research package that can later be expanded if the project gets funding. I make a short list of possibilities and suggest a shape, a theme, and parameters for a story. We begin building a bibliography of books, periodicals, and clips, skimming for the most compelling information to exhibit the idea's depth and vitality. Research notes are prepared and stored on computer, so that abandoned ideas can be easily resurrected if we later change direction, and so the author, legends writer and post-research staff will have ready access when they are under pressure to meet deadlines.
The proposal becomes an assignment; the story is assigned a picture editor and a writer; the real work begins.
The working relationship between the photographer and the writer varies. Some touch base once then go off separately to do, hopefully, complementary coverages. Others work together to sculpt a story that has a close alignment of words and text. Although the writer and photographer focus on the same subject, the two face vastly different demands, even when the writer and photographer are the same person.
A writer may cover the same ground as I have more efficiently, in one-third the time, as I often must follow an unfolding event, wait for the weather to break, or spend one more day persuading the man with the key to open a museum case. The writer, rarely concerned with weather, can complete three in-depth interviews with the event organizers, and pick up an excellent book about the objects in the museum, all before noon. Because National Geographic stories are picture driven, I try to get a head start on a coverage to insure a solid concept, then hand off my research and contacts to provide the writer a warm trail when he goes into the field.
To give a proposal life, I do short interviews with personal leads and names I find in clips. My database contacts from the stories I had done on silk and wool made it easier to find experts to guide me on the Cotton proposal.
A proposal should give a sense of how the story will look. I try to construct mine in the form of a story to give them structure and make them readable. In a full length proposal I like to describe at least ten situations that suggest interesting pictures, show why the subject is important, and if possible, why it is relevant in a specific time frame. I also indicate the intended scope of the project so it can be considered in terms of cost and space.
Whenever possible, one photographer covers a story from beginning to end, giving the article continuity of style and content. The photographer organizes and manages the coverage. The picture editor, who usually handles 15 or more stories at once, provides objective support, helps shape a story, follows its progress, and makes course corrections.
Photographers may spend weeks gaining permission to photograph a subject, only to find the conditions on location marginal. Timely review of film is critical to making a reasonable decision about moving on. Months in the field are lonely and often discouraging. A picture editor has the unenviable task of maintaining a balance between providing moral support for the photographer and constructive criticism of his work.
Prior to the story of cotton, Susan Welchman and I had worked together on 6 stories, 2 of them about textiles. We share a wealth of knowledge and know each other's strengths. Susan is a fount of ideas, sleuths like a bloodhound, edits film like a demon, and makes a photographer feel that his story is her only concern.
Cotton is grown and worn all over the world. Where to begin? The challenge is to move quickly through the learning stage and get on to making discoveries. Fluency in the vocabulary of a subject lends credibility when calling on experts. I learned to talk warping, linters, staple length, four-row harvesters, ginning and pink boll worms with the best of them.
I began in earnest to build my knowledge of cotton. The bibliography begun in the proposal stage was expanded. Susan and I hit the phones to check hundreds of leads. To be considered, a discovery has to have good picture potential and fit into the theme-building puzzle. Intensive research tends to expand the pool of leads; theme building shrinks it to something manageable.
For Cotton, I created a research outline as a catchall for information. Discoveries were categorized by country. Activities were listed according to time frame, to facilitate scheduling field work in places where the most interesting, diverse story could be covered.
Susan and I discussed our visions of the content, style, and tone of the article. Silk had the secrets of sericulture, and the allure of the exotic, wool its fuzzy creatures and intriguing nomads. Cotton seemed too common and familiar; yet, its history and social impact are extremely important. We decided not to follow the traditional "where does it come from ; what is it used for" commodity formula. We would demonstrate cotton's importance by telling its story, including its history.
The Story Conference
Once the coverage outline and budget are sent to the Editor, a Story Conference is scheduled. Having put a great deal of work into both; I prepare to "sell; our approach to a group of very busy editors who have the responsibility of determining that articles are fair, responsible, interesting, relevant to the Society's mission and have a reasonable change of success given the proposed budget.
The photographer, picture editor, and author go into this meeting having a wealth of knowledge on the subject; the others present, normally are learning the details for the first time. But, Story Conferences tend to be short, with just time to discuss the most general issues of direction, content, and budget.
At the Cotton Story Conference, I promoted the addition of a sidebar "Living in Plants." Despite looking for ways to cut costs, the Editor took an interest, and accepted the idea.
Impossible to photograph, history must be illustrated with museum objects, period art, or best of all, existing situations that bring the past to life. Cotton hand operations, long abandoned in the first world, still go on in the third. The Industrial Revolution that was born, flourished and died in England, can still be photographed in India.
Illustration photographs can be more reliably planned than journalistic photos. The subject for illustration is identified, arrangements and appointments are made; the elements are assembled, and the photography is produced. The results will be dramatic and grand or slick and stiff. The journalistic approach relies more on serendipity. Good research can minimize risk of failing to get a good photograph, but the risk is still high. The results can be emotional and lively, or offer nothing for a lot of time expended. Many photographers use both approaches in a single coverage.
For Cotton, we opted for a journalistic style coverage. In each country, I enlisted the help of local experts to identify good subjects and facilitate logistics with the hope of increasing my odds for success.
Schedule and Budget
With a plan and a theme in place, we began the task of scheduling. It is axiomatic that the dates of important events will conflict. I had to be in the mountains of Mexico for the brown cotton harvest, in California when long-staple cotton was baled, and in India when hand-picked cotton was carried to the gin.
Traveling to a country for a few hours or a few months can begin as a logistical nightmare. The time needed to deal with visas, customs, and permissions for one country can simply be multiplied by the number of countries in a coverage.
An effective schedule allows time for planned pictures; but, is flexible. Scheduling too tightly will kill any chance of catching a serendipitous moment. The best pictures, those that have life, often aren't planned. They are discovered.
The schedule is the foundation of the budget. Cotton was to be a large, multi-country project. Because a plant was to be the central character in this story, and all event dates were dependent on the harvest, our schedule was a house of cards.
I use a list of anticipated expenses to budget each segment of a story, and place the data on spreadsheets. The information is eventually collated and transferred to a Projected Costs Work Up for Magazine Projects form, and submitted to The Editor.
Working with the Travel Department, I price major hotels and airfares. For location equipment rentals, helicopter and boat charters, guide fees, permit fees, small hotels, food, fuel, etc., I contact consulates, tourism departments, local travel agencies and consultants in each country. The quality and reliability of such information varies enormously. I gather budget information for work in the Third World while researching subjects there. On a multi-country story, this can take several weeks.
Many costs must be estimated. Miscalculation can mean a major budget discrepancy. After basing fuel costs for my Wildflower coverage in Western Australia on map measurements of scheduled areas of coverage, I had to drive twice the estimated distance to find flowers in bloom, doubling the fuel costs.
Budgeting time is no easier. Cold weather made the Australian wildflowers bloom three weeks late. Brown cotton plants in Mexico were not quite open; I waited. Who could have predicted the Mexican driver backing our vehicle into the river, or being grounded by fog three mornings while trying to photograph California cotton modules from the air? In Ghana, the children of the deceased queen that I had driven two days to photograph decided I would not. In India it was a train strike.
Before 1990, photographers were not required to submit budgets or track the total cost of a story. As far as I knew, no budget existed. I was often encouraged to do "whatever it takes" to accomplish a photograph. The Editor tracked story costs; if things started to get out of control, he stepped in. But, the information was closely held. I was never made aware of the cost of my projects.
For the Douglas MacArthur project in 1990, I was asked to prepare what I believe was the first story budget. Everyone, including me, was a bit horrified to see the projected costs of this multi-country research story. I then was asked to revise the coverage to trim costs. However, when the editors realized what a significant effect cost-cutting would have on the story, they decided to go with the original budget. Except for a half-way-point reality check, I completed the story as I would have if there had been no budget.
By the time I began Cotton in 1991, budget had become institutionalized as a major factor in shaping a story. I set up a simple system for tracking the author's and my expenses to stay within the fixed budget.
Early in the coverage we discarded the Soviet Union and China, both important cotton-producing countries, for fear the budget would be eaten up in the bureaucratic molasses of these countries. We chose to concentrate on India, where my years of experience and good connections increased the odds of efficiency. Accumulated schedule setbacks soon forced us to look at other countries and subjects we could remove or replace. Japan was too expensive. Our idea of a sidebar, "Living in Plants," became impractical. We moved the bulk of the coverage to less expensive places to work.
On shorter assignments like Australian Wildflowers, I find that to make course correction decisions, expenses must be monitored more often. Eventually I found I had to track actuals on a weekly or daily basis.
A story is launched with a flurry of activity. Letters are sent all over the world to secure permissions to make photographs in sensitive areas. Necessary visa documents are acquired and completed. If a region is officially closed to foreigners, or if special research or journalist visas are needed, meetings with consular officials or ambassadors are often critical. For the Kremlin story, this process went on for more than two years; for Sichuan, nearly three.
In advance of travel, I transfer money for ticket purchases, hotel deposits, and equipment rental, to be handled by local agents.
I prepare detailed work schedules to help with logistics management in the field, and keep a running "To Do" list, which includes an inventory of ideas for article spreads.
I prepare a list of equipment to be taken to each country and apply for an ATA Carnet, a document that subscribing countries use to facilitate customs entry procedures for people with valuable goods. Just before leaving the U.S., I take all of my 8 to 18 cases to the airport to register the equipment on the carnet. For countries where the ATA Carnet is not honored, I carry letters of introduction for the author and myself and make special arrangements with their embassies in Washington.
My travel checklist runs to eight pages and includes a wide variety of reminders but the essential will include film, supplies, special equipment, expense money, medicines and injections, and arranging discounts for excess baggage.
Finally the door is sealed; the "Fasten Seatbelt" sign is on, and I'm instructed to look for the nearest exit. In flight, I fill out ATA Carnet entry documents and prepare necessary papers, in hopes of hitting the ground running.
Fifteen hours later the door reopens and the hot smoky air of a Third World country fills the plane. With any luck, my papers will be in order, the man from the Ministry of Something-or-Other will meet me as promised, and there will be a hotel room waiting. I take a deep breath...
In Morocco, it took two trips to Security Headquarters in town, to get my cameras released from customs. In Bombay, it took 30 days, a trip to New Delhi, and a gratuity to a highly placed official to get 300 rolls of film released. In Turkey, a gratuity to a customs official was enough. In Moscow, I was met and walked around customs, provided I was carrying the preferred brand of scotch.
Mostly, there are few glitches and the work begins. For Cotton, coverages in California, Mexico, India, Panama, Europe, Ghana, and Turkey began the same; I worked with my local contact, pouring over maps, fine tuning the plans. Logistics never end. There are always a few more things to nail down, food, fuel, camping supplies, more meetings with officials to get permissions that I had hoped were already in place, or new permissions.
Each day of coverage ends in the same way; I number every roll of film, match it to my notes, then write a clean set of captions. I sort through crumpled receipts and reconstruct the day's expenses. Periodically, every 60 rolls or so, I must ship film to Washington, sometimes taking days out of a coverage to transport it to an airport or a major city. For peace of mind, I do the paperwork and customs clearance myself, then fax airbill numbers to Film Review. Monthly, I calculate my time and fill in a billing form based on the category of work that I am doing.
Once on location, my goal is to use every field day to make great photographs. However, the times when everything comes together, the light is right, the subject is better than I hoped, and the scene has a magic that I can translate on to a small piece of emulsion...those times are measured in moments. The research, planning and preparation is done to make them possible.
Perhaps the best way to explain field work is through examples. What follows is several situations showing how an idea actually translated into a photograph.
In Panama City, the plane John Mann had arranged developed engine problems and we scrambled for another; this took two days. A couple of cold beers for the airport manager netted a Cessna that would do the job. We climbed through the clouds over the isthmus and 40 minutes later bounced onto a sand-dot island.
Our hotel was a grass hut with a couple of hammocks. Each morning at 4 AM, we loaded my gear into waterproof bags, lowered them into a dugout canoe and headed out, in complete darkness, to find one of 400 tiny San Blas islands. Before we reached an island, Kuna children spotted us and yelled greetings. On each island, I met with the council of elders to plead, through two interpreters, for permission to make photographs. This is the only place in the world where the women all make and wear fine applique cotton blouse panels, called "molas."
The sun set at six; we got back to our island camp at nine. By candlelight, I wrote captions, recorded expenses, ate fish, cleaned sand from the cameras, then rolled into my hammock and waited for 4 AM.
Of 10 days scheduled in Panama, I lost two to the plane, and three to high seas. I shot 61 rolls of film; two frames are in the final layout. A Spanish film crew camped nearby spent two weeks trying to gain access to the same islands; they left without shooting any footage.
While traveling in China for the Silk story, my wife Barbara designed, and had made, a silk embroidery that was the lead in that article. (January 1984) Susan and I had shelved the idea of using something similar for Cotton. It seemed lazy to rehash the idea, and it didn't work with the journalistic feel we wanted.
To illustrate the common-cotton-object, we decided on the plush terry cloth towel, a loop-pile textile, known throughout the world as the Turkish towel. Able to find nothing on its origin, I asked author Jon Thompson, a respected textile expert, to run a literature check in London, which also came up empty. No work on the origins of the Turkish towel has ever been published. Plenty is available on the traditional use of towels in the Turkish baths. We began there.
When I arrived in Turkey, Ahmet Kamil Goren, a graduate student of art, met me at my hotel, armed with a history of each extant bath house in Istanbul and Bursa. He had set up appointments for me to visit relevant museums.
Together we scouted locations. One bath is so popular with photographers, they charge $100 per hour to shoot the interior. The staff at the 300 year old Sofular Hamami gave us a warm welcome; no fee was mentioned. Stripped down to a towel, I entered the damp, hot room and waited for my cameras to clear. It took an hour. Many men stopped by the bath on their lunch break and allowed me to photograph while they sweated in towels and had a scrub. Before I could leave, the staff persuaded me to have a scrub. We spent three hours in that hot room. That night Ahmet and I suffered several hours of severe cramps and vomiting. Jon, a trained physician, explained that we had a case of "boilermaker cramp," a chemical imbalance caused by salt depletion...solution...eat salt. Technical problems solved, I visited more baths, looking for a dramatic towel picture.
We haunted public baths, weavers, and museums, watchful for clues to the origin of the towel. In Bursa, famous for baths since Roman times, Jon found the answer. The silk velvet industry had flourished there from the 6th century. Looms for making velvet are identical to looms used to make the loops on towels. The advent of the loop-pile towel coincides with the decline of the velvet industry in the 18th century.
I photographed beautiful old towels in museums and private collections.
We visited small towel-making factories in Bursa and saw 19th century looms clatter out towel orders for local hotels. The lead photograph idea re-emerged. How much time would it take to weave a towel? My wife worked with the weavers; the design was ready in an hour. The next morning I photographed "cotton" on a custom-made towel, bathed in light pouring through the factory window.
I had scheduled 15 days in Turkey. Nearly half the time went to field research, travel, and location scouting. I shot 33 rolls of film; one picture, the towel, is in the final layout.
The idea...show cotton in its most luxurious form. Susan discovered, in a Porthault Catalog, bed sheets priced at more than $18,000. I flew to the New York showroom to meet with the manager and admire the sheets. Reticent at first, she agreed to talk it over with Mr. Porthault, in Paris. After a few weeks and a few reminders, he gave the idea his blessing. Now we had to find an owner of $18,000 sheets who would agree to have their bedroom in National Geographic. Porthault persuaded a wealthy, Park Avenue client to let me photograph her bedroom, but she wouldn't be in the picture. Dead end.
Porthault called again. The Duchesse Elga de Caraman would allow me to photograph her sheets, and her, at home, the Chateau le Grand Launay in Semblancay, France, a two hour drive from Paris. We carved into the schedule. I would stop in Paris on the Ghana swing, on my way back from Turkey.
Through all of this, I was also struggling for an idea to represent the world's largest use of cotton, blue jeans. But, everything I could think of smacked of a Levi's 501 commercial. Time was running out; I had nothing good on film.
Two hours of haggling about my Carnet with Turkish customs officials left me exhausted; I was grateful to settle into a seat on the plane to Paris, and open the Herald Tribune. A headline caught my eye. "Jeans Are In at Drouot "...being auctioned to investors and nostalgics...for the first time. ...Drouot has organized a sale on Monday with Levi Strauss of some of Levi's most valuable jeans..."
Monday! It was Sunday afternoon; I was on an airplane; there was a layover in Amsterdam. I called my Paris contact. She went to speak with the managers of the Drouot auction house. By Sunday night we had permission to photograph at the auction the next evening. The Duchesse Elga de Caraman was rescheduled. The next morning I began photographing the auction preview. The auction itself ran from early evening until 2 AM. I had scheduled no time for this photograph. I spent one long day shooting 8 rolls; one photograph is in the final layout.
Porthault, insulted by the schedule shift, was unavailable for a couple of days. Not wanting to waste time, I drove to Brugge, Belgium to visit a 275 year old bobbin lace school, and made close-ups of the intricate cotton thread lace.
Back in Paris, Porthault now insisted that Madame Porthault and a bevy of assistants accompany me to Semblancay. The Duchesse turned out to be an ex-Vogue model who struck 1950s-style poses in her newly decorated painting studio. Madame Porthault did her best to stylize the expensive sheets. The assistants never ran out of ideas to "help" me. The session was a disaster.
I spent two days traveling and working in Brugge, one day photographing in Semblancay and lost one day to scheduling in Paris. I ran a total of 22 rolls through the camera. No pictures from these situations are in the final layout.
In Ghana and Togo I set out to photograph wax-printed textiles that were designed in India, printed in Holland, and sold and worn as local fashion, to illustrate the integral role textiles played in the great trade triangle, Europe, Asia and Africa by the 18th century.
In addition, we learned of a still-practiced tradition of using cotton textiles in large ceremonial funerals, which cinched the choice of countries.
Nii Quarcoopome, a University of Michigan professor and native of Ghana, met me at the airport in Accra with several officials to help with clearance. We all carried my cases, and pushed through the mob-like crowd outside.
Despite a long flight and the late hour, Nii wanted to talk about the schedule immediately, the urgency being, an announcement of the funeral of a chief's mother he had found in the paper. The catch was that the funeral was the next morning, in Kumasi, an all-night drive from Accra. We repacked the car and headed north.
We arrived at the chief's house at dawn. Nii and an official spokesman lay prostrate before the young chief to relate my mission. The chief explained that an offering of schnapps, a case of beer and soda would be appropriate before the discussion proceeded. Since it was Sunday morning, the situation seemed hopeless. No problem...the chief owns a liquor store. He sent his spokesman to unlock the shop; we made our purchases..
Despite the fact that Nii is frightened of evil spirits and locked himself in the car, I was permitted to photograph the body, the funeral, and hundreds of splendidly attired guests. The chief helped us gain access to villages where cotton funeral cloth is made.
His mother's funeral was a little weak on cotton; so, we checked funeral announcements daily and sought access to make photographs, with varying degrees of success.
Photographing wax-printed cloth in the market turned out to be unexpectedly difficult. The women who have become wealthy selling these designs, and are known as "Mama Benz," were hostile to my presence with a camera. We tried to reason with them to no avail. Nii called on his cousin in the cloth trade to introduce me. After several days of meeting, talking, and drinking coffee with the merchants, they became comfortable with my camera. I scheduled 26 days for Ghana and Togo. Two days were lost to government paper work; seven were spent traveling; one day went to shipping film. In sixteen days, I shot 80 rolls of film. Four pictures are in the final layout.
Editing and Presentation
Returning to home and office after being in the field is always jarring. Life has gone on. Months of mail and phone messages await my review. My family rightfully expects that I will want to become reacquainted and take over a few responsibilities. There is also a story to finish.
I shot 808 rolls of film, 29,000 photographs, for the Cotton story. Susan has looked at every one of them. We review her 50 or so "prime selects." To say that she edits tightly is gross understatement. More than once, I find myself saying something like, "I'm sure that I was in Orissa...Wasn't I in Orissa?" "You were," she says, "nothing too interesting." Like most of my colleagues, I sit, re-editing film until 3 AM, hoping that she's missed something.
When assembling an article I tend to favor story-telling images and will sometimes choose a less-than-outstanding picture, wanting the story to be told. Susan prefers to stick with only the best photographs. Condensing a year or more of research and field work into one 20 minute presentation is a challenge. If no more than 30 pictures will be in the final layout, there is no point in showing the Editor 130. Good pictures must go; often, entire subjects vanish. At the end of a week, blood on the floor, we have agreed on 60 pictures to show the Editor.
During the course of the coverage we have determined our need for artwork and maps. The picture editor and I meet with artists and cartographers and exchange ideas. In the final weeks, these will be fine tuned to align with the coverage.
There are three opportunities to show-and-tell a story. The Mid-Term Projection Session gives a group of editors a chance to evaluate the story at the halfway point. The Eighth-Floor Projection Session gives the same group a chance to reevaluate it when finished, just before the Editor sees it. The Ninth-Floor Projection Session is where the Editor sees the story for the first time. At each of these sessions, I re-articulate the story concept and give a brief description of what each picture is about. The editors analyze the picture set and weaknesses are corrected by replacing specific pictures.
If at any point the editors feel the story falls short of expectations, more coverage may be requested. Occasionally, the photographer is replaced. If all goes well the story is approved and moves on to layout.
Layout begins five or six months before the scheduled publication date. Layout Department Director Connie Phelps, who has worked on the layout of most of my stories for ten years, took on the Cotton assignment. Susan, Connie and I reviewed the pictures, and I reiterated the story in some detail.
This last step of condensing the coverage is the most difficult. Only the best material remains and already feels bare-boned, and still must be reduced by half, or more. Silk was published in 1984 as a 48 page story with 52 pictures; Wool in 1988 as a 40 page story with 43 pictures. Cotton is approved for only 30 pages, requiring painful decisions to cut more subjects, then whole countries. Sequences were reduced to single-icon images. The coverage was trimmed to 25 pictures.
Layout & Design
Layout remains a mysterious process to me. Its seems simple enough; start with an exciting group of photographs that tell a story; order them in a way that tells that story, then design a dramatic presentation. Easy.
Wrong. This photograph doesn't work with that one; the colors don't look right together. If we run that picture across the gutter, the most important part of the image will disappear. These three go well together; but, we can't put three horizontals on a spread. One can only be used if it's run large; another looks good large, but isn't important enough to be given all that space. Years ago, my hair turned gray in that layout room. Throughout this madness, Connie remains upbeat, testing dozens of solutions, and, in the end, always makes it work.
During the week Cotton was in layout, Bill Allen visited several times and offered suggestions that were helpful in breaking log jams. Bill Graves made a final review of the layout before it was removed from the wall. Susan and I prepare a set of temporary captions and the layout is bound in a presentation book, the "dummy." We present it and the photographs to a large group of editors who will take over the story from this point on.
Immediately following this session, I do a detailed review of the story with the Legends and Research staff assigned to the story. I deliver a copy of my captions, contact list, bibliography, research books and files. I am in constant contact with them as they write captions and do the final checking research on the manuscript.
When the article is published, I call friends in the media to drum up publicity. For both Silk and Wool, I was able to do interviews on Weekend Edition on National Public Radio. With National Geographic cooperation, I worked with the Wool Bureau, doing a thirty-city media tour. I averaged 5 interviews per day, talking about the Wool coverage with radio, television and newspaper reporters.
"Taking" a photograph literally describes what is done. Something is taken. Besides taking their likeness, I take people's time and cooperation. The most common payment requested from them is, "Please send me a copy." Since the majority of theses people will not appear in the article, there is no point waiting to send a magazine. I send them a letter of thanks and some prints.
Contacts are a photojournalist's stock in trade. To facilitate a coverage, I call on friends in the most remote parts of the world. I'm no longer surprised to arrive at a mountain hut and discover my thank you prints and letter framed on the wall, long after the article has become just a small segment, in long, yellow row.
Written and photographed by Cary Wolinsky
Project Editor: Patricia Boulos
Copyright © Cary Wolinsky 1994