Sunday, May 24

Eko on Guitar

I know I am prone to declaring whatever photograph I post on this blog as one of my favorites. More often than not though, I find that time tends to cool these feelings. A little distance and a few more opportunities to see other photographs and I no longer hold my shot in the same regard. I may still like it, but I cannot see what once made it so special.

Not so with this picture. I shot it nearly a year ago, and it still ranks high among my favorites.

It is a simple picture with a single subject and little to distract from it in the background, but forgive me for saying so about my own work, I think the composition is brilliant. The lines of his legs and arms and the neck of the guitar are powerful. The negative space in the lower-right quadrant offers a strong balance. The tonal range is complete. More important than these formal elements, though, is the sense of peace that pervades the entire photograph through Eko's easy posture and closed eyes. The soft focus, an accident in this picture as I normally opt for sharpness in the subject, also draws out this feeling of quiet.

Very much worth noting, Eko is a cool guy. Born into one of Jakarta's slums, he raised the money for bus fare to travel to classes by rooting through landfills and selling plastic bags he found there. Last summer he was still attending the International Humanity Foundation's education center but as a math teacher. With any luck he's studying mathematics at university now. Eko might be playing Green Day's "Basketcase" in the picture. It's one of his favorites. If you would like to learn more about him, his story and that of his sister can be found about halfway down the page.

Thursday, May 21

Observation and action

Sunday before last I graduated from Gonzaga University with a bachelor of arts in journalism. I listed it as my intended major on the application materials over four years ago and not once considered dropping it throughout my studies. It may come as some surprise then that I now have no real interest in pursuing a career as a reporter for a newspaper or magazine. Please do not misunderstand me. I do not regret my course of studies in the least. Through my journalism classes I met some great people. The classes themselves forced me to write a lot and to meet a lot of different people, both very good things, but my experiences in the past two years have pushed me in away from it as a career. A hobby which pays whenever a freelance piece is sold, perhaps, but not a profession.

The primary culprit in this change of perspective is my work at the House of Charity. As minor as my duties of handing out mail and checking in gear there are, they still opened my eyes to a severe contrast, that between the observer and actor. The traditional journalist is a pure observer. They practice strict independence and objectivity, presenting the most accurate and precise facts of the event. When opinion does appear, it is from the mouths of others. The journalist takes no action of their own. Their work is done once they publish the best possible information available at the time. How this information is used is of little import to them.

On the opposite end of this line are the actors, politicians and businessmen and their cohorts. They are the ones who act to change the world and the lives of others. They make something new and different. They have particular interests, and they act to make them real. To simplify, the observer, the journalist, presents reality; the actor alters reality.

In truth, I have been aware of this tension longer than I have worked at the House of Charity, but I was okay with merely being an observer then. Yes, I did have my own interests and visions of how the world could and should be. My hope was that my reporting would present how we currently fail and what ideals we should strive for. The muckrakers did this at the turn of the century in America. It was enough for me to hope that my articles would inspire action in others.

But working at the House of Charity changed that. Observation and reporting can only go so far. There still needs to be an energy and will among the actors to work upon that, and I would rather be a part of that direct involvement instead of the oblique work of journalists. I have not abandoned journalism completely. I still believe it is necessary and can do good work, but I just no longer believe that it is for me.

Well, all that and the fact that the journalism industry is a complete mess right now has turned me off from the profession. Best of luck to anyone trying to find a secure writing position with a daily newspaper. They're going to need it.

Thursday, May 14

"Band Aids"

Scroll all the way to the bottom of this page to find my submission to Faith Works, the monthly newsletter of Catholic Charities Spokane. That's the umbrella group for the House of Charity, my place of work since last February.

I'm not totally happy with the writing that precedes it, but the conclusion strikes exactly the right tone for me. The House of Charity is really not concerned with ending homelessness in Spokane. That is a much wider problem than we can deal with and better suited to the work of politicians and other policy makers. Rather, House of Charity operates on the individual level. As often as possible we try to get our clients off the streets through our transitional housing program, but that is dependent upon the client's motivation. Mostly we just provide a safe place and treat the men and women who come through our doors with a little dignity and respect. Maybe my standards have fallen, but that's enough for me now.

Wednesday, May 13

"The Monsters We Really Should Be Afraid Of"

Enjoy my last submission to Gonzaga's Charter, Journal of Scholarship and Opinion. I have nothing to say about it. There was little inspiration behind it, but I could not bring myself to do something on literature or film since the majority of the other pieces revolve around those. It's not that I disagree with anything I wrote. It's just not that exciting.

Also by virtue of being inundated with interpretations of Frankenstein and Saw, my favorite pieces in this exceptionally well designed issue were those which went off in entirely different directions. Thus, I suggest you all take a gander at Anne Pauw's "Villain and Idenitty in Othello," Mallory Ferland's "Monsters Can't Run," Chris Dreyer's "The Monster Hero," and Emmett Tribolet's "Perception and Medieval Monsters." The titles may not be totally mind blowing awesome, but there is some good thought and quality writing behind these pieces.

Wednesday, May 6

The Jewish Memorial in Dachau

This photograph was shot from the inside of the Jewish Memorial in Dachau, if you couldn't tell from the Star of David in the gate or the title of the post, during my second visit to the former concentration camp. The silhouetted figure is probably a German student just peering in. A few classes were on tours that day.

Beyond these basics of background, I'm not sure what to say. I like the picture, or to be more accurate, I appreciate it. There is definitely a heavy visual and emotional weight, but I'm not sure what exactly it is I'm responding to. The harsh, interrupting bars crossing the gate? The long shadows? The mysterious person just outside the door? The simple fact that this was once a prison and site of mass murder? This bothers me. This is a picture in memorial of the Holocaust. It was not some minor event, and it should not be treated casually, yet I am at a loss to describe my feelings coherently, much less wholly comprehend them myself. It demands gravitas, and I have nothing.