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Acclaimed photojournalists visit UMass

About 40 students filled the classroom at 304 Tobin Hall Tuesday afternoon to attend a free photo exhibit and discussion with photojournalists Kendrick Brinson and David Walter Banks.

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Brinson and Banks, who are married, are both founding members of the Luceo Images photo cooperative. They work both individually and together on photo assignments and projects – with their clientele including the New York Times, Time and Wall Street Journal.

The pair spoke to mostly Intro to Journalism students about the importance of balancing passion with business, articulating a vision and executing freelance projects.

“We make a living taking photos, but that pays for the plane ticket to go do the project that I love,” Brinson said.

“For long-term projects, you’re telling a story … it’s the same idea (as print journalism), just told visually,” Banks said.

Brinson and Banks showed four slideshows – two of collaborations and one of each own’s solo projects – and said that a common their work captures is “a sense of place,” according to Banks.

Their work captures “a society that is becoming more and more globalized and homogenous,” Banks said, a process the two “find interesting to document.”

The first slideshow, set to Bon Iver’s “Holocene,” documented American life, people, places and objects. From animal stalls at a county fair to red, white and blue draped citizens in celebration, the photographs focused on rural American culture.

“The Bon Iver song was a good start… I enjoyed it,” said undeclared sophomore Oli Faden of the first slideshow, adding that the music during the slideshows gave each series “a different feel.”

Photojournalism and photography in general is changing toward an emphasis on collaboration rather than the “long standing tradition” of the “lone-wolf photographer” in charge of every aspect of project production, Banks said.

“There is a need for us to collaborate and work together,” he said, adding that in the age of multimedia projects in which audio, moving and still visual components are needed, that “there is really strength in numbers.”

Brinson explained that in the Luceo photo cooperative, for example, one person would do research, another would arrange web design and audio with external parties, and other members would shoot the actual material for the multimedia project.

Brinson said that better skills came from this collaborative effort because it left more time for members to focus on their particular area of the project rather than juggling all the components of multimedia.

The second slideshow was centered on lifestyle and travel and was set to Beirut’s “Postcards From Italy.” In it were many portraits, fashion editorials, young couples and landscapes.

Banks admitted that the photographs in this collection catered to a different type of client and were more for commercial purposes. Brinson explained once more the need to do photography to pay the bills but still incorporating personal style in every picture.

“It’s like the blending of personal and professional,” she said, adding, “it’s just as important” for her to take photos of her family as it is to shoot staged strangers due to her love of taking photos.

“If you don’t ever photograph anything that’s personal to you, I think it will always be hollow, it will never quite ring true,” Banks said of the necessity of having a personal link to one’s work. “I fully inject myself into these projects.”

His personal project, “Too Busy To Hate,” is a series “trying to look at how cultural identity is formed in Atlanta,” Banks said. It is a collection of portraits of life in Atlanta, depicting large church services, mouths open wide in song, to football games with players clad in two-toned mesh jerseys.

Brinson’s personal project, “Sun City: Life After Life,” documents the age-restricted community of over-55-year-olds in Sun City, Ariz. Her photographs, set to Jay-Z’s “Forever Young,” show members of the Sun City community taking their retirement fun seriously, from full cheerleading squads and synchronized swimming groups to golf cart-only lanes and bedazzled street parades.

Her visits to this community have yet to stop, as she has developed a “first love” bond between her work and her subjects.

“I can’t finish it because I love it so much,” Brinson said.

Brinson, who self-funded her first visit Sun City because none of her proposed clients were initially interested, later sold her these photographs to AARP and then to a wider, international pool of suddenly-interested clientele.

She emphasized the importance of holding onto personal visions as a freelance photographer.

“When you’re a freelancer, you have to be really good at articulating yourself,” such as pitching story ideas and explaining the ‘why’ behind every idea, Brinson told students. She also said that coming up with a project in the first place was “one of the hardest things” as a freelancer.

“So much of what we do is failure,” Banks said, adding that this isn’t always a bad thing as it can open up opportunities not thought possible before.

The two photojournalists then opened the floor up for a question and answer session with students.

They took turns speaking about the equipment they use, the editing process, authenticity of their subjects and of what it was like as a couple overlapping in both professional and personal life.

Banks said in joint projects, he’s good at lighting, while Brinson focuses on the details of the shoot.

“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” he said.

On the type of cameras they use, Banks pointed to his iPhone and said “This is just a hammer. They’re all just tools – it’s how you use it.”

Brinson explained her process during an assignment of letting her subjects organically do what they want without direction or instruction from her.

“You try to find the authenticity in everything,” she said, speaking of candid moments between the shows some people put on for the camera.

Sophomore journalism student Tori Schneebaum thought the presentation was relevant to her interests in journalism and photojournalism in particular, saying she “thought it was interesting” because Brinson and Banks focused on their personal projects.

“We fall in love with these stories. So much of it is about building relationships,” Banks said of their personal projects.

Chelsie Field can be reached at cfield@student.umass.edu

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