CORE 4 with Lynn Johnson

At Newhouse, students have the opportunity to take a summer class with National Geographic photographer Lynn Johnson called "CORE." During the class, we have conversations about the industry that we haven't really talked about before. Some of the conversations include (1) removing the "labels" between photojournalism, photo illustration, fashion, portraiture, art photography, etc. and blurring the lines, (2) balancing personal life and work life, (3) how to tell real emotional stories without getting emotionally invested (since journalists are supposed to remain "objective," and how being objective doesn't exist,) (4) being a woman in the profession, and many other questions that a lot of visual communicators are beginning to address. 

(l-r) Xiang Wei, Sam Maller, Shira Stoll, Melissa Scott, Viola Wan, Martha Swann, Jasmine Purdie, Vi Nguyen, Kathy Hua, Sophia Little, Xixi Zhou, Elizabeth Krist, Lynn Johnson. Photo by Allie Hootnick.

(l-r) Xiang Wei, Sam Maller, Shira Stoll, Melissa Scott, Viola Wan, Martha Swann, Jasmine Purdie, Vi Nguyen, Kathy Hua, Sophia Little, Xixi Zhou, Elizabeth Krist, Lynn Johnson. Photo by Allie Hootnick.

The class is designed to help us work on a summer-long project (ideally our Master's Thesis project), in which we plan our projects during the 10 days before the summer with her, communicate with her all summer while we're off shooting, and then meet up with her for the last 10 days of summer to show her work and discuss what we learned. We also have daily photo assignments during the first 10 days.

Our first assignment was to photograph an abstraction of light. This was in order to remove the stigma of those labels, blur the lines, and to get back to the basics of photography, which is light. These were my 3 photos:

The second assignment was to take lyrical portraits of strangers:

Our third assignment was to photograph the Multimedia Immersion Workshop as a class in order to get a full-coverage of the event. We each had our own task which was outside of our comfort zone. For example, people who usually shoot eye level, had to shoot high or low, people who normally shoot tight shoot wide, people who normally have very structured compositions had to shoot with their eyes closed, etc.

The Multimedia workshop, while extremely intense for the participants, was not the most intriguing location to photograph. There was minimal "good light," as we were in an auditorium on the 1st floor of Newhouse, and everyone was sitting at a computer editing their videos. So, the challenge was to shoot for 2 hours in this space where not a lot was going on and we had to shoot in a way that we don't normally shoot. Lynn told me that I usually shoot wide and have a lot going on in my frame, so she challenged me to shoot only "tight faces" with a 70-200, which is my least favorite lens, by the way. This was definitely a challenge for me because there was minimal light that I could use and I was only taking one type of photograph. I found myself just waiting and looking for little pools of light that would come in from the window to hit someone's face. 

Here are 6/20 of the images I handed in:

At the end, we put together a final video for the participants of all the photographs that we took:

The fourth assignment was to tell a story in 2 hours and we could only take 32 frames (as if it were taken on one roll of film). We couldn't delete anything and the photos had to be taken IN ORDER of the story that we wanted to tell.

My story was about overcoming a dark time and trying to move forward. The photos literally move from darkness to light, but the subject matter/use of light were meant to hint at undertones of a person struggling with a broken heart and moving towards letting go of what hurt them. It starts and ends with a window, insinuating a new day in both the first picture and the last.

The truth is that shooting this story in order was probably the hardest part. I really had to think about it, and sometimes the photo wasn't exactly what I wanted & I had to move on rather than wait again for the right moment. For this slideshow of images from the story, I cut it down to 24 frames in order to make the story more clear/I took out some of my less-successful frames.

We all were standing in the Multimedia, Photography, and Design Stele Center at Newhouse talking about our projects when Lynn told us to get a giant piece of paper and write down the first 20 words, collectively as a group, we could think of. We shouted them out as someone wrote them down. Once we had all 20 down, she said "ok. now go out and shoot. I'll see you tomorrow." That was at 7 PM and we had to shoot a good, lyrical frame of each of these 20 words by 9 AM the next morning. It was extremely challenging; especially because the main point of all of these assignments were to think less-literally and to really capture the essence of the words. Let's just say, none of us slept that night. BUT - it was amazing. It allowed me to really think hard about photography and how to get through tough assignments. I was researching, brainstorming, looking, and shooting all night. In the end though, while not all of the frames were exactly what I wanted due to the time constraint, I learned something from each experience and I came away with many that I was really proud of. Here are 15/20 of the words:

"Power and Control" was the final assignment. We had to find a stranger and take a photo of them that was observed and photo of them that was constructed. The "power and control" name comes from being in control of the photograph vs. being completely observant and not in control of the photograph. It was a good exercise in learning how to communicate with people and also how to understand when it's ok to be in control and when I need to step back and observe a situation. I photographed Bradley Burman, who was putting in hardwood floors in the Park Point Syracuse apartment building during their summer construction period.

Overall, it was an inspiring, informative, and wonderful 10 days where we not only had great conversations and planned our summers, but we also took a yoga class every morning with Jennifer Masters. This allowed us to really think about syncing our mind, body, and breath. Doing yoga (phoga, or photo-yoga) every morning at 9 AM changed the way that I work and the way that I am. It allowed me to be much more present, alert, patient, and relaxed. 

It was a great start to a wonderful summer and I'm excited to see how everyone's projects develop throughout these next few months.

Core 4. Photo by Lynn Johnson

Core 4. Photo by Lynn Johnson