Friday, February 5, 2016

Picture Story: Take a picture, tell a story - Frankie Humphrey

My Instagram feed @justnlstewart)

I was fortunate enough reconnect with Frankie, who I met and briefly photographed on New Years Eve, but didn't really talk to. The internet is an amazing place from which I was able to track him down through Twitter and arrange a shoot and interview for a Picture Story assignment called "Take a picture, tell a story," based on this project by Robert Gumpert.

I think both the shoot and the interview went well. Frankie was really open with me and has a great voice and some interesting stories. I wish I'd taken a couple more variations of the close-up, but I was feeling a bit nervous because we were running behind schedule (because of me) and Frankie had to leave town at 2.

I should have slowed down, but I'm always feeling like I'm inconveniencing my subjects and I still haven't realized that I'm the photographer and they're just listening to my instructions - I have the power.

That led to me forgetting my wireless transmitters as we ran out the door to shoot in an alleyway. I think that actually ended up playing out in my favor, but it was still a mistake.

Originally I was hoping to photograph Frankie in his home or a studio, but I didn't realize he didn't live in Columbia and with the way things played out, this is how it was. When I said we should shoot in a studio, he said the dance studios were "basic" and that we should shoot in an alley.

I was hesitant at first, trying to remind him that I was a photojournalist and it wasn't a commercial shoot; I wanted the background to say something about him. Then he told me that he grew up dancing on the streets and I figured an alley was perfect.

We turned on some music, he did his thing, I did my thing and this is what resulted. Below is a second version of the video I edited in a little different fashion, with a larger selection of photos.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Forgotten Post: Condemned Housing in Columbia

My Instagram feed @justnlstewart)

Last spring my roommate Luke told me about some condemned houses near Columbia Community College. He said he was going to photograph them and he wanted to know if I was interested in joining. It was a warm spring afternoon and, seeing a good opportunity to delay any work that was beckoning me, I said yes and we drove over to Rodgers Street, parking in the new parking spots at Douglas Park.

We wandered through each of the condemned houses, photographing and discussing why these houses might have been condemned, wondering where their former occupants had gone and why anyone would feel the need to spray paint a penis on the wall.

We found some names and discussed trying to track some of the people down to figure out what had happened — why their houses were condemned and why they had left so much behind — but, with the spring semester being the hell it was, we never got around to it, just like this post.

I think there's always a fear related to photographing something like this. It's not that it's scary to shoot, but that you're wondering if there will be blow back. The words "ruin porn" like to be thrown around willy nilly, and I'm not keen on being associated with them. 

This isn't the first time I've documented housing that people were forced out of. I think it's an important thing to photograph. It raises important questions. Why did this happen? Why are so many things left behind? Was this fair? Are the people OK? What if something like this happened to me? What would I take and what would I leave behind? 

These experiences leave so many questions and feel so strange. Spices still sit in the spice rack, a mother of the year award lies among abandoned family photos and hangers, a plastic flower rests in a bathroom sink, a portrait of a clown rest among a pile of kitty litter boxes — why? How?

I think the fear of being shamed for photographing this was one of the reasons this never made it up before. In the end, I suppose, you have to just take the good with the bad. If someone is going to call this "ruin porn," there's not much I can do about that. But maybe others will see what I see and experience what I experienced. That's the hope, at least.

These make me feel. I hope they make you feel, too.

A pile of family photographs and clothing hangers lie among shards of broken glass with a certificate that says "Mother of the Year Award" in one of the condemned houses on along Rodgers Street.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Releasing My Costa Rican Documentary and Moving On

(My Instagram feed @justnlstewart)

Sometimes, you have to let things go. I have to let go of this.

Video is a difficult, time consuming beast. There are so many levels to it that the average joe will never fully understand. I can't tell you how many hours went into this.

I shot this video over the course of spring break in 2015 when I traveled to Costa Rica with professor Bill Allen and other students to help train firefighters working in the ÁCG how to fly drones. They had purchased a drone which we were bringing them and wanted to be trained to fly it so they could use it for various aspects of conservation.

Assembling the film took about a week of editing all day, every day. Then, I was fortunate enough to get help with translations from friends new and old. I've had to do "small" touch up edits right up until yesterday when I was uploading.

It was a hard process. I had to come to terms with footage I didn't have and edit around such restrictions. There was no reshooting possible. I had what I had and that's what I got to work with.

I'd love to re-edit this into something better, but it's time to put it to bed. It's been trying to find a home somewhere unsuccessfully for nearly a year. I've got a to-do list that nauseates me every time I look at it and I'm just out of time to tear this thing apart and reassemble it.

I got to learn a lot through this process and I've got no real regrets (maybe one or two). I'm better for having done it and ready to take on more work. This is the largest, longest piece I've ever worked on and that alone presented a huge opportunity for growth. I'm excited for the next opportunity I get to work on a larger video piece, hopefully with more people so I don't get crushed by the workload again.

Thank you so much to everyone who helped me along the way with this. I had some great help from some amazing people and wouldn't have ever even made it this far without all of them.

So, here it is; my longest piece I've done and something I call a short documentary. On to the next one. Also, if you know of a home, it's still looking...

You can also watch the Spanish version here: SPANISH VERSION

Learning to Fly: Drones in the ÁCG from Justin L. Stewart on Vimeo.
Students at the University of Missouri teach firefighters the fly drones in ACG, Costa Rica to aid in their conservation efforts.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Years Resolution: Make Better Portraits

(My Instagram feed @justnlstewart)

One last post for the year. 

I've been playing catchup on all the months I've missed in posts. It was a busy semester and the chaos was all-consuming. Finally, though, I've caught back up (or at least come close enough).

Looking forward to 2016, I want to improve my portrait game. It's one of my biggest weaknesses and anxieties. How do you form a bond with a stranger in such a short time? What lighting do you use? How do you make a boring situation better?

There's a lot of improvement to be had. There's also a lot of practice to be had. I have a tendency to avoid portraits.

No more. 2016 is the year of the portrait.

Here's to making better photos in general. And here's some of the portraits I made in 2015 in approximate chronological order. Thanks for looking through another blog post! It's my last one for the year... and hopefully until the end of January.

I should also make a resolution not to fall behind on these posts again... Happy New Years!

Playing Catchup: November Shots

(My Instagram feed @justnlstewart)

November was my most exhausting month by far. Mizzou became national news after graduate student Jonathan Butler went on a hunger strike. I spent every hour I could that week, trying to document things as they progressed. I worked every day straight for about 12 days, spending approximately 10 hours a day documenting this.

I got Jonathan's permission to document him throughout the process, though as media attention grew and the group struggled to keep up with the rising demands on them, he withdrew from the public eye and I lost my access.

After that, I stuck with the group, having to gain trust from new people every day. I traveled to KC on a second's notice with protestors and they went to protest a fundraiser UM President Tim Wolfe was attending. I spent hours sitting in the tent camp. I explained myself and what I was doing over and over and over. I was berated by an irate faculty member at the end of the week who I hadn't seen around before, a woman who wouldn't give me a moment to explain myself, yelling over everything I said. The two students present, and a board of curators member, all apologized later for that person's actions.

I've never been as emotionally taxed and physically worn down as I was during this coverage. It was hard to be silent and constantly in the middle of everything, fighting to not be labeled as "the MEDIA" and to be dealing with all the chaos as a student as well. Rome was burning and it was hard to know what to do. It hurt on a lot of levels, but it taught me so much and made me grow in so many ways. I'll never forget that week.

If you want to see my edit of the story, it's available HERE on my website. You can also see my work from this on TIME's Lightbox along with a couple of my friends.

There was some other work I did that month, but this was the bulk of my focus and I was given free reign on it due to the access I had obtained.

There's some other shots in here too. Thanks for reading and taking the time to look.

MU doctoral student Reuben Faloughi, center, yells through a megaphone during a walkout at Memorial Union on Thursday. Protestors marched through MU buildings that "make money" for the university, including Memorial Union and the MU Student Center. 

Members of MU's Legion of Black Collegians and Concerned Student 1950 supporters cry and hug during an emotional part of a protest on Saturday, November 7, 2015. The students voiced their concerns and told stories of racism on campus at each location. 
A student tells University of Missouri Board of Curators member David L. Steelman that she feels less safe on campus than she does back in Chicago during Steelman's brief visit to the Concerned Student 1950 tent camp.
The Concerned Student 1950 tent camp continues to grow as a spotlight from a KPLR 11 news van shines a spotlight on the camp.
A group of mothers came to the tent camp to help organize and cleanup the place mid-way through the week. There was a constant influx of donations from various people around Columbia, bringing food, water, blankets, tarps and other things to help out the students camping out on Mel Carnahan Quadrangle. 
Two trucks bearing the label "True Country Roadside Care" fly a Confederate flag, two United States flags and a POW/MIA flag as they speed by the Concerned Student 1950 campsite on the Mel Carnahan Quadrangle on Sunday evening. The trucks drove by once without stopping. The drivers, 21 and 22-years-old, who asked not to be identified, said they were unaware of the protests happening on campus and were out enjoying the weather. They said the Confederate flag represented rebellion to them.
                                 A person walks by the Concerned Student 1950 tent camp Sunday evening. The camp almost doubled in size the day after the Missouri football team backed the group's boycott. Players on Saturday night vowed not to play another game until UM System President Tim Wolfe resigned. A statement from coach Gary Pinkel said the team would not practice until Jonathan Butler ends his hunger strike.                             
Kelley Hoskin of KPLR 11 in St. Louis edits a video in the back of her news van of student body president Payton Head discussing the racial climate on campus from earlier in the day. Head was previously called the N-word while walking through Greek Town with his boyfriend.
People gather for a prayer circle next to the tent camp. The circles, which occurred every night at 10 p.m., grew in size each time. This was the final prayer circle, held the night before UM President Tim Wolfe resigned.
Students link arms to keep media out of their "safe space" as photojournalist Tim Tai argues his right to be there documenting the event after UM President Tim Wolfe resigned.
Professor Melissa Click patrols the edge of the "safe space" where students have linked arms to keep media away from the Concerned Student tent camp. Click would later be remembered for a viral video showing her infringing on the media's right to be there and her confrontation with student photojournalist Tim Tai.
Tim Wolfe announces his resignation Nov. 9 after escalating events involving protesters. Wolfe's resignation brought the end of Jonathan Butler's hunger strike and Concerned Student 1950's camp out in Mel Carnahan Quadrangle.
Tim Wolfe reacts after announcing his resignation Nov. 9 after escalating events involving protesters. Wolfe's resignation brought the end of Jonathan Butler's hunger strike and Concerned Student 1950's camp out in Mel Carnahan Quadrangle.

The original 11 members of Concerned Student 1950 hold a press conference Nov. 9 after the resignation of UM System President Tim Wolfe. The group named themselves after year the first African-American student who was admitted to the university in 1950.                             
Groundskeepers talk for a moment after repairing the ground on Mel Carnahan Quadrangle where the Concerned Student 1950 tent camp rested for a week.
Students sit among empty tables at MU's Student Center after death threats aimed at black students on social media Tuesday night created a stir and made some students feel unsafe attending classes Wednesday. Various businesses near campus closed and some events were canceled

Chancellor R . Bowen Loftin stands inside the main doors of his office in Jesse Hall Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015.Mizzou's campus had been a mess since Monday when both the UM System President Tim Wolfe and the Chancellor announced their resignations from their positions with the president's taking effect immediately. Loftin will transfer to another position within MU Jan. 1, 2016.

                                 Interim UM System President Michael Middleton speaks at his introductory news conference Thursday at University Hall. Middleton was the first black professor in the MU School of Law. More recently, he served as deputy chancellor until his retirement on Aug. 31. 
Alexandria Owens dances to music on the stage inside the Jesse Hall auditorium Friday, Nov. 13, 2015 in Columbia, Mo. The "We're Not Afraid March" led the group through greek town before making its way to the auditorium in Jesse Hall where people spoke about the power students have to create change before dancing to music on the stage.
People listen to Jonathan Butler as he speaks at the end of  a march in the auditorium inside of Jesse Hall in Columbia, Mo. Friday, Nov. 13, 2015. The "We're Not Afraid March" led the group through greek town before making its way to the auditorium in Jesse Hall where people spoke about the power students have to create change before dancing to music on the stage.
People march through greek town on MU's campus with the Concerned Student 1950 group from the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center to the auditorium inside of Jesse Hall in Columbia, Mo. Nov. 13, 2015. The "We're Not Afraid March" led the group through greek town before making its way to the auditorium in Jesse Hall where people spoke about the power students have to create change before dancing to music on the stage.
The USS Aries, a decommissioned Navy hydrofoil used to catch drug runners on the high seas, has languished on the Grand River at Brunswick for 18 years. The ship has been moved to a shipyard on the Gasconade River by its owners, who aspire to make it a mobile museum. 
Missouri wide receiver J'Mon Moore yells after an incomplete pass Friday during the first quarter of the Tigers game against the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville, Arkansas.                             
Freshman punter Corey Fatoney warms up as kicker Andrew Baggett watches during the Arkansas game. 
Runningback Russell Hansbrough walks of the Arkansas field after MU's 28-3 loss in their final game of the season and Gary Pinkel's final game as head coach. The team ended their season with a 5-7 record, being 1-7 in the SEC conference.
Tennessee and Missouri fans tailgate in 35-degree weather Saturday outside an entrance to the parking garage at Tiger Avenue and Hospital Drive in Columbia. Missouri football head coach Gary Pinkel will be coaching his final home game Saturday against the Tennessee Volunteers.