Friday, April 18, 2014

Q&A #4: Former marine switches careers, then goes Air Force

Feature photos by Bowling Green Sentinel-Tribune photojournalist Shane Hughes

Shane Hughes
    I first met Shane Hughes more than a year ago while we were both on the job.
   We were on assignment for our respective newspapers: I, the seasoned veteran for the Blade; and he, the newbie part-timer for the Bowling Green Sentinel Tribune.
   I don’t know the exact time or place, but I do remember we clicked immediately because we’re both military. There is a special camaraderie amongst us military types, maybe because we can relate to structured things like marching and shooting.
   Shane was not a photographer in the marines, but nonetheless he landed a job at the Sentinel after he got out.
   Over the past few years we’ve gotten together a few times. I met him once in a coffee shop to review his portfolio; and he came to my photojournalism class at Owens as a guest speaker.
   Shane, a BGSU visual communication technology student, is a young and energetic photojournalist who is devoted to mastering his craft of documenting life around him with a camera.
   He readily admits he’s green, but with that admission he’s wide open to learning from others. I firmly believe that the day you think you know everything is the day you stop improving. 
   It is this drive to learn that led him to the Northern Short Course in Rhode Island in March. He called the 3-day conference a ‘life changer,’ and I wanted to know why. So I’ve chosen Shane as my fourth recipient of the Q&A series:
Q:    You weren’t a photojournalist in the military, so what made you pursue this career when you got out, and how did you land a job at the Sentinel-Tribune?
A:   I deployed to Fallujah before I had even hit my six-month anniversary in the Marine Corps. I arrived in early summer 2006 and stayed until early 2007. I was serving with the Force Protection Security Team in December, during operations Dakota and Sledgehammer, when they sent a Marine photojournalist out to cover the operations. He spent about two weeks with us and during that time I got to know him a little during down time. He showed me some of the images he made of my friends, and that’s what sparked my first interest in photojournalism. It was at that moment I understood the potential of still images portraying powerful messages. They communicate with people in a way no other medium can.
   I decided  I was going to learn photography and pursue a career in photojournalism. Once I got out of the Marine Corps in September 2010 I started school at BGSU. I shadowed my current boss, JD Pooley, at the Sentinel-Tribune and a little over a year later the part-time photographer, Aaron Carpenter, left to take a teaching position. I applied for the job and landed it right away. I know it wasn’t my resume or my portfolio that landed me my current position. JD told me recently that the reason he hired me over other applicants was because I had job shadowed him earlier and he knew I was enthusiastic and eager to learn.
   As a side note, I don’t remember the name of the Marine photojournalist who was with us for those two weeks. I have a terrible memory. I honestly wouldn’t have remembered the operation names if it wasn’t for the award citation sitting on my desk. Although I have recently been trying to search to try and find those images he made and find him.
Q:   You recently attended the Northern Short Course. Can you explain what that conference is about, and what inspired you to attend?
A:   The Northern Short Course is an annual photojournalism conference sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association. The conference is a series of workshops for photojournalists who want to improve their craft and make connections in the industry. Every day begins with an opening lecture by a guest speaker. After the opening lecture, attendees have the opportunity to choose one of three categories. This year the categories were photography, multimedia and business. After all the workshops are finished for the day there is a closing lecture. After the lecture we have the opportunity to have our portfolio reviewed by industry leaders, and then of course there is socialization time at the hotel bar for those who are of legal drinking age. The socialization usually goes on early into the next day. Overall, there is always something amazing happening and I did not get very much sleep while I was there. 
Q: A portfolio review is a beneficial (and sometimes terrifying) benefit of the NSC. How did your review go?
 A: I don’t necessarily agree that portfolio reviews are terrifying. They are and should be brutally honest, but that is not a bad thing and it isn’t something that should scare anyone. The portfolio reviews are there to help you learn how you can improve on your skills, and you can’t get better if you don’t seek the opinions of industry leaders and those who have more experience than you. I had my portfolio reviewed by six different people while I was at the conference and there was a surprising consensus, which is far better than six completely different opinions. My portfolio is full of images I shot for the Sentinel-Tribune. This means that all of my images are soft features and not the kind of images that will help me advance in my career.
   They all advised me to work on my own personal projects and to develop photo essays that develop a narrative: stories with a beginning, middle and end. Stories with unique and interesting characters, powerful settings, conflicts and resolutions. The reason these types of stories are important is that they show editors you can get access to a story, develop it, and build a bond with the subjects that allows them to be vulnerable in your presence. The most powerful images we see in this industry are those that come from those vulnerable moments where your subject has forgotten that you are there taking their picture, and you can’t get that moment unless you have the ability to build trust with your subject. That is what editors are looking for when they hire. They want a photojournalist who can do all these things and your portfolio has to show them that you possess those skills. You won’t build your portfolio off of daily newspaper assignments.
Q: You just enlisted in the 180th Fighter Wing. What is your job and how will you be trained for it?
A: I am a photojournalist for them, and in August I will be leaving for Baltimore to train for roughly six months. I will be trained in photography and journalism. The Air National Guard wants their photojournalists to be able to go into any situation and tell the whole story. This means getting the images and writing the article that goes with those images.
Q: What advice can you give young, aspiring photojournalists in this modern age of job cuts and overpopulation of people with cameras?
A: It is strange that you ask that question because I was just talking about this with a friend recently. Don’t be afraid of the image saturation happening right now. All the images out there that are being taken by amateurs are usually not that great, and this helps the great images stand out. When people see images by amateurs that they think are great, they are often amazed when shown images by professionals.     
    The images that are flooding onto the Internet are just creating a lot of noise and it is your job as a photographer to be better and to do everything you can to make your images rise above the noise. You make your images rise above that noise by constantly striving to improve your skills, and constantly trying to make your images better. The second you are satisfied with your images, you have lost. I often can’t sleep at night because when I lay down I am still thinking about the images I created that day and how I could have made them better.
    As far as jobs go… persistence, persistence, persistence. If this is a career that you truly want to enter, then you have to be persistent. You absolutely can’t give up at the first sign of trouble. The industry is going to change; it already has. But the one thing that will not change is that there will always be a demand for the photojournalists who can tell the stories that make us stop and view the world around us in a new light.

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