About a month ago John Walthier, publisher of "The Audible Eyeball" blog, contacted me regarding "The Dividing Line" video I produced back in May. Father of two sons, Walthier has been maintaining the relatively new blog now for seven months; providing a resource for inspirational work, and informational articles on multimedia storytelling. He also asked me a number of questions regarding my work for a future article that will draw from several interviews from leading multimedia journalists. After spending about two hours with the interview, I found it fascinating to take a step back and analyze my own techniques, reflect on my experience leading up to today, and general approach to storytelling. I rarely get the chance, if ever, since I'm usually standing standing on the other side with a critical eye on others' work.
I wanted to include a short passage from our conversation that that I find particularly interesting. I think this kind of sums up a lot of what I've learned in the past year, and what Bruce Strong would call, "the core" of why I do what I do:
JW: In the Slow Healing project (e.g., Jason) you managed to capture very intimate conversations with your subjects. How did you gain that access?
AH: My girlfriend recently told me that I'm a good reporter (she's a magazine writer). I had no idea what she meant. I don't know what reporters do. I never learned reporting skills. I don't even know if I follow the ethical guidelines. I'm not saying I fabricate my reporting, or anything like that, but I do accept meals from my subjects, and I do nurture personal relationships with them. I remember an assignment for the Oregonian, where I was teamed up with a writer. She would refuse to eat even a cashew that was offered to her because it would compromise policy. Maybe it's internal policy of her company, but I just remember thinking how odd that was. I usually gauge the rapport between my subject and I by an invitation to a meal. If they invite me to dinner, or ask me to put the camera down and sit down for lunch with them, then I know that we are developing the type of relationship that will allow me to capture very intimate moments that otherwise are inaccessible.
My girlfriend later explained to me what she meant by a good reporter. She said that I have the unique ability to make people relaxed and very comfortable with my presence. One of the first things I always do when I arrive at a subject's house for the first time is ask for a cup of water, or ask to use the restroom. It's a small act like this that helps to put the subject at ease. I think it communicates to them that ultimately I'm just as much human as they are. Working with subjects in sensitive settings requires a certain amount of trust building. I always make myself vulnerable to their questioning, and share equally intimate details of my life as I hope they will share with me. Breaking down those barriers and being myself opens doors that otherwise will never open. Half of this work is relationship building, from which I have developed great friendships over the years with subjects who to this day I still remain in contact with.
Just thought I'd pass that along. Storytelling really is quite an amazing process. And, to be able to call it my work, is just lucky. Keep on producing bad ass work everyone!