March 13th, 2012

When I was in school and working as a photographer for the University of Washington Daily, the publisher (our adviser) introduced some of us to the communications department of the Everett School District.

We would shoot hand-rolled Tri-X film, process it in the Daily’s darkroom, make contact sheets on paper we bought, edit it, and submit for client review. Once the images were chosen, we’d scan the negatives and work the images in Photoshop. It was a great arrangement; given our experience we were reasonably paid, but what we learned was invaluable. It was an introduction to contracts and corporate communications, with a reliance on our growing journalistic skill.

Last year, I received an email from Karri Matau, one of the people from the Everett School District’s communications team. She now works for the Greater Everett Community Foundation. It’s a great job: give money away to partner non profits in Snohomish County, north of Seattle. (above: Inside a juvenile detention facility where the foundation supports an art program. They are my first client to use iPhone images in an annual report)

Reintroducing herself by email, she said:

“I googled you to see if you stayed in the field. I am breathless by your portfolio and work to date!!!”

“We have a story to tell and a need to help our community celebrate and rebuild hope for the future,” she continued. “Interested in helping do some photo shoots with our grantees to “capture” our story for our annual publication and for our breakfast celebration in Sept?”

“I have hired a lot of photographer for day shoots and I’m just not pleased with the lack of emotion and energy in the shots.”

I don’t know how photographers could miss emotion and energy, given the work the foundation supports, but apparently they do. (above: Matau was surprised and happy to see these two sharing an intimate moment. Supporters of the foundation, Matau says she’s seen them typically reserved in their expression.)

As with many non profits, we had a limited budget. Working with Matau, were were able to schedule and pack each shoot day with concise photo lists. That meant fewer days in the field and less image licensing, keeping us in budget.

Since the foundation’s website is data-heavy and targeted toward an aging population in Snohomish County (note the “larger text” link in the upper right corner) who might want to support the foundation’s mission, Matau only needed images for their print publication. An online build-out of their communications isn’t on the table…yet.

Working mostly alone and traveling to different sites in Snohomish county reminded me of my work over a decade ago with the Everett School District; I even went to an elementary school. The real pleasure was in meeting everyone and learning what each of the non profits was doing to help the community. The only thing I wish I could do differently is to dig deeper into the stories I found; I love using the tools we have to create and distribute multimedia, taking the viewer further into the story.

Without the connection to Matau, I don’t think I would have had the job, and if I hadn’t given it my best effort on each assignment so many years ago, I don’t think I would have impressed her. And, without the years of experience between then and now, I don’t think I’d be as good a facilitator, helping organizations tell their story. (below: Monroe Elementary teacher Barney Peterson with her Young Authors Program students.)

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Posted in advocacy, client, clients, community, inspiration, NGO, non profit, photography Comments Off on 2011 CLIENT REVIEW: WHY RELATIONSHIPS MATTER

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