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Shooting straight in Russell County: a boot camp for student photographers.

Shooting straight in Russell County

A boot camp for student photographers

For 11 years student photographers from Western Kentucky University, their advisers, and selected professional photographers have ventured into the region's countryside to document the life of a community, and to learn how to shoot better pictures -- not just technically but, as one past adviser to the project put it, "from the heart."

The picture stories the students came up with last fall in rural Russell County in south-central Kentucky will be published in book form later this spring. Meanwhile, on these pages is a sampling of photos from the Mountain Workshop, which is sponsored by Western Kentucky University and the Canon camera company.

"We wanted to end up with a fair record of that county, a cross section of its people and its landmarks, everything from its bankers to its fishermen," said Dave LaBelle, photojournalist in residence at Western Kentucky.

That cross section includes both the World War I Dough Boy that is the focal point of the town of Jamestown and the Russell Springs shopping mall 10 miles away -- a range of differing cultures that confronted the 30 student and professional photographers who arrived in the county in October for the workshop.

Students enrolled in Western Kentucky Professor Mike Morse's photojournalism class were joined this year by students from the University of Kentucky, Kent State University, and the University of Kansas, and by professionals from the Atlanta Constitution, the Nashville Banner, the Chicago Tribune, the Medina County (Ohio) Gazette, the Glasgow (Kentucky) Daily Times, the Corydon (Indiana) Democrat, and others.

After arriving in the county, the photographers were given their assignments. For the next three days they did nothing but shoot the assignment over and over again.

"Every frame on every roll of film is critiqued by the instructors," LaBelle said, and "that can be a very painful experience for some people. It's three days to do nothing but think about pictures, three days to shoot and critique, shoot again, critique again, and shoot again."

LaBelle compared the workshop to a Marine boot camp. "We try to break them down and then work to build them back up again," he said.

That rigor can cause problems: "Our students have heard horror stories about the workshop," he said, and "many get so psyched they don't do well."

But sometimes they do. LaBelle recalled one student whose growth in photojournalism during the three-day workout was not halted even by being told that his negatives were among the worst the photographer had ever seen.

Said Jack Corn, a workshop instructor and director of photography at the Chicago Tribune: "I think it puts them under a lot of pressure to produce, pressure they don't normally get in school."

Amy Deputy, a photojournalism major at Western Kentucky, agreed with Corn and LaBelle's assessment of the workshop experience.

"I'd heard about the workshop, and when I got there, I was absolutely terrified," she said. "{Corn} pushed me real hard and made me confront a lot of my fears.

"I found that practice makes perfect, and I haven't gotten it perfect yet."

The workshop's goal, however, is not perfection. Corn, pointing out that several students who "failed miserably" in the workshop later became outstanding professionals, said it was "a great lesson that they could fail."

Rather than perfection, the workshop instructors are looking for students to come to terms with reality, in order to produce a composite of it.

"We are trying to get beyond mindless documentation," said LaBelle. "We are looking for moments, for exchanges between people. We are looking to photograph what it means."

Added Corn: "Students don't think about normal people. This is doing actual work. It's not fake. It's real."

PHOTO : Western Kentucky University student photographer Amy Deputy shot Melissa Maynard and her nephew, James Redmon, playing house in a junk heap behind their trailor in Jamestown, Kentucky. A discarded hand mixer served as the television "remote."

PHOTO : Jerry Roy (facing page, top) reads the paper at a general store near his hog farm in this photo by Rob Hatcher. Roy stops at the store for a soda every day about midway through his chores. Wilbur Barnes (facing page, bottom), photographed by Larry Powell, spends the morning bush hogging on his farm. Eallena McKinley (above), photographed by Rex Perry, has lived her entire life in Eli, Kentucky. Randy Greenwell captured Brother Lewis Smith (right) fishing early in the morning in the pond behind the Creelsboro Christian Church, where he also fishes for men as a revivalist. All the photographers are WKU students.

PHOTO : Jamestown Police Chief Steve R. Taylor (above) discusses money matters with his son Steve. Taylor is the first black chief of police in the predominantly white community. At left, he writes a report while members of a family involved in a minor accident huddle close. Below, in his spare time he repairs a damaged remote-controlled model airplane. All photos are by WKU student Lawrence H. Smith.

PHOTO : The Mountain Workshop Group (above), photographed by Teresa Montgomery, a photojournalist employed by the state of Tennessee. Faculty advisers Mary Ann Lyons and Jack Corn (below) examine contact sheets. Lyons is a staff photographer at the Louisville Courier-Journal. Corn is director of photography at the Chicago Tribune. The photo is by WKU student Larry Powell.

Jim Highland is a professor of journalism at Western Kentucky University.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Society of Professional Journalists
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Title Annotation:Russell County, Kentucky
Author:Highland, Jim
Publication:The Quill
Date:Apr 1, 1989
Words:895
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