A Thousand More

A Thousand More, a video produced by MediaStorm, demonstrates the beauty of a good visual story.

A Thousand More

The tale is about a young boy named Philly Mayer who was diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA). Due to the disease, his movement is hindered to the extent that he is confined to a motorized chair. However, that doesn’t stop this ambitious boy from doing the things he loves. He’s an avid swimmer and adventurer. Philly’s family shows an unparalleled love and support for this sweet little guy.

Philly’s doctors told his parents that he would only live to be seven years old. When his mother asked the nurse what they could do for Philly, she replied, “Nothing.” SMA has no known cure, but is merely a disease to wait out.

With such a disheartening diagnosis, Philly’s parents have taken the initiative to provide the fullest life possible for their son.

“He’s going to do what he wants to do,” says dad, Phillip Mayer.

Philly has traveled the country, been involved and shared his story.

Despite the doctor’s prediction to last only seven years, Philly is still going strong. He is approaching his 12th birthday (April 2).

Sadly, while doing a little research about Philly, I discovered his father died this past January. (I’ve been crying about for 10 minutes.) I’m not sure the cause, but I can’t begin to fathom what this loss has done to the Mayer family. However, the Mayer family has a strong, Christian faith and church family to help them through.

The piece is truly phenomenal. It tells an emotional story that will tug at your heartstrings, but also provides hope. Philly is one heck of an inspirational kid. With all the struggles he’s had to overcome in his short 12 years, it’s amazing that he is able to be such a playful and optimistic person.

Aside from the beautiful story told, MediaStorm did a great job putting it all together. With our video projects in J2150 just around the corner (i.e., due Tuesday and I haven’t started), this piece provides several ideas about how video is done. I hope that I can some day produce a piece of this magnitude and share awesome stories that inspire viewers to care about my subjects.

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Screen Addiction

I’ve discovered something terrible about myself. I’m addicted to social media. I understand that as a journalist, it is important for me to know what is going on in the world, but it’s not essential to be constantly checking my Twitterfeed for the latest headlines.

My obsession finally reached new levels when I was holding a conversation with a friend and I realized that I was suddenly scrolling through Facebook, ignoring the person that was telling me about a personal issue in her life. I had to ask her to repeat herself and it made me feel like a disgusting human being. I didn’t have the decency to put my phone away for seven minutes and listen. This is not the Ellise I used to be. Not the Ellise that I want to be. I want be someone that can hold a conversation and be able to participate fully without rudely checking the latest Instagrams. 

When I realized how bad my screen addiction had become, I decided to do something about it. I immediately deleted Facebook, Twitter and Instagram from my phone. I then when into the settings on my phone and blocked Facebook on Safari so that even in desperate times, I will have it blocked. (I left Twitter unblocked, but only because I have to post for J2150 from it.)

Recently, Coca-Cola Middle East produced a tremendous video that we could a learn a lesson from, myself included.

Though it humorously involved placing a dog cone on your head, it brings up an important topic of discussion. We, as people living in an age of technology so readily available to us, have grown accustomed to constant connection with the world. Now I’m not saying that being connected with the world is a bad thing. Honestly, it’s like magic. You can talk to people across the globe in a matter of seconds, like holy crap, you guys. That’s awesome. But at what point does it become excessive? 

We’re so worried about what others are doing that we often forget to live in the moment and enjoy those around us. It kind of makes me sick and I’m in no way guiltless. I check my phone CONSTANTLY. Even now, after deleting my social media apps, I find myself just playing with my phone. I check my updates and mail by reflex. If I’m uncomfortable or bored, I find my finger clicking in the spot that used to open Facebook (that now opens WordPress) and thinking to myself, “What the hell are you doing, Ellise. Get a life, would you?”

It’s been four days since my revelation. I don’t regret my decision to slow down on social media one bit. I feel antsy at times, but it passes. (I sound like a recovering drug addict…) I’ve noticed increased attention in conversations, in class and in general. I’m more observant, but what I observe is a lot of people on their phones.

I know it’s unrealistic to expect everyone to just drop their phones and delete their favorite apps, but I want to make you all aware of something that has silently consumed our lives. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate ourselves. How can we create relationships with those around us rather than worry about what your crush’s latest funny tweet?

Another reason I decided it was time to delete the apps is because this past Wednesday began Lent. As a girl claiming a strong Christian faith, I wanted to give up something that I far too often put before God. Social media is at the top of that list. Why read the Bible when I could read another article on Twitter or read through another Facebook fight? Why pray when I could see what my NatGeo idols are posting on Instagram? It makes me sick that this is my mindset. I may not have actually consciously thought these things, but it’s in the back of my mind everyday. 

So I encourage you all to take a second to think about your own social media habits. I know not everyone is as bad as me, but we could all use a little help. And social media may not be your vice. It could very well be Flappy Birds or Dice with Buddies that causes your screen addiction. Whatever it is that takes you out of the present, focus on it a little less. Even if you only make a conscious effort a few days a week, that’s a few days that you will be able to relate to those around you better than you have in a while. 

Decisions

This semester is THE semester. The semester that I decide if I’m cut out for Photojournalism. To decide if it is something I truly love and want to pursue to the rest of my life. With that in mind, I’m currently taking two very project oriented classes within the Photoj spectrum: Fundamentals of Multimedia and Fundamentals of Photojournalism. We’ve barely dipped our toes into the water with both classes, but I can already tell that I love it. When I am behind the camera, I feel like I can truly see people.

I recently did a project for Photojournalism called Breaking the Ice. In the project, I was to take photos of 10 strangers and learn a little bit about each one. I’ll let you know now, this is one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. I have a hard time approaching strangers because I hate to be a bother. I don’t like to irritate others and I often feel like people really hate when I try to take make their picture.

However, with the grade on the line, I had to put my big girl pants on and just do it. So I began to approach strangers and it turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with photography. I met some of the most interesting people just walking down the sidewalk or working behind a counter. Even if I didn’t get a great story, I still learned about people. It’s something I love. I’m an observer.

Here are a few samples of the project:

Brandon-Kaldi's Barista

Brandon-Kaldi’s Barista

Claire-Occupy CoMo member

Claire-Occupy CoMo member

Vanessa-Animal Science major

Vanessa-Animal Science major

Something else that I’m extremely passionate about is Magazine Writing. I dabbled in it this past fall for the first time and decided I enjoyed it so much that I applied to be a columnist. When I actually got the column, I was elated. I get to spend all of Spring 2014 writing a weekly column called the Single Girl Diaries. It’s my way of expressing myself, telling silly stories and making people laugh. I enjoy so much that I have even considered switching from Photoj. (Shhh. Don’t tell my parents.)

What I want most is a blend of the two. Is that possible? I feel like I’m writing a letter to my advisor…

The conclusion that I’ve come to is that I LOVE journalism. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I just pray that I will be able to find a job in which I can follow my passions. I hope to improve my photography and my writing. I want to meet people and hear their stories.

#StandWithSam

At this point in time, the most newsworthy event in dear CoMo is the coming out of standout MU football player Michael Sam. Sam, who led the SEC with 11.5 quarterback sacks and 19 tackles in 2013, as well as expected to be a third to fifth round draft in for the NFL, decided to open up to the world on Feb. 9, 2014. More here.

I’ve never seen the students of MU come together to support one person like they have for Sam. The outflow of love and support for Sam from MU students is truly awe-inspiring.

Due to the attention Sam has been receiving, today, Feb. 15, members of the Westboro Baptist Church community planned to protest Sam during MU’s basketball game against Tennessee. See their schedule of protests here. (They are protesting country singing group Lady Antebellum for not using their platform to preach. I mean, sure, that’d be cool, but calm down WSB. Let the people sing.) After hearing this, a Facebook event was created by MU students Alix Carruth and Kelaney Lakers. The event gained the attention of thousands. More than 4,800 people RSVP’d that they would be in attendance.

As a photojournalism student, I couldn’t resist the temptation to stop by and talk to a few of those that had shown up to support Sam. Upon arrival, I was shocked. I had expected several people to be there, but it was 25 degrees and the basketball game was about to start, so I had doubts of large numbers. I was wrong. Very wrong.

A line, spanning from College Ave. to Providence had formed along Stadium. Westboro hadn’t even made their appearance, yet thousands from the community were standing in the cold. I met one group of people that had traveled two hours during their “Spring” Break to stand in line.

MU community forms a human wall in counter protest of Westboro Baptist Church.

MU community forms a human wall in counter protest of Westboro Baptist Church.

When Westboro finally arrived around 1:30 p.m., the human wall had begun to dissolve. However, the ratio of MU community members to WSB protesters had to be 125 to 1. The WSB members hid across the street on a small square of sidewalk and made little to no impact.

Students began to chant MIZ and sing the MU Alma Mater, standing as one. Chills crept up my arms as I watched the diverse group of people linked together in support of one individual. Regardless of your opinion on the matter, the fact that this community would come together to protect one of their own is absolutely amazing. This school has gone beyond my expectations. Coming from a small town, I never expected to feel so accepted and loved at such a large college, but we truly are One Mizzou.

Wanderlust

I have this idea in my mind of what I want to do with my life and the person I want to be. Photography has always been my passion, regardless of whether or not I have any skill. It seemed like such a joke to pursue a career taking photos of people and places, but I’ve never been able to shake the desire to spend the rest of my life traveling the globe, learning about new and exciting cultures, landscapes and people. To share goodness, as well as tragedy. To make a difference. So I chose to pursue a degree in Photojournalism at the University of Missouri. So far, I absolutely love it. I can’t imagine a life in which I am not involved in some aspect of journalism. (But with my luck, I’ll be the person that scrapes gunk off the bottom of boats for a living.)

Now that I’m actually following my dream, I’ve begun to get cold feet. What if I’m not good enough? What if I don’t make it? How will I support myself? What if I’ve romanticized my idea of what photojournalism truly is? On the other end of the spectrum, I think what if I do make it? What happens to my friends and family if I am traveling the world? Will I see them? Do I really want to see the tragedies of the world? What kind of life will I have? Will I do more damage than help? The unknown has never been so terrifying.

In J2150, Shane showed us this video of the famed war photographer, Don McCullin. Watch here. It is a powerful piece with one hell of an introduction. The clip begins with this quote: “There was a sniper, he was trying to kill me, and he hit my camera which was by my face, and I still have that Nikon camera with a bullet hole in it.” McCullin goes on to tell the viewers that he wasted 50 years of his life. Fifty years. If that doesn’t make an aspiring photographer sick to her stomach, then I don’t know what will.

After watching that clip, I was feeling extremely disheartened. Why would I want to spend 50 years of my life doing something, only to regret it? Of course, McCullin didn’t choose the happiest of subjects. He captured death, starvation and depression. All the things that I hope to avoid like the plague. Does that mean I should just get a job photographing senior portraits and call it a day?

In desperation, I began to search the web for photographers that loved their jobs. Then I recalled Proof, a project by National Geographic that focuses on the photographers. One of the first videos of the project is titled, “Photographers on Photography.” I’d seen this clip before. It shows a number of NatGeo’s most active photographers, one of them being Randy Olson, an MU grad that I cyberstalk. (Fun Fact: He’s married to Melissa Farlow, another MU photo grad that works for NatGeo. Let me just fangirl for a sec.) National Geographic is my goal. The level I dream of achieving on a daily basis. I want to take photos that make a difference. I want to share the world with others.

NatGeo’s Proof was titled so because the photographers pictures are “proof of their passion.” They love what they do. They are striving to make a difference in the world. “Screaming for change.” Photography is a “universal language.” After watching this video, it is clear that none of these photographers regret their work.

So I’ve come to this conclusion. At some point in my career, I will hate photography. I will hate the subject of my photos. I will be overcome by emotion. But I’ve never wanted something so bad in my life.

First J2150 Post: Speaking Out

Disclosure: For the remainder of this semester, I will be dedicating my personal blog to education (i.e., I have to write blog posts for class). Enjoy.

Rather than spending my Saturday morning lazily watching TV shows or productively cleaning my room, I’ve spent that last six hours scouring the internet for interesting multimedia pieces essential to both my Multimedia class, as well as Fundamentals of Photojournalism. In my search, I came across an audio slideshow produced by the LA Times several years ago titled “A boy’s struggles.” It is the tragic story of a young boy who had been molested by a school employee as a kindergartener, but now, being several years later, is able to tell his story. Find it here.

What made this audio slideshow so compelling for me was the way in which the photographer, Liz O. Baylen, took each photograph. Baylen was able to get extremely intimate images of the family involved. However, each of her photographs maintains a degree of anonymity of the subjects. We never see a full face throughout the entire slideshow. It is understandable that the family would want to remain anonymous due to the circumstances of their story, and though we never truly see the subjects, Baylen captures every intimate moment to perfection. Her work is captivating and thought provoking.

The audio used along with the photographs was phenomenal. The story is told by the victim, as well as his mother, providing two unique perspectives to the same situation. The emotion in their voices is raw and powerful. The boy provides a first person experience for the story, but his mother’s love is what truly brings the story together. The boy was brave enough to tell his parents what had happened, thus preventing it from happening to others. His mother tells of how proud she is of her son for coming forward and the viewer can feel the battle of emotions going through her in that moment. Hatred for the man who has done this, love for her son, betrayal by the school district and remorse in herself for not discovering the incidents sooner.

While watching this brief video, I came to the realization that these horrifying events happen all too often. For this week’s blog post, Shane (my super cool J2150 teacher) didn’t give us a prompt. He said to write what you want. But at the end, he attached a video produced by ESPN about a sexual assault that happened no more than a few miles of where I am currently writing this post. Tom Farrey and Nicole Noren of EPSN investigated a story that had to do with the former University of Missouri swimmer, Sasha Menu Courey. The tale is a tragedy through and through. This 20-year-old, with so much promise and life, ended everything due to sexual assault. If you have 15 minutes, I highly encourage you to watch this. I found that I was very disappointed in the way in which the university employees involved handled Sasha’s mental instability. I would never blame them for what happened to Sasha because it was clearly the fault of her attacker(s), but I feel that the situation could have been handled in a very different way. I didn’t know Sasha, nor had I heard of this incident until today, so I know that I don’t have all the facts. However, I will say that sexual assault can cause severe instability, therefore, each and every victim should be treated with patience and kindness regardless of the situation.

These two instances of sexual assault had very different results. It was truly a matter of speaking out that marks the difference. Take a few minutes to watch these two clips if you haven’t already. Both are results of phenomenal journalism. And if you know someone/are someone that is a victim, please understand that help is only a conversation away.

Dang. This got really heavy for a first blog post. Sorry guys… I don’t know what I’m doing here.