Mike has had the pleasure of editing with these photographers and others, recently.

Picture Editor at Large

20 years of experience

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About Mike Davis

Creating images that last beyond the day has been Mike’s mission in settings as diverse as National Geographic magazine, The White House, several books, various newspapers and even pdxcross.com…

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I'm now teaching and running the Alexia Foundation Grants full time

This summer, I accepted the Alexia Tsairis Chair for Documentary Photography at S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

It’s an exciting opportunity to teach at a great school, work with the Alexia Foundation and oversee the grant competition.

I am psyched.

And while I had thought I’d be able to continue to work with photographers, I’m realizing my time to do so is limited. I’ve had to say no to a lot of photographers who wanted to work with me. About the only way I can work with you now is if you are in no hurry, and even better if your timing coincides with the holiday break or summer.

Rather than turn you away, I’d recommend that you contact either Tom Kennedy or Jasmine Defoore. Working with either of them would be a rich experience.

Please do consider entering your projects in the Alexia competitions.

And a heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of people I’ve worked with the past few years.

Mike Davis


A little taste of New York, the city

I will admit that NYC is not my favorite city. It takes a strong magnet to pull me into its guts. Why? Too many humans.

Our most recent trip to the city had a strong pull: To attend the Chris Hondros Fund's grant awards ceremony and fund raiser. What a great event. Many memories of a great man came to life through stories and recollections.

So many amazing pictures were donated for a print auction, including Chris' photo of a rocket launch, for which I was the winning bidder. It's now on the wall next to my desk as a fond reminder of the man who made the picture.

My wife (Deb Pang Davis) and I also caught up with many friends during our two-day stopover. We spent a few hours visiting good friend Michael Rubenstein, who was in a motorcycle accident a couple weeks prior. He's recovering but not without considerable pain. In spite of the pain, his good humor persists.

Deb and Photoshelter CEO Andrew Fingerman chat a PS hq.We also had a pleasant breakfast with Andrew Fingerman, CEO of Photoshelter, and got an update on their plans for the future, which are bright indeed. He even introdueced us to PS staff at their offices above Union Square, in the same building where Andy Warhol used to hang out.

Deb talks with Squarespace staff, including its founder Anthony Casalena, center. My site uses the Squarespace platform. They're about to launch new templates that will be photographer friendly.Then on to Squarespace, which is the environment in which my site is built. Deb has created several sites with Squarespace and they're about to go to version 6, which will have many more templates, including a selection that is photographer friendly.

Todd Heisler showed us around The NY Times and we had lunch at the Times' cafeteria. The sushi is fabulous. Then out for coffee across the street.And better than a cab, Todd Heisler swooped in to pick us up off the street and then gave us a tour of the New York Times, including lunch at the paper's cafeteria. It certainly beat any other newspaper cafeteria I've seen.

Todd and I worked together in Chicago and became good friends so it was huge to catch up with him.

Now I know what they mean by police shootings being so prevalent in New York.Walking, walking, walking. Through Times Square. Mistake. 

And what better way to close out the day than dinner with Yunghi Kim and Melanie Burford. We hadn't seen Yunghi since she regularly hosted get togethers at her D.C. home.NYC presented the chance to make more cars in front of buildings photos.Now we're back in Syracuse, catching up on editing and gearing up for teaching a class starting next week - see the following post.

I was left with a wondering from our time in the city: Does the city pay people to urinate on every few feet of sidewalks at night, just so there's a fresh coating in the morning?


Big news: I'll be teaching a class at Syracuse University

This is one of three slick buildings that comprise the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication on the campus of Syracuse University.

I’ll be teaching a class to incoming photography graduate students at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communication, starting next week. It’s a boot camp, a foundation course, a challenge to get grad students up and running and making pictures and telling stories in ways they’d not yet thought of. It’s going to be a blast.

Prepping to teach this class has taken a good bit of time, thus the absence from this space.

Don’t fret, I’ll still be working with photographers the world over, as always. The class lasts six weeks so during that time, I’ll cut back on working with photographers to one or two days a week.

This will be the first term-long class I’ve taught since teaching a beginning photography class at a community college in Anchorage in 1978. But that’s another story.

Figuring out this course’s syllabus and assignments in a way that allows newbies and more experienced photographers to learn equally was a challenge, for sure. They’ll start by pairing off and photographing each other with specific expectations of the photos that result. Then they’ll move on to photograph five people they don’t know, the choice of subjects has to hold together as a group. Then they’ll continue to photograph one of the five people at greater depth - whichever one has the best story, greatest potential.

After that, each one will be assigned to photograph an area of downtown Syracuse, a block or two, building two separate stories, one individualized and one essay. And finally, they’ll do a thematic set of pictures before wrapping up the course with a narrated piece that tells a specific story from within the course.

Piece of cake, no?

It may well be that I’ll continue to teach at Newhouse, a course here and there as an adjunct. Figuring out new ways to challenge photographers in a classroom is enticing.

It’s a pleasure being associated with such a great team of folks at Newhouse, including Bruce Strong, who as of Sunday will be the new chair of the Multimedia, Photography and Design department. It’s the only program I know of that integrates the three visual disciplines into one department that is part of a phenomenal communications school.

Here’s to learning.


Ahhh, Look3

Go to Look3. Next year. 

That's an order.

Look3 this year was one of the best photo experiences I've had. So much to see, so many people to connect with, such a great setting.

Memories linger as more appear on the horizon.

Photos above by me.


Me, create a multimedia piece?

This was the nerve center for the NPPA's Multimedia Immersion Workshop, at Newhouse School on the campus of Syracuse University.

In the put up or shut up realm, I chose to put up.

To explain: I wrote in this space a while back that I think most multimedia pieces are uninteresting. OK, I actually said most of them suck, because most of them follow an interview-the-subject formula that lays supporting-role video over the interview - essentially making visuals adhere to words, which I’ve fought for decades.

A lot of people responded to that post, some agreeing, some not. Among them was Seth Gitner, who teaches multimedia at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and runs the NPPA’s Multimedia Immersion Workshop with Will Sullivan.

Seth suggested I take the workshop to find out for myself what it takes to produce a piece. Seth didn’t exactly suggest that I put up or shut up on multimedia, that’s my inference and it became a personal challenge going into the workshop.

The workshop is designed to take multimedia novices - that’s me - and make them capable of producing at least a basic piece. Sign me up, Seth, I said. And thank you for suggesting it.

Time passed, the workshop came and went, last week. It’s a great workshop. Among its strengths is the coach to student ratio: 1:2. One student on our team of four couldn’t make it so I essentially got to work directly with University of Oregon Professor Sung Park the whole time. I’ve always thought that a good editor’s voice in a project could make the result twice as good as it would be without that voice. That was true in working with Sung.

The Workshop: Things began on Tuesday with an outline of the week, picking a story topic from a box, a series of how-to lectures and a practice video within each team. Field time started Wednesday with a Thursday follow up if needed - it was - and production was Friday, into the wee hours for most people. Saturday we got to see all the pieces done during the week.

Many of the 20 coaches also gave talks that were informational and enlightening, though I missed several of them while working on my piece. All of the coaches worked tirelessly and with great verve to help everyone learn and produce the best piece they could during the week.

We learned Final Cut Pro X, which I found to be fairly intuitive, in the same way that sitting in front of space shuttle controls would be.

What did I learn? Tons. About sound and moving pictures and considerations that are different from still photos and silence. And equipment. Oiy. Equipment out the wazoo. I learned this word: Frankencamera. Wes Pope turned my 5D Mark III into a sound gathering machine with two mics and a preamp somehow adhered to it. And I bought a video head for my tripod the second day of shooting after spending half of the first day’s shooting time adjusting the ball head.

In the end, I made a piece that I was happy with. Ironically the workshop uses the interview formula that I so despise, because it’s the most efficient way to teach the greatest range of skills, and produce a piece by week’s end.

My piece: Here's my piece and a link to all the other pieces done during the week.

I tried, in spite of the formula and limited time frame and lack of experience in the medium, to do a piece that met my standards for story telling and visuals.

Story is such a vague term that almost any approach can be called a story. People often use narrative as a synonym but it’s no more specific. My expectation is that the story, or narrative, creates an experience for the viewer; it’s not just a presentation of facts. Or, as in the case of interviews, the re-presentation of facts or experiences - that’s why interview based pieces generally aren’t engaging, I think. The narrative should elicit an emotional response, engage the viewer viscerally. And we should use whatever form achieves that response.

Making the visuals adhere to the audio often forces a compromise in what you see. If the interview-as-narrative talks about something that happened in the past, the only choice is to visually infer to that past, similar to an illustration, portrait or still life in the still photo world. Or worse, you have to show something that isn’t related to the words, because that’s all there is. Such visuals can be phenomenal, but not so often are they.

In the same way that still photographs of the moment are generally more engaging, so is video in the moment. Call it cinema vérité or documentary film or whatever, it’s life as it happens in front of the camera instead of being something created by the person behind the camera to go with a sound bite.

You can find scores of examples that contradict what I just said, of course. Time Magazine’s 9/11 piece is a good one. But such successful pieces are the exception rather than the rule.

Video should meet the same standard as compelling still photography - and audio. I reasoned that the medium is different but we should still strive to create appropriate compositions that feel three dimensional and use the whole frame. We should still strive to capture moments that can ebb and flow in front of the video camera. We should still see light and color and vary distance to the subject perspicaciously. No?

I tried.

B Roll? Coaches at the workshop told us to gather B Roll to support the narrative, which I translated to: Make the best video that you can to at least sort of show what people are talking about in your interviews.

The general practice in production was to edit the audio, lay it down on the primary track and then add video that went with the audio. And I guess that’s exactly the approach to use when teaching how to do this stuff. It works predictably well, especially when the goal is to learn processes.

For me, B Roll is A Roll. It is the story and you should do everything possible to create audio that works with the video, not the other way around. The goal should be to create a short film, not what is called multimedia.

After trying to put down audio first, I worked with Sung to instead create groups of video chapters, then moved those around to create a sequence, knowing which had native sound and which would work with the bits of interview that I did, regrettably, do. At the same time we crafted a transitional approach to link the chapters - quick bits of linked video. My interview lasted 8 minutes and 23 seconds and was the last thing I did with the subject. By then I knew what questions to ask to fill in blanks in the video/audio.

I missed Wes Pope’s talk during the workshop. But he had stayed with us a couple days before the workshop to edit his book on Route 66 so we got to talk at some length about telling stories with video. He mentioned five different forms that video story telling can take, including the interview and cinema vérité. (I wish I remembered the other three but they escape me.)

Strive to go beyond the interview form whenever possible. Please.

Did I succeed? Sort of. I doubt that my piece will be viewed by millions or go down in the annals of multimedia. But I did some of what I had hoped and there are some nice moments, a bit of good sound and it was a pleasure getting to know Musketeers Fencing Club. Will I ever produce another video piece? I don’t know. This one was fun and I’d definitely encourage you to take this workshop as a multimedia entrée.

Stay tuned.