By Jim Colton
“It has been said that next to hunger and thirst, our most basic human need is for storytelling.” -Khalil Gibran
In its simplest form, photography is about great storytelling. A single frame may capture a moment in time, giving it eternal life. But a photo essay takes us on a pilgrimage...providing a glimpse of an otherwise unseen world; through our eyes...and…directly to our hearts.
Storytelling is a gift. The camera provides us with a vehicle for that journey but it is only those who also possess a moral compass that will successfully navigate those expeditions. Few have done that as well as Lisa Krantz.
Last week, Krantz's story: "A Life Apart: The Toll of Obesity," won the Community Awareness Award at the 72nd POYi photography contest. (See link below) The poignant story was first published in the San Antonio Express-News where she is a full time staff photographer. It documented the struggles of one man's battle with obesity; a project that took four years to complete!
One year earlier, Krantz also took a first place at POYi for Issue Reporting Picture Story for Newspapers for, "Twice Betrayed: Military Sexual Trauma," a story about sexual assault victims in the military. It's no coincidence that her work on difficult and underreported issues has received the recognition that it deserves.
Krantz's penchant for photography began at an early age documenting her Girl Scout troop's cross-country trip with a Kodak Disc camera at the age of 10. Later in life, she attended Florida State University where she took fine art photography classes and fell in love with the darkroom but didn't change to an art major and graduated with a B.S. in psychology. She applied to grad school at Syracuse University where she earned her Master’s in photojournalism.
Early stints as an intern followed at the Post Standard (Syracuse), the Albuquerque Journal, and the Indianapolis Star and then as a staff photographer for the Naples Daily News before landing her current position at the San Antonio Express-News, which she has held since 2004. Her work is distributed globally through ZUMA Press. (See link below)
Her photographs have won dozens of awards from POYi, NPPA's Best of Photojournalism, National Headliner Awards and countless others. Her obesity story was shown at a screening at Visa Pour L'Image in Perpignan in 2014. She holds the distinction of being a student (1998) at the Eddie Adams Workshop and returning as a Team Producer for many years. She continues to give back to the industry as faculty for several other workshops, with speaking engagements, and serving as a jury member for several photography contests.
Former Director of Photography at the Indianapolis Star Chip Maury says of Lisa, “I love the fact that Lisa continues to look so calm and at ease on the surface while deep inside there is a volcano-like mass of energy boiling around. Her "I know a secret" Mona Lisa smile belies the fact that her mind is always turning at high RPMs. The measure of her curiosity, her energy and her ability to sniff out meaningful stories is remarkable.”
It was at the Eddie Adams Workshop where I first got to know Lisa and witnessed first-hand the unwavering devotion she had for her students trying to insure that their experience was going to be every bit as memorable as the one she had years ago. This week, zPhotoJournal has a candid conversation with dedicated and passionate storyteller, “Mona” Lisa Krantz.
Jim Colton: Tell us a little about Lisa Krantz. What was your first experience with photography and when did you know it was something you wanted to pursue as a career?
Lisa Krantz: My first experience was my Kodak Disc camera when I was 10-years-old documenting a cross- country trip with my adventurous Girl Scout troop. I always wanted to have a camera with me, even as a child. Maybe it’s because I have a bad memory. My first real experience with photography was in undergrad at Florida State when I got a job taking graduation pictures; taking shots of graduates shaking the principal/president’s hand and taking their diplomas. It was just a job I thought would be more fun, traveling around the state of Florida all summer.
I had to buy a Nikon FM2 to do the job and decided to figure out how to really use it. The only classes available were fine art photo classes so I didn't really learn to use the camera but I did fall in love with the darkroom. I knew it was something I wanted to pursue midway through my junior year of undergrad but it didn't make sense to change to an art major so I decided to finish my psychology degree and apply to grad school at Syracuse University for photojournalism.
JC: Who or what were some of your earliest influences and whose work do you admire today?
LK: The first photo conference I attended was the NPPA’s Northern Short Course in West Point, NY. Eugene Richards and Carol Guzy spoke and I was blown away by them and still am today. That same semester, Bob Lynn was an adjunct professor for my picture editing class at Syracuse while he was AME at the Virginian-Pilot. Every Friday he would cover a wall with the week’s work from the Pilot and I just loved seeing the amazing photos from the most ordinary assignments, all those “two point pictures” as Lynn called them. He was hugely influential early on.
Later, I was obsessed with Alex Webb’s use of color and layers and the most sensitive and tender storytelling abilities of Maggie Steber and Lynn Johnson. I was very inspired by my young ambitious co-workers at the Naples Daily News and later at the San Antonio Express-News. Nicole Frugé brought me to the Express-News and inspires me to this day.
I’m constantly inspired by my ridiculously talented group of friends including Nicole, Preston Gannaway, Melissa Lyttle, Ross Taylor, Matt Eich, and Nikki Kahn. They are also my trusted editors. I’m inspired by the much younger photographers like Carolyn Van Houten who just came to work with us at the Express-News. I know she will continue to inspire me daily. I’m also inspired by newspaper photographers with long careers who continue to do great work year after year. The list is endless really so I’ll just stop there before I list 100 names.
JC: You were a student at the Eddie Adams Workshop in 1998 and have also returned as faculty. What do you remember about attending...and why do you keep coming back as faculty?
LK: I was so young in the profession, only 2 years in, including grad school and internships so I had no idea what I was getting into. I remember the speakers. I remember the energy in the room when Eugene Richards spoke. Everyone was so focused on him, you could have heard a pin drop. I still get chills when I envision Gordon Parks speaking and the music he composed playing. Later when he was smoking a cigar under the stoplight over the door outside the barn, the smoke was swirling and I was on the ground photographing him and he just looked at me and laughed, asking what I was doing.
Eddie Adams was walking across the grass with such purpose…the leader. I remember sitting on the lawn with friends old and new, discussing our dreams with the inspiration of the legends who had shared their wisdom so freely with us all weekend. I remember being so happy to go out and shoot without expectations, without pressure. For me to go shoot freely for two days was already a luxury after three back-to-back internships and I was three weeks into my first job. My assignment was a local polka convention!
I keep coming back as faculty because I want to help make it as great for each group of students as it was for me. Selfishly they inspire me and I always leave invigorated by their energy. The meeting of that many people who care about our profession so deeply is magical. There is nothing like the energy at the farm during the workshop.
JC: You interned at several newspapers before landing staff photographer positions at the Naples Daily News and now the San Antonio Express-News. What were those early experiences like and what did you learn along the way?
LK: I lucked out with my first internship. Harry DiOrio, the DOP at the Syracuse Newspapers (a twice-daily at the time) gave me a chance based purely on potential. When I knocked on his door I had a page of 12 slides. “Free film,” were the magic words…and I was off. Four assignments a day…bring it! I was doing what I loved, getting paid to do it and did I mention (as a deeply in debt grad student) free film?
Harry was amazing and always told me when I had made an “almost picture.” I loved that feedback. That meant I was growing, I was seeing it, and I eventually could make THE picture. The staff really embraced me there too. Then I interned with Chip Maury at the Indianapolis Star. He made sure I had a firm handshake, knew how to negotiate for a job and a variety of other life skills I still use today. He also has a great quote, “Give it as freely as you got it.” He definitely did and I try to as well.
JC: In 2014, you won first place for Issue Reporting Picture Stories at POYi for your series: "Twice Betrayed: Military Sexual Trauma." (See link below) Tell us a little about how that story was developed, photographed and eventually published.
LK: The story started with reporter Karisa King who was covering the trials of sexual misconduct at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, then Lackland Air Force Base. In talking to survivors of assaults around the country she pieced together a disturbing trend. Thousands of women and men who had reported sexual assault in the military were given a psychiatric diagnosis, designated a “pre-existing condition,” and then discharged without benefits.
My editor, Director of Photography Luis Rios, saw the potential and asked Karisa to find out which people she was interviewing would be willing to be photographed and do video interviews and I was given their phone numbers and I took it from there. I set up times to spend 2-3 days with them at their homes in five states and my colleague Bob Owen photographed one woman and man in Washington, DC. The investigative reporting took about seven months. Myself, Luis, photographer Kin Man Hui and a freelancer, Cynthia Esparza, worked over several weeks to put the multimedia together and it was published together online and as a three-part series in the paper.
JC: You've just completed a story about one person's struggle with obesity. How did that story originate, how long did it take you to complete and did it include a multimedia component? PS: Congrats on your wins with this story at POYi this year!
LK: Hector Garcia’s story came to me through his sister, Rebecca Freed, who was searching for help for him and asked if I would be able to do a story on him. She had initially found me while looking for a mentor for her daughter who was interested in photojournalism. When I met Hector, he had already lost about 50 pounds and was very motivated so I started photographing him in his quest to lose weight. I saw his life moving in the direction of a weight loss success story.
It took me four years to complete it. I never intended for it to go that long. Weight loss is a slow process and I was waiting for significant milestones. He talked of moving into his own apartment, getting a job, dating, etc., so I kept waiting for that to happen thinking that would be the end to his story. In early 2014, I realized those things were not going to happen anytime soon and began pushing for publication. It was not the happy ending we hoped for but his story showed the true cycle of obesity and we decided to publish as such. We set a publication date of Dec. 28, 2014 in mid November so it was especially devastating when he died three weeks earlier on Dec. 8.
There is a multimedia component. From the beginning I knew his voice and his ability to articulate his lifelong struggle with obesity was the most powerful part of the story. I didn’t know if I would have the still images to support it, but I began recording audio and video from the beginning because I knew his voice needed to be heard above all. It is a 12-minute blend of audio, stills and video.
JC: How important is multimedia in today’s publishing world? What do photographers have to know now that they didn't before?
LK: I believe still pictures are just as powerful alone but the addition of audio and video (for certain stories) adds so much more in terms of the layers of storytelling and truly gives people a voice; bringing their stories to life. As far as communicating and storytelling, there is no replacing a simple slideshow of still images as viewers are much more likely to look through them.
Bottom line, if you don’t know how to tell a story, the multimedia will be far less successful. And if you don’t have strong still images…it’s not really watchable. So above all, storytelling and the success of how the video and/or still images are shot is most important. Collecting clean, usable audio and video is now a must-have skill…as is editing them. At my paper, we don’t have any multimedia producers, so I have to be able to do it all.
JC: Stories like sexual trauma and obesity are very personal topics. How do you get close and earn the confidence and trust of your subjects? What tips or guidance can you give to others who are thinking about photographing similar stories?
LK: I’m not sure exactly how I do it. I listen, a lot. I try to talk with people and get to know them and have them get to know me before I start photographing. Usually, the people I’m photographing want their story told and believe people will learn and understand more upon seeing it. So it has to be a collaborative effort. I am there to help them tell it…so we move forward as a partnership in that mission.
In terms of tips or guidance for others; I think just being open and honest about who you are and what you are trying to do is important in gaining trust. I think people will know if you have a genuine interest and belief in their story and when they know that, they will let you in. I don’t really feel I’m photographing an individual; it’s more like we are partners in telling their story. My camera is just a way to do that.
JC: Many stories come from personal projects. Do you have a favorite story that you have worked on during the course of your career? Were there any that started as a personal project?
LK: One of my favorite stories is on Sam Houston High School, an inner-city school in San Antonio that was threatened with closure. To start, I had unique access and knew this was a once-in-a-career opportunity. The students and faculty were amazing and made me laugh and cry every day. It was an emotional roller coaster and endlessly fascinating. A long term effect is I have mentored one of the students from the school, Bria Webb. She is now a junior at NYU studying photojournalism and is currently studying abroad in Cuba.
Many stories start as personal projects but I always start them with the goal of having them published in the newspaper. My earliest long term project (1.5 years) was on an anorexic woman. While the photos weren't that strong, I felt that was a story I really wanted to tell and try to educate readers about. Luckily I found a really amazing woman who, like Hector, believed that telling her story could change and potentially save lives.
JC: What advice can you offer to the young photographer who is contemplating photojournalism as a career?
LK: I would not tell anyone to not pursue their dream. 2014 was an amazing year for the quality of photojournalism. There are endless untold stories. The more people trying to tell them photographically, the more the stories will be seen and we will have a better understanding of our world. That said…I would educate them on the realities of their ability to support themselves financially and get a job and encourage them to have a solid back up plan.
JC: Any last thoughts you'd like to share with our readers?
LK: Don’t let a lack of interest from editors or colleagues stop you from doing stories you believe in. Early on in a long-term project it is hard to generate interest. But if you keep working, finding even one believer, it can be published and have impact. Find the stories that haven’t been told. Give people a voice they wouldn’t otherwise have in your community. Our roles in society, especially our own communities, are important and we can’t give up on that. If you believe everyone has a story, whether it’s in your own neighborhood or across the world, the possibilities are endless.
Lisa Krantz Website: http://lisakrantz.com
San Antonio Express-News: http://www.mysanantonio.com/
Twice Betrayed Multimedia: http://www.mysanantonio.com/twice-betrayed/
POYi Community Awareness Award: http://poyi.org/72/42/winner_01.php
A Tale of Obesity: http://www.expressnews.com/lifestyle/health-family/article/A-Life-Apart-The-High-Price-of-Obesity-5976013.php#/0
A Tale of Obesity, zReportage: http://www.zreportage.com/zReportage.html?num=zrep560
Other Krantz zReportage Stories: http://www.zreportage.com/zReportage.html?num=zrep473
ZUMA Press: http://www.zumapress.com/
Licensing of Krantz’s Images; email: Licensing@ZUMAPRESS.com
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