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Photojournalism. More than a photograph.

Life has taught me that photography is more than a photograph. In the past few years my career has taught me that photojournalism is also more than a photograph. Photojournalism is a relationship, a catalyst for change, and it is ever changing yet still the same. Great visual storytelling can hit us in the heart and leave an indelible mark. It is my hope; it is my prayer–that you come away from my story about cameras, taking risks in South Africa, and prison with more than a photograph. I am thankful for Brad and Scott who provided me this opportunity to share my heart in words, pictures, and sound.

Photojournalism: It’s about relationship.

I wasn’t born with a camera in my hands. I think I grew up creatively challenged with no apparent inclinations for drawing, painting, or anything musical. While at University at the age of 20 I submitted to what seemed prudent and declared my major to be Economics with an emphasis in accounting. It seemed as though I was destined for a creative wasteland. That same year my Father (whom I admire greatly) gave me my first camera. It was his Nikon N8008 SLR, the very camera that captured the memories of the later years of my childhood and family life. It was the same camera captured the beauty of my mother, the pistol-like personality of my sister, and the annual Easter family portrait before church. I tried to use this camera to capture the pain behind the food eating contests with my seven roommates, the wondrous beaches in Santa Barbara, and the majesty of the mountains on rides with our Mountain Bike team. As I engaged with my friends and watched any part of my life unfold I tried to capture it. I just put it on “P” mode because “P” is for Professional :)

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Victory is declared at The White House Easter Egg Roll in Washington, D.C. April 5, 2010. Photo by Garrett Hubbard © USA TODAY 2010 (This is the closest thing I have to an Easter portrait of my own! )

My life and work now with USA TODAY and with my wedding storytelling business is far from my college dorm, regrettably far from the beach, and definitely includes less saddle time on my bike. But in some ways, little has changed. Even after my degree in Visual Journalism at Brooks Institute of Photography, hundreds of thousands of actuations on my cameras, and developing my own personal vision, many of the principals are the same. I am still photographing real people who are allowing me to tell some part of their story because they trust me. I have learned that the extent to which I can make a good photograph and the extent to which I can tell a good story is predicated on the extent to which I am trusted. This trust and this relationship is why people invite me into their lives for times of celebration, heartache, and healing. This trust I gain with the stories I tell for USA TODAY is so similar to the trust my clients have in me to tell their wedding story. I truly love getting to know my clients before hand so that on the day of the wedding my clients families and friends don’t know me as “the photographer‚” but know me simply as Garrett. My clients’ trust in me is why my they invite me into the center of their lives for one of their most important days to tell the first chapter of their story. AND they ask me to celebrate it with everyone else in the world who is important to them. Love my job!

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Amy getting her makeup on before marrying Mark in Alexandria, VA. © Garrett Hubbard 2008

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Jake and Elyse make their exit after their wedding celebration at the Capitol Hill Club. Fun fact: Elyse’s father ran for President in 2000 and gave his toast between portraits of Reagan and Roosevelt that evening. ¬© Garrett Hubbard 2008

Photojournalism: A catalyst for change.

My life was forever changed in the summer of 2002. I had just graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara with my Economics and Accounting degree with grand plans of continuing on for a fifth year on a fast track towards my CPA license. That summer after graduating I should have been at an accounting internship furthering my career plans. Instead, I spent my summer serving people in the townships outside of Cape Town, South Africa. I will tell you that this did not come completely out of left field. You see I had been reading much about the life of Jesus and what kind of company he shared. I learned that he hung out with corrupt tax collectors, unfaithful spouses, social outcasts, and the poor. These were all the people that the religious people (who were charged with being God’s ambassadors) would call “sinners” and with whom they would not be caught dead. Not only did he keep company with the lowest of people, he had a profound impact on their lives. I found this to be radically beautiful. I soon realized these scriptures were transforming my heart. As I found small ways to do this with people in need in my community I found great joy in loving people like Jesus did. I believed I needed to step outside of my western comfort zone to love and serve the poor, broken-hearted, and suffering cross-culturally. I did just that in the summer of 2002 and my life was never the same. It was in South Africa that I learned new definitions of suffering, faith, perseverance, and joy. I lived through stories there that I will never forget. Some moments of these stories were captured on that same Nikon N8008 my father had given me.

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After a night of flash floods, boys walk the streets in the township of Pola Park near Cape Town, South Africa. This humble photograph was the catalyst for me to become a storyteller. © Garrett Hubbard 2002

The photo that started it all for me.

My words fall short in sharing with you how much the life and death I encountered changed my world. After nine weeks of community development work with my friends from church I returned with a story to share. What I had experienced was not necessarily new to many people around me, but the way I shared it was. After all, they had heard about HIV/AIDS ravaging much of Sub-Saharan Africa because many of them chose to watch news outlets that shared stories outside of the U.S. When I showed them my amateur photographs, they wanted to find a way to love and serve my South African friends; friends that they would almost certainly never meet. This was my first encounter with the radical power of visual storytelling and it was not to be my last.

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A mother prays in her native Xhosa tongue for her dying daughter, Ntombikayse who has AIDS. She died the next day leaving her daughter an orphan. One year after my first journey to South Africa, I came back to tell stories. © Garrett Hubbard 2004

It turns out that I was not as creatively challenged as I had once thought and I had some sort of talent that I needed to explore with photography. However, talent was not enough to cause me to leave my pursuit of my CPA and my Bachelor of Arts behind, but purpose was. It was my belief that visual storytelling could be a catalyst for change, a means to communicate why we should care for the poor, the outcast, the widow and the orphan. I don’ care about these things out of the goodness of my own heart, but because God has showed me his mercy and put these desires in me. Could there be a better tool to communicate God’s heart for people than photojournalism in the most visually literate society that this world has ever known? I wasn’t completely sure how I was going to make my expensive education at Brooks Institute of Photography come together but I knew why I wanted it. A new risk was upon me and I took it.

Photojournalism: Ever changing tools yet still the same

I went to prison in April. Thankfully, the warden let me out every night and let me back in the following mornings. I was there to tell a beautiful story of repentance, reconciliation, and fatherhood. I came armed with a Sony XDCAM EX1 HD video camera and two Canon 5d Mark IIs. I went in knowing full well that most of my efforts would be geared toward my documentary video story “Fathers for life.” I wanted to tell a story about men in Louisiana State Penitentiary, America’s largest maximum security prison which also used to be America’s bloodiest prison.

I’ve heard it said that the news business is great because it’s new every day. As if my job wasn’t dynamic enough, the rapidly evolving technology has practically made storytelling different from day to day. If I were telling this fatherhood story just 10 years ago, I guarantee I would be going with still cameras to tell a “photo story” which is a carefully edited sequence of images (usually 6-12) with robust captions that would pair with a writer’s story to go in the paper. Today it is much different. I come to every story with my DSLRs and my HD video camera. I don’t always use both, but I always have them. This is largely due to the way we consume our news online via computer, smart phone, iPad, etc. Many photojournalists have embraced this brave new world and have learned multimedia and video storytelling and see them as additional tools in the toolbox to tell the story. I am one such photojournalist/video journalist/visual journalist. Most of those who have refused to adapt and learn have been let go in the massive buyouts and layoffs in the newspaper industry. In spite of all this change in Photojournalism, its purpose remains the same. Photojournalism is still about relationship and being a catalyst for change through education.

For this story, like most, I did a lot of reporting, research, and pre-interviews before I even set foot in prison. Once inside, I worked alone, like I often do which gives me the freedom I need to tell the story as it unfolds before me. This freedom also leaves me with the responsibility of being the still photographer, producer, reporter, videographer, and editor. So here is the story about some incarcerated fathers who want to reconcile with their children to break the generational cycle of incarceration.

Here is a link to the story + Photo Gallery

Not all stories I tell for USA TODAY are as serious as my Fathers for life story. Some are quite light-hearted, like this story I did about a young guy who after making videos in his basement made his way out to Hollywood.

Other stories can be pretty physically demanding like 24 Hours in the ER where I was shooting stills and video for 17 straight hours. On this story I teamed with the talented Thad Allender for the shoot. I shot from before sunrise for the next twelve hours and then he came on and we overlapped for four hours, then he carried us home for the final 12 hours. Steve Elfers, my boss and director of Video at USA TODAY helped prep us for the shoot, with our editing, and voice over.

You can check out more of my video stories & projects here.

In a few years, we all might be telling stories with 3D cameras, who knows? After that, the next generation of technology will present itself. I will learn it and I will learn the technology after that because I am a visual storyteller who wants to reach you.

Grace and peace,

-garrett

http://twitter.com/garrettsvisuals
http://www.garretthubbard.com
http://garrettsphotographs.blogspot.com

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35 Comments

  1. Romans 8:28 !! Inspiring post brother Garrett.

  2. Scott,

    One of your best guest to date. The thought I had after reading this is below
    1 Corinthians 1:27
    But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.

    Thanks
    Ken in KY

  3. Its guest bloggers with stories like these that keep pushing me forward when situations or life pushes me backwards. Its photographers like Garrett that inspire me and keep me focused on the path I have chosen, and keeps that fire burning inside to find that feature photo that will tell a story that in return may bring change to an individual, neighborhood or community. Thank you Garrett for taking the time to share this with us.

    • Jeremy. Great to hear a daily newspaper photojounalist! You’re feature hunt comment gave you away : ) I remember those days and miss them now that I’m at a national paper that doesn’t need dailies like this. Keep on persevering! Passion only gets us so far, it is purpose that keeps us in the game.

  4. Thanks for telling such incredible stories through your photojournalism Garrett and thanks for telling so many of the stories of Bridges of Hope International (www.bridgesworldwide.org). We need to get you back on the ground in South Africa and maybe to Ethiopia and the Congo as well. Keep up the great work! Dennis

    • Dennis. I wish I had more space in my blog post to talk about how you and your wife are such an integral part of my story. Had your wife not seen those photos by James Nachtwey in that TIME magazine cover story about HIV/AIDS in Sub Saharan Africa and had you both not responded to what you saw I might not be in this field. I really admire you and your family and that you still let your heart break for the things that break God’s heart. SA, Ethiopia, and Congo: I can’t wait! Looking forward to telling stories with you and Bridges in the future.

  5. What a fantastic post. Stories like this give me the daily perspective I need to clear my head of the unimportant things in my life and focus on the stuff that matters. Keep up the great work Garrett and keep stories like this coming Scott.

  6. Many stories are great, but the best are those that really need to be told. Thanks Garrett.

  7. Garrett, what a great post, and thank you for taking up GOD’s challenge to go to South Africa where it all began! HIS purpose for your life! It must be very hard to see what you see very day and still maintain a servant’s heart! GOD bless you! Scott, Brad, thank you for allowing GOD’s good works to enter your Blog!

    Dennis

  8. Wow, Garrett what a pleasant surprised when I opened my reader and saw your name as Scott’s guest blogger. As usual great story and images and fantastic that Scott (or Brad) asked you to contribute to the blog.

    Way to go my friend !

  9. Thank you Garrett for a beautiful post about God’s work in your life and your willingness to glorify Him. I wish I had been blessed with the artistic gifts you have, but I believe that the message you are portraying is that God wants us to worship Him and to bless others with the gifts He has graciously given. Thank you for that blessing.

  10. Storytelling at its best. Thank you Garrett.

  11. Excellent post. I am very busy this morning and didn’t want to waste 9 minutes on a video. I’m so glad that I watched this video because I feel that I would have wasted an opportunity to see something extremely inspirational.
    Thank you very much for some warm & fuzzy feelings this morning!
    Mike

  12. Garrett: little did I know before reading your guest post that your words and images would resonate so loudly with me. The paths you’ve traveled, the choices you’ve made, all to pursue your calling and to serve in His name. Really makes one think about how triviality dominates so much of our lives, how out of focus we sometimes are. God bless you and thanks for sharing your heart with us.

  13. Stories like these make me realize how safe I play it with not only my work, but my life. As a former editor of the newspaper, I loved when I could be photographer and not writer, photographer and editor. I loved trying to find the story with a photograph. It is difficult, but I think you put to words the beauty and difficulties perfectly.

  14. Wow. I have recently shunned religion as I feel it has become an instrument to divide us. Yet, your storytelling and humility was inspiring Garrett. Thank you for expressing your faith and inspiration in Jesus with service and acceptance of all humans as it primary purpose.

    • Aaron. I really admire you for your honesty and willingness to share some of your journey with us. You remind me a little bit of Donald Miller, the Author of Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious thoughts on christian spirituality. His brutal honesty in his spiritual journey has helped me understand my own faith in new ways. Don’t give up on this spiritual journey.

  15. I admire your convictions. Well done.

  16. Wow. I would love to write an eloquent comment about how inspiring and amazing your post was, but I don’t have the words. Just, WOW. Thank you.

  17. I really appreciate all of your responses. My girlfriend suggested that I print out your responses so I can reread them for encouragement on a difficult day. I’d love to answer any questions or address any thoughts you all have related to the issues I brought up. Constructive critique is of course welcomed!

    I’ll be addressing some of your comments below! I hope that is okay. Scott & Brad, please moderate my comments if necessary :)

  18. wow!
    so touching.
    loved the ‘fathers for life’ story.
    and his paragraph under ‘a catalyst for change’.

  19. Such a wonderful post. I was very touched by the Fathers piece not only because it is so powerful but because of what the love and power of Christ does in the lives of those who need Him most. Thanks

  20. Garrett, your work and your story are very inspiring and actually put into words more eloquent than my own the passion I feel about what I do making images as a photographer. Thanks so much and may God continue to bless what you do!

  21. Garrett, May God richly bless your stories and use it for His ultimate glory!

  22. Garrett, truly only of the best Guest Blogs Scott has had and that says a lot. Like Aaron above I do not share your faith but I was inspired by your zeal. Whatever caused you to take the path less traveled, charter a truly demanding and often underappreciated course , we are all better for it. Thanks for making a difference.

  23. I am glad I read this. Amazing post. Visiting your website and blog, watching the videos as well.

    One of the very few posts I have read where there is a lot of mention of God and his will. You are surely a great multi tasking person I have read about. Very impressive.

    Keep up the good work.

  24. Garrett,
    I really enjoyed reading this post. In fact I enjoyed reading this guest blog post over any other in the last few months. I wanted to thank you for sharing your faith in such a real and practical way.

    I have a 5D Mark II as well and mainly I love it for the great digital camera that it is. However, I have moved into video a bit. For instance, at weddings (although i’m the paid photographer – not the videographer) I might switch into video mode to take some detail shots. This just adds a bit of extra fluff to the pictorial story telling. I definitely want to get more into video and i want to get better at storytelling both in images and in video.

    Again, Thanks for the great post!
    Dave

  25. Garrett–great to read about you and learn. Fantastic work!

    Jefferson Graham

  26. What an incredible story. Great work Garrett!

  27. Garrett, as I was reading your eloquently written blog, I realized you are doing what Jesus did in his life — “Going about doing good.” As you get to know the subjects of your stories, you listen to their heart & their story and you share your love & concern for them. They have been heard and their story not forgotten. You mentioned you gain their trust and I know they feel your sincere love for them! That is faith and love in action! You are not exploiting them; you are sharing their pain, sorrow or joy in a tender package of communication. Because I know you personally, I know this is truly your heart and it’s a joy to see you being given an expanded outlet for Your story!

  28. WOW!!! Telling your own story is always much harder to do than telling other people’s story. Excellent job.

    Maybe we could see your version of “YouTube to Hollywood” next time.

    Thanks for sharing both extremes of emotions. You make us laugh, cry and think like the best of the story tellers. Keep up this great gift of yours.

  29. Looks wonderful. Great reading your post as well.Thanks.

  30. Wow, GREAT post, Garrett! I’m a Christian and I found this post very encouraging – thank you for sharing your heart with us!

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