Tuesday, September 29, 2009

61st Missouri Photo Workshop

I'm in Festus, Mo. all this week working on the crew of the 61st Missouri Photo Workshop. With my partner, Ivy, I'm writing and editing MPW's newsletter, "The Rangefinder." We're already off to an incredible start; I followed around a photographer named Mustafah Abdulaziz on Monday and just watched him start conversations with people. It was impressive.

CAPTION: Mustafah Abdulaziz pitches his story ideas to National Geographic's Dennis Dimick, left, and George Olson, right.

We were driving around Crystal City in search of a story when we spotted a guy sitting outside his house, so we decided to stop and talk. Pretty soon, we find out that both he and his wife have cancer, and five minutes after we met him, he'd already told Mustafah he was ready to die.

Mustafah knows how to talk to people, and he’s smooth as silk. In two and a half hours, he and I drove around the Twin Cities and talked to a pawnshop owner, an ultra conservative conspiracy theorist, a postman and the ailing couple. Each time, he piggybacked off a single opener to launch an extended conversation.

When Don (the sick man) asked why he was so interested in Crystal City, Mustafah showed some pictures on his iPhone to give him an idea. Shortly afterward, Don and his wife, Bertha, were talking to him about their health conditions.

“If you can find one reason why you need to talk to that person, then the rest of it is being quick on your feet,” Mustafah told me. “You just need a shred of a reason and then sell them on it.”

At one point, that reason to talk was to bum a light off a shirtless teenager, even though Mustafah had a lighter in his pocket. That spark led to a phone number and an invitation to be shown a “good time” later in the evening.

Mustafah’s pack of American Spirit cigarettes – 100 percent tobacco – has opened plenty of doors for him. “They’re the healthiest things you can kill yourself with,” he joked.

But being quick on your feet won’t automatically get a story idea approved. During his first story pitch, Mustafah was told to go flesh out his ideas and learn more about his potential subjects. Half the battle is locating a compelling situation, but it’s not so easy to find one that is visually captivating, said Dennis Dimick and George Olson, the faculty editors of Mustafah’s Team C.

Instead of trying to find a completely new story, Mustafah was planning to flesh out the two ideas he suggested. But like others who were sent from the story pitch to find more information, he doesn’t have a lot of time to satisfy his editors.

“I want to see where they’re going to point me,” he said. “I’m willing to go on their journey, but at the end of the week I hope I’ve reached the point where I’m happy with why I went on that journey.”

To read the other stories from Monday or check out the Rangefinder's design, click the front page.

1 comment:

Paul Rolfe said...

I want to hang out with Mustafah.