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Finding Direction

When I covered the Republican Convention in New York City in 2004, there were literally more photographers there than any other assignment I can remember. On September 11, 2001, the world saw the horrific images—captured from every angle—of the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in New York City. But at that time, despite how prolific the images taken of that tragic event were, there were far fewer cameras than just three years later. In 2001, cell phones with built-in cameras were first introduced, but in 2004 almost everyone on the streets was using cell phones to take pictures; the era of the citizen journalist was born and I was now shooting digitally for the first time.

As I photographed the protests at the 2004 Republican Convention, spectators and protesters were doing the same. I observed the police turning their video and still cameras on the crowds in areas they were securing. Then there were the thousands of press and photojournalists covering the event, literally recording everything related to the convention.

With so much going on, it was hard to know where to begin. Rather than just wander around and shoot, I was looking for a way to focus my attention to find direction in my coverage. This is how I often tend to work. As discussed in Step 1, when you know what you're looking for, you'll likely find it more often.

So when I started to brainstorm and really think about how to cover this chaotic and visually complex event, I came up with three main paths to focus my efforts and tell the story:

  • The convention itself, and the 5,000 party delegates who gathered in the heavily fortified Madison Square Garden to nominate George W. Bush to run for a second term in office ( 4.11–4.14 ).

    4.11 A woman poses for the media inside Madison Square Garden at the Republican Convention in New York City.©Steve Simon


    4.12 A family watches the speeches at Madison Square Garden.©Steve Simon


    4.13 The late Jerry Falwell photographed during a break between speeches at Madison Square Garden.©Steve Simon


    4.14 A man reads inside Madison Square Garden.©Steve Simon

  • The estimated 400,000 protesters who marched outside under the watchful eyes of police.
  • The media: the 15,000 journalists who were there to cover the event and tell the story of the convention to the world. I wanted to pull back the curtain and reveal the backstage theatrics that are a part of modern-day politics.

Once I had my direction, I was able to head out with purpose to seek the images I knew would give me the narrative I was thinking about. Knowing what I was looking for allowed me to concentrate on finding those images. I also recognized when I was in a situation that strayed too far from my self-assigned photographic mandate, and I knew when to move on.

You can do the same when you find your angle for the theme you are interested in covering. What is it that is compelling you to shoot this subject? What are the different angles and narrative tracks you can take? When I find my direction on a project, it doesn't prevent me from being open to serendipity. When bends in the road take me on a new path, I follow. But having a plan and direction in my work can keep me focused when the situation gets overwhelming.

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