Workshop has documented small towns, trained photojournalists for four decades

October 26, 2015

Frankfort: A Kentucky Welcome from mountainworkshops.org on Vimeo.

 

FRANKFORT — When I was a freshman at Western Kentucky University in 1976, two professors took several photojournalism students I knew to the Eastern Kentucky mountains for a week to document the state’s last one-room schoolhouses.

The following fall, they turned their lenses on a scruffy neighborhood at the end of Bowling Green’s Main Street. That led to trips the next two years to Land Between the Lakes and a remote town in the Tennessee mountains.

I was impressed by the pictures my friends returned with, and how much they learned while making them. But that annual field trip grew into more than any of us could have imagined.

Each October, the Mountain Workshops convenes in a different small town in Kentucky or Tennessee to teach visual storytelling through an intense week of documenting the stories of average people in photos, video, sound and writing.

“We have one goal: to become better storytellers,” said James Kenney, the workshops director and head of WKU’s photojournalism program. “We want to change the way they see.”

The program celebrated its 40th anniversary last week in Frankfort. As always, it was a major production.

About 40 WKU staff members and students arrived at a vacant call center building on the edge of town last weekend and unloaded a truck filled with audio-visual equipment, tables and chairs.

With 89 new Apple iMac computers loaned by a sponsor and several miles of network cable, they created temporary multimedia labs for photographers, videographers, picture editors, graphic artists and writers.

On Monday, an all-volunteer corps of 56 faculty and staff members arrived from across the country. They included some of the nation’s best visual journalists from places such as The New York Times, Washington Post, Time magazine and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The workshop’s 73 participants arrived Tuesday to literally reach into a hat and pull out the name of a subject whose story they would spend the next four days figuring out and learning how to tell.

Most of the participants were WKU students, but others were from universities across the nation, including Harvard and the Rochester Institute of Technology. Others were working professionals, who came to learn new skills and rediscover their passion.

Over the next few days, they would spend hours making photographs, shooting and editing video, conducting interviews and writing.

In addition to workshops in documentary photography and video, there were smaller ones in photo editing, time-lapse photography and “data visualization” — translating numbers into understandable print and interactive online graphics.

By the time everyone leaves for home Sunday morning, they will have created a website (Mountainworkshops.org) with dozens of word, picture and video stories, a book of more than 100 pages and a framed gallery show.

Nobody will have gotten much sleep.

“The point of the workshop is not to make the best images you’ve ever made, but to prepare you to make the best images you’ll ever make,” said Rick Loomis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer at the Los Angeles Times.

Loomis began his career as a WKU student at the workshop and returns almost every year as a photo coach.

I joined the faculty in 1995 as a writing and story coach. I have helped with 16 workshops, and I have seen how it has changed participants’ lives and careers.

Leslye Davis is a good example. I met her in 2009 when she was a shy WKU sophomore from Greensburg in the photo editing class. She returned the next two years as a video and photo student.

Davis, 25, is now an outstanding videographer at The New York Times. She was back at the workshop last week as a confident, insightful video coach.

Davis said the workshop was pivotal in her career development. It taught her a range of skills by doing them on deadline in real-life situations.

“It teaches you that you can work longer and harder than you ever thought,” she said. “People keep coming back because they know how good it is for the future of the profession.”

 

Frankfort: Finding Time from mountainworkshops.org on Vimeo.

 

Western Kentucky University junior Katie Roberts photographed A Little Bit of Heaven Riding Stables in Frankfort last week. She was a participant in the 40th annual Mountain Workshops, a documentary photography workshop. Photo by Nina Greipel

Western Kentucky University junior Katie Roberts photographed A Little Bit of Heaven Riding Stables in Frankfort last week. She was a participant in the 40th annual Mountain Workshops, a documentary photography workshop. Photo by Nina Greipel

Richard Jones and his 1-year-old grandson, August, represent the fourth and sixth generations to live at Happy Jack's Pumpkin Farm east of Frankfort. Like August, Jones' sons grew up playing and working on the farm, which has transitioned away from tobacco to vegetables and livestock to keep it going strong. The Jones were a story subject during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops last week. Photo by Maura Friedman

Richard Jones and his 1-year-old grandson, August, represent the fourth and sixth generations to live at Happy Jack’s Pumpkin Farm east of Frankfort. Like August, Jones’ sons grew up playing and working on the farm, which has transitioned away from tobacco to vegetables and livestock to keep it going strong. The Jones were a story subject during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops last week. Photo by Maura Friedman

 

Polly Wilson, 7, lies in the family hammock with her favorite Americana breed chicken, also named Polly. The Wilsons have more than 70 chickens that produce eggs the family sells at the Frankfort Farmers Market three times a week. The family was a story subject last week during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops in Frankfort. Photo by Laura McClintock

Polly Wilson, 7, lies in the family hammock with her favorite Americana breed chicken, also named Polly. The Wilsons have more than 70 chickens that produce eggs the family sells at the Frankfort Farmers Market three times a week. The family was a story subject last week during the 40th annual Mountain Workshops in Frankfort. Photo by Laura McClintock

 


Lexington-based Punndit enables video comments

March 19, 2012

Lexington technology entrepreneurs have created what they think could be the next revolution in social media, and they will get a chance soon to show it off on an international stage.

Their software, called Punndit, allows people to use smartphones or computer video cameras to easily attach their video comments, rather than just text comments, to videos posted online.

Punndit was chosen Friday as one of 10 winners of an international competition for innovation in television technology. It was one of 45 companies competing and the only winner from the United States. The competition was sponsored by MIPCube, part of the Paris-based organization MIPWorld, which hosts the world’s largest annual television and media conference.

Punndit’s selection means entrepreneurs Randall Stevens and Chris Winfield will be heading to Cannes, France, next week to make a presentation about their software at a two-day pre-conference event focused on start-up companies and digital creativity.

One of the 10 presenters will be selected as an overall winner to present at the main MIPWorld conference, April 1 to 4. The exposure could give the company a head start in what Stevens, Punndit’s chief executive officer, thinks will be the next wave in social media interactivity.

“We’re out front now in showing the first steps in a new way to engage,” said Stevens, 44, a Pikeville native who has an architecture degree from the University of Kentucky.

“People are not just going to want to interact with text, but with video, because most smartphones and computers now have video cameras built into them,” Stevens said. “Because this is new, the design challenge has been making it easy enough and intuitive enough for users.”

With Punndit’s software, he said, “We feel like we’re two years ahead of where this next wave is heading.” Stevens said he wasn’t aware of any competitors with similar software that allows users to isolate Internet video clips and easily make video comments about it to share with others.

Stevens hopes the conference will lead to contracts with global media companies. “We’re ready when they’re ready,” he said.

Punndit’s business model involves selling the software to media companies to allow viewers to comment on videos posted on their Web sites. That commenting increases site traffic, creating potential for additional advertising revenue.

“We’re positioning ourselves as the media companies’ and copyright owners’ best friend,” Stevens said, adding that the software also can be used with videos that are freely distributed by such sites as YouTube.com and Vimeo.com.

Punndit also is looking at applications for the software in video conferencing. “Any place video currently is used, we could live there,” Stevens said. “We think that it could become literally a new platform for social engagement.”

The company’s Web site, Punndit.com, has been taken down for retooling until after the presentation in France. But the software’s capabilities can be seen in some limited demonstrations online.

One demonstration is at TheRecoveringPolitician.com, a political discussion site created by former state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate Jonathan Miller.

Stevens and Winfield spent two years developing Punndit with David Slone, James Smith and Jeff Ruth.

“I wouldn’t have gotten into this if I didn’t think it was a big market opportunity,” Stevens said. “Video is ripe for innovation.”

This is the third software company he has created. He also runs Base 163, an office space for start-ups on the third floor of an office building at 163 East Main Street. And he is active in In2Lex, an organization that promotes technology innovators and other creative ventures in Lexington.

“We’ve got some companies in Lexington that are doing really innovative things,” he said. “Punndit is just one example of what’s possible here.”

You can follow Punndit’s progress in France beginning March 30 at Twitter.com/punndit or Facebook.com/punndit.