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Thursday, June 11, 2009

A New Way of Seeing

New York Times staffer Chang W. Lee is a master photographer. His beautifully composed images are regularly featured in the NYT website. If you follow the link above to visit his profile site, you'll see some striking international feature pieces that will make it immediately obvious why he's won the Pulitzer Prize for Photography. But as a still photographer, he's stayed away from working with moving images until a recent profile of jazz singer Deanna Kirk -- featured on the NYT Lens site.
I found his approach to creating her video profile fascinating. In one sense, I could describe his piece as a sequence of captured moments; a collection of images, some frozen and others unfolding. Just what you might expect, you could say, from a still photographer.

But I think he's accomplished much more than that. In a sense, he's presenting what amounts to almost a new way of seeing by stripping down everything to its' essence. With his approach to storytelling, he's moved away from the traditional tools of video shooting and editing. No zooms, pans, or cutting within a scene from wide shot to closeup or medium shot or what ever. And while he certainly moves his camera around as he shoots from a wonderful variety of angles, he uses just about every image to create its' own scene. (The traditional way depicts an event from a variety of angles and edits them together to build a scene with a beginning, middle and end.)

And with an artist's eye for the telling moment, his freeze frames and video moments work together to create a sophisticated and intimate portrait of a modern woman, jazz performer and engaged mother. Through his gently-paced images, we see Deanna as she tries to recapture the career she put on hold when her son was born and embrace the music that was her first love. And we hang out with her as she shares some of her hard-won truths about being a single mother caring for her young son. And as the stream of her words wash over us, the video images fade in and out or pause to heighten the impact and suggest a deeper exploration of the thoughts, gestures and moments that make up a life. In all, an innovative and stimulating approach to telling a story. And a very creative way of showing a life in flux.

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