With photos, journalists get geeky

Geekfest presented photo and visual journalists with space to collaborate and discuss ideas.

AlbertHongWhen one hears the words “GeekFest,” they probably immediately assume that it’s some celebration of comics, games, sci-fi and etcetera.

I’ll admit I did.

GeekFest is an annual event where the APhotoADay community – created by GeekFest organizer, Melissa Lyttle of the Tampa Bay Times – gather to listen, talk and just hang out. This year’s event, held Sept. 12-14, will include presentations from prominent photographers and photojournalists.

APhotoADay is a website that posts new photos every day. Lyttle created it in 2001 after she and her friend started emailing each other photos after realizing there weren’t many ways of seeing other work.

Soon, friends and fellow colleagues started reaching out to be included and then those friends invited their friends. The site now has about 2100 members from all over the country and world.

In addition to the daily front photo, the site also hosts a listserv on which beginning photographers and photojournalists can look to for tips, critiques and inspiration.

“We’ve seen themselves find their voice here and see themselves grow photographically,” Lyttle said.

However, the primary benefit of there being a community seems to be just that: being part of an active, close-knit group.

Luanne Dietz, Emmy Award winning freelance photojournalist and Director of All Things Good at Hipstamatic’s Cause Beautiful, turned to APhotoADay when she was just getting started.

“I learned that it wasn’t really about the images but more about the conversations surrounding them,” Dietz said in an email. “They care about the photojournalism industry, they care about the work that is being done, and most importantly they care about the photographers who are doing that work.”

Vince Musi, former photographer for the Pittsburgh Press and now a photographer for National Geographic, talked about how valuable the APhotoADay and GeekFest collective are, especially with the many hardships of the visual industry.

“Photography itself is a very solitary art form – you do it by yourself,” Musi said. “This allows everybody to get together in a non-competitive environment where they can share stories, get inspired and be motivated to go back out there.”

Some of the people who will speak this weekend have admitted that photojournalism was not the career that they had planned to get into.

Dave Maialetti, staff photographer for Daily News, Philly.com and the Inquirer, attended Temple as a business major. He then switched to film before a professor critiqued his films, saying that the only good thing about his work was the photography.

It wasn’t until after he took a photojournalism class at Temple and began working as a photojournalist that he realized what he wanted to pursue.

“For me, it was when I realized what you could do with still image and the ability to connect and tell stories,” Maialetti said. “That element of photojournalism definitely made me reconsider what I wanted to do.”

Understandably, photojournalism is not the most attractive industry because of its fiscal issues.

“I think the biggest problem right now is funding,” Lyttle said. “They can’t tell the stories worth telling because money is tight.”

That’s why APhotoADay, with its non-profit status, is also holding an online photo auction through Paddle 8 until Sept. 16 to help support photographers.

While the problems of the journalism industry as a whole can’t be ignored, the benefits are enough to keep visual journalists working.

Sol Neelman, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist for 10 years, found a new avenue where he could express his love of sports and weird things into a book project called “Weird Sports.” The text is filled with photos of weird sports around the globe. Its sequel “Weird Sports 2” is launching Saturday.

“I just wanted to find fun things to photograph where people were having a great time,” Neelman said. “I wanted it to celebrate the photos and moments.”

The inspiration for the book project actually came from Neelman’s first ever GeekFest back in 2005, where he collaborated with veterans and amateurs alike.

Albert Hong can be reached at albert.hong@temple.edu

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