Storytelling photographers get attention in small town

Duane Dailey

When documentary photographers come to a small town, they attract attention. This week, Eldon, 11 miles north of Lake Ozark, got the spotlight. MU’s Missouri Photo Workshop attracted 39 camera carriers plus faculty and staff.

By Saturday afternoon, 1,016 people came to see their town. Hundreds of 11x14 prints lay on cafeteria tables.

The beauty of small towns is their openness.

We had two New Yorkers enrolled, who were enthralled. “All of this open space,” one said. “The friendliness,” said another.

Even faculty members who know MPW are amazed.

Two mornings, the Lions Club brought dozens of donuts and gallons of orange juice and milk for workshoppers. A neighbor lady cooked lunch one day.

Another day someone, we don’t know who, dropped off 75 sandwiches at lunch time.

That helped low-income photographers, most on the gig economy, who came to build skills. Most need human-interest photos in their portfolios. Attending MPW helps their resumes.

There are few salaried jobs. As newspapers downsize, photo jobs go away. Only one newspaper sent a photographer, He came on scholarship.

Media readers need photographers with storytelling skills. This workshop isn’t teaching photography. It’s about learning storytelling with words and pictures.

We had a couple of interesting cases. One was a doctor and the other a truck driver. Both look for new careers.

Photographers have competition, not seen a few years ago. Everyone is a photographer. All carry a cellphone that make photos that can be run in the news.

In the old days, an editor from National Geographic said the most important skill is “be there.” One of the teachers this year said the whole workshop is about “Putting the camera where it should be.”

Now almost all breaking news happens in front of someone with a cellphone. Those can shoot still pictures or videos. They can make the news, as they were there.

This workshop is not about breaking news. It shows quiet stories of importance to a community.

One I especially liked was by a photographer who learned there is a new veterinarian in town. A hometown girl graduated from MU vet school and came to work in Miller County. She brings skills in preventive health care, quiet cattle handling and artificial insemination. She has skills and tools for early preg checks.

Every county in cattle country needs someone like her. It’s a specialty of MU. Beef cows are No. 1 in agricultural income in Missouri. In turn, agriculture is the main income in the Show-Me state.

The photographer from New Jersey had no farm background. He learned more than storytelling. He was astounded to learn how a vet turns a bull calf into a steer. He thought all cattle were cows.

I was there to help city photographers learn farm terms. Some faculty members need that also.

Another photographer made amazing pictures of an 85-year-old farmer, still on the go in farming. He was at the photo show, to accept comments from countless friends who came to see. The response to her pictures brought tears to the eyes of the photographer. The subject’s family was there to make cellphone photos of the photos with grandpa.

Photos have emotional impact.

I’ve been through this about 35 times. It still brings a lump in my throat to see changes photographers make.

MU has extended photo storytelling, by this workshop for 69 years. We are engaged with the state of Missouri, and the world. We extend understanding. It’s a self-supporting, with help from sponsors and local communities. The teachers serve without pay, to help the profession.

We have become big in small towns.

This year, we were competing on show day with the Turkey Festival. The parade came by the school where our photos were displayed.

While 40 photographers signed up, one went to Puerto Rico instead. Work, a paying gig, called.

 Write to or 511 W. Worley, Columbia, Mo., 65203.