Approaching the story: Photographing and writing about a woodturner

I had the privilege of meeting Ben Kandel a little over a week ago. I interviewed the 23-year-old woodturner from Moorhead for a business story about the business that he and his sister run, selling the items he creates.

One of the things that makes a good written piece — whether it’s a news story or a novel — is an intriguing character. And Ben fits the bill in that regard. There just seems to be something deeper going on under the surface of his personality. You just get the sense that there’s something more going on inside Ben when you’re around him. And there’s a uniqueness about him. The fact that he rides a unicycle around town hints at it. But it’s also one of those things you just pick up in subtle, hard-to-put-your-finger-on ways. And it gives his character texture. It makes him interesting.

As a reporter, I tell most of my stories in words. I (hopefully) build pictures in readers’ brains through written descriptions and stacking truths together to build ideas. For my story about Ben, I wrote some text, and that was important to telling the story well. But I also wanted to tell his story in pictures. In fact, the pictorial telling of the story was primary for me, at least at the beginning. I thought the process would be look interesting and visually compelling. The wood chips, dust, rapidly-spinning wood, hard-working hands, all provide interesting details and visuals. Ben also has a great smile and was patient with my endless photo snapping.

I ended up getting a lot of shots that pleased me (a whole lot more than we could use in print). I also created a photo gallery to run online with the story. Here, in this blog post, I’ve selected some of my favorites from that shoot to share with you. You can see the full gallery of images here.(Click on the images for a larger view) I sure hope you enjoy them.

I took this portrait in front of some wood Ben has stored in his family’s garage. It was his mother who mentioned we might use this as a backdrop. Love the expression. Maybe the fact that he’s looking away and off of the frame sort of hints at the do-his-own-thing personality I wrote about above.

This one just makes me happy visually. I enjoy the thin range of focus, the elegant curve of the bowl and the way the red of the background and the yellow of the wood play against one another.

This one’s about the repetition of form and its juxtaposition.

Here Ben is working on a wooden pen. I’m drawn to the shine of the finish and the tactility of the Q-tip, as well as the form of the cotton swab.

Happiness and concentration. Cool hat too.

I hit this one with the built-in flash on my camera. I think that’s the reason the wood scrap that’s flying off appears so sharp. I love that curly, little dude.

I enjoy the touchableness of the wood chips in this one, and also the light vs. dark and the mirroring of the circular (or at least curved) forms.

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