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May 8th, 2011 by kdifate

Meet Joe. It’s been twenty years since he was abusive to his wife, Barbara. On May 1, 1991 he attended his first non-violence education meeting at RAVEN in St Louis, Mo and thanks to that education, his marriage was saved. Eleven years later, Joe became a volunteer group co-facilitator at RAVEN.

Please, feel free to share your thoughts. I’m too close to the story to see the aesthetic for what it is rather than what I make it.

Single Origin: A flavor profile of Joe Marrocco

April 28th, 2011 by kdifate

Even coffee has a story.

The country; the region; the farm; the farmer; the roaster; the roast; the preparation; the barista. Each element impacts the flavor profile of a coffee.

Joe Marrocco highlighted the story of one coffee—Burundi Kinyova, Kaldi’s Coffee Roasters’ featured seasonal coffee—during his presentation at the 2011 South Central Barista Championship in St. Louis, Mo. on April 1–3. This year Marrocco, in his third year as a competitor, brought home the crown. He and two other Kaldi’s baristas will continue on to compete in the national competition April 29–May 1 in Houston, Tx.

UPDATE: In the days leading up to the competition, Libby Franklin of Saint Louis NPR also visited Joe Marrocco. Listen to her story here.

Fleeting Moments: Impressions of SXSW

March 21st, 2011 by kdifate

I thought it might be fun (and appropriate) to make a time lapse video documenting my voyage from St Louis to Austin for SXSW Interactive, March 11-15, 2011. ‘Nuff said.

Video: Kristen DiFate
Music: “Wait For Me (Villa Remix)” Moby, edited for time by Kristen DiFate

Fleeting Moments: Impressions of SXSW from Kristen DiFate on Vimeo.

Knowing when to walk away

March 4th, 2011 by kdifate

As painful as they may be, false starts happen from time to time. In fact, I just went through one with my one-day photo story, Channeling Chocolate. I spent two days photographing a story that wasn’t a story. No matter how confident you are going in having done all the research you can do, sometimes what you think is there just isn’t.

And that’s okay.

Readjust. Refocus. Keep shooting.

You have to spend the time getting to know your subjects—working with them, talking to them, interviewing them—to really hone in on the story. “If you want to get to know your characters, you have to hang out with them long enough to see beyond all the things they aren’t” (Lamott, p. 83).

Sometimes that become clear early on. Other times it’s impossible to see the picture from inside the frame. At which point it’s beneficial to enlist a disinterested third party to point out plot holes, kill the puppies, or report then news that there simply is no story.

“I looked at my manuscript in my suitcase, thought about all those beautiful, hilarious, poignant people I had been working with for almost three years, and all of a sudden I was in a rage.” But, as Rita Reed would say, when your hair is on fire and you’re looking for any drop of water to put it out, you’ll run the distance to find it.

And the passion drives to find a way to tell the story until it tells you it’s time to move on.

That’s how I felt at the end of Channeling Chocolate. After two days photographing a story that wasn’t, I shifted gears and photographed a story that was. Sure, my first days take wasn’t perfect—there was a glaring hole. It wasn’t for lack of trying; the moment simply wasn’t there. So I went back focused on that piece of the puzzle. With that moment captured (coincidentally, the final image), I knew the story was complete, to the best of my storytelling abilities.

“Of course, there will always be more you could do, but you have to remind yourself that perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor” (Lamott, p. 93).

Channeling Chocolate, a one day photo story

February 28th, 2011 by kdifate

My goal: Avoid photographing a process story like the plague.

Rita’s goal (for me): Get a good “mouth feel.”

What do you think?

Hand dipped sea salt caramels. Apricot grappa induced chocolate truffles. Dried strawberry covered dark chocolate bark. Marshmellow pies. Brian Pelletier and his staff of passionate confectioners have spent the last two years channeling chocolate into imaginative, delectible delights in their small St. Louis City store. As their second location opens in Maplewood, Pelletier, a twenty-year vetern of business marketing, reflects: “I have the best job in the world, I get to make people happy.”


Kakao Confectioner Extraordinaire, Jenny Bazetta, helps Beverly Anderson select a unique mixture of chocolate truffles to send to her girlfriend in Atlanta who “has it all.” Her hand-dipped chocolate selections included chai, lavendar, mint, and earl gray truffles.


Kakao confectioners aren’t just employees, they are innovative chocolatiers. Between holidays, owner Brian Pelletier tells his staff to take each week to try something they’ve never tried before. So far, every experiment has lead to delicious success.


Each caramel is hand dipped in chocolate by one of Kakao’s dedicated confectioners. The chocolate is churned in the tempering machine and heated to 88.7°F. The caramels are then sprinkled with either sea salt or ginger before being laid to dry.


Emily Kothe (left), Rebecca Gunn (center), and Kara Bellavia (right) huddle around a hand picked sample box of six Kakao truffles during the grand opening of the Maplewood store at 7272 Manchester in St. Louis, Mo. February 26, 2010. Their best laid afternoon plans? “Scarf down the cheapest box,” said Kothe.


“Don’t show me any CRAP!”

February 22nd, 2011 by kdifate

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make it to POYi for any of the picture story categories. I would have liked to see multimedia. I did, however, have the opportunity to watch Magazine Editing Portfolio judging. Since I spend a great deal of time talking portfolio design with students I’ve realize that portfolio construction is the last great mystery, so this seemed a great chance to consume first hand professional opinions.

Robert Seale recently wrote an article for SportsShooter that couched portfolio tips in humorous antics about his past. First, the definition: A portfolio is a sales tool. Second: The tips, which I won’t rehash here. I would, however like to highlight a few comments to strengthen my conversation about POYi portfolio judging.

  • If it needs an explanation, cut it.
  • If it needs an apology, cut it.
  • If it’s not the best (of that category) you’ve ever shot, cut it.

I believe these golden nuggets of advice can and should be applied to any creative portfolio.

POYi judge Meg Theno of the Chicago Tribune agrees. In an award-winning portfolio Theno looks for a tight, concise edit of technical elements, composition and content. “It’s all about content and how well that content is presented because that’s what will determine what will speak to people.” Most importantly, “the pictures need to mean something individually, and they need to speak to each other as well; they need to have their own voice.”

She also mentioned that she looked specifically for a wide range of imagery and edits, which surprised me because the panel kept several portfolios I felt suffered from redundant imagery syndrome, meaning same shots, same distance, same composition.

Ultimately, the panel didn’t speak much about why they made the decisions they made or how they came to their final selection, which was a little disappointing. Had the attendance been higher, I assume the discussion would have increased as well. I noticed early unanimous decisions to eliminate heavy studio, illustrative portfolios, which was a little surprising to me. This being a magazine category, I felt conceptual pieces were more appropriate, but the judges clearly felt that the award-winning POYi editing portfolios were those that focused on photojournalism. Theno explained that the portfolios needed to fit “in the context of photojournalism.” She explained that, while several of the science portfolios were aesthetically appealing, they were more about graphic design than storytelling.

What do you think this is, a photojournalism contest?

Photogs, shoot from the heart.

February 9th, 2011 by kdifate

I’ve been known to tell people that abstraction for abstractions sake is the manifestation of an artists’ self-indulgence. Randomly splatter painted wall decorations are nonsense. On the other hand, abstraction that grows from somewhere, from something — now that’s beautiful. I don’t believe this ends at the edge of a canvas. “The narrower and more clearly defined the subject matter at the start, the more quickly identified is the “direction in which to aim the camera,” says David Hurn in On Being a Photographer (p. 33). The question is, how do you find the precise, pinpoint focus from which to abstract? How do you settle on a subject? According to Hurn, “…the photographer is, primarily a subject-selector” (p. 31).

Hurns and Jay suggest that photographers carry notebooks in which they should compile an ever-evolving, unabashed list of interests, fascinations and obsessions with honest disregard for photography. I love this idea. Once this list begins to grow, the photographer should start the process of categorization — eliminate things that aren’t visual; eliminate things that are practical; focus on the remaining few that have wide interest to a mass audience. Here is where you find the gems of subject-selection.

Lamott echos this idea of free flowing thought in this week’s installment of Bird by Bird, however it’s backhanded analogy is more difficult than previous chapters to translate from writing to photography. She suggests writers spend time free writing — an exercise where a person writes for a set period of time without regard to particulars or details. Then, from this jumbled pile of gunk, you have this material to choose from, to work with, to shape, edit, highlight or toss. When free writing is associated with a photographer’s list of interests, this is a great idea. However, I dislike the idea of a “free photographing” photographer who arbitrarily makes frames of anything and everything in front of them waiting for the story “to emerge” — that gets you nowhere but the cutting room floor. Save yourself time and do some research—on yourself, on your surroundings. Then make frames.

Daddy’s Little Princess, an exercise in picture editing

February 4th, 2011 by kdifate

The assignment: Edit someone else’s picture story down from 497 images to 8-10. Ok. Sure thing, Rita!

I started with a little research. Since the story had recently been published in Vox Magazine, that wasn’t hard. After a good thorough read or two (don’t worry, I avoided the slideshow for fear of being tainted), it seemed to me that the story focused more on the father than the daughter, so I wanted to make that evident in my selection of photos.

Unfortunately, I’m not a huge fan of my print layout. I missed the revised set of instructions so I kinda felt shoved in a box (a tight, two paged box without copy or captions). I may redo this at some point… wherever I find that tree of spare time.


February 1st, 2011 by kdifate

SNOWPOCLYPSE 2011: St. Louis really got jipped on the snow (thanks, Columbia, for stealing 17.7″ of it), but we got hit pretty hard with thundersnow and an ice storm. Of course, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

Fantasy keys won’t get you in.

January 26th, 2011 by kdifate

“Fantasy keys won’t get you in. Almost every single thing you hope publication will do for you is a fantasy[…]. What’s real is that if you do your scales every day, if you slowly try harder and harder pieces, if you listen to great musicians play music you love, you’ll get better.”

I may start using this Lamott quote with my students. They often come to me confused and sweating about the future and what they were born to do. I ask them one simple question: “What are you passionate about?” I tell them, for a moment, forget any notion of “innate talent,” what do you find yourself up late at obsessing over?

If you love it, you can learn to do it.

There’s this strange misconception that communications industries—advertising, design, photography, journalism—stay afloat based on raw talent and aptitude, as if you’re born knowing how to write an opus. Physicists don’t innately understand the theory of relativity. Likewise doctors, lawyers, counselors and the ilk aren’t born into their craft. It takes time and dedication to learn every trade.

Both Lamott and the podcast sang the same tune, only with different words.

The Gross and Shapiro reading, Changing Perspectives, tells photographers to reconstruct reality by breaking free from conformity to see things from a new perspective. Climb a tree, crawl on your belly, flip upside down, or, as Clay Stalter might suggest, get on a merry-go-round and drag your shutter. Learn the rules, then learn to break them, but with deliberate purpose.

It’s true. I might also add you have to learn to laugh at yourlself and you can’t be afraid to look stupid. I’ve perfected these last two; it’s the first set of suggestions I need to work on.