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Interviews

Keith W. Jenkins <br class="br_visual" />on the evolution <br class="br_visual" />of multimedia

Keith W. Jenkins
on the evolution
of multimedia

© Michael Kooren

February 2013

World Press Photo announced the winners of its third Multimedia Contest in early February 2013 and this year’s jury chairman was Keith W. Jenkins, who is the Supervising Senior Producer for Multimedia for National Public Radio (NPR) in the USA. CPN Editor David Corfield spoke to Keith W. Jenkins about how the challenging genre of multimedia is maturing and providing photographers and filmmakers with new creative possibilities.

Canon Professional Network (CPN): Our world is increasingly multimedia. What did judging the World Press Photo Multimedia Contest reveal to you?

Keith W. Jenkins (KWJ): “Multimedia is evolving and based on what I saw this year, there’s a level of comfort starting to set in. People are no longer scared, intimidated or enamoured with the tools – instead they are starting to figure out how to use them to do quality storytelling.”

CPN: What criteria do you apply when assessing a multimedia piece?

KWJ: “A good film or multimedia piece employs a lot of the traditional journalism techniques: a good story, a good narrative, a tale that someone is either telling you or presenting you with. And then, of course, you are always looking for good visuals.

“One of the challenges for photographers moving into this field is the other aspect of storytelling that they are not used to working with. Photographers are used to looking through viewfinders and setting up frames, but not so used to thinking about transitions – and by that I mean moving from one scene to the next, or working with sound. Those are the things that also get looked at in detail when evaluating a particular project.”

CPN: Can a photographer also be a good filmmaker? Are there common skills?

KWJ: “One of the hidden secrets of film-making is that its basis is around the frame. That’s what stills photography is all about and what photographers learn to master and film-making is no different. Many good filmmakers started out as photographers and one of the things we did at The Washington Post when we were trying to work with our own photographers was to have them start to think about storytelling in motion. We’d start by dissecting and looking at how certain scenes were put together.

“There is a natural and a common language between the two and I think the key for photographers is to remember that the basis of any good visual tale is understanding and controlling the frame within which the story is being told. And that doesn’t change just because some things are moving.”

© Michael Kooren

Many days were spent carefully studying and appraising each of the entries to this year’s World Press Photo Multimedia Contest. Here, Keith W. Jenkins concentrates intently on one of the entries.

CPN: Can the impact of a film influence more than the power of a photograph?

KWJ: “I don’t think so, no. In the early years of this, it was very easy for us to assume that that was going to happen, but what I believe now is that we were a little distracted and as a result a lot of us gave up our faith in the power of a still image and felt the only way to be successful and advance the storytelling process was to adopt film-making and video as our primary tool. In my mind, the still image will always be by far the most powerful.

“Our DNA as human beings is to look at images. You only have to look at the popularity of Instagram, for instance, and the way in which the mass market is adopting this new way of storytelling in stills. It’s quite fascinating. Clearly there is still a great desire for photography in all areas – from the Smartphone user to the professional photographer. The video end of things adds to that, but doesn’t take away anything either.”

CPN: What have you learned from the judging process at World Press Photo?

KWJ: “The great thing for me about World Press Photo is that is brings me into contact with amazing work that I wouldn’t necessarily be exposed to every day. And then to be in the same room as other people who are really sharp and understand visual storytelling and the online world has been a real education – it was like going to school for a week. You have homework and things to study but there are also some really smart kids in the class who help you learn new things too. That’s something I found truly valuable and I saw some amazing things that I really didn’t expect to see. It’s kept me in my toes and that’s part of staying alive in this business – to keep on learning and be ahead of the curve.”

© Michael Kooren

Keith W. Jenkins takes a closer look at one of the entries to this year’s World Press Photo Multimedia Contest.

CPN: What would you like to see in the work of future filmmakers?

KWJ: “I’d like to see a language of storytelling that is really more about the story and less about the tools used to convey that story. It’s starting to happen already, which is great. Being able to think about photographs and video co-existing in the same production is happening and I think is going to carry on happening. It allows you – when constructing a story – to use the best tools for the best moment and that is something that we don’t often do.

“Traditionally we have been keeping these two treatments separate for so long, but I feel now the time is right to see a convergence. We now have the knowledge, the power and the tools to appraise a situation and say: ‘look, in this context a film will be more effective’ or ‘let’s show this story as a series of stills combined into a slideshow with audio’.”

CPN: If you could give just one piece of advice to those working in multimedia, what would it be?

KWJ: “My advice to anyone working in this field is to start experimenting and to become more comfortable with that language – and to remember that this is still all about that frame. Whether it’s a frame that has movement in it, or whether it is just one image, it’s still the eye of the photographer and his decision as to how best to interpret what he sees. Make it count.”

CPN: What is the key ingredient for an effective film or multimedia piece?

KWJ: “Pace is so important. With a character and with sound especially you need to put them in the environment and let the scene ‘breathe’. When you are viewing a film it should feel like you are sitting in a café with a good friend and you’re sharing a bottle of wine. That’s the feeling you should try to impart with a conversation on camera. Being natural is the thing that attracts people the most. When you’re stiff in an interview it will feel like a school instructional film, which is not what you want at all – the viewers will very quickly switch off.”

CPN: It’s not easy getting people to be natural on camera, though, is it?

KWJ: “Keeping the pauses in, retaining the moments of silence, those are the things that make it more natural. Our inclination is to edit out pauses, and that’s often a big mistake.”

CPN: Please sum up your experience with World Press Photo this year?

KWJ: “World Press Photo is a historical arbiter of the craft, both in the past and for the future. The Multimedia realm is still searching for somebody to be its voice as it moves forward and I think World Press Photo has the right sensibilities and the right voice to figure out how to do this. The future is certainly looking bright.”

Biography: Keith W. Jenkins

Keith W.  Jenkins

Keith W. Jenkins is a former Washington Post photographer who now works at National Public Radio (NPR) in the USA as the Supervising Senior Producer for Multimedia. Jenkins spent 13 years at The Washington Post working in a variety of capacities. He served as a Staff Photographer and Photography Director and then became AOL's first Director of Photography. Throughout his career, Jenkins has given lectures and presentations on photography and multimedia at schools and organisations across the USA. He currently teaches multimedia as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, in Washington DC, USA.



Showcase

The judges study one of the many pieces of work sent in by photographers and filmmakers for this year’s World Press Photo Multimedia Contest.