Communicating Compassion with a new site for Veterinary Cancer Care

I’m very happy to announce the launch of the website I worked on for Veterinary Cancer Care (VCC) — a veterinary oncology practice based in Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

The site is a great example of the sort of holistic approach I like to take to a client project — I worked on the web development, photography and multimedia work to bring it all together as a consistent whole.

Dr Jeannette Kelly of VCC is a devoted and caring vet, and her practice has helped thousands of pets with cancer. Her website was out of date and didn’t really communicate the key message of the practice — that treating pets with cancer is completely different from treating humans with cancer.

The feel of the practice is warm and caring, and although it’s obviously a difficult time for clients, they were positive and grateful for the compassion and skill Dr Kellly and her staff showed to the pets under their care.

Since most visitors to the site would be coming after receiving bad news from their primary care vet, it was important to dispel their misconceptions and make them more comfortable considering VCC.

It seemed to me that explaining the treatment options and the qualifications of the staff, while necessary, wouldn’t be enough to counter the potential client’s idea that veterinary oncology was going to mean suffering for their pet in a cold and unwelcoming environment. We were dealing with powerful emotions here, so an appeal only to reason — however much it made sense — wouldn’t be enough. An approach that also worked to calm fears and make an emotional connection was also important.

Having spent time at the practice, I knew that the atmosphere there was warm and positive, and the animals loved and cared for. Dr Kelly herself encapsulated this feeling that was so different from what you might expect when you think about cancer treatment — she’s bright, energetic and funny. When talking to owners, she’s often to be found on the floor at pet level, bonding with the animals.

I decided to use documentary photography to capture the authentic experience of the practice, and then record an interview with Dr Kelly about how approach and how she got started with veterinary oncology. You’d want a vet who was emotionally committed to this difficult side of medicine, and Dr Kelly’s story shows she has this in spades.

The audio from the interview would be packaged with some of the still images and background noise of life at the practice, and we would use that on the About page.

Introduction to Veterinary Cancer Care, Santa Fe, New Mexico from David Moore on Vimeo.

Meanwhile, the Amy, Megan and Jan from VCC started gathering useful information and resources so the site would make a compelling emotional case but then back it up with practical information for new clients who need to learn a lot in a hurry.

VCC already had a good graphic identity and color palette that they used for print materials, so that was foundation of the web design. We also wanted the design to be calming, warm and welcoming — the feelings you get walking into the practice. So the use of serif fonts and subtle shading and textures creates a site that is clean and simple to use without being austere.

Looking to photograph authentic moments of what happens in the practice takes a lot longer than just staging some shots with clients, vets (and animals) all smiling at the camera. You have to be there, in the right place to make strong images out of what really happens. A little exchange between staff member and owner, or a pet suddenly licking Dr Kelly’s face are situations that you can’t set up, and if you miss the shot, it’s not coming again. But I feel that people can tell what’s real and what’s fake, and real images have so much more force.

There are more photos from the project here.

The combination of a clear approach, good design, photography, multimedia and useful resources presents an authentic and positive view of Veterinary Cancer Care. And personally, it was one of the more rewarding projects I’ve worked on recently, as I got to see the great work that goes on there, and help them communicate what they do.

And the folks at VCC are also happy. Dr Kelly says,

‘We are delighted with our new site because it captures the essence of our practice and the hope we get from our patients every day.

‘David immersed himself in Veterinary Cancer Care for several days in order to capture the sights, sounds and perceptions of the clinic, and the website mirrors the feeling of our space and our philosophy perfectly.

The website design and photographs emulate the light, bright, welcoming feeling our patients and their people get when they come to see us, and our focus on hope and care is clearly the foundation for the design.’

You can find them at http://www.vetcancercare.com

Redesigned site for the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

I’ve been working with the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market for five years now — designing, building and maintaining their website, writing blog posts and photographing artists and their great work.

Their site for the last three markets had worked well, but it was built on an older content management system and needed some freshening of the design and more functionality before this year’s Market in mid-July.

Stronger images, easier to update

I worked with the Market on a new design, aiming for a cleaner look and a wider main column for displaying larger photographs. The Market has a deep library of excellent images that show the real people around the world that are helped by the Market (I’ve taken some of these images — that’s one of mine used on the bottom-left of the homepage — but there’s a talented pool of other photographers who also contribute images). Being able to display photographs in a wide main column gives them more impact, and also gives more flexibility in wrapping text around images, especially for blog posts.

Another aim was that the site be easier to update. While I’ve written nearly all the blog posts in some years, this time round most were written by Clare Hertel Communications — the PR firm that’s also worked with the Market for many years. Making the blog section of the site full-featured but also easy to use was very important.

Going custom

Once the new design was approved, I planned the move to WordPress from the older CMS — a job that was more involved than for a more straightforward site.

The Market sites includes a blog, a news section and a section containing hundreds of artists’ profiles categorized by the countries they’re from, and the years they’ve attended the Market. WordPress by default only supports two types of content — regular site pages and blog posts, so I devised an architecture based around using custom post types and custom taxonomies to cater for all the different types of content and classifications required.

This means that adding an artist lets you specify a country and years attended when you’re adding the content, and then displays the content in the right place on the site. I also implemented WordPress’ ‘featured image’ functionality to automatically generate thumbnails and associate them with blog posts, news releases and artists. So adding a new blog post for example, automatically places its title and thumbnail on the site’s homepage without any direct editing of the homepage.

Then we moved all the existing content to the new site, and then tested the new version prior to launch.

The WordPress framework for the site now makes it easier for the Market to updated the content themselves, and also allows us to use some of the wide range of plug-ins available to add extra functionality. This is seen in the front page slider which displays revolving selection of banners. It’s also search-engine friendly and easy to add updates and patches as the WordPress core is constantly updated.

The blog area now supports captions for images, embedding maps into posts, and auto-generated slideshows.

Good-looking and built to last

The result is a site that has a contemporary look, a solid custom-designed infrastructure and a framework that supports the range of content uses the Market needs.

The work was completed in time for the busy build-up to the Market, and the site made it much easier than in previous years to add this year’s new artists, blog posts, news releases and other content. It also held up well to the large amount of traffic it receives around the Market weekend — peaking this year at over 4000 visits and 15,000 page views a day.

As the Folk Art Market moves into its tenth year in 2013, their site is a key asset in good shape, and it’s ready to support new endeavours and requirements in the future. I’m proud to have been involved with such a great Santa Fe non-profit organization for the last few years, and look forward to continuing my work with them.

In the MIX — photographing a great evening event

The nice people at MIX Santa Fe — the networking and micro-finance group I like to think of as the hip offshoot of the local Chamber of Commerce — asked me to shoot their most recent event, and I was very happy to help out.

It was a party and awards presentation held at the Santa Fe Art Institute, in one the lovely courtyards of Riccardo Legoretta’s landmark building. Often evening events are held in dark hotel meeting rooms where you’re fighting with low light and loud carpets, but this was a joy.

With a bar staffed by the Cowgirl, serving drinks featuring Santa Fe Spirits’ fine local liquors, the party brought out an eclectic creative crowd. Santa Fe seems small, and you’re often running into the same people again and again, but this group refreshingly seemed to transcend a lot of the normal cliques.

Music was from DJ ‘jaro, and eats from La Cocina Doña Clara. Folks were friendly and the space gave me some chances to get some shots you wouldn’t normally associate with event shooting.

Thanks to MIX for the opportunity, and if you’ve got an event you need professional coverage of, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Dogs in the Office — design dogs

My dogs in the office personal project has started nicely. I’ve done three shoots now (more photos to follow), and it’s great to have some reason to shoot for myself that’s not just walking around seeing what I get. I’m a documentary photographer, so it’s the stories and moments that I respond to best, and with the dogs in the office, there are plenty of those.

Here are images from the session I shot with Radius Books and Trey Jordan Architecture. They share a lovely space in the same building as my office, and I’ve known Trey and David Chickey from Radius for a long while (full disclosure: I built Trey’s website).

Trey and David bring Jasper and Lola, while Jenni brings Terry, and Thomas brings Eames (what else would an architect name their dog). There’s art on the walls, lots of great space and a very hip kitchen stocked with dog treats (and some nice things for the humans, too).

For the gearheads among you, these were all shot with the Fuji X-Pro1, using 18mm f/2, and 35mm f/1.4 lenses.

Eames being shy.

Taking part in an impromptu meeting

Jasper appreciates the art.

Terry helps out

Time for a bit of affection

Big in Rotterdam — one of my images ends up working in a Dutch kitchen

I recently got an enquiry from a company in the Netherlands, looking to license one of my images to use in their new office kitchen.

As I mostly do commissions (for small businesses, non-profits and families) and some assignment work (for publications), stock enquiries like this are rare, and most of my images aren’t suitable for stock use.

But I have a few images posted, and they’d come across one of mine that they liked. Since they’re based in Rotterdam (one of the largest container ports in the world) and focus on trade with Asia, they were looking for an image of containers on an Evergreen shipping lines vessel.

A quick Google image search later, they’d found one of my images in my small stock library hosted as a quiet part of one of my sites.

They found it because I’d captioned and tagged the images accurately (and because there aren’t that many good Evergreen container ship images around apparently), and they got in touch and asked about fees to license the image.

We sorted out a price and I worked with them on a new version of the image that fit the exact proportion and size they needed.

They printed the file locally, and as you can see the image now adorns their hip-looking kitchen (thanks to Richard Vredenburg for the image).

I’m chuffed that there’s one of my images on the wall in an office in Rotterdam, and it’s amazing that this digitally-connected world allowed this small miracle to happen. Twenty years ago there is no way an image I took at the start of a family cruise could have ended up being looked by Dutch people making coffee, and now we take it for granted.

Here’s the original image (in its custom Rotterdam crop version):

Editorial Portrait Assignment for PracticeLink Magazine

National medical magazine PracticeLink has just published a photo assignment I shot for them in February.

The job was to shoot an editorial portrait of Dr James Melisi, a surgeon who had recently moved to Santa Fe from the Washington DC area.

The article the photo would accompany was about his move and how he’s enjoying the history and landscape of northern New Mexico. An amateur photographer, the good doctor has already had a show of his work in a local cafe.

The brief was to photograph him in a distinctive historical Santa Fe, and including his camera to show the new enthusiasm he’s found for photography.

I gave them a good range of images and as you can see from the tear sheet above, they used one full-page to accompany the piece.

It’s Time to Get Real — Notes from a Documentary Photography Workshop

Jean-Luc looks out at life from his Airstream kitchen

I’m not much of a manifesto guy, but the last week has made me want to jump up on the barricades and take a stand for a particular type of photography.

I’ve just finished the Documentary Storytelling workshop with Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Deanne Fitzmaurice at the Santa Fe Photography workshops. Over four days (that included class time), I shot and edited a story about French chef Jean-Luc Salles, who’s given up running high-end restaurants to cook excellent food from scratch that he serves out of a 1960s Airstream trailer called Le Pod that sits in a parking lot here in Santa Fe. (I’ll write a post about him and show more of the photos later).

I learned a great deal, met lots of good people, and the experience enhanced my love of documentary photography as the most powerful and compelling type of shooting (not to mention the hardest to do well).

Making it hard for yourself

When you’re shooting a portrait, your first instinct is to clean up the background, get in tight to the subject and show only their face (or perhaps show a full-length portrait against a neutral non-distracting background).

A portrait photographer might well control also the light, give instructions on how the subject should pose, and take their time to get the shot they’re looking for. There’s nothing wrong with this, and the results can be great, but it’s largely about the photographer exercising control of the situation — the classic example of this being the white seamless: shoot someone who’s following for your instructions against a giant roll of white paper and your job of lighting and composition just got a lot easier.

But how much information does that really tell you about the person you’re photographing? It speaks to your craft, and shows us what the subject looks like, but often it doesn’t do much more than that.

In contrast, the documentary shooter will put someone in their real context by deliberately including the subject’s surroundings and using the light that’s available (which is part of the story).

This doesn’t mean that clutter is somehow approved of, however. Your job is still to compose elegantly, draw the eye in to the right place, and minimize irrelevant distractions, but it’s just got a lot harder, because now you’re looking at not just one plane of content but several, and all need to be appropriate and artfully arranged. And since you’re shooting someone moving in a real place rather than someone standing still in a studio, you’ve got to be quick about your decision-making too. Oh, and you’re likely not directing the subject either.

A successful image made under these circumstances (as well as being something of a miracle) gives the eye more to move around in, and expands our sense of the subject.

Truthfulness

So the role of the documentary photographer is to observe and create images, not to direct or intervene.

For press photographers, these rules are sacrosanct and breaking them can be a firing offence. No moving stuff out of the way to create a cleaner shot, or posing subjects or getting them to hold still (unless it’s clearly an environment portrait — where the expectation of the viewer of the image is that the subject is aware of the photographer and following instructions).

The same goes for processing — you can crop, burn, dodge and turn to black and white, but you can’t clone things out, paste things in, or in any other way manipulate the image to create a scene that wasn’t actually there.

Making Art out of Real Life

This is why I love the documentary approach — because you’re trying to capture and explain real life in an attractive way that is still true.

You’re not staging a shot, controlling all the lighting and the posing — you’re showing it as it really was but still making art out of it rather than just snapshots.

To me, it’s partly the challenge that is so appealing, but it’s mainly that I find the end result much more rewarding — shooting models in front of a perfect light set-up doesn’t communicate very much that’s real to me. I find the whole thing artificial, however beautiful.

Being Human

As if the technical challenge wasn’t hard enough, the documentary photographer has to decide what’s important and what images are worth making — and this requires an emotional involvement on their part.

To tell a good story, you have to understand the subject and empathize with them to a degree. If you don’t grasp what’s important to them, and what they feel strongly about, then you won’t be focussing on the right things.

While an important part of a studio photograph involves making the subject feel comfortable, this is so much more the case in documentary photography, when you’re likely entering people’s homes or places of work for a much longer time. For the workshop, I followed my subject Jean-Luc around for days, ending up at his home on a Friday night. This is weird behavior, but if you can’t put people at their ease in the midst of this, then you’ll never get anything good.

For a press photographer, you need good people skills even to get the access you want. Often people in the news for whatever reasons have people around them whose job is to protect them from photographers, or the subjects themselves just don’t want the invasion of privacy that comes with coverage. But Deanne made the point that if you’re honest about what you’re trying to do, and why, and you’re respectful about it, you can turn that ‘no’ into a ‘yes’.

Why it matters

Telling people’s stories in a visual medium such as photography can highlight things that are often ignored, shine a light on people’s struggles or triumphs and connect people in a remarkable way.

These needn’t be very important tales that win people Pulitzers, it could just be a family hanging out at home, or a skilled and passionate chef making great food in an Airstream trailer in a Santa Fe parking lot, but it’s still stuff that shows humanity in all its fantastic richness.

It might sound trite or overblown, but other folks can do the posed studio portraits, I’m going all in on the documentary side of things.

Families probably don’t need another staged portrait against a dodgy background, but a thoughtful series of photographs that shows the small joys of their daily life is a valuable thing.

And as organizations switch their marketing from cheesy slogans and big-budget spends to connecting with people more authentically, they need work that shows how they really do things.

It’s time to get real, and documentary photography does that like nothing else.

(This blog post is cross-posted from my other website, Clearing the Vision, which focuses on my documentary-style family and children work, and posts of interest in keen photographers. But I thought it deserved a spot here too, as it addresses my approach to photography and multimedia production for organizations)

Seven things you can learn from the Kony 2012 Video

How would you like over 80 million views of the video you made for your not very large non-profit? Well, as you probably know, the folks at Invisible Children have just done that with their Kony 2012 campaign, raising awareness of the LRA leader Joseph Kony, responsible for horrific acts of child kidnapping, murder, sexual abuse and forced slavery in Africa.

Continue reading “Seven things you can learn from the Kony 2012 Video”

What medieval manuscripts can teach you about social media

Book of Deer (public domain, courtesy of wikipedia)

Back in the early 1990s I spent a lot of time studying medieval manuscripts, and what I learned has proved to be a valuable way of thinking about social media.

My undergraduate degree was in Dark Age languages and history, and I spent hours in the libraries of Cambridge poring over manuscripts written over a millennium ago with a quill pen in a freezing scriptorium on cow hide by monks writing in a language that wasn’t their own. Those illuminated texts were almost impossibly hard to produce, but they are beautiful works of art that changed lives at the time, and have since survived centuries of age and abuse.

Interestingly, the monks who copied these texts also wrote little notes about more day to day stuff in the margins of these beautiful books. These marginalia (often written in the monks’ vernacular languages, rather than the Latin of the main texts) commented on the weather, or complained about their colleagues. There were the social media posts of their time — ephemeral but personal and revealing.

So there was the long-form, well-produced and considered work, and the looser and shorter marginalia. We need both too, to present a rounded picture of our organizations.

Long form first

We don’t have to strive to create anything as lasting as the Book of Kells, but we absolutely need to make content that’s hard to create, takes skill, time and effort. Work that not everyone could produce, but that lots of people can appreciate.

If you’re an organization looking to use social media effectively, you might be thinking that you have to reduce all your thoughts and messages down to the smallest form you can. The assumption might be that since you want to tweet and post to Facebook, you don’t need a blog or videos or good photography. That might seem fine, but what are you actually going to tweet about?

If you look at how people use their social media accounts effectively, it’s very often to link to longer-form work — a video, a good article or a strong image. This might not always be produced by the person tweeting — linking to other’s work is not just good karma, it can build your reputation as a resource for valuable information — but whoever made it, it’s often the more considered work that lives a longer life online, and generates more of an emotional response from people.

Social media might be seen as replacing old media models, but the irony is that we spend a lot of of our time tweeting and facebooking about things produced by ‘old’ media. We share a link to a New York Times article, live-tweet the Oscar Ceremony, or get excited about a Lady Gaga video. Without the expensive and skillfully produced longer-form media, we’d end up only taking about the weather or what we had for breakfast.

Following this model, when we’re looking to make an impact in social media, we can’t do it if all we produce is 140 characters long and takes just a couple of minutes to throw together. We need to create things of value, that others will find moving, entertaining or at least useful — and that takes time.

As I said, there’s room for passing on other people’s information of course, but consider the difference between just linking to a story about the release of a new camera, and putting together a detailed review with sample images, comparisons and your own expert conclusion. Sure, it’s harder, but the time (plus the expertise) creates a much more valuable piece of work. It makes you look better, and it’s much more likely to get passed around, shared and re-tweeted.

Simply put, if you don’t have anything to tweet or Facebook about, what kind of reputation can you build? I’m not saying you have to go for massive Hollywood production values for each video, or writing 50,000 word treatises for every blog post.

But I am saying that you need both the illuminated manuscript and the marginalia — the long-form content and the social media posts.

New Article and Photos for New Mexico Magazine

A piece I wrote and photographed for New Mexico Magazine has appeared in the December issue.

Back in March, I went up to Brazos Pass in northern New Mexico to talk to Stuart Penny, who teaches snowkiting — a fast-growing and exciting winter sport. I also photographed him in action.

I really enjoy the combination of writing and shooting a story — it lends a coherence to the finished work, as you can make sure to communicate in both media the key points you’re trying to get across, and use one type to illuminate the other.

In the past, I’ve written for New Mexico Magazine (like when they sent me on a cattle drive), or photographed for them (like this photograph of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market), but this is the first time they’ve run a ‘words and pictures by’ story from me.

You can read the story on the magazine’s site.

And here’s more detail on how I got the shots (from my photography blog).