Meadville Tribune

March 5, 2014

Run with us as we tell The Story Next Door

By Cheryl Hatch
Meadville Tribune

— Writer’s note: I am a journalist in academia, a woman who has traveled among many cultures. I live outside the box and I like it — and I want to share my perspective with you every Thursday.

Allegheny College’s artist in residence Steve Prince offered to create an original design and screen-print T-shirts for The Story Next Door, our second annual photojournalism conference, which kicks off Friday.

Steve asked for four students to help print the shirts. No problem, I said.

I sent out an email to eight students. Two responses. Both were a no-go.

Huh. I sent out a second email and added another 20 students to the list. A couple more responses. More no-gos.

What an opportunity they’re missing, I thought. One student echoed my feelings.

I would love to do it, but I have class, she said. A chance to work with a great artist and participate in screen-printing, something I haven’t done before. What an amazing opportunity.

For a while, Steve Prince and I were printing T-shirts. Two students did volunteer. We invited a third student who walked by the studio to join us. And then the young woman mentioned earlier came straight after class and we finished the 120 T-shirts.

It wasn’t seamless. It didn’t go according to plan. And we got the job done.

Perhaps the students just see such opportunities as one more thing to do, a friend suggested to me.

My former student, JR Ancheta, recognized both an opportunity and a burden when Lt. Col. Brian Payne invited us to embed with his battalion and report on his soldiers in Afghanistan. Sure, JR had concerns. He knew it was physically and financially a risky undertaking. He didn’t have it all figured out and he didn’t know exactly what he was getting into. Still, he took the leap.

“Opportunity comes with a choice,” Ancheta said. “With every choice, you have consequences. Yes, Afghanistan was a burden, but it was a great experience. In the end, the burden goes away because you like what you’re doing.”

JR said he embraces opportunity because he has learned he may regret the chances he doesn’t take.

When I was in college, I drove 10 hours round-trip to attend a presentation by a National Geographic photographer — and perhaps get to meet him.

I once flew to Southern California on my own time and dime for a chance to show my portfolio to an editor I respected.

I know, I know. I sound like those who came before me and told tales of how they walked for miles to school in a blizzard.

It’s a good problem, as my brother likes to say. Allegheny offers so many opportunities each week: world-class musicians, scientists, poets, contemporary and classic plays in a variety of theaters. It might be hard to choose only one or two offerings. Or find time in a full schedule. Or maybe there’s opportunity fatigue.

Consider the wealth of events available at Allegheny these next few days. Today at 7 p.m. there’s a Single Voice reading by Gerry LaFemina and Amanda Reynolds at Tippie Alumni Center. Also today, the Department of Modern and Classical Languages launches its International Film Festival with “Wadjda,” directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, shown at The Movies at 7 p.m. On Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Alec Chien will play major works of Franz Schubert and Frederic Chopin in Shafer Auditorium.

And this weekend there’s a remarkable gathering in Meadville. Allegheny students host the second annual photojournalism conference, The Story Next Door. Three Pulitzer Prize-winning photographers will be in town to present their work. They’re traveling from Washington, D.C., Fairbanks, Alaska, and San Francisco to discover Meadville, share their expertise and work side-by-side with students.

Talented professors and students from Ohio University are road-tripping from Athens to collaborate with Allegheny students and tell stories with audio, video and still photographs.

On Friday, we’ll report and record from sunrise to sunset, documenting the daily lives of people at work and about town. Community members are invited to participate, to submit story ideas and photographs.

On Friday evening, Allegheny alum Richard Murphy will share images from his 30 years as a photojournalist in Alaska.

After the presentation, a team of editors will begin to sift through and select the storytelling images from the day’s work. It’s an open lab; guests are welcome to watch.

At 10:30 a.m. Saturday, Preston Gannaway will share three of her long-term documentary projects in a presentation she titled “Putting the I in Genuine.” At 2 p.m., Michael Williamson of The Washington Post will present his work in “Only Visiting this Planet,” a title that reflects his approach to photography — and life.

Saturday evening, the Allegheny and OU students will share their portrait of the Meadville community with a screening of The Story Next Door multimedia project at 7:30 p.m. Come early for the reception at 6:30 and talk to the photographers and participants.

I am grateful to Richard Sayer, who has stayed the course as we have created this conference. He has offered inspiration and fanned the creative fires when my spirits have flagged. I’m also grateful to Stan Alost, a professor in the OU School of Visual Communication. He jumped at the opportunity to join us when I proposed the collaboration. He’s bringing 10 talented students and six 27-inch iMacs. He’s covering their travel expenses — and contributing funds toward the conference costs.

I most appreciate that, like Rich, Stan keeps things light when the road ahead looks dark — or at least a bit bumpy.

“No one in their right mind would do this,” he said, describing how they create “The Soul of Athens” multimedia project at OU each year.

Much like what we’re doing with The Story Next Door, they build the structure while they create the content.

“It’s like building a bus while running with the parts,” Alost said.

“Run with us,” Alost said. “Grab some parts. We’ll figure it out.”

You’ll recognize us as we run around town on Friday. We’ll be wearing those fabulous T-shirts with the Steve Prince design.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.