A River Water Blessing
by Michelle Johnson, guest contributor
Matt and Joy Scheidt were raised in the church, but in adulthood they’ve come to assimilate elements of many other spiritual traditions into their lives. When they wanted to welcome their infant son into the world, they drew on those traditions to create a water blessing and invited friends and family to a tributary of the Dan River in North Carolina.
"No matter which culture you come from in the world," Matt says, "there’s something innately essential to the value of ritual, however you might conduct that. I was raised Roman Catholic, and I was very heavily invested in serving the church," he continues. "I guess I kind of wandered. I don’t ascribe to one fixed belief system. I’d call myself an ‘ecumenical humanist,’" he says with a laugh.
"I can’t call myself an ecumenical humanist," says Joy, who grew up Episcopalian. "I think that’s too smart for me. I would say that I try to experience as much of the divine world in my life and the lives of others, guided by something innate that came to me when I was young, when I was born. I believe that we all inherently know what we are. There’s something true in us, and, if we’re in line with that, we’re really kind of hitting on life’s fullest potential."
Michelle Johnson is an audio journalist living in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. This audio slideshow is part of “Sacred Rivers,” a multimedia documentary project under development that explores river rituals as a lens through which to see America’s changing cultural landscape. You can view more of her work at the Yadkin River Story.
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Story of a Falconer: A Medieval Art of Intimacy and Beauty (video)
by Samantha Broun and Amanda Kowalski, guest contributors
"Falconry is my biggest passion in life. For many of us, our pursuit in the sport is a very spiritual place, and going out with your bird into good habitat and chasing wild animals with it is just very personal."
—Scott McNeff, falconer
One night at a dinner party, I (Amanda) had just met Scott when he casually mentioned that he had a hawk in his car and asked me if I wanted to come see it. I had never seen a bird of prey up close before and had no idea Scott was a licensed falconer. When he invited me to go out “hawking” with him, I had to go. And I had to bring my camera, of course.
I was immediately hooked. In addition to it being a visually stunning sport to watch, I realized there were a lot of great sounds as well: the bells used on the hawk’s legs, the whistles and sounds the falconers use when working with the bird, and Scott was such a great explainer of it all. That’s when I contacted Sam.
Despite the fact that falconry has been practiced worldwide for thousands of years, it is a relatively new sport in North America. Currently, there are just over 4,000 federally licensed falconers in the United States. When Amanda showed me some of her photos and asked if I wanted to tag along with her and Scott, I said yes.
Behind the Scenes: Multimedia Storytelling
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
"The story will tell you how it wants to be told."
—Paul Grabowicz, Associate Dean of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism
Last month I attended a multimedia boot camp at the Knight Digital Media Center. This experience opened my eyes to the universe of multimedia storytelling possibilities — from cinematic videos to creative uses of found footage.
Recently our SOF crew gathered over lunch to look at some examples of video recommended by Grabowicz, including this one from NPR:
Some staff appreciated the film’s visual richness: the color toning, the varied angles, the mixture of image sequencing. Other staff members questioned its merits as a piece of news journalism: the sequence of images of locks (were they all ones he worked on?), not having a third party to verify his health condition, a questionable angle of a top-of-head shot. As a news consumer and a civic being, what did you notice?
We also discussed this harrowing time-lapse video of a man stuck in an elevator for 41 hours, which The New Yorker included as a companion to a longer print feature about the hidden lives of elevators.
Even though it’s an example of found footage, it didn’t just fall out of the sky. Producing multimedia journalism requires time, money, editorial, and staff resources. We’re challenged with juggling all of those balls as we continue to produce multimedia stories for our website and blog.
And, we plow forward. Stay tuned for a video we’ll be posting soon showcasing a panoply of voices from the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly held in Minneapolis last week. Also, point us to multimedia narratives you like (or have produced yourself) and tell us how we can include your voices and stories in our process.
Embracing the Beauty of Genetic Difference
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer
Former fashion photographer Rick Guidotti has been taking pictures of people with genetic differences for over a decade. His organization, Positive Exposure, celebrates “the spirit of difference” and “the joy that comes with self-acceptance.” He’s committed to changing how people with genetic conditions all over the world see themselves, and, in turn, how they’re perceived within their communities.
Guidotti is adamant that his work isn’t about illuminating inner beauty. “This is beauty,” he insists. “This is the real deal. These kids are gorgeous, and you see the beauty there exists. We just haven’t been allowed to see it.”
Photographing people with albinism has been central to Guidotti’s efforts with Positive Exposure. In recent years, he’s photographed some of these young women and men in villages in Mali and Tanzania, where the social stigma can lead to ostracization and sometimes life-threatening consequences, and in South Africa at a school for the blind.
When we sat down at a conference in Minneapolis, I asked him to tell me the stories behind some of his photographs, which we’ve included in our narrated slideshow at the top of this post. You can also download the unedited interview (mp3, 29:21) to hear even more of these stories.
Most of us have probably harbored negative feelings about our physical appearance at some point in our lives. When these feelings lodge and fester, they deplete our spirits. I see Guidotti’s images as a visual reminder to be kinder to ourselves and more generous and joyous in how we construe beauty in all its manifestations.
A Triumphant Survival
Kate Moos, managing producer
Arresting. From the Mail & Guardian, this difficult and disturbing set of images accompanied by an interview with Leon Botha, an artist and Progeria survivor. He is 24 years old. A Friday afternoon video *pause* in a day that leaves me reflective.
(Thanks to Boing Boing for their post leading me to this slideshow.)
Colleen Scheck, Producer
I was a history major, and I love learning history through its physical artifacts. Last summer I visited Gettysburg for the first time. While I was brought to tears standing on its hallowed battlefields, I was also riveted by the stories behind the many Civil War relics there — stories told through well-researched exhibits, and then extended to mini-dramas in my own imagination.
So I was intrigued when I received an e-mail that the personal Bible of Johann Sebastian Bach (a commentary Bible) was going to be on display at a local choral concert. We’ve received suggestions to do a program on Bach and his personal faith — an item on our very big, very long list of show ideas. For now, I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to see Bach’s Bible up close, hear about its history, and learn what it reveals about his faith.
Dr. Thomas Rossin kindly gave me the opportunity to photograph the Bible and talk to him about it. Rossin did his doctoral work on translating the handwritten notes in Bach’s Bible and tracing its history. He’s the founder and conductor of Exultate Choir and Chamber Orchestra, and he was allowed to take two of the Bible’s three volumes on tour with him to display during Exultate’s recent performances of Bach’s Mass in B Minor (never will all three volumes travel at the same time). He describes how Bach’s Bible has 350 entrances that give evidence to Bach as a person of faith (II Chronicles 5:12-13 “In devotional music, God is always present with His Grace”), and his understanding of those entrances greatly impacts how he approaches performances of Bach’s works.
An aside: the story of Bach’s Bible reminded me of one of my favorite movies, The Red Violin, a fictional story about a 17th-century, hand-crafted violin that travels over three centuries. It includes a beautiful score with violin solos by Joshua Bell.