A Retrospective Slide Show on Faith and Being
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
If you were able to tune in for last Saturday’s live video stream of a conversation between Krista and HuffPo Religion editor Paul Raushenbush, you might have wondered what all the PRPD attendees were watching to the left of the stage while the audio clips were playing. This audio slide show above pairs an audio collage (tip: expand for maximum effect) of past guests of this program speaking about faith and being with a selection of marquis images for each show’s website from the past seven years. We produced this special subset to give you a picture of what the public radio folks were simultaneously seeing and hearing.
Funny thing is that we had no intention of producing the event this way. We were going to have a static image of Krista and Desmond Tutu layered with some program branding project on a single screen behind Krista and Paul while the audio rolled.
But, like most conference events we don’t manage, plans changed. The venue changed so one screen center-stage became two mega-screens far off both sides of the room to accommodate the width of the space. During rehearsal, as we played the collage, we liked the depth the pairing created by cycling through our content-rich images. We changed course. The off-angle made it impractical to pan and zoom and still see clearly, so I held the shot on the stage.
What’s so great about these events is that audiences continually break open my own design conceptions and presentation ideas about what works together. Not only are they educational moments, this event showed me once again that people orient to strong visual and aural elements naturally. They make the passive active. They want to be engaged as long as you elevate your game and give them something worth looking at. The producer has a responsibility to create an experience. I am that producer.
It’s also a reminder to make the most of my work, that it’s okay to repackage our work for others and proudly display what we’ve created from the past seven years. Because the slide show above is under two minutes, we had to create a subset of the actual images displayed on the big screens. Here’s the extended version of that slide show:
Thanks to my colleague Nancy Rosenbaum for helping produce this video.
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.
Trent Gilliss, online editor
Finding a lead image to complement our show delving into Haitian Vodou was a moment of diligent serendipity. I struggled to present images that capture the spirit and tone of a tradition — one that has been caricatured in so many ways for such a long time — and still remain surprising, respectful, and true to its practitioners and its rituals.
Stephanie Keith’s photographs deliver and endure because they do just that — respect the tradition. They also take us into a neighborhood (in the United States), into a life that most of us probably would never encounter. We see how a tradition survives, evolves, and flourishes through immigrant life.
And, here was a photographer who was personally invested in her subjects — at least my intuition said so — and not just documenting them. When I contacted Stephanie Keith for permission to use a few photographs, I asked her why she got started on this project — a Vodou priest at a Buddhist peace rally invited her to learn more about his religion at a “party.”
Several years later, Keith’s words and images endure. And I’m glad to have played a part in spreading her work and sharing a bit of these Haitian-Americans’ lives with those of us who may have been clueless, but remain curious.
Office Chair Exploration
Andy Dayton, associate web producer
One part that stood out to me from Krista’s conversation with Bill McKibben was his statement that “we’re going to have to learn to do a lot more travel via Google than American Airlines.” I was a bit skeptical of the idea that virtual globe-trotting could ever replace experiencing a different landscape and culture first-hand.
Then I found myself living that reality last week as I culled through the thousands of photos in 350.org’s Flickr account. Not only did I learn about a melted glacier in Bolivia and a school in Zulfiqarabad, Pakistan, I also read the story of a six-year-old girl from Samoa reading her poem about climate change. I’m still not quite sold on the prospect of travelling “via Google,” but I can’t help but feel a bit more worldly after putting this slideshow together.
If you’d like to dig deeper, I’ve collected these photos — as well as a few that didn’t quite make it into the slideshow — into two galleries (1, 2) on Flickr. Do a little digital exploration of your own.
A Three Pound Brain, Contemplating Galaxies
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer
[Online editor’s note: For a better, more immersive experience, I recommend filling the screen by clicking the outward-facing arrows icon in the lower-right hand of the video. And, for good measure, put on a set of headphones.]
Science was never my best subject in school, but as an adult I’ve become a total science geek. And our recent program with novelist Mary Doria Russell was full of topics, from Neanderthals to alien communication, that got my geek juices flowing. I especially loved what she said about looking at a recent diagram of the universe, showing how it might expand and contract over time.
I thought, “It’s the breath of God.” That God breathes in and God breathes out. And when he breathes in, the universe is contracting, and when he breathes out, the universe is expanding. And I immediately was charmed by the metaphor…. God is the largest, most complex, most inclusive, most explanatory idea that human beings are capable of imagining. Now, that said, we’re primates and our brains are like two and a half to three pounds. You know, we’re doing the best we can. But I would hate to say that we’ve got a lock on the universe and deity at this point.
I was reminded of an interview with astrophysicist Howard Smith that we’ve had on the shelf since the summer of 2008. Our production schedule is such that we’re sometimes unable to use every interview that we do. But there were parts of Howard Smith’s interview have stayed in my mind for months. He is a senior astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and the author of Let There Be Light: Modern Cosmology and Kabbalah, a New Conversation Between Science and Religion. I loved how he described what it’s like for him to stare into the heart of a galaxy and discover something that no one else knows. That moment, he says, is a spiritual moment.
I wanted to see Howard Smith doing that work, peering out at the universe through the tiny window that is his computer screen, using his three pound brain as best he can to understand what he sees. So with help from Howard Smith, NASA, and Flickr, my colleagues and I gathered images to create this slideshow, exploring how we can find spiritual meaning in the stars.
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.