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Photojournalism:
Alaska's People and Places

Megan J. Litwin


Introduction

It was not easy deciding on a project to do for my contribution to the Young Explorers Team. The Harriman Expedition Retraced was a big story with many themes; I could have identified a number of projects of interest. After considering a variety of ideas involving history, social issues and cultures, I decided to focus on an area that I have wanted to explore for a long time: photography. I had never done a photography project before, and this seemed a good opportunity to try something new. As I looked closely at the details of the Harriman Retraced voyage, I could see that there would be many opportunities for photographing interesting people and places. By using photography, it seemed I could combine many of my interests into one project.

Method of Study

Deciding what to study was just the beginning of what I needed to do to prepare for my project. The next step of the project was learning how to use the camera. It took about six months of preparation, to understand cameras, good composition and lighting of pictures, and many other techniques that produce good photographs. These were definitely not things that I picked up over night. I attend a photojournalism class at the Williston Northampton School. This course taught me the basics of taking a photograph and what kind of camera and lenses I needed to do my project. I also learned about what type of film to use and how important light is in creating a photograph. This was all much more complicated than I had originally thought. It was very helpful to hear the speakers who visited the photojournalism class. They represented different kinds of photography that ranged from advertising and newspapers to travel and wildlife. To get ready for working on photography during expedition, I worked with James Gipe, a professional photographer who works in the field. Jim helped me use what I had learned during the course at Williston to shoot photographs in various situations, and helped me choose the equipment I would need for the journey to Alaska.

Taking photographs on the voyage helped me see everything in a much more personal way. I spent most of my time in Alaska taking pictures both on film and with a digital camera. The most interesting part about this for me was talking to people and hearing their stories about life in Alaska.

woman



girls
Photographs by Megan Litwin

I also liked the artistic compositions that the landscape of Alaska offered. In abandoned villages, like the one on Unga Island, I thought up stories of my own to try to imagine what life must have been like on this island.

unga
grave

Photographs by Megan Litwin

Each day, I took as many pictures as I could, this included photos to document what was happening that day, and photos that were creative and artistic.

seal plant
moutainside
Photographs by Megan Litwin

 

Harriman Scholar Mentor

A special part of the voyage for me was being able to spend time with Kim Heacox, the Harriman Expedition photographer. He is an accomplished photographer and author of books such as Alaska Light, Denali: a Photographic Essay and Antarctica: the Last Continent. Kim is extremely knowledgeable and experienced in photography in Alaska, and he has a great personality. I had not met or talked to Kim before we got on the ship but he was very open to getting together and talking. He was very approachable and ready to answer any of my questions. When going into the field to photograph, we would discuss the surrounding environment, and the best way to set up our equipment. Kim was always helpful with technical questions such as what shutter speed I should use or how to steady my camera. By the end of the trip, we were working on many different compositions together and having a great time.

flowers

bears

elder woman
Photographs by Megan Litwin

Another piece of my project, which I had not planned on, happened after I got home and back to school. In fall semester 2001, I took a painting class with Marcia Reed-Hendricks and really found that I enjoy painting as much as photography. Not surprisingly, I painted some of the photographic images that I took of while in Alaska. It was a nice way to remember all of the amazing things that I saw when I was there.

Unga Island
Unga Island by Megan Litwin
Otter Cove
Otter Cove by Megan Litwin

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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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