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A great teacher

This past Christmas morning Carol opened a gift and found a framed print of this photograph. It is one she made in August of 1988, but had never seen it before now.

During the years I worked at LifeWay, many assignments took me to Ridgecrest, North Carolina. My family made most trips with me, and for us it was far more than a conference center. Most days, squeezed between the assignments of the day and night, we went on hikes, explored the shops and eateries in Black Mountain, or relaxed together on campus. Ridgecrest plays a significant role in our family's history.

Jim and kids at RidgecrestAs I think back on the work done over those years, it's interesting that I was never the typical conference attendee. My job was to tell the visual story of particular events in the surroundings provided by Ridgecrest. My familiarity with this place runs deep. Much of my time there was spent in search of new ways to present a very familiar scene. The quest for the compelling perspective and moment made it forever challenging and exciting.

Between family and coverage time, the average week at Ridgecrest was always very full. And of course, when I returned to Nashville, the work wasn't quite finished. The photographs then had to be distributed and archived. When at last the assignment was complete, I was already looking forward to going back.

For over a hundred years, events have been held at Ridgecrest that have inspired and given a fresh vision. Our annual BCA workshop, April 9-14, will be here soon, and I hope you are making plans to attend. Program chairs Polly House and Shawn Hendricks have planned an excellent time together. From the moment we arrive we will be given the opportunity to see and consider fresh perspectives and ideas. Of course, it will be fun and at times very relaxing, but it will also be a time of real growth.

The photograph that Carol made was in the midst of many that I had taken while on assignment at Ridgecrest. It took 25 years for me to see it. It's an image that provides a true glimpse of our children. Justin, always solid as a rock, is calm and relaxed. Nathan, the adventurer, is ready to climb the next mountain, literally. And Erin is forever curious about the possibilities, and never afraid to ask.

So, why did it take so long for me to notice this image? Time is a great teacher.

POSTED: Jan 20, 2014

BCA: Your link to professional camaraderie/encouragement

Even after reading through the manual and trying everything imaginable, my wife and I could not get the engine in our car to start. It was 10:30 p.m. We were in Memphis, not in Jackson where we belonged.

Reality set in, and I pushed the little red button across from my car's window and summoned a towing service. Next, I pushed the little blue button just beneath my review mirror and began a conversation with someone far, far away.

Before even saying hello, she asked, "Are you okay and in a safe place?" I'm sure she has helped out in circumstances far more dire than ours, but at that moment we were very grateful for her assistance.

After an evening and early morning involving a number of people, we were on our way home. All is well, and it started with an almost magical link to a person I'll probably never meet. She is without a doubt one that knows how to take care of the details.

Thinking back over my time in SBC communications, it's easy to recall a host of friends, each with a unique set of gifts. Some see the infinite number of details that must be managed in order to achieve a goal or meet a deadline successfully. Others are more visionary and have a unique ability to see the future's potential.

Through years of involvement in communication, whether many or few, each one of us has become a blend. Our job descriptions have expanded into areas we might not actually include on our list of personal gifts. In fact, we may have days or even weeks that we spend working in some pretty uncertain territory. Doing our jobs is quite often a real adventure.

One of the best things about my unseen assistant last night was how she called back several times during the evening to make sure the plan was working. When we finally reached the end of our surprise experience, she checked one last time to confirm that we were on the road again and that we were okay. Sound familiar?

We all have times when we need help or encouragement. It may be about something small, and a quick conversation is the perfect remedy. But there are times when we find ourselves in deep water, praying help will come. Weve all been there.

Just as the members of a local church are richly diverse, BCA is packed with a wide range of personalities and gifts. Some manage the big picture; others take care of the infinite details. The places we work are just as different. Some work in large offices with a fast-paced atmosphere; some may not see another person all day. This broad description of our BCA membership is near the heart of its strength.

Late last night when our car decided to take a 12-hour break, that mystery voice provided the on-the-spot help we needed. Among the benefits of BCA membership, encouragement and assistance are near the top.

If you've not yet renewed your membership, there's no better time than now. And, if you know of someone who would benefit from being a part of this diverse organization, encourage that person to join.

Just as I had the "link" in my car to my much-needed assistance, here is your link to discovering professional encouragement and camaraderie: http://baptistcommunicators.org/membership/join.cfm

POSTED: Oct 2, 2013

The best seat

Top of the 5th - Cardinals 3, Cubs 1.

I'm watching the game via satellite, complete with veteran announcers, close ups from countless perspectives, ultra-slow motion at the drop of a hat, and informative stats covering an amazing array of details. This is really incredible!

Just a moment ago, Cardinal left fielder Matt Holladay hit a line drive, three-run homer. An instant replay from the pitcher's perspective showed the faces of those seated in the stands right behind home plate. At the moment his bat struck the ball, their eyes and mouths opened wide, followed immediately by their arms going straight up into the air. Yep, like me, they were Cardinal fans. With 450 miles between us, I was right there with them.

Online game coverage is already analyzing the impact of this home run on the rest of the game, reflecting on detailed history from every perspective you can imagine. I started writing only a few minutes ago, and the information provided in that short time is nothing less than amazing. It's almost like being there. It's almost better than being there! Almost.

Like you, I've covered a lot of moments, some huge, some small, but all important to someone. Finding the best perspective for the camera usually takes me to the heart of the activity. It's almost always the best seat in the house. It seems our jobs almost always take us straight to the very center of what's happening.

That sort of involvement is where the real stories are found. It's from the inside that we're able to see and learn the most relevant details that are important to our audiences.

BCA membership is like being on the sideline of the game or having a seat right behind home plate. It provides opportunities that come only to those with that sort of insider's perspective. From uniquely directed professional development to discovering friendships that may outlast your career, BCA is the place for a professional communicator. It's the place for you.

If you want to renew your membership - or possibly join us for the first time - here's the link: http://baptistcommunicators.org/membership/join.cfm

Now, back to the game.
Top of the 8th  Cards 4, Cubs 2.

POSTED: Aug 19, 2013

Summer: The Photographs Await

Summer's change of pace is here. Although planning and preparation for future initiatives and assignments never end, many of the more weighty projects have just been completed. At last, we're able to turn our attention to those things we've looked forward to for a long, long time.

For some this may mean a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime experience abroad, while for others it might be a simple, long-delayed trip to a spot only a short distance from home. Summer provides time for other things too, like backyard Bible clubs, VBS, mission trips and family gatherings. Regardless of how we spend our time, we are likely to have experiences that will become our stories in the fall.

In only a few days, our family will rendezvous in a location that most may not think of as a dream vacation spot. There are no fabulous vistas, cobblestone streets, beaches, malls, examples of classic architecture or hotel pools. We're headed for south Arkansas, a place where the heat and humidity compete every day for the highest number. Mosquitoes and ticks call it home. So do I.

Carol and I were raised in the small town of Fordyce. Over the years her Dad, Jack, converted a small dairy barn into a house, surrounded by farmland and forest. There are a couple of ponds, a barn, cows and a long gravel lane leading back to the house. Although their primary home was in town, Jack went to the farm every day to feed the cows and work on the house for as long as we can remember. Some in the family call it, "the house that Jack built."

Most of what we do next week will be of our own design. Without ready-made entertainment, we'll think up what happens next. Our meals will consist of family favorites, each prepared right there in the farm's kitchen. And hopefully, we'll have the chance to try several versions of homemade ice cream.

Currently there are no big plans, but at week's end I know we'll have stories to tell. We're about to have some great fun, and the photographs taken next week will be enjoyed for years.

I can almost see some of the pictures. There will be broad perspectives of the farm, cows grazing with the farmhouse in the distance, a freshly caught fish, board game winners, Frisbee golf, storytelling, late-night snack-making and laughter, lots of laughter.

BCA members will scatter all over the world this summer. Like me, some of you will stay close to home, while others will travel great distances. Regardless of where the summer takes you, make photographs along the way. Think about the visual stories you'd like to tell.

Provide a glimpse of where the story is taking place. Find a wide perspective that shows the character of the location, even if you're inside a building. These photographs give us the chance to go with you and to gain a better understanding of the overall story.

And as important as the place can be, people almost always provide the best storytelling images. Look for ways to show their relationships with each other within the environment. These moments can be truly magical, but they're not that easy to capture. Rather than being an active part of what is happening, as the photographer you may need to pull away to observe and anticipate what will happen next.

Another type of photograph that helps provide the feel of a place is detail. Like photographing a moment, noticing the details in an environment is very deliberate. Think about the best stories youve ever read. Very likely the details probably helped make the story memorable.

When it comes to visual storytelling, there are many considerations, but these are at least a start. When fall gets here, you'll not only have stories to tell, but to show.

Enjoy your travels this summer. Take plenty of photographs. And as for me, I'm just making sure to pack plenty of bug spray.

POSTED: Jun 27, 2013

Hope: An Anchor to God's Faithfulness in the Storm

This headline, "Power of Moore tornado dwarfs Hiroshima bomb," was at the top of a long list of related stories on yesterday's, "The Oklahoman," website. We hardly read past the first sentence of the story before our minds begin to pull up the faces of those we know who live and work anywhere near Oklahoma City.

Where do our family members and friends in Oklahoma City find hope amid such devastation . . . when lives are lost and families torn apart? How do they keep going in the aftermath of the destruction? How do they look to a victorious future when all they see is an upside-down present?

A little more than five years ago I had just finished playing a game of racquetball with a couple of students when the roof of the gymnasium began to shake. Minutes later, I was standing at the edge of a mountain of rubble that had been Union University dormitories. In the coming weeks and months, I witnessed what can happen when God's people, along with vision-focused leadership, come together in pursuit of great things.

Soon after the storm, our president, Dr. David S. Dockery, wrote in "The Unionite," our alumni publication, "Hope is a powerful word - a driving force in life. Hope includes a desire for something, but it is even more than that. It is an eager, confident expectation that sustains us while we work diligently and wait patiently. Hope is not escapism, but is an energizing motivation for faithful living in the here and now. In the midst of life's challenges and struggles, hope stabilizes our lives, serving as an anchor to link us to God's faithfulness. Hope shapes and directs our service and gives it motivation so that while we wait and watch, we work faithfully."

Late yesterday afternoon our BCA executive director, Margaret Colson, sent me a list of 16 members living and working in Oklahoma. They are: Grant Bivens, Brittney Brown, Lane Castleberry, Michael Davis, Chris Doyle, Paula Gower, Ricardo Herrera Jr., Brian Hobbs, Chele Marker-Cash, Julie McGowan, Bill Pope, Cory Sams, Terrell Sanders, Robert Stanley, Dana Williamson, and Tiffany Zylstra.

We've included the list so you can pray more specifically. I know too that many of you have family and other close friends living there as well. At this point it may be difficult to reach them. We're all so accustomed to immediate communication; times like this may make us feel somewhat helpless.

For many of us, going to help is simply not an option. Giving might be. But praying for our friends and family in Oklahoma is something we all can do. May our Oklahoma friends and family members experience a renewed hope in our Sovereign God, energizing them to live faithfully for Him in the coming days.

POSTED: May 22, 2013

BCA 2013 Little Rock

Led by program chair Trennis Henderson and his team, those attending the 2013 BCA workshop in Little Rock experienced an outstanding mix of challenging professional development, along with time for building important relationships with colleagues.

The theme for this year's workshop was "Mission: Impact." The goal was to highlight the life-changing impact our work can have as Christian communicators as well as our professional mission. From start to finish we were reminded of the many ways we reach a lost world. Marketing, public relations, editorial, design, electronic media, photography, social networking and management were all highlighted. Creative breakout sessions, outstanding field trips, and a powerful mission experience provided the heart of an excellent workshop.

As much as I enjoy the many online resources for personal and professional growth, the experience of being together is still at the top of my list. Within our BCA membership is a very deep well of experience. From those who have been a member for years, to those who have just joined, this organization is blessed with amazing talent and wisdom. It's amazing how often something said in a short conversation with a BCA friend and colleague will turn out to be exactly what I needed to hear. For me, the impact of a brief, spontaneous moment during a BCA workshop is huge.

The 2014 workshop will be held April 9-12 at the Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. Not only will this be a beautiful place, filled with a lot of memories for some, it will provide another opportunity for outstanding professional development. And, of course, we will also experience the serendipitous moments that can have impact far beyond anything we could arrange. Make plans now to join us at Ridgecrest!

POSTED: Apr 22, 2013

The power of a moment: Newtown & Christmas

Over the next couple of weeks there is a good chance that more photographs will be taken than any other time of the year. With the Christmas season come some of the most powerful photo opportunities we will ever see: Moments.

From the first day of photography classes here at Union University, students hear me talk about capturing moments. In order to make a photograph of something so elusive, one needs to be very aware and have an ability to anticipate. Strategically linked to awareness and anticipation also will be the capacity to concentrate completely for a few brief seconds, blocking out all the other things that are happening.

When a great moment is about to occur, the temptation that most controls us is a desire to be involved. We want to clap and cheer too, or provide a needed hug. Sometimes what could have been a wonderful photograph turns into a group photo of smiling faces, all looking at the camera. Only our memory can recount what had happened seconds earlier. The moment had passed.

Over the last few days we've all seen powerful moments that are hard to forget. Images of children being led to a safer place, and the faces of those lost amid the tragedy. Moments indeed can be sad and sometimes very hard. Although photographs like these can take us to emotional depths, they can also be a starting point for change. The photograph of a moment can have tremendous power by simply making us more aware.

Although our nation has been hurt deeply, in this season we also have reason to celebrate. We celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. We can push back the darkness that engulfs us and experience a God-given moment if we choose to see it. A photograph of such a moment can be a reminder of hope and can help lead us forward.

My encouragement to anyone reading this is to pull out that little camera or camera phone and be ready. Be ready to capture the moment that might help remind us of God's love for us and the joy we can have through Him.

Jim Veneman is director of visual communication and assistant professor at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.

This column first appeared on Baptist Press (bpnews.net) on Dec. 19.

POSTED: Dec 20, 2012

What's in my bag?: Gear is important but not only thing to pack for a story assignment

A few days ago I had just hung up the phone from talking with Justin, our oldest son, when my wife, Carol, said, "Jimmy, does it feel funny to be asking your son for advice about your next assignment?"

Actually, Justin and a growing number of students have heard me ask quite a few questions over the last few years. With technology giving birth to a new generation every 12 to 18 months, keeping up with the latest trends is challenging to say the least. The quicker you can reach someone who might have an answer, the more likely you will meet the next deadline creatively and on time.

Chances are your success in this field will be measured by the strength of your relationships.

In May four Union students along with journalism professor Michael Chute and myself stepped aboard a plane headed for South Africa. Our students wrote and photographed stories about the work of several International Mission Board personnel. The coverage and logistical challenges provided a realistic glimpse of what could lie ahead for each of these students.

In the short time I have been at Union, the processes involved in producing our content has changed so much. The changes have been amazing.

Other than always feeling a bit behind in what I should know, I believe they've been for the better. We have so many ways of telling our stories. Discovering and acting on the best way is the challenge.

Not too long ago, film would be near the top of my concern list before making a trip like this. Today there are so many more components.

For instance, before leaving Carol and I headed to the Apple Store in Germantown to pick up an extra hard drive to provide a second level of backup for our files. As trustworthy as the digital file has become, backing it up a couple of times helps to provide a better night's rest. This is certainly not a "Tri-X and be there" kind of world any longer.

When I step onto the plane I had tucked into my carryon bag:

  • A Nikon D200 camera body.
  • A Nikon D70 camera body.
  • A Sigma 18-50/2.8 lense
  • A Nikkor 18-200/3.5 lens,
  • A Nikkor 70-200/2.8 lens,
  • A Nikon SB800 flash.
  • Eight 2GB compact flash cards,
  • One Lacie 160GB hard drive.
  • An Apple PowerBook G4 complete with more software than I may ever really understand.
  • An Olympus digital recorder with lapel microphone.
  • A tiny radio about to be tuned to the BBC.
  • A set of earbuds, plus a slew of cords, chargers, converters and a small stack of blank DVDs.

Even with all this, most likely I will arrive in Cape Town only to realize I left something and will ask about the nearest Best Buy equivalent. Of course, it's always nice to be traveling to a place that can save you. So often this is not the case.

Few weeks go by without hearing questions about equipment. Coming up with the best answer is almost bewildering. The variables just go on and on.

Given that Nikon has been a part of my genetic code since I was in the 11th grade, it's always on my suggestion list. But given the outstanding performance of Canon equipment, I mention it just as quickly. I rarely suggest anything beyond those two companies, although it is common for me to suggest other brands of lenses and accessories purely from a financial perspective.

Regardless of my response that day, I am quick to add: The camera in one's hand is not as important as the person who is holding that camera.

To really tell a story, you must be a master of your equipment, whatever it might be, and have the instincts of a reporter to discover news value and significance. It is vital to understand the strengths and limitations of photographs and words, and how they together can tell a powerful story.

Our goal is to tell stories as clearly and accurately as possible without confusion, and to do this in a way that grips the viewers' attention and leads them to discovery and action. Whether we are talking film grain or file resolution, the real challenge is to use one's imagination to tell a fascinating story.

We might no longer be packing film into our carryon luggage, but some things will never change:

  • Never leave home without a sense of curiosity.
  • Keep asking yourself about the very best ways to tell the story.
  • Always gather more information than you think youll ever need.
  • Watch the edges of any circumstance.
  • Don't give up too early.
  • React rather than direct.
  • Allow for serendipity.
  • See beyond the surface.
  • Always wonder.
  • Wait. Anticipate the moment.

Today's communicators must have an ever-broadening skill set. Doing all you can to deepen your understanding of other avenues of communication will help make you an excellent storyteller. Versatility, determination and a clear understanding of your subject will help you give your readers the chance to see in fresh new ways. You will help them see from perspectives that were hidden before. Your words and photographs might even supply the fuel needed to bring about change.

And from my perspective, I see many more years of calls to my son asking for advice. It's the only way I'll be able to really tell the story.

Jim Veneman is Assistant Professor of Communication Arts and Director of Visual Communications at Union University. He is the former director of visual communications for LifeWay Christian Resources and is the managing photo editor at the annual Southern Baptist Convention.

POSTED: Jun 4, 2007

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