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Storytelling through pictures: Dr. Woods goes to Denver 

click to enlarge © SEAN CAYTON / ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
  • © Sean Cayton / All Rights Reserved
I’m a huge believer in photojournalism. Today, unfortunately, it hardly exists — unless it's a national or international news story — almost nothing gets documented, and I think local communities suffer greatly for it.

I still believe that photojournalism is a profound way of truth-telling and a wonderful way to tell a story. Every once in a while, I still find an opportunity to practice telling stories.

I was invited by Mountain Song Community School Principal Dr. Teresa Woods to travel with her and administrator Dan Kurschner to the Colorado State Capitol Building.

Dr. Woods was scheduled to speak in opposition to a bill being considered by the education committee that would strip the Waldorf charter school of some of its funding.

The money in question came from the state through something called the mill levy equalization fund. The general assembly had appropriated this money to the state charter school institute for distribution to charter schools including the Mountain Song Community School.

Here is where I must make clear that Dr. Woods asked me to attend because I’m also a parent of three children at Mountain Song. I also gave testimony to the committee and petitioned them to vote against the bill. Technically, then, this isn’t pure photojournalism in the sense that I had a stake in this story.

Nonetheless, I thought it would be fun to photograph, and I documented the day as we traveled up to Denver and waited patiently for a few hours for our turn to speak.

Anytime I do a story like this one I’m reminded of W. Eugune Smith’s landmark photo essay ‘The Country Doctor.’

It’s the story of Dr. Ernest Ceriani who lived and worked in Kremmling, Colorado. Smith spent 23 days photographing the day-to-day challenges Dr. Ceriani faced as he tended to patients in the rural community. Published by Time magazine in 1948, it remains an all-time classic “day in the life” photo essay.

It isn’t 1948, but we still have heroes. Dr. Woods is one of those people in my eyes. She came to Mountain Song Community School at the beginning of the year and has provided leadership and helped to improve the school’s well-known reputation as one of the only public Waldorf schools in Colorado.

Admittedly, a day-trip to the state capitol isn’t the same as 23 days following a rural doctor, but it was still pretty fun. The challenge of course is to try and tell a story that provides enough interest as well as a specific point-of-view. I asked Dr. Woods for permission to shadow her and tell the story from her point-of-view.

It’s also important to look for small, telling moments that provide context and emotion to the story. One such instance happened at the beginning of the testimony when Sabrina Suarez, high school student attending a charter school for teen mothers sat her son Avyan Perez, 20 months, in her lap while she spoke. His appearance was a welcome surprise to the representatives and provided a light moment after a long day of waiting.

In the end, the bill was voted down. I am thankful that it didn’t make it out of committee and I was thrilled to be able to do what I've spent my career trying to do — telling compelling stories.

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