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Best of ASMP 2009


A personal relationship with adopted greyhounds inspired Mark Menditto to explore the storytelling capabilities of multimedia, while also bringing a voice to those that have none. After arrival from a racetrack, he followed one dog, Bella, for several weeks — from intake to foster care to final adoption — collecting ambient audio, interviews and still photography at each event. As a volunteer effort, Menditto is also using this project to experiment with new tools, then posting the results. In Bella’s case, an adoptive family discovered her photograph on Menditto’s Web site, resulting in a happy ending and an enduring friendship.

Mark Menditto

Website: http://www.mendittophoto.com/

Project: Multimedia project documenting the adoption of greyhound dogs by the all-volunteer New Jersey Greyhound Adoption Program (NJGAP).

© Mark Menditto
All images in this article © Mark Menditto

ASMP: How long have you been in business?

MM: Since 2006.

ASMP: How long have you been an ASMP member?

MM: Since 2007.

ASMP: What are your photographic specialties?

MM: I consider myself a generalist, though landscapes and urban photography are a favorite. My latest interest is in environmental portraits.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: What do you consider your most valuable piece of equipment?

MM: The subject is the most valuable. A fast prime lens and a perspective help.

ASMP: What is unique about your style/approach or what sets you and your work apart from other photographers?

MM: I move in close and look for smaller pieces of the scene that show a sense of the subject.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: Please describe the processes and techniques central to the making of this work.

MM: Start with an emotional subject and wait for the moment. Pursuing this work and collecting audio has taught me that the story can be in the reaction to an emotional subject.

ASMP: How did you become interested in photographing adopted greyhounds?

MM: It started with the passing of one of our adopted greyhounds, and a desire to bring a voice to those who have none.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: Had you ever photographed animals before beginning this project? Please talk about any challenges you’ve had in photographing this subject.

MM: Not in this setting. But, greyhounds are a very affectionate breed. For the adoption intakes, the dogs have been traveling from Florida to New Jersey for over twelve hours. I worried the strobes might spook the dogs. So I shoot with ambient light, and a fast lens solves issues with exposure. With all the activity around me, a shallow depth-of-field isolates the subject from the background.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: After working with these animals, have you learned any tips about photographing animals that might be helpful to others?

MM: I learned the importance of preparation. Work out technical problems early and quickly. Get to know your subject. Settle in let them take your presence for granted. Compelling subjects are generous storytellers when they are at ease.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: Tell us about the New Jersey Greyhound Adoption Program (NJGAP), and how it functions in placing greyhounds with adoptive families.

MM: Since 1993, NJGAP has placed more than two thousand rescued greyhounds into permanent adoptive families with a great success rate. They coordinate with groups near the racetracks, who organize veterinary care, spaying-neutering and transportation to New Jersey. Volunteer foster families gather at their arrival, where the animals are bathed, groomed, outfitted with a new collar and leash. It’s a caring and efficient operation. The dogs then go home with their foster family. NJGAP interviews applicants and coordinates everything through adoption and follow-up.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: What’s the most significant difference between the NJGAP and other animal welfare agencies, such as the ASPCA?

MM: Foster families acclimate the dogs to home life, and assess any special needs they might have, such as whether they will get along with cats. NJGAP matches each dog to a family best suited. And they will find a new home for the dog if the family’s situation changes. Everything they do is about the greyhounds.

ASMP: The organization typically rescues several animals at one time. How do you decide which animals you will document?

MM: I watch the eyes. I chose “Bella” during the first adoption intake because of her engaging gaze, haunting from the first moment. I look for the moments to tell a story with the right edit.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: What’s a typical shooting situation when documenting the adoption of a greyhound? How long do you follow the adoption timeline, and do you make follow-up visits for further photography?

MM: I have ideas about a narrative beforehand. The project is a group of intertwining stories such as “first walk.” I start with that idea and then get an eye-level perspective. For the photo of “Bella,” it was important to follow the subject all the way through the adoption to convey closure. It took a several weeks from intake, foster care to final adoption. You can’t look into the eyes of these dogs without caring about them.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: To augment your greyhound adoption photographs, you also produce multimedia pieces that are posted on YouTube and other sites. What additional images, information, or audio materials do you collect to make these pieces?

MM: I collect ambient audio, interviews and still photography at each event. I look for things going on around the main subject, such as reaction shots and audio, and anything that’s visually interesting. For background audio, I listen for things I can use as a lead-in and closing to the piece, something to pique the interest of the viewer.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: Did you have any formal study in multimedia work or are you self-taught? Are there any particular resources that you’ve found helpful in learning multimedia skills?

MM: I did a still photography assignment to shoot behind the scenes for the credits in an instructional video about High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography. Watching the production process was inspiring, and I started thinking about adding audio to my own work. Researching it online, I found the videos and articles on MediaStorm.org, and after that I was hooked.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: Please describe the process of compiling materials for the multimedia pieces. What kind of software do you use? Do you have technical help with the multimedia work, or do you produce this yourself?

MM: I produce and edit the work myself. Image and audio capture is digital. Image cataloging and edits are done in Apple Aperture. I also use Photoshop, NIK Software Viveza and Color Efex Pro. For the multimedia pieces, I start with the audio, tagging key sequences in Final Cut Studio. From there, I pick the most compelling audio to tell the story, and drop in images that best illustrate those moments.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: What do you use to capture audio? Are you doing this at the same time you’re shooting stills? Can you offer any advice to others based on your experiences doing this?

MM: Audio gear is a Marantz PMD-660 recorder, a Beyer M58 condenser microphone and a good set of headphones to monitor the audio. If you’re by yourself, it works best to capture audio and still photography separately, so you can monitor the audio and engage your subject. Pick a quiet location for interviews. Avoid fiddling with gear during an interview and let the subject do all the talking. The interviewer’s attentiveness and expression will draw the subject out.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: Please describe how your images and other materials are used by the greyhound adoption program for marketing and advocacy, in print and electronically.

MM: Electronic use is most appealing to NJGAP, though the license grants them to use for print publication. They are using the images to develop their Facebook and blog presence.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: Is there any tracking of the effectiveness or response to the pieces you’ve produced? If so, is there anything you’ve learned that has been valuable for your own business?

MM: The project is only a few months old and still underway. I use Google Analytics, YouTube and Vimeo to track the traffic on my main website, my PhotoShelter archive, and blog. In following “Bella’s” story, I learned from her adoptive family that a search hit to my Web site brought them to her photo. The real efforts are those of the adoption agency and volunteers. It’s nice to think the images might help in some way.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: Do you have a formal licensing agreement with the NJGAP for the use of your images? If so, please describe the terms of the agreement and how it was arrived at.

MM: Yes. The license lets NJGAP use the images for their marketing, fundraising and education in print publications. For the Web, usage is for their Web site, blog and Facebook.

ASMP: Do you get model/property releases from the people and dogs that you photograph?

MM: Yes.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: Is there any one greyhound adoption story you covered that encapsulates the positive aspects of this program? Please elaborate.

MM: Definitely the photo of “Bella” because it took me along a path of new friendships, and the closure of how a sad story can have a happy ending. But hers is only one story among the tens of thousands of greyhounds retired each year. Rescue groups can only save some fraction of that number.

ASMP: Has this focus on a personal project had a positive (or any adverse) effect on your commercial photography business?

MM: I decided from the outset that the project has to be about the cause. I’m using this project to experiment with new things. If my skills improve as a result of the work, then that’s a tangible benefit.

© Mark Menditto

ASMP: Do you or the NGJAP have any plans for further expansion of your documentation, such as a book, exhibition or fundraising outreach? Do you have any plans to incorporate video in this project?

MM: Our initial plans were to test the reception on my Web site, blog and Facebook, then use them as a source of images for the NJGAP Facebook page. Internet social networks are a very appealing way to get the message out. At some point, I may do a book about the series. I want to learn about shooting video. My lofty goal is that the series becomes a vehicle for NJGAP to tell their story on public radio. It’s a story about charity and renewal. But I’ll be happiest when the series is no longer relevant, when no one races these animals.

© Mark Menditto