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DEAR READER: 100 voices tell the story of Boone County

Saturday, June 29, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:51 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Dear Reader,

Perhaps Alyssa Goodman could blame the late nights and early mornings on Edouard Janssens.

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Last year, Goodman was in Brussels for a summer of study abroad, and every day she walked by a building that displayed the work of Janssens, a portrait photographer. He had created a project in which he captured portraits of 100 men and 100 women, aged 1 to 100.

The photos captured Goodman’s imagination.

Back at MU, she interviewed the photographer for a class assignment. He discussed the portraits, but he also talked with passion about the people behind the pictures. They had interesting tales to tell.

Something was brewing from the class discussion. Goodman and fellow photojournalism student Katie Alaimo turned it over and came up with the idea:  Photograph 100 Boone Countians, with one person representing each age, and give them a voice through documentary video. Let them tell their stories.

The result: “100 Ages, A Century of Voices.” The Missourian print edition will have portraits, and digital versions in columbiamissourian.com will carry all the videos.

It was a big idea. An audacious idea. Just finding a century’s worth of people in almost four months who would agree to go on camera was daunting.

The time involved ­— an hour for each interview, two to three hours for each initial video edit — was crushing.

Goodman was an undergraduate about to graduate and carrying a full class load, as well as a paid job as a Missourian assistant photo director. Alaimo is a graduate student and a teaching assistant for the introductory class in photojournalism.

Perhaps Goodman could blame Alaimo, though, for the weekends lost to the photo studio.

When 100 Voices was still a thought bubble, “Katie was way more optimistic,” Goodman said.

“Next thing I know, we are knee deep in this.”

Whole body deep.

Sometimes a subject would agree and even schedule the interview, only to disappear and not return phone calls. There were a hundred other details they didn’t — couldn’t — anticipate.

The duo put up a chart in the newsroom with numbers from 1 to 100. With each interview, they colored in the boxed number corresponding to the subject’s age.

As mid-term was closing in, there were still too many empty boxes.

So Alaimo and Goodman took to the streets. They put up fliers. They created a list of places to visit.

"Most of our people came from our feet,” Goodman said. “Going places, talking to people.”

Missourian staff created a Facebook page. The Missourian Readers Board offered names, and at least two became interview subjects. A buzz started to generate.

As the end of the spring semester approached, blue boxes outnumbered blank ones, but the photographers still had work to do.

The day after she graduated, Goodman was back in the studio. This week, Alaimo was answering questions from Oregon where she is working on a professional project for her master’s degree.

“100 Ages, A Century of Voices” has been through at least a half-dozen edits. Will Guldin, a talented digital designer, created the landing site that brings all the voices to one place. Guldin used a web technique called "responsive design" so that the work looks good whether you view it on your big monitor or your mobile phone.

The run date approaches, and today final touches are still being made. Assuming no big glitches, Missourian members can access the work on Monday, and everyone else can view it on Thursday.

I hope you’ll spend some time with it, and come back often. I’ve watched in little bunches. All together, there are probably more than three hours of video.

Big project. Worthwhile project.

No single person can capture the essence of the people of Boone County. Neither can 100, I suppose, but it’s a darn good start.

Alaimo said she’s most proud of, and grateful for, the people: “Some of the stuff that they talked about will be with me a long, long time."

“They were very open about very personal things,” she said. "They sat down, they knew what we were hoping to find, and it was like: ‘This is a part of me that I’m giving to you.’”

In the end, Goodman got what she saw missing in Janssen’s 200 portraits.

She found more than 100 stories.

View the complete project.

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