The Week in Photos takes a deep dive into one story from the previous week of Missourian reporting. This week, we're looking at our Valentine's Day special feature, pairing song lyrics with images of love. Grace Noteboom and Margo Wagner were the photo editors and coordinators on the story; Paige Cox designed the print layout.
Love is patient. So are photo editors.
The visual department's collaborative Valentine's Day feature was first suggested two weeks ago during a brainstorming session in editing class. Once Grace Noteboom and Margo Wagner picked up the project, it began to slowly take shape.
The concept of the project: pairing images with lyrics of love songs to represent different facets and ideas of love — romantic, platonic, familial, for oneself. Some photos were taken with the song in mind; others came to mind after the photo was made.
"We wanted to make sure that there was [at least one] love song on there that most people would recognize," Noteboom said.
"I've got a sweeter song than the birds in the trees."
The project consists of original images and photos from the Missourian archives. Noteboom and Wagner also encouraged staffers and volunteers to contribute their own ideas.
"It started with the magic of a well-organized Google form," Noteboom said. "People just take better photos of stuff they really connect to, and pitching ideas is a really good way to get people to think about what they connect to when they're photographing."
Coordinating between a dozen photographers was certainly a challenge, but Wagner said it was worth it for the final product.
"This project was actually deceptively kind of difficult," Wagner said. "You would think that it would be pretty easy, because love is all around us, but it's kind of a really nebulous topic."
"Can we still be friends?"
Ensuring the archival photos were being used properly also took some doing. Wagner reached out to every source to get an update on their relationship and a quote to help tell their story in this new context.
The hardest phone call, Wagner said, was to widower Gary Wrisberg, whose wife's grave was featured in the story. She found Wrisberg's number online and left a message asking if he was willing to share his story for the project.
"He was really happy to talk about his wife," Wagner said. "Hearing the way he answered the phone you could just hear so much love in his voice and so much care for her." During their conversation, Wagner learned Wrisberg does not own a computer.
"On Monday I'll get the print and I'll mail him a copy," she said.
"I've seen fire and I've seen rain... but I always thought that I'd see you again."
From age to race to sexuality, Noteboom and Wagner focused their energy on ensuring diversity in their final product.
"Our newsroom is very white," Wagner said. "It's also very young. I think it can be easy to put on blinders and leave a lot of people in Columbia out of our coverage when we're not really intentional about it."
"Love is one of those things that everybody has the capacity to feel," Noteboom said. "To take such a beautiful emotion that can be translated in so many different experiences, and to only represent one... is just not good journalism. It's a disservice to our readers and to the concept of what we were doing."
This care in editing shows up throughout the project, including during the sequencing of photos. Near the start of the story, Wagner said, a photo of a woman getting her eyebrows done leads into a photo of an eye photographed through a computer screen. The reds and blues in that photo then mirror the next image of a couple doing partner yoga.
Just as Noteboom said photos can improve when the photographer is invested in their subjects, editors become invested, even consumed, by the logistics and care required to pull off a project.
"This project was definitely the first thing I thought about when I woke up in the morning and one of the last things I thought about before I went to bed," Wagner said. "I was looking through my call list today, and every call is me and Grace. We probably called each other 12 times a day."
"Valentine's Day has always been one of my favorite holidays," Noteboom said. "It's just nice to have an excuse to spend some time thinking about the people you care about. This project seemed like a good way for me to do that."
"I get by with a little help from my friends."
The Week in Photos also highlights some of the visual team's best work that you may have missed throughout the week. This week, we focused largely on projects (as we intend to in the coming week), but still made time, as always, for local sports.
The Method is the Columbia Missourian's photography and multimedia blog. In writing about pictures, it seeks to demystify how our journalists cover their community and place their work in the context of a larger visual world.