By Marc Donadieu
Glacier City Gazette
Thirteen-year old Girdwood girl Ava Earl has had a summer to remember, and it’s only halfway over. Fresh from her first appearance at the Girdwood Forest Fair, Earl is currently working on a four-song EP to be included on her new album, which will be released later. She has a number of appearances scheduled throughout the region this summer, including Salmonfest in Ninilchik during the first weekend in August. What was most unexpected for her was being Devin Boyer’s visual storytelling subject for a military photojournalists workshop, a contest in which he was awarded first place.
Boyer is a Photojournalist Journeyman for the 17th Training Wing Public Affairs Office at Goodfellow Air Force Base in San Angelo, Texas. Every year there is a Department of Defense visual storytelling workshop for military photojournalists and videographers, and this year was his second time participating. Contestants must apply, be accepted to the workshop and travel to where it is being held. This year it was Anchorage.
The workshop’s main goal is to create a photo story on a subject, but its other goal is to develop the skills of military photojournalists and videographers by pairing them with successful, highly experienced mentors with military or civilian photography experience. Mentors teach story telling through imagery, and Boyer said it is a great learning experience that has pushed his photography skills to new levels. You can see his first place images at: https://www.facebook.com/DODWMPW/photos/?tab=album&album_id=1079477788790502.
Workshop members must conduct research beforehand to identify and study a subject. Boyer was researching subject ideas in Anchorage Press when he came upon the article about Ava Earl in the October 1, 2015 issue.
“She had just recorded her first album,” Boyer said. “I started listening to her music, and it’s unique folk/rock music. This is crazy, a 12-year old girl playing this kind of music. It’s different. You don’t really hear that everywhere. Most young teenagers want to replicate the music of some pop star from L.A.”
Boyer was awarded first place the workshop for his photos documenting a few days of Earl’s life. All of the projects were presented on the last day of the shop, and photojournalists had a 10 images maximum limit. Local news outlets in Anchorage provided the judges, who look for visual interpretation and everything that goes into storytelling. Twenty-four photojournalists and videographers submitted entries.
“It is a life-changing workshop,” Boyer said. “It definitely teaches you a lot about photojournalism at a realm that is almost foreign to most photographers. The first thing you think about when you get into the job is ‘I’ve got these really cool photos.’ So what’s the story? That’s always what the question is. It’s definitely a life changing experience, especially for being a military photographer.”
Boyer lives at Goodfellow AFB where he takes photos every day. He frequently asks himself questions to find new subjects or angles with the familiar material he sees around the base. He challenges himself to find something different or to see from a new perspective to tell a compelling story with images.
“How can I go beyond what I am used to? Another thing the course taught us was just getting out there and talking to people,” Boyer said. “Once you open someone up, you discover things that you didn’t know. You would have no clue that something like that existed with them.”
Boyer’s approach leads to new subjects and photographic possibilities. The story becomes about something different because he brought that information out of the person and the world gets to see a new side. Talking to people and socializing is where the stories come from, he said. Boyer used this knowledge during three days of photographing Earl in her natural environment simply living her life.
Earl found the photographic subject experience exciting because she is not shy around cameras.
“It was not what I was used to and it was also kind of fun because I could let someone else have a look at my life,” Earl said. “I was mostly just doing the normal things that I do. I worked really hard that week because I was doing the Girdwood Youth Showcase, and so I had a couple of practices with the kids. I also practiced myself for Forest Fair.”
Boyer photographed Earl at different times of day such as eating breakfast and brushing her teeth before bed to try to capture ten memorable images that told a story about the singer/songwriter and how she lives. Earl was pleased with the results.
“I thought they were great,” Earl said. “They told a story, and they did that very well. Also, they were just fun, and they were me. It was what I do and how I act. I play guitar and I teach kids stuff.”
Just as Boyer is expanding his technical skills as a photographer, Earl is developing her repertoire as a musician. She is willing to try new ideas and use instruments other than the guitar when composing songs because the results lead to new directions.
“If I’m in a creative mindset, I just go downstairs and do stuff on my guitar,” Earl said. “I think the hardest part is coming up with guitar chords because I’ve written a lot of songs now and I’m trying to come up with something different on the guitar. Sometimes I go to the piano or the ukulele.”
Earl started performing four years ago, so she is confident and comfortable during live sets. Now her goal is to work on her stage presence. She observes performers she admires and tries to learn from them. Earl says it’s easier for her to play on stage than it is to speak there, but she said she is getting better at explaining her songs, bantering with the audience and having fun when performing.
“What I like about my music is that I can share it with people,” Earl said, “because when I’m not onstage, I talk a lot, so people kind of get used to me being talky. When I perform, I feel like I get a little more attention for what I have to say, especially because I’m young, people listen to me because they’re not used to young performers as much as adult performers. I feel I should get my message out there. Being heard is important too.”