Bad at Words

An acquaintance contacted me via Facebook for mask-wearing advice recently. Her mom wears a cochlear implant and mask straps are problematic. I recommended a gaitor guard cover; a sort of fitted scarf that runners wear which can be pulled up to cover their face. I was happy I think of it for her.

I have sewn more than 300 masks, and raised $270 for the Boston Resiliency Fund from the sales of some of those masks. I had lots of excited friends and acquaintances buy child-sized masks when I started making them the other day – a welcome change of pace from the adult size I’ve been making for weeks.

I shot and edited another video for my photography lesson series. Initially it was for kids, but in truth it’s really just a beginner photography course. It’s not terribly kid-like.

I am healthy.

Despite the good things, I do not feel good about myself today.

A while back after a colleague suggested it and an editor agreed, I wrote an essay about what it has been like to be a university photographer during a pandemic. The colleague who suggested I write it did a bit of editing, thankfully, and I handed it in to the editor.

The editor responded “I liked where you started to go, but then it lost me. I think I was a little confused on whether you wanted it to feel personal and intimate…or whether you wanted it to be more visual, and more about the photos and observations”

And just like that, it lost me too. The essay now felt too self-important, and I all interest in it deflated out of me. I didn’t respond to my editor, and let the project die off.

At the end of last week we photographers handed in a collection of photos to run as a photo essay for BU Today. In the late afternoon today, a frustrated editor emailed me saying “Editing these captions is taking HOURS!”. I called him to ask how I could help, and he let me know all the ways in which the photos’ captions were problematic.

For the ten years I spent at newspapers I wrote the captions for my images. Aside from a run of incorrect spellings of names (very, very bad) there was never an issue. When I started at BU I wrote my captions in the same style, often including quotes from the subjects in the photos, to add more meat.

At BU, the copy editors often change the caption, specifically for photos which were stand alone art (no article) into a flowery poem. There is nothing journalistic about those captions. It bugs me.

When it comes to captions which go with stories, writers are reminded during meetings to “caption the photos”. The photos which I took. The photos which I have already captioned.

Eventually, it becomes really demoralizing and you lose your confidence as a caption writer. I still write the facts, get the names and titles right, but there is little extra effort going into my caption writing anymore.

For these shots on campus in the past months, I put as much info in there as possible. This is as close to journalism as I’m going to get here on campus. So, old school journalistic captions matter.

I empathized with the editor today, saying “If you get two captions in and there are things missing, stop and send them to one of us (photographers). You shouldn’t have to do such excessive work if there’s some way we can help”

How can I help? is a question I often ask at work. Causing others to spend hours making sense of my words is the complete opposite, which makes me feel very sad.

Today I do not feel like I am any good at words.

And yes, I also find it funny that I am writing about how I think my words aren’t helpful.

2 Replies to “Bad at Words”

  1. Ugh. I’ve always struggled with captions Don’t feel bad about it—the amount of time you’ve put into being a great photojournalist is the same amount of time these editors have put into studying and editing words. If the captions are edited so severely and the editor complains about how long they take to edit, I would take that to mean I can simply list the w/w/w/w/w and h and move on with me day. Leave it to them to organize how they wish! But then caption writing is not my favorite form of writing! Let it all roll off your back. Your amazing at your job!


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