Words from our President: Steve's Photography Tips

As a photographer, I look forward to the holidays with great anticipation. Not only is the seasonal revelry abundant with opportunities to capture great images, but it’s also a perfect time to look back over my albums from the past year and savor all those great moments captured on film. In our work on income and energy
security, I also look forward to the holidays. There’s plenty to reflect on, and plenty of opportunities in the coming year.

The budget process for CSBG and WAP has given us some serious challenges this year, yet we’ve successfully seized opportunities in both programs. As we reflect on where we’ve been this past year, where we are, and where we’re going, I offer my top 5 photography tips to help us wrap up the year and gear up for 2012.

Speaking of gear… Santa, if you’re reading this, a new camera flash would be most appreciated. A photographer’s job is to illuminate things that we might otherwise miss. That’s also what we state  administrators do. Our job is to help local agencies identify and seize opportunity. Meanwhile here at NASCSP, we’ve worked to strengthen relationships with our federal partners at the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Office of Community Services (OCS). For CSBG, we’ve helped OCS in their efforts to strengthen accountability across all federal programs. We’ve worked actively with OCS leadership as they prepare to provide recommendations to the Administration to address concerns about accountability. The President’s proposed budget cuts made it clear that this Administration doesn’t believe in CSBG as a strategy to eliminate poverty. We’re working with the Community Action Partnership, other state and national partners, and local agencies to devise an accreditation process that will make sure the Administration knows about the high performance and innovation happening at your agencies. We’re shining a light on what
will otherwise get overlooked.

On a camera lens, we may either open the aperture to bring just one object into sharp focus while the background blurs, or close it down to get a clear view of the entire depth of a scene. So in our work, we need to spend a lot of time focused on the short-term view, and then there are those times when we need to look at the long-term and get a whole new perspective.

For example, right now, many of us are focused on March 31, 2012 as we help agencies ramp down for the end of ARRA Weatherization funding and an uncertain future. We need that singular focus to make a smooth transition, but we also need to close down our aperture, increase our depth of field, and take in the foreground and background views. Three years of WAP ARRA funding have created an abundance of infrastructure, equipment, space, and trained staff. We need to figure out how to market to a whole new group of potential clients and realize the true market value of our investment in making homes more energy efficient.

Capturing great moments requires speed and efficiency, especially when you’re dealing with human subjects in action. You can’t always frame a shot just so, adjust the lighting, or experiment with multiple angles. Sometimes you just have to shoot, preferably several times a second. Some cameras have a burst mode that will take multiple pictures faster than you can move your trigger finger. Now, we’re a pretty sharp bunch as government employees go, but we do still work for governments. And, let’s face it, governments aren’t exactly known for their speed and agility. Our partners, the State CAA Associations and local CAAs, are our burst mode. We work with them because they’re set up to do certain things quickly and efficiently that a government just can’t. Our job is to make sure our burst mode is firing correctly. When every taxpayer dime spent is being carefully scrutinized for its return on investment, we need to make sure our agencies have consolidated and joined forces as much as possible to eliminate duplications and inefficiencies.

Here’s something I learned over years of photographing family and friends: neat little rows of people smiling for the camera is, well, boring. Sometimes we need to reframe a familiar scene with a fresh angle of vision. I think we’re facing a bit of a generational gap between Community Action and the Obama Administration. We’re rightly proud of our almost half-century of experience tackling some of our nation’s most intractable challenges. The Administration, though, imagines a creaky 65-year old network hogging resources that could otherwise go to flashier, hipper, newcomers like the Harlem Children’s Zone. When did experience become a liability? We need to re-frame the picture and market ourselves to this new audience. The fact is, we already have the effective systems and accountability practices the Administration wants. Recent national gatherings from the Policy Link Equity Summit and Opportunity Nation to the Occupy Wall Street Movement challenge us to think outside the box and shake up old stereotypes. Let’s show the Administration a new angle on what we do.

Now, go take a picture. This time I don’t mean that just metaphorically, though. I want you to literally get out your digital camera, your trusty 35 mm, your cell phone, or whatever and do this one simple thing over the next few weeks: take a picture of something in your community that really matters to you. Is there a local environmental issue that concerns you? Take a picture. Are good and beautiful things happening in your community? Capture the image that’s worth a thousand words. Then go to NASCSP’s profile on Facebook and post your community pictures. This season, your gift of a picture is just one small thing you can do to make a difference and start the year right.