Inside Selection: A Girl and Her Lambs
Brittney Lohmiller, a staffer at Michigan’s Midland Daily News, exemplifies the idea that a good story can be found anywhere. Lohmiller turned an assignment on the county fair into a long-form documentary story on a young girl, Alivia, as she raised two young lambs—Westley and Buttercup, à la The Princess Bride—for auction.
PDNedu: How and when did you meet Alivia? Was this work an assignment or a personal project?
Brittney Lohmiller: Each year the paper I work at covers the county fair. Instead of just shooting the animal auctions, which happen at the end of the week, I wanted to photograph what 4-Hers [participants in the 4-H youth program] do leading up to the fair. I got in contact with the Midland County Fairgrounds manager, Trish Steele, and it was through her that I met Alivia and her mother, Angela.
PDNedu: What interested you about her story?
BL: In her family, the women are just as involved and knowledgeable about livestock and 4-H as the men. Alivia’s mother, Angela, and grandmother, Helen, helped her select the lambs to raise. Both women taught Alivia how to care for her lambs and helped her a prepare for showing the animals in competition during the fair.
PDNedu: How long did you spend photographing Alivia, and what moments were you looking to capture?
BL: I photographed Alivia nine times from April until August, and I interviewed Alivia and Angela before I began photographing them. They told me what their routine would be, and that’s what helped me to look for specific moments. I learned that one of Alivia’s chores would be walking the lambs twice a day to get them ready, so I knew that was an important photo to get for the story. I also wanted to show the connection Alivia had with her lambs—toward the end of the fair they acted like family pets rather than barnyard animals—and the generational teaching that Alivia got from her mother and grandmother.
PDNedu: What is your approach to developing relationships with your subjects?
BL: I talk with the person a bit before taking photos. I think it helps them relax and recognize that you’re curious about them and want learn more. I used to think that a photojournalist had to be a fly on the wall, but I’ve found that that doesn’t work for me. I don’t want to put up a barrier between myself and the people I’m photographing. For me, being open to conversation makes you more relatable and, in turn, I think it makes people more likely to open up to you and be comfortable sharing intimate moments of their lives.
PDNedu: You’ve worked as a staff photographer and interned for several papers. How has your approach to storytelling changed since you began?
BL: I think what has changed the most about my approach is that I’m more patient. I don’t mean just being willing to stay in a spot longer, but waiting for the right moment to press the shutter. I used to take long sequences of photos without thinking, hoping for a picture that would fit into the story, partly because I was nervous about missing something. Now I’m trying to be more selective while shooting. I still worry about not getting the right moment, but instead of motor-driving the shutter, I remind myself to slow down, think and wait.