Amanda Koster

thoughts and experiences of an international documentarian

Archive for the ‘passion’ Category

why ignite kicked my butt + why i want more

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‘are you nervous’ becky asked me. ‘you can’t be, you do this shit all the time’ nick laughed and poked more spaghetti into a gumdrop. i was quiet. this felt different.


what went thru my mind last night on stage:

“crap! my slides are screwed up! and crap! i just spent way too many seconds thinking about how my slides are screwed up! crap, while i was thinking about how my slides were screwed up, they keep advancing anyway… wtf… i better quit this thinking crap….!”

man, everyone ought to try it. what i love about ignite is pure passion. and i love pure passion. there is a rawness to the event. the venue was cold, sticky, dusty and i was nervous. yes, pretty darn nervous. i could hear it in my breathing.

why was i nervous? i speak all the time? huh?

few things: 5 minutes is a flash in the pan + eternity, i could not see the audience… seriously: the audience was pitch black and it felt like no one was out there, like speaking to a black hole… (is anyone friggen’ out there?)  the slides auto-advanced every (kind of) 15 seconds, my slides were screwed up (uh- they worked on my computer/s), i was in my home territory. i know the audience (even tho couldn’t see them). i have a crush on a few of the guys in the audience (they have no idea), i am used to talking to hundreds of strangers most of who i will never see again. this crowd knows me, i play with them, and they are ready and willing to give feedback (thank you kathy gill and brian dorsey… i truly loved that!)

and why was that awesome? because being nervous, feeling harmless fear is wonderful thing. it means i was challenged verses being on auto pilot. i felt like i was ‘just starting out’ again last night at ignite. i was out of my comfort zone on home base (seattle). oddly cool. delicious.

what an experience. to sit amongst the other speakers, feed off their nerves, passionate energy. the talks ranged from:  ’huh?’, ‘yer kidding’, ‘i don’t get it’ to ‘i really have no idea’, to ‘wow’, to ‘that’s hilarious’ to, ‘are you serious’ to…. wtf.

i loved them all. all the speakers, the energy, brady so diligently summoning us right before we spoke, the ignite team managing what someone called a ‘mac orgy.’ all of it. i simply love ignite. in some odd way it was a love-fest. i knew the people, many of them have seen + helped salaamgarage (and me) grow from where it was to where it is now, it’s a community that immediately embraced an outsider like me: a photojournalist and writer without an iphone (gnomedex) who gives a shit.

who are these people, where did they come from? how is it there is a community of people who are  willing to  listen to god knows what on a tuesday night, cheer you on, and forgive your screwed up slides? imagine.

ahhh. for me ignite is like a platform and a lasso for reckless creativity and passion. a little welcome love mat with subliminal messages that say ‘i love you, say what you gotta say, deal with the screwed up slides and make room for the next guy. and i still love you.’ and man, was i nervous up there and man, would i do it again in a heartbeat. it would be an honor.

thank you ignite. thank you for doing what you do and for opening your arms wide to anyone who says ‘this is what a geek looks like, give me 5 min. let me do my thing.’

Written by amandakoster

March 5, 2010 at 11:20 pm

Passion to tell a story is the jet fuel behind citizen journalism.

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“drocolate” of wanted to ask me (Amanda Koster) a few ?s about sxsw. Thought I’d share:

1. Why should I attend your core conversation at SXSW?

One example. Compare the velocity of media and societies responce of Katrina vs. Haiti.

listen to this:

Let’s see how far can we take this.

2. What makes you the right person to be conducting this convo?

I’m an outsider. I’m not from the tech arena. When I presented at Gnomedex in 2008, I did not have an iPhone, Twitter account nor did Facebook make much sense to me. I thought FB was innovative online dating. Since then I have been able to harness storytelling, social media and passion all for social change. If can d that, anyone can.

The passion to tell a story is the jet fuel behind citizen journalism. And it has been passion, not assignments, that got me here right now. I’ve been working as a photojournalist, writer, author for about 15 years though it has been my personal projects, again not assignments, that propelled my career and life beyond where I ever thought it could go.

Citizen journalism is more powerful than it could have ever been imagined and this is growing. The pendulum is swinging far to the left, and is still swinging.

Because I believe in these things makes me the perfect person (and Amanda Rose of Twestival) to lead this conversation.

3. What advice would you give to aspiring citizen journalists (other than attending your convo at SXSW, of course)?

Your personal stories and perspectives are more valuable than ever. Make GOOD content and get it out to a relevant audience. And, there’s more to it than that:

Have a plan. SalaamGarage builds relationships/projects/plans with NGOs farin advance. We do not advocate what I call ‘drive-by-shootings’  (just showing up, shooting photos, then jet).

Be authentic. We want intimacy. I think people are tired of the slick, heavily produced story. We see through it. With the wildfire of social media and intentionally constructed social communities, impersonal, glossy stories delivered by a generic, safe personality is rapidly loosing ground.

Be relevant. Not worth telling a story about t-shirts to a dog trainer. Even if it’s the most compelling t-shirt story ever. Be relevant and focused.
Know your audience. Tell them a story 1) you care about and 2)they want to hear.

Care. There are ‘hot’ stories to tell, but you outta care about it. I travel all over the world all the time with SalaamGarage and as an free-lance journalist. There are stories that resonate with me, and other that just don’t. The advantage of being a citizen journalist is that you get to choose your story, verses being assigned something that is not dear to you.

DO SOMETHING with it. Share. Everyone is sitting on a novel, but if a tree falls in the woods….. I’ll leave it at that.

I am very passionate about this and have a lot more (not big on advice) ideas around this topic, though, this is the topic of our conversation so come join the conversation.

4. Where is your dream location to take a citizen journalism project? Antarctica? Atlantis? Detroit? Where?’

The White House.

And if you want to be known as anything other than “Amanda Koster” please denote that as well.
Amanda Koster
is that what you mean?
Or… Amanda Koster: professional storyteller, founder of SalaamGarage

Written by amandakoster

February 25, 2010 at 5:28 pm

stay in your dreams, dreams can not hurt us.

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… this is what ms biko said to us on the phone to me today.

wow. what a day.

backing up. we just got off a skype conference all with ms. bandi biko, steven bikos sister. we (neema mgana, sabrina messineo, guy de lancey and vaneshran + cape town team of citizen journalists) are working on a project to highlight 20 african women leaders. for the pilot we will profile ms bandi biko. we are funded by the international ywca in geneva for this first part, and from there we will profile another women creating a multi-media piece/tool kit to use for a mentoring platform for other young african women and men, salaamgarage style.

today we had our first conference call thanks for vaneshran and guy, cape town based. besides going thru the basic blah blah blah of a conference call…  something happened.

b4 any call i sit quietly in the morning and imagine. write what i’d like to cover, what the vision is for the project and any crazy ideas i have. it needs to be quiet, uninterrupted time early in the morning. combined with writing i’ll scour the internet and research who i will be talking with. i give myself an hour on purpose, cuz the internet is full of info and its important not to get thrown off course.

this morning i wrote up a preliminary plan for the pilot with ms biko i did the usual: visualize the project, what the goals are, what we told the granter we would do, keeping the budget in mind. and then i usually throw the budget out the window and write whatever comes to me, whatever i imagine. my dreams for the project. for this project the seemingly far-fetched idea was history. now i know we are supposed to profile ms biko but it is impossible to hear the name biko and not think of steven biko.

Picture 6

impossible. so i added it. history. you’ll see it in the paper here, in small letters. you’ll also see i didn’t know where the bikos were from at first, until i later researched:

Picture 7

so. on the phone we talked.. blah blah blah and vaneshran said something crucial. ‘it would be good to include ms bikos personal story’ in a calm, smooth voice. ‘agreed. the interview will be the opportunity for that’.’

i was quiet. ‘well, i have another idea.’  i asked.. ‘this may be far off, but i was dreaming that we could go back with you to your home town in the eastern cape. not sure if this is at all possible.. tho i had some ideas… they are dreams…’

‘we can stay in your dreams, dreams can not hurt us.’ she said in such a way that i (nearly) cried. in that moment all i could think of was steven biko and if he hadn’t dreamed, if he hadn’t followed his dreams and vision, we could not have been talking.

‘ok. i was dreaming we could go with you back to where you and steven are from, see your family home, high school… your history… ‘ i was gushing then, spilling out all of what i was really hoping we could do.

everyone was quite for a moment.

‘yes, this is possible.’

it was very hard for me to contain my enthusiasm and form a response…  also my tears. in that moment we all felt it. i felt her brother working this magic. magic.

turns out ms biko will be traveling to eastern cape when we were planing to be there for some family functions. turns out there will be a traditional wedding. turns out steven bikos birthday is on 12/18. ms biko was telling us it is a big event. people come from all over to celebrate. whoa.

‘i have a BIG family. very big. you are welcome’ i could hear her sit back in her chair and smile.

my god. if you are dreaming of something SAY IT. do it. do not hold back. look at this: a small scribble in my early morning notes has turned into this. you have no idea what steven biko has meant to me from very early on. its hard to explain, tho i will try in the coming months.

always imagine what you can do. imagine.

Written by amandakoster

November 5, 2009 at 8:04 pm

Posted in passion

how i found my passion 1: ‘fail’ the intro class

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do stuff. let yourself do stuff.

hang out. watch yourself. what makes you happy?

key: be present. don’t worry about money, time, right, wrong, does this look good, will my parents be ok with this, what about my degree from university…

that is all ego yelling at you cuz it is threatened by your doing, being, engaging.

‘i don’t know how to be happy.’ well, if that was really the case, you may have checked into the loony bin already + wouldn’t be reading this, you’re still curious. so, good news is you’re still here, hands untied, and still wondering about this. so, chances are you do know what makes you happy, what you love, tho not allowing yourself to emerge.

photography was like heroin for me (not totally relevant… maybe like chocolate cake). well, not at first. truth is first i failed photo 1. they were talking about emulsion, photo paper, chemical reactions, all of this stuff. i didn’t care. i felt it was irrelevant. i was there to learn how to make pictures, not the science behind it.

so then i completely failed photography 1. never even made a contact sheet: a) wasn’t engaged b) resigned and didn’t care. when we finally got to be in the darkroom (after all that talking about it) i just said ‘you go first’ to my friend mary, and managed to pretend like i was doing something, but was totally checked out + did nothing. couldn’t care less.

then i traveled to africa. i felt like i was let out of this cage called ‘classroom.’ i just took photos to my hearts content. snap-happy all over the horn of africa. made a ton of mistakes… screwed up the exposures… kept openeing the camera back b4 rewinding the film… dropped my camera… pieces flew everywhere… jerry rigged it with duct tape. i didn’t care about the class, forgot everything the teacher told me and dove in.

someone in ethiopia asked me if i had been to california and i said no. ‘what, you are here in ethiopia and you have not seen your own country, I have seen california!!’  good for him. so i felt stupid and when i returned from africa, i booked an Amtrak ticket across the usa. i traveled alone from new haven, ct (where i was living) all the way to arizona, across the south, to arizona, up to chicago then back home, tons more photos. that was incredible. (i know you are all wondering where i got the money for all this: waitressing and credit cards)

returned home with bags and bags of film. i decided that even though i knew everything there was to know about photography, i needed to take a class in order to use the lab for free. i just was never a big ‘classroom’ person. i had told the school (who after this class continuously gave me scholarships) i signed up for photo 2 ‘so i could use the lab’. showed up in class very cocky knowing everything and NOT needing any class, was just on a tight budget and this was a cheaper way to develop my photos… and then dumped my bags of film out on the table.

my teacher at creative arts workshop terry degradi was pie-eyed and sucked in her breath. she looked at me very confused in disbelief (word got out that i had a ‘bad attitude’ and floundered photo 1). you see, terry let me do.

ok, now watch this:

terry then got me my first job as a photographer at yale halfway thru class.

i was given the job as darkroom monitor (more free darkroom time).

the director of the photo program harold shapiro asked me to teach photo 1, asap.

‘no way.’  told him. i detested photo 1. ‘why me?’

‘because something happened to you. for someone to totally reject photo 1 and come back to photo 2 with unbridled passion, you will be able to transfer that to others.’

(footnote: i stopped classroom teaching for the obvious reasons. i like to do. so now other do-ers, do it with me via salaamgarage)

Written by amandakoster

November 4, 2009 at 5:09 pm

Posted in passion, photography

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