This week we have been exploring the first in an upcoming series on our biz decision makers and the process of getting published . There are many ways of course, but seems best if I take you into my real world of publishing right now. Not to say “this is the way”. Merely to show you this is one way. Simply  an example of a certain kind of creativity. Not the only kind. Just one kind.

Anyway I have taken you with me where I was going anyway. To NatGeo where I had a story coming up for approval. So I had a conversation with NatGeo Editor Chris Johns, and later with Creative Director Bill Marr and yesterday with Senior Photo Editor Sarah Leen. I hope I got all those titles right!! Today Chris approved the layout that Bill, Sarah, and I had been working on all weekend. Nothing is real in my world til my mother has a copy on her coffee table. Yet things look good and things look as above so for those readers who voted for the lead picture, the fish won!! Yet neither the  wave shot  nor the surfboard picture “lost” for they conclude the piece which  makes it more poignant I think.

Yes, I am telling you that the readers of Burn actually had the ears of the editors of NatGeo. For real. How much influence? I will never tell, but you did matter. Anyway, for whatever it is worth , nothing like this ever happened before. NatGeo doing exclusives on another site? Burn Magazine? Not even on their own NatGeo site. So honestly we are honored.

This OBX essay is a very straightforward little slice of old fashioned Americana. Very uncomplicated unobtrusive photos. Probably a fantasy. All documentary photography, yet still a sort of  fantasy for me personally. This is NOT a photo essay of the whole outer banks of North Carolina. These pictures were taken just off my front porch. Almost literally. All of these pictures are no more than a 30 minute bike ride from my front door. One even taken FROM my front door!! How cool is that?

I think the appeal for NatGeo readers for a personal story is just that even for me it is interesting, having traveled all over the world with my camera as a brush or pen, that I came back to where I started. Honestly, I could literally live anywhere in the world I choose. I have looked at the menu. I have been to some of the very best countries and cities and places much “better” than OBX. Yet home just pulls. More than all of the other forces. I guess it’s the smells and specific bird songs and the wind and the ever dominant dangerous and peaceful sea.  Right now I look out now on a windy cold rainy miserable day. Seems perfect.

This picture above was just taken on my iPhone with lighting assistance from my friends Frank and Dawn (who were previous Comic Book characters, remember?)..Yes, I have left Washington and am at home. OBX. I am supposed to be writing the story to be integrated with the picture spreads above . Yet what am I doing?  Yup, avoiding writing. Yes,  drinking beer with my friends, sitting by the fire, and posting here on Burn. Is this just getting me in the mood?

See the problem?

dah at home working on OBX text ….photograph by Frank Overton Brown III

63 Responses to “THE FISH WON”

  • Ha. My comment went away. You must have still been posting it.

    Anyway, I never doubted for a minute. Great opener.

  • DAH

    Check your post listings in wordpress. You have 2 versions of this post. Me and someone else commented on the original where you had the picture sideways.

  • I missed most of it as it was happening but caught on while reading everything…..not quite the RIO experience but still extremely educational, insightful and even maybe historic?!?!?!
    All of this and we are only in January of 2012 with the promise of more surprises!
    What a way to start the year!

    And the fish…..well….I’m biased when it comes to that….I don’t fish….they belong in the water ;-)
    Leaving for the city tomorrow….sending some great writing MOJO your way.

  • DAH,

    The cat delivers!
    Congratulations to you on so many levels! As Carlo says, here we are, it’s only mid January, and already you have broken really new ground on Burn, illuminating the process for all your students and readers, and raising the profile of Burn to yet another higher level of exposure and genuine credibility.

    I doff my chapeau to you, mon ami! (Antipodean translation: Good onya, mite!).

  • I wondered how that would go as I was disagreeing with Mr. Souza.
    It’s a great image of course …but I’m in shock! I was sure my choice would be IT!! :)
    Can’t wait to see it in print, it will be beautiful. I will feel honored to have witnessed some of it.
    Mazel Tov

  • “Yet what am I doing? Yup, avoiding writing. Yes, drinking beer with my friends, sitting by the fire, and posting here on Burn. Is this just getting me in the mood?”

    Part of the process. Somewhere in your mind, you are writing, even as you drink your beer, chat with your friends and enjoy the warmth of the fire.

  • Thanks again for the opportunity to tag along to NatGeo and you, first Rio, now this, which is the logical continuation to pubblication.. all happening right now in front of us.. quite a ride!

    Now, if given the chance I would have two questions, one for Chris Johns: why this picture over the others?

    And the other question for you, David: given the same circumstances, magazine pubblication, same space restrictions (not book or exhibit or anything else, just the same situation as had), which would have been your choice?

    Looking forward to see and read OBX in June!

  • Interesting stuff.. I’ve yet to work with a magazine who invites my opinion on layout :o)

    David – natgeo has a great deal of content on the digital version.. I pad and the like.. Have you been asked by them to produce anything extra for the digital issue? Video or otherwise?

    Just interested..


    the thing about NatGeo is that honestly if you show interest or aptitude for anything in particular , you can most likely get involved….i will be involved with the iPad work…will do some video etc…i think the reason NatGeo editors decided to allow Burn to get inside like this was exactly for the purpose of bridging the digital/ print chasm….they know me, trust me, trust this audience…they can see what we are doing here…it all blends….for example i would like to see soonest any work you are doing w video and sound with your work…you must be on it…let me get this story written on OBX, get RIO done on the wall in New York by early Feb, and then let’s do something with your work..make sense??

    work with me bro, and your opinion on layout is very important….the best magazines involve the photographer…but it IS incumbent on the photographer to be more than just a camera operator as want to be in a position where the top directors WANT to involve you…we will talk about this more and more….the big LESSON on Burn is THIS anyway…the main thing…

  • EVA

    you are seeing my first choice…BUT i had a really hard time to decide my first choice…everybody at NatGeo went back and forth…this audience did not have the privilege of seeing the WHOLE story…and that really does make a difference…for months i had your favorite the wave….i still love the wave…but the wave looks just as good at the end as it did in the beginning….better actually…..makes you wonder…closes the story nicely…the last thing you see will be the wave….the surfboard picture is also in there at just the right time…this layout really is musical..the beat is smooth, flowing….the fish is not a fish picture to me …i never thought of it as a picture of a fish…if there had been any other fish on that line other than this little silver Pompano, then it would not have worked…it is a picture of the place…a place picture…what it looks like here..yes, we had air shots , all the usual stuff, but alas usual stuff…and this essay really is only what is right out my front door….it is not the outer banks as a whole….

  • DA FISH!
    viva NatGeo!…that was my pic of choice, but i rushed to “judge” NatGeo’s opinion…!
    smiling…yes…my opinion and NatGeo’s in total harmony…Am i getting old? (laughing) or is it that NatGeo getting YOUNGER????
    i suspect that with maestro’s like can only get younger and more fresh..
    im happy, its a win win situation!

  • When I stated that the “Wave” shot offered the most in terms of making me want to turn the page, I didn’t think to use it at the end of the essay. But the idea still stands, and I expect those involved in the essay following David’s will be thankful!

  • JEFF

    well that really is always a thought…just as when i build my student slide shows, there are two sequences…the sequence of pictures within the photographer’s essay and THEN, equally important, are how the essays flow from one to the other…Chris soon will look at the whole month of June…all at once…all 6 or 7 stories and looking just you suggest at how one flows into the other…so the last picture of one story must flow into the next….i think the wave makes one reflect, see the power of the sea and wonder what will happen next….yes a good opener OR a good closer…as in writing, the beginning and end of a photo story can often be interchangeable…..

    by the way, the reader vote, both Burn and Facebook, had the fish in first place, with the wave and surfboard about equally second but not far behind…we went back and forth with the three with no super clear choice, and the audience was the same…almost equal votes for the three…

  • Sorry, Dave, but the fish did not win … lost. Who won (a nice meal) was the guy who caught the fish. Best. Fernando

  • As a standalone, I much preferred the orangish one with the people, but with the layout choices I came around to the fish, it being the most dynamic of the three. David, I don’t recall you discussing it, but I’m sure that movement across photos must be a big consideration as well. In this case, I though that if the first photo didn’t have a lot of movement, the following should. I’ve never gotten a good look at it, but from afar I think I really like the movement in the one of the guy in the orange hoody and look forward to seeing how that plays in the layout.

  • David..

    thanks for answering.. the wave at as an opener, esp. considering this is not OBX but YOU back in OBX, or better yet, on your front porch of OBX, worked well with a meaning I already wrote.. it works equally well as a closer, just with a different meaning (to me at least).. it has such a sense of longing.. scars me, but love it.. :)

  • It makes sense the ending shot in an essay should be powerful, perhaps more so than the opening pic. This is also symbolic, with the surf reaching toward the oceanfront McMansions, of the frail future of the outer banks.

    Frank B.
    Nice pic of a master at work….


    no…the fish DID win!! thrown back immediately into the sea to swim another day…too small to keep…size does matter!

  • MW…

    i think you will like the orange hoody shot…one of the most powerful in the piece and really represents the WEATHER which is the number one most important element down here…

  • Hi Dave,
    Thanks for answering. Fish DID win and we DID win too with this great opportunity to share the NG layout room. Thanks to you all. NG readers will WIN too with the OBX story in June (I hope in the portuguese version too). Still a long time to wait… Thanks for the online Burn Magazine and for the long years of great stories and photos. All the best. Fernando


    well , thanks to you for the comment…just so you know One Night IN RIO is not going to have much text, but what text there is will be in Portuguese as well as English….we are going to try to have Burn in Portuguese and Spanish in the near future….

  • David – Love this comment of yours: “the fish is not a fish picture to me …i never thought of it as a picture of a fish…”

    I guarantee that the vast majority of the the 30 million-plus people who will eventually see this photo in National Geographic magazine will consider this a picture of a fish.

  • I’ve been following Burn for a while, but this is my first comment ever (I did join and comment a few times on the amazing Rio blog though). Even if it’s after the fact, the fish was my favourite too. It’s really exciting and a privilege to be let in on this NG process along with you, David.

    By the way, the prospect of Burn in Spanish got me really excited. The more people Burn can reach, the better. I’m sure you won’t be short of Spanish-speaking collaborators, David, but I’m a Spaniard myself and have an education of sorts in photography (still making plenty of photographs and working to find my own vision and voice), so I’d be thrilled to help or contribute to the Burn in Spanish project in any way you might need!

  • a civilian-mass audience

    BIGFERNOWSKI…Welcome home…!!!

    BURN in Spanish?…wow…the Universe is working…
    hey,what about BURN in Greek?:))))…then,I will be able to be an ACADEMIAN too…like my

    Good morning from beautiful Greece…THOMAS,I am still North…be safe…it’s cold out there!

    BURNIANS…the fish ate the cat…pfff,I knew it…

  • DAH,

    I’ll also be happy to help with Burn en español (Arde?), if you need Spanish speakers.



  • Oh good, imagining it as the closer sounds great actually.
    One to hang on and have a long lingering look at …I like that idea too:)

  • ALAN

    ahhh, you are so so narrow amigo, so narrow….laughing…well, no doubt you are correct, at least for THAT SPECIFIC 30 MILLION readers….well i still think it is a picture of a PLACE, a strip of specific beach…sure there is a fish dominant in it…yet without the place , i doubt we would run a picture of an undersized Pompano…

    as readers become more used to photography as a common language (anybody can take a picture, anybody can speak English…still, few poets or great photographers) , i think the visual literacy levels will rise…that is what Burn is all about…

    even the “average” reader will become more sophisticated…younger readers are already way out there beyond the audience of which you speak…those 30 million readers will quickly change into another/different 30 million readers ..i would not bet the old visual standards and cliches on the new generation..that has been a losing bet in history so far…

    cheers, david

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  • Already on it..The ghost of jobs is looking down..could be a game changer this one.

  • I wonder if fish are as big about throwing people back. It’d be nice to know if great whites won’t chow down on a kid surfer just because he’s too small.

  • David,

    Thanks for your note. I’m reminded of a conversation I had with Alex Webb many years ago. We were looking at one of his photos, and he said: “If 10 people look at this image and get 10 different reactions, I will have done my job.” I laughed. “Well, Alex, that pretty much sums up the difference between photographers and writers at NGM,” I said. “Because if I write a legend for your photo and my editor doesn’t grasp my meaning — and he’s left to project his or her own meaning upon the image — well, I’ve failed. Miserably. And I’m told to rewrite it.”

    Is that “narrow”? If you’re an artiste searching for that je ne sais quo, maybe it is. But if you’re a photojournalist, I don’t think it’s narrow at all.

    By the way: I admit I often worry that photography can be more of a wall than a window… that pictures are often more about immersing ourselves in representations of reality than about embracing reality itself. More here: [VIDEO]

  • Araky a Great white will normally throw a person back. They are not interested in eating you as you are not calorific enough. Thing is by the time they find this out there are more bits than before.


    good stuff…we are looking at it for textbooks….


    sorry you feel that way…you seem to be locked into one magazine’s vision of the world, or rather that vision a long time ago….or you just have one very old fashioned way of looking at the relationship between words and pictures…

    you cannot allow yourself to look at pictures beyond illustrating words, or “the story”….please , please…

    however to be very clear i certainly believe in the marriage of words and pictures and sound and motion etc etc..yet they all do totally different things..each is its own art form…each slightly altered in collaboration, yet each requiring full respect from the others and totally dependent on the overall “director” or “author”…i do honestly feel that most stories are best told with words…yes, most…i cannot use my camera to express what i am feeling right now…i am using words (albeit not as well as would you)..with words i am an amateur …

    i work in the contemporary publishing world Alan…and have earned a living in it…yet, i also embrace the larger world of photography, always background is in art history AND journalism…frankly most of the very best and astute editors at most magazine embrace a larger world than they can actually publish…this does make them move forward, to not only satisfy readers and give them want they want, but also educate their audience into becoming more sophisticated visually…magazines from 20 years ago look and read like magazines from 20 years ago..things DO move forward Alan…and yes, classics are classics…

    yet visual literacy with integrity is where i stand…..

    this way i can always push things outward, away from center….maintaining some kind of status quo just has never worked for me my whole life..sorry…

    i have no clue Alan what you mean by “reality”… selection of interviews/quotes, selection of point of view automatically makes “reality” pretty damned selective/subjective…

    great stories are told by great authors…no matter what the technology or medium , we want to either tell a great story or listen to a great story with equal pleasure….

    we crave an author’s words…in pictures..

    with everyone talking/shooting now at once , only those with something to say will be heard…authorship , authorship and for words, works for pictures….

    otherwise a security camera is the only purveyor of your type of “reality”…

    cheers, david

  • DAH

    You can make any kind of book you want.

  • David,

    You misunderstand me, my friend. I am not the one who makes the case for photography as a “just-the-facts” medium. That message is the one championed by none other than Chris Johns, Editor of National Geographic Magazine. Not to Burn readers, of course. Here he talks to you about spark and passion and desire and voice.

    But to the 30+ million readers of NGM, Chris is the one who makes the case for photography as a “no bias… no agenda” medium. Chris is the one who argues that a photographer is, or must be, a dispassionate observer. See:
    and then:

    Even NGM photographer Stephanie Sinclair — Chris’s example of the consummate professional with no personal agenda — has a clear agenda which she’s not shy about sharing:

    (My “Objective Nonsense” series is 28 installments long, and counting. I’m hoping at some point Chris will issue a correction. Or maybe you’ll ask him about it during your next on-the-record conversation.)

    Re: your comment > “i have no clue Alan what you mean by “reality”… …”
    Reality is the Outer Banks, David. The one you see outside your door.
    The beautiful images you post at Burn — and that you’ll publish in NGM? Those are representations of reality, a PICTURE of reality.
    They’re very different, as I hope you’ll agree.

    I should add that your OBX story will be perhaps one of the most honest things NGM has published in a while. “Here is my home, through my eyes” you’re telling people with your photos. “And here I am, David Alan Harvey” you’ll be telling people with your words. I can’t wait to read your story.


  • ALAN

    i think i will make you smile now…:)

    right this minute, right now, i am only writing to you here on this forum because i am totally blocked on writing a very small text block for NatGeo… I will do anything to avoid what i gotta do…soon…know the feeling?

    at least with photography i can always get up and do SOMETHING..not this..the keyboard and whatever the hell is in my head is it..

    photography is easy…writing is hard…no shit

    cheers, david

  • A squeak of burning sand.

  • David,

    I know the feeling well. But don’t worry: The tide will go out… and the block will fade away….

    If it persists, though, here’s a trick to loosen up: At the top of the page, write “Dear [insert name of a close friend here]….” Then imagine that friend — who is visiting you from New York City — is sitting with you on your porch, drinking a beer. “So, David,” the friend says, “why the hell did you move down here? In the winter, no less! It’s cold! There’s nothing here but sand, surf, and a bunch of locals! And nothing to do! No theater or museums or fancy parties or media bigshots! You’re wasting your time here, Harvey! You could be in New York City, man!” … You smile & take a swig of beer. “You don’t understand, my friend. You don’t appreciate this place because you can’t see beyond the surface. You think your eyes will lead you to the soul of a place — or a person. But they don’t. They can’t. Hey, did I ever tell you about the amazing thing that happened down here during the hurricane? …. ” And then you’re off & writing, telling stories I bet you don’t have on film. Stories that will reveal a little of the soul of the place — and maybe a bit of your soul, too. … Just remember to delete that first line before you send the manuscript to your editor. :-)

    Yeah, I know — it’s a silly gimmick. But that block often arises because you’re thinking about the audience instead of thinking about what you want to say. Writing to friends, to people you trust, can loosen you up, especially if you’re writing about yourself. … If nothing else, this blog is proof that when you’re relaxed, you have no trouble figuring out what to say or how to say it in a personal & eloquent way.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is: Your editor doesn’t want you to be John McPhee; your editor wants you to be David.


    P.S. Photography ain’t easy. My pictures are proof.

  • I’ve always found that the “block” is often just the brain ticking the story over on the backburner. You then sit down to write and it practically pours out. Mind you; deadlines can make that a bit tricky! :-)

  • I’ve always found that the “block” as ………. I really have nothing to say.

  • Really David? You have nothing to say about OBX? I’ll break my rule against giving writers advice and suggest you might consider looking back through your burn posts. You’ve already said a lot over the years. Compelling stuff, too, as I recall.

  • MW…

    just teasing with Imants..of course, and i am writing…mostly i “feel” a lot about OBX..after all, this is my fav spot…writing about it is the problem…as Alan says , i am thinking too much about being a writer and the “audience”…i should just write it for you all here…that would be easy…funny about this stuff…same as for shooting….


    where are you? squeaking sand is good..i am going to steal that one…i mean how could i not think of squeaking sand?…it is the MAIN THING

  • Yea, I know how you feel. I can pound out reams of not half bad copy off the top of my head in an online conversation, but when I sit down to write for publication, the words don’t come so easy and the prose tends to stiffen up. Fortunately, in your case you must be working with a world class editor so between the two of you it will no doubt come out comfortably within the highest standards.

  • MW..

    well, i hope so…

    by the way, i will be in nyc soonest…like in a few days…to work on the wall with rio…stop by…and somewhere in there we can go over your piece….make sense?


    does sand only squeak at certain temperatures? or is it types of sand? these are things to think about.

  • ALAN

    makes sense…will try…thanks

  • The exchange between DAH and Alan Mairson is the most interesting thing I’ve read on burn dialogues for a long time. Listening in to a spririted conversation between these two very bright people is fascinating and very stimulating.
    “society matters”, (click on Alan’s name) if you are interested to know where Alan is coming from.

    I’d love to hear more.

  • In the spirit of helping david…

    So David, why the hell did you move to the Outer Banks?


    i moved to OBX because i am just meant to be here…most likely because it was my favorite childhood home…i moved around a lot when i was a kid, but the beach (just north of here)just electrified my life immediately…just the sea…the smell of it, the sound of it, the feel of it tossing me around when i swam, the whole bit…the beginning and end of life seem to fit just right by the sea…


    i fit in…i can be the full on redneck fugitive from society that i really am!

  • a civilian-mass audience

    MRS.ETTA JAMES is going upstairs…safe travels my dear…

  • i can be the full on redneck fugitive from society that i really am!

    Perfect! ;^}

  • Where am I? Wishing I was on the great rolling deck of the Avalon, to be sure. At least the power is back on. Snow, ice storm, big thaw now, flooding next.

    What is that squeak anyway? That’s when being at the beach always become real for me. Those first footsteps on the fine upper sand.

  • Young Tom! Email me – regarding a print – really.

  • I’m happy that the fish won. Most powerful picture of that bunch.

    @ NACHO:
    Estoy contigo para traducir Burn. Que pasa con Google Translate?? Lo unico complicado es que esta comunidad estara distribuida en pedazos…


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