175/3.56 - Photojourno PS

(Personal Statement Examples, Advice, Critique, . . . )
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ksd2138
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175/3.56 - Photojourno PS

Postby ksd2138 » Mon Sep 24, 2012 10:26 pm

Hey fam, would love to get some tips. Anybody willing to review a first draft? PM me.

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ksd2138
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Re: 175/3.56 - Photojourno PS

Postby ksd2138 » Mon Sep 24, 2012 10:29 pm

Awww, what the heck, I'll just go ahead and post it. This is Draft 1.0. Feel free to shred to taste.

Also, comment in the thread rather than PM so we can make this as educational as possible for all involved.

DRAFT 1:

Click. My camera’s shutter slammed closed, and the room erupted in shouts. “What is he doing in here?” roared an inebriated upper-caste brick kiln owner as others shoved me, attempting to pry my camera from my hands. I guess if I were being investigated for employing slave labor, I might have been edgy too.

Wrangling my camera from their grasp, I quickly retreated from the sweltering south Indian police station as the investigation continued. Outside, the 77 “untouchable” laborers lay huddled on the ground. Minutes before, they’d been slaving—literally—away at a nearby brick kiln. Uneducated and illiterate, many of them labored here for decades in order to pay off debts as little as $20.

Earlier that morning I’d set off from urban Chennai with a team of lawyers, social workers and Indian police officials to conduct a raid on a brick-making complex in the state of Andhra Pradesh. As the team’s photographer, my duty was to document the investigation: the logbooks that detailed the laborers’ supposed debts, the smokestacks that belched into the Carnatic troposphere, the expressions on the faces of the laborers that evinced determination and relief, but mostly fatigue.

Darkness fell and I sat among the now-former slaves. In the fading light (and the inevitable cloud of mosquitoes), I set the aperture wide open and kept shooting. Click. An elderly man with frazzled gray hair and deep-set Oriya eyes reclined in his daughter’s lap, both asleep. Buzz. Click. A tiny woman in a red sari sat perfectly motionless, yet wide-awake—her husband had gone missing during the raid. Click. For the next three days the 77 laborers, my colleagues and I waited patiently and eagerly outside the police station as the investigation progressed. For us, it wasn’t a question of if justice would be done, but when. After all, who could deny justice to victims of modern-day slavery?

***

It was 2009 and I had just graduated from New York University’s ultra-exclusive “school of rock”: the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. The indie rock band I led had placed songs in a nationally distributed film, packed out New York’s Mercury Lounge and even opened for President Barack Obama. I should have been thrilled; instead, I was restless. I wanted something more. So, I sold my music equipment and bought a camera, a backpack and a one-way ticket to India.

Over the next four years I honed my camera skills and developed a career as a freelance multimedia producer for organizations including The New York Times, National Public Radio, and Amnesty International. I witnessed countless scenes like that in south India through my camera’s viewfinder: from the hills of Pakistan where fledgling NGOs are threatened by both the ISI and the Taliban, to the Amazon River where indigenous cultures reel from decades-long labor exploitation; from the stateless Bedouin of the Sinai to the overflowing holding cells of Rio de Janeiro, where the accused lay in squalor as they wait years for trial.

What I found is that while laws that would prohibit these kinds of injustice exist in almost every jurisdiction, the powerful—be they governments, corporations or individuals—manage to evade the enforcement of these laws. They get away with it because they've got the best and brightest legal minds on their side, and they can often count on an even more powerful advocate: apathetic and corrupt justice systems. The last four years have taught me many things, but I can summarize them in one statement: the weak need an advocate. And that’s why I’m applying to study law at your institution.

GRAF RE: WHY INSTITUTION IS A GOOD FIT WITH MY GOALS, AND EXPLAIN WHAT I INTEND TO DO WITH A J.D.

***
What the laborers and I didn’t know was that as we sat outside the police station awaiting justice, inside, it was becoming clear that the weight of the affluent owners’ influence was greater than that of the official’s duty to uphold justice for the citizens under his jurisdiction—even the most impoverished. That time, corruption won.

Days later, I watched the 77 victims of modern-day slavery board a train for their native Oriya villages without the legal protection or rehabilitation funds to which the victims are legally entitled. Their train got smaller and my resolve got stronger. It’s time to do something.

Click.

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DEO3029
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Re: 175/3.56 - Photojourno PS

Postby DEO3029 » Mon Sep 24, 2012 10:53 pm

You definitely have a great story to tell...I am not too experienced in the field of P.S. critique so take my advice with a very large grain of salt. Personally though, I felt the first portion was focused too much on using language and structure that might be perceived to be sophisticated & ultimately less personal than the remaining portion.

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ksd2138
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Re: 175/3.56 - Photojourno PS

Postby ksd2138 » Tue Sep 25, 2012 9:08 am

Yeah, agreed. I do feel like the anecdote gets a bit too much weight in this essay and crowds out the personal elements.

Not quite sure how to fix it. Any suggestions?

canarykb
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Re: 175/3.56 - Photojourno PS

Postby canarykb » Tue Sep 25, 2012 10:42 am

I agree that there is a great story to be told here, and that it is on its way to becoming a strong essay. Note that these are just one gal's opinion, but there are a couple things that really turn me off about how you tell it.

"Click." - I get what you're doing here, but it just feels so... affected? Trying too hard, maybe? I read this advice from Berkeley about trying to start a PS too dramatically: http://www.law.berkeley.edu/5188.htm It made me pare back my intro, personally, and I think too much artifice just makes for distractions.

"The weak need an advocate." - I think you have to look at the word "weak" and what it implies here. I get that you are setting up a powerful/weak dichotomy, but that hides the agency of the people you wish to advocate for. Even those that are poor, marginalized, and oppressed have their own faculties, their own ideas on how to make change. Lots of negative shit has been done in the name of trying to "save" the poor or people thinking they know what's best for others.

Which gets me into my larger problem with the way you write this. Some of the ways you refer to people in the story make me a little uncomfortable. This little joke: "they’d been slaving—literally—away at a nearby brick kiln" is not a good one. Also, the paragraph where you are taking photos of the people involved, you write about them as objects to be photographed, rather than people. Have you heard of the concept of "poverty porn"? Using photos of stark poverty as a tool for one's own goals? Here's an article about the concept with some links & resources: --LinkRemoved-- It might be helpful to read & engage with these ideas when looking at how to best tell this story. I think this might mean some change in tone, and potentially restructuring the narrative. For example, the switch of topics from slave labor to bragging about your indie music group is pretty jarring.

Sorry, I know this is a really negative critique. You're clearly a strong writer and I'm not trying to doubt your dedication to the issues you care about and the people you work with. Its just that your anecdote is an incredibly weighty one. It can make for a really great narrative, but I think you need to think carefully about how you are presenting it.

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ksd2138
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Re: 175/3.56 - Photojourno PS

Postby ksd2138 » Tue Sep 25, 2012 11:15 am

Hey canary, thanks a lot for the well thought out critique. I really agree with the tone issue.

I'm definitely aware of the "poverty porn" question and in my work maintaining subjects' dignity is priority #1. The problem is that I've never written about this stuff in order to "impress" or "sell myself" before, so I'm struggling to find a tonal balance here.

Regarding the "slaving--literally--away," I wasn't aiming for levity as much as attempting to subvert a commonly used expression in order to drive home the gravity of the situation.

Aside from tone, I'd love to hear your opinion on whether this anecdote-heavy approach is the right way to take this.

jjrialva
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Re: 175/3.56 - Photojourno PS

Postby jjrialva » Tue Sep 25, 2012 12:24 pm

I'm also no expert on PS but here is my advice.

I believe this statement is more risky than it should be considering your LSAT and GPA at least because of the way its written. You could easily attend t10 schools. You are risking coming off as something you're not.


I concur with the other posters about the first part of the statement. It should be less. I would even say it should be about a paragraph long. Try aiming for the story to be at most 1/5 of your essay. Unless you let us know more about you during the story. This can be done by merging the story with more facts about you that come naturally.

The first and second feel like they were written by different people because they are written in different styles. It's not that the first part doesn't have any merit but I think it might be to the taste of fewer admissions officers than you would think. Try being less dramatic and use less descriptive words ex. "inebriated upper-caste brick kiln owner" . Use only the ones you know adds to the story and are required.

I would removed the "Click" but that its just me. I might feel cliche and if you read it from "My camera's shutter slammed..." that beginning sentence is already good, isn't it?

ksd2138 wrote: For us, it wasn’t a question of if justice would be done, but when. After all, who could deny justice to victims of modern-day slavery?


You are actually not doing it much of a favor here. Who could deny justice? not a lot of people... this coupled with other sentences like help the weak (which concurring with the other poster needs to be revised, maybe use "disadvanatge") leads me to think you have nothing more than a conscious that almost everyone else has. Try showing why you have gone a step further like showing why and how you ended up there. What did you do with the pictures? Wow India! I would like to think you went there for something more than yourself which is not wrong but look for something more profound something that will give the committee a good insight of you. Selling everything buying a one way ticket to india doesn't sound very reasonable. Try laying down the fundamentals for this decision in one sentence of two.

ksd2138 wrote:What I found is that while laws that would prohibit these kinds of injustice exist in almost every jurisdiction, the powerful—be they governments, corporations or individuals—manage to evade the enforcement of these laws.


I'm more of a moderate guy when it comes to this especially if its controversial. I wouldn't say "almost every", just "some". You make your point and someone who might identified with the opponent feels less insulted.

ksd2138 wrote:The last four years have taught me many things, but I can summarize them in one statement: the weak need an advocate. And that’s why I’m applying to study law at your institution.

No need for the last sentence. We know you're applying to law school.

I don't know if this is your last structure for the PS but if it is the paragraphs are too short and robbed you of space.

I would put a tad more humility and practicality in your reasons to become a lawyer. You coming off with savior complex. I would not include anything about the institution and leave for a why XXXXXXX law statement. However, you should include what you plan to do with your JD because it seems to me you want to study law in the US and also cross legal borders to help people in india, brazil etc.

One last thing. Many of the situations we see around the world are connected to our society. The reason some people in india and other countries abuse their labor is because they have clients like us. Maybe you could try, if you sincerely feel it this way, to add some practicality to your interest by saying you are interested in attacking the source of the problem which are companies in developed countries buying from foreign companies whos efficiency depends on mistreating their employees. I don't know how is that exactly possible but hey its your PS.

(The reason why there is exploitation and poverty in south american it's not because of their incapacity to organize a good economy. It's in part because we have managed to exploit their resources, influence their politics by establishing dictators and presidents, while also establishing that rich class you are talking about that exploits their own people. But this is another thread...)

Good luck with you PS and your application! I really wish I had your numbers!




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