Saturday, December 30, 2006

Shot this in the first week of '06. I was on my way to a high school hockey game when I saw the black smoke start in a parking lot. I'd given up going to auto fires, because by the time it comes over the scanner it's probably already been extinguished.But here I was as the fire started, and had to wait for the fire department to get there. The driver said the car "just started smoking", and then lit up.
See, I like this picture because, as corny as it sounds, I like covering fire fighters. They really do rush in when everyone else beats it, and this guy lugging a line in front of a blazing engine that could explode any second really clinches that for me. It's just a dumb engine fire, happens everyday. But everyday these guys do this crazy job, lugging themselves into crazy danger. I know thats really going out on a limb, "firefighters are good", but y'know. They are.

Good old snowstorm shot. I like this for a couple reasons. One, it was two blocks from the office. Two, it's got the 5 W's and the Y packed into a tight spot, always nice. Three, I love the workers on the left looking up, I think it implies a jagged telephone pole stump without having it in the frame. Four, it ran lead the next day, big and above the fold.And five, I did a food story in that Chinese restaurant months later and they had that front page framed and hanging on the wall.

The morning of the British "liquid explosive" arrests, and security at BWI airport goes bonkers. The single security line stretches from one end of the terminal to the other and snakes back again.
This was done on deadline, which means I had about a half hour to get to the airport, get a shot, and transmit back to the paper. I was a little freaked because normally you need an exclusive "clearance" to shoot there, and there was no time to get it. So I went with what Matt Button taught me, the one about it being better to ask forgiveness then permission. Marched straight in, shot everything in sight, no one said a word. Cool.
Of course, what was the point? Does anyone really believe that there was a "liquid explosive" threat that could be packaged into tubes of chapstick? The guys they arrested didn't actually have any, they just talked about how great it would be if they did. In '05 they used plain old backpack bombs, and thats been called "England's 9-11". Wouldnt any committed bomber do a variation on that? Look at all those people, waiting patiently for some homeland security ju-ju man to wave a wand of burnt forskins over them to insure protection from the terrorist hoodoo. This is the "duck and cover" of our day, magical and fruitless.

Teamwork playground-in-a-day construction. I think this has the feel of a Soviet propaganda poster, "Together We Succeed!" Hard not to get a good shot on an assignment like this.

A graduate of a special education school has his arm lifted in triumph by a teacher at the close of his graduation ceremony. Second year I've covered this school, and it's the best. Most graduations are kind of meaningless to cover, no matter what the school you'll see the same things over and over. This one is incredible, these are kids who probably werent expected to live to be this old, and the emotion in the room is strong. I like this shot because usually their disabilities make it hard for them to really express themselves in a way you can capture in frame, and here he pushed up out of his wheelchair and yelled in celebration. Makes a year worth of bs assignments worth it to capture this.

A modern dance performance to the song "Hide and Seek" by Imogen Heap. If you know the song, it's an acapella sung through a distorter, and the song was punctuated by the thuds of their feet pounding the stage. Sometimes, even though you're far from the stage, and never meet, it's like you partner through the lens and together with the performer you create an image.

Summer carnivals. They travel from site to site and turn the back lots of volunteer fire houses into Atlantis. Flashing lights, flimsy violent rides, goldfish bowls, screaming kids and teenagers either falling in love or fighting. You get the feeling that every person there is having a peak experience that they'll remember for the rest of their lives. I've got a ton of great carnival shots, but was outclassed this year by photojournalist Brian Krista. Again. Brian's Fair Pics

Kids chasing sheep at Bullride Mania. Backlit by the setting sun. I'm most proud that I was able to id all three kids after the event. Missed the sheep, though.

Most rural county fairs have a wide variety of competitions, from largest pumpkin to a photo show. I love the photo shows because I try and look for what it is that presumably normal (ie non photographers) people want to see in pictures, what do they value in an image. If I can assume, what I get from them is a profound appreciaton of the intrinsically beautiful. They say "Here is a sunset. A lilypad. A puppy. A mechanical feat. Here is something to celebrate, something that is beautiful". I try and keep that in mind when I shoot, what do people want to see.

Highland hammer tossing. The punchline goes,"You're Thor? I'm tho thor I havent been able to thit down for a week!"

Shooting fireworks is ten minutes of frantic positioning, chimping, swearing, and dancing around with a tripod while everyone around you stares straight up into the sky like Dawn of the Dead. Great fun, pushing your exposures to the extremes of your equipment, and strangly enough to get a good shot you have to slow your exposure time down, to capture the light explosion as a movement through time rather then an arrest. You'll notice that I am actually standing in the bay for this one.

Ok, here we go. One of younger reporters, ambitious with talent to match, wanted to do this story. He'd seen this young woman wandering the streets of the downtown, clearly a prostitute. He's struck up a conservation, bought her lunch. Turned out she was a homeless drug addict (crack and heroin), turning tricks to get from fix to fix. Not a friend in town, and clearly headed for an early grave. Like, by the end of the summer early. So the reporter wants to tell her story.
Now, my paper is a good paper at what it does. This is not what it usually does. In fact, the phrase "downtown prostitutes" had been used as an example of exactly the kind of stories we were not allowed to do. So there was that obstacle. There was also the ethical question of how to shoot it. Do you show her face, obscure it, what do you show her doing? It's a small town, and by doing this story arent we kind of taking responsibility for her? Was she capeable of making the decision to let us tell her story, would she understand the consequences of appearing in the media? And, how do we not tell the story, and have to report it when they pull her body from the creek?
A good editor told the reporter to go for it, and he'd try and get it in the paper. I had expressed interest and had worked with the reporter before, so he called me one late afternoon and told me to meet him at the old cemetary.
We had to wait for awhile, gathering hard looks from the locals. Not the kind of neighborhood you want to appear to curious in with a camera. She suddenly shows up, bouncy and distracted. Skinny, in a short denim skirt and black tank top. Her face was scored by several deep sores. Bright, pretty eyes. She'd just scored.
We walked into the old cemetary, making introductions. She lay down on an old crypt, raised in a mound so she could keep an eye out. I guess I knew what we were there for, but it was still a shock when she lifted a small, filthy crack pipe to her lips and lit it. I started shooting. She finished, and slumped back against the headstone. Her hair fell over her face, and thats when I got the shot we published, with the cemetary stretching off into the background. She was blurry for a few minutes, and then came back. We chatted about movies for awhile, and the reporter , gently and professionaly, asked her if she didnt think that she was going to die out there. I guess, she said, don't know what else to do. We walked out, shook hands, and I drove to a field hockey game.
The story ran that weekend, bottom of the front, with this pic and a closeup of her crackpipe inside. They treated it right, and it ran long with a sidebar on prostitution statistics. The reporter called her "Maggie".
When you work on something like, this, its all you think about until it runs. When it does, your focus moves on to the next deadline. We got a few letters, some good, some pointing out that the only diference between this girl and others in town for years was that this girl was white. True. A week or two later the reporter told me "Maggie" was in treatment, She showed up at office for a follow up with the reporter, I said hi to her in the wood paneled conference room. Things looked ok.
I'm not sure of what happened next, but next time I saw her was on television, being yelled at by a videotape. She was living in a "real world" house, going through withdrawal with a camera in every room and dramatic music cues with each edit. I'm not going to name the show, but it rhymes with Dokt Er Fill. I only watched a little, until she was being berated by the host for her lack of will by the host. From a screen, she was watching his face on the screen yelling at her. They had made sure to list all of her sins, the addiction and the sex, they had even gone as far as to take her to the cemetary and do the same shot we did. I assume, eventually, she got clean enough for them to claim victory and bring a tear to the eye.
I'll be honest, I feel bad. When I met her, she was going to die, from the drugs or murder or something. So, the story saved her, the image helped save her. Thats what I want to do as a photojournalist, change the world for the better. But I feel like we drew her into the world of shock culture, now she's on a display to be cared for and jeered at for her transgressions, a stand in for our own collective guilt in our own weakness. Before, all she could sell was her body, and now she can sell her pain as well. Good luck, Maggie. I'm sorry, I was trying.

Here's another pic, not published because it would show her face. Figure it's ok now.

A day on the beach on the Chesapeake. When it ran as the cover to a special section, someone in the art department cloned out the hazy sky with rolling clouds and bright blue sky. They later claimed that they didnt know there was anything wrong with doing that. Sigh.

Summer sunset on the regatta. It was even nicer than it looked.

Boats in the fog in Grasonville. This is where digital lets you down, it just doesnt have the grey range that film would've. Pretty, though. I also like it because it reminds me of the little Maakies tugboat in the Tony Millionaire cartoons.

A full size "ship simulator" at the Naval Academy. Computer, arch please. I asked the instructor if they get together at night and refight the battle if Midway. He looked shocked that I would suggest such a thing. I dont believe him.

Crowdsurfing Navy midshipman. Fire it up.

This photo was not submitted for publication. A candidate for the county executive office presses the flesh. What a hard thing to do. Hand out, trying to look everbody in the eyes at once, earnest and smiling for hours. And surrounded by an at best indifferent circle of lenses. Takes a comitment to something, public service, right? That'd be nice. He lost.

Strong autumn late evening storm blows through Annapolis, and I'm on the prowl for rainbows. Not this day, but someday I'll find it. To bring the flags lower I'm standing on the railing of an overlook, and it was probably a good 4 meters straight down. Can you tell the wind was blowing? When you've got a camera in your hand, you find yourself doing some foolish things. Still, look at that light.

A boy and his duck at a carnival. Sometimes, it's better just to not even ask, and to let the image speak for itself.

I freaking love this picture. It's a high school musical, and she's just in the chorus, singing from an aisle. Another peak moment I was lucky enough to grab, in a year where I was luckier then most. Thanks.