Sunday, January 9, 2011

Here we are again, thanks for the attention as always. You've never looked as good, if you don't mind me saying.
2010 marked my 12th year as a newspaper photojournalist, and my 8th at my daily. I've been doing this just about as long as I've done any one thing in my life. Looking back, this was a year where my work has turned more introspective. I've seen and photographed an awful lot of people and situations by this point, and while its a mistake and a cliche to say people and events are all the same, I started to see that my approach to them was starting to be the same. Frankly this was pretty dispiriting at times, it was a rough year. You want to think your work is an endless stream of god given talent, but you start to see that there's more a pattern in the craft then you had let yourself believe. Faced with this, I saw two options. Quit or look deeper. And by quitting, perhaps thats the road to new projects, more fully realized art. And by looking deeper, perhaps you risk finding that there is indeed nothing further to express, that the feeling of futility is more then a feeling.
The truly wonderful thing about newspaper work, though, is that you don't have a of of time to dwell on such nonsense. There is another deadline coming up fast, there is a hole that needs to be filled with art. My job is to fill the hole, whether it is an earnest expression of my concept of our time and life, or a meaningless cute animal photo. So my approach to 2010 was to dig in, fill the hole and see where approaching my work from the inside might lead me.
Here's a good example of that, and a fitting image for the start of the year. The windows need to be cleaned. Someone's got to do it so we can see out. No much more to it then that, except that maybe I'm projecting a little of myself out there into the cold.

The Harmonizing Kings practice in a college classroom before a MLK day gospel concert. Playing locally for over six decades, we had never covered them.

A flock of geese rise from a half frozen farm pond. I must admit to somewhat engineering this shot, I guessed that if I approached the pond from a distance, at some point I would spook the birds into action. With a long lense on a monopod I would walk a yard at a time, focusing all the way and waiting for the moment. In retrospect, I don't think I would repeat this method. Is it unethical? At the time I thought not, my self serving reasoning was that I photograph news conferences and many similar situations that would absolutely not be occurring if I weren't there to photograph them. This was in fact a bitter pill caught up in a lot of my thoughts at the time. But pretending to accidently spook the geese, while getting me the shot I need to fill the hole, probably kept me from seeing the better photo right in front of me. You need to have confidence that the photo is there. When I do, more often then not I find it.

And right here, this is exactly what I'm talking about. Love this shot of the aisle of a fine antiques show. Incredible light, the man entranced by his book, the frames of the art. I wandered the show, which I'd shot a number of times in years past (boringly), and found the right light and the location. I stood and waited for maybe five minutes, and the players took their spots.

Two of this man's children died in the Haiti earthquake. From their memorial service. Devastating. I would almost rather photograph anything other then grief, especially where kids are involved. But we do, its expected and accepted, even by the mourners. I pray that I add no further weight to their burden.

Keeping my eyes open, and turning around a lot, is key. Sometimes the best shot is happening where the thrust of your story isn't. Here I was covering a charity polar bear plunge, and while waiting for the set time and the predictable shots that a dozen other good photographers were going to shoot, I turned away from the water and saw this in the crowd. It ran lead, made me feel like maybe I wasn't half bad after all.

That one big snow.
The first shot is funny, we knew the blizzard was going to strike late Friday night. But our deadline for the Saturday paper is early Friday night. I needed to shoot a photo of the blizzard before the blizzard hit. So I waited downtown, nervously watching the light dim, before this couple crossed the street in the gathering flurries. We went with a shot of snow plows, but I felt this was the stronger image. A little tribute to classic Annapolis photographer Marion Warren in there as well.
And after digging out myself, I found this man just as he finally reached the street from his farmhouse, two days after the storm had passed. Like the look of determination on his face.
Plus a fun snowball fight, shot with a longer lense against a snow covered hill, the combatants seem to be paper cutouts on a white wall.

Kids today, with their speed stacking of cups. Just a fun shot, I like the eye.

The dawn opening of a new department store, with eager customers waiting to enter. Any kind of business opening rather the shuttering was a good story this year. My dad really liked this shot, and so now I do too.

Feelings heat up in a political fight in the legislature. The politico at center there is trying to impeach the attorney general for issuing an opinion on same sex marriage. It's a losing battle, after tying up the proceedings for a time, the impeachment attempt fails and things roll on. But the politico made his point and got his photo in the paper, which was probably not an unforeseen event. And I'm ok with that, I think it's part of the newspapers job to provide a larger stage for lawmakers. To a point, it benefits us both.

It seems every year at this paper I'm shooting a variation of this same shot. Ospreys build their nests atop the light poles surrounding high school sports fields, and while shooting games in the late afternoons they swoop back and forth, either building still or bringing fish to their chicks. If I'm bored at the game I'll start following them with the long sports lens I already have on the camera. I wonder if anyone in the games notice the weird photographer on the sidelines pointing his camera at the sky...

More on keeping my eye open. I noticed I had a bad habit when shooting sports action of lowering the camera as soon as I had the peak moment, in this case the runner sliding across the plate. Here I stayed with the shot past that, and got the runner slyly sticking his tongue out at his teammates in the dugout, and the complaint to the umpire by the shortstop. I've talked before about trying to capture the heroic drama of sports, but it's easy to forget that it's also about the fun the players are having.

A combat wounded vet helps a one legged comrade up a steep bridge in a bike ride for "wounded warriors". I ran like hell to get this shot, the start of the ride was under the bridge so I shot that and then tore up the hill and halfway over the bridge with a long lens to get the compression of riders I was looking for.
I forced myself to get to the race about half an hour early, so I could shoot some pre ride preparations. I wanted to talk with the riders as well. I don't want to feel like I'm profiting off of their injuries, or exposing them for thrills. I think I've seen a weird feeling come over people when it comes to wounded soldiers, not really a kind of ecstasy and certainly not joy, but maybe enjoying their pride for the soldiers too much? Is that possible, or is it a byproduct of my own guilt on the subject? Because, and lets face it, I'm there with a camera because of their injuries. No one is sending me to cover psych meetings at the VA hospital. But I felt the least I could do was sit on a curb with them, chat about the weather and where they were from, and look them in the eyes.

A flower in the bridle of a horse that pulls tourist carriages around town. Not sure I quite nailed this one, maybe the balance is off? I'll return to it one day.

The winners of a "Do you look like your pet?" contest. I made a nice slideshow of this event, it was a lot of fun to shoot. A kind of dumb assignment that I managed to talk myself into getting excited about, and it turned out not so dumb at all.

One of the first woman Navy mids approved for submarine service. These felt like important photos when I was taking them, I mean the first EVER, thats pretty cool. Didn't have much to work with, it was a media free for all, but I liked this one of her lit by an open door, and the sense of tradition in the painting and architecture. The paper went with another shot that said more about the Navy, but I think this one says more about her.
I uploaded a photograph here of a spot news event where a man died. But in coming to edit it I decided to take it down. This is the part of my job I want to do less and less. As a professional, death has been my frequent subject matter from day one. My first day as a newspaper intern I covered a fatal house fire, and the shot ran lead the next day. Standing in the store and seeing my photo in the paper for the first time was such a pivotal moment in my life, but it happened because a man died in his own home. I promised myself that I would never forget his name. Of course, I have. Which is probably as it should be, I'm not carrying the weight of the ethics of human curiosity on my shoulders. Just the weight of my responsibility in how I ethically serve that curiosity. Which if you've read this far, You can see I take pretty seriously. So this year, no photographs of fatal car accidents, murders, suicides. There is enough grief and loss to go around already.

College students help an independent bookstore move their stock down the street to a new location. This is a really cool shot, so much going on in it. I'm afraid I was showing off, the kids all went to St. Johns, the supersmart great books school. I love St. Johns. In an alternate universe with a few less incompetent youth psychologists I think I did attend St. Johns, and am now living a loveless existence as a chain boostore assistant regional manager. In charge of stocking the e-reader accessory kiosks. Which brings us full circle to independent bookstores. Anyway, a great shot I was DESTINED TO MAKE.

Sea Trials, a long day of physical challenges at the Naval Academy. In the years I 've been shooting this, they've made it much more war oriented, rifles and barbed wire and such. As well they might, some of these kids are surely going to be leading soldiers in combat. Again, when covering the military, I respond best to the shots that show the identity bearing the uniform, not the uniform burying the identity.

They really do check your speed from the air, I always wondered but here's the proof. I must have shot fifty frames to get this perfect one, sitting in the backseat of the helicopter straining against my belts to shoot over the co-pilots shoulder. Ended up making myself airsick, but I think I hid it from the cops.

A lucky shot here, but I had to create the situation for the luck to strike. I knew the Blue Angels would be practicing, and hoped to get a shot with tall landmarks in the foreground. I set myself up in the corner of a stadium parking lot, guessing the wide lot and structure of the stadium would come together. They didn't, the planes were actually flying lower then I'd imagined. But I stuck around even after I realized that, and was rewarded by three planes doing a slow pass directly over me. I shot this handholding a 400mm 2.8, pointing straight up and bearing the weight on my eyebrow. It even felt bruised for a few days. You gotta make room for luck.

A twisted girder from the World Trade Center arrives in town to be placed into a memorial. People, mostly cops and firefighters, were going up to the flatbed and in honest reverence reaching out to touch it like the relic I guess it is. I shot that, but my discomfort in the situation came through in the shots, they were no good. Here I tried for a more complicated composition, and think it falls through as well, although it is trying. The enormity of some events just humble me as a creator, and I stumble in my attempts.

A memorial for a boy killed in a senseless "gang" brawl, a tragedy for all involved. You can cover things like this from a distance, I'm talking two or three yards, and feel unnoticed. But to get a shot like this, the one that works, you have to move in close, and suddenly they notice you. You're kneeling there, squinting through this ridiculous swollen black machine, clicking away. It's hard. In my own family, decades ago, a child was murdered and there was a swarm of media coverage. I try to add to the memorial, to cement the memorial into the record of the day, and make it an echo of all such tragedies.

Two shots from local high school graduations. I particularly like the shot through the window, the grads were checking out their reflections and this was the instant before they noticed me. Both of these are playing with the idea of these kids at a precise moment in their lives, stretching out before and after them.

The guy on the left was a high school gym teacher at his retirement party, and at right his entire staff shows up in mustache and glasses masks. A nice moment.

At a baseball skills camp a crowd of boys try and get under the ball in a fly ball shagging drill. My sports editors really got a kick out of this shot, says it brought back memories of doing the same thing as kids. I liked the shot, but its great to be reminded that sometimes your photos have a life outside of your intentions.

This year's take on the Induction Day at the Naval Academy, the day new students arrive and enter the military. An assignment I try and shoot every year, its a great environment, literally a photograph everywhere you look. The best of this year, I like that top shot through the windows of the shuttle bus, that shape on the right is an Academy building. And I just liked the light on the young woman learning to salute.

A wild art shot of tourists sitting at the harbor. Another patience story, I sat on a bench with the dock stretched in front of me for maybe half an hour, watching people and trying out different combos of pedestrians and boats. The best shot came from the simplest composition, I kept the camera on them for a few minutes until she kissed him.

I was assigned to shoot the Fourth of July fireworks over the harbor, and I knew the choice spots would be filled up quickly, especially as I needed a tripod. I got my location on top of a utility box, and settled down with a book. I'd already shot a parade, so I was tired and needed the break.I zoned out for a bit, and when I looked up I saw the grounds around me had been filled with people. I looked back over my shoulder and saw this sunset.

I was assigned to cover a Sunday joust meet,and it was pouring rain. Driving, endless, rain. I got there and the organizers insisted that they were going to ride, that they would start in "about half an hour". I've heard this before, and take it to mean "we may or may not do it at all, there's internal politics going on". This is bad news for the paper though, we need a shot for Monday and were counting on this package. So, even though my equipment is already soaked, I wander the grounds hoping that they will actually ride. I saw this horse peering out of his trailer, and I felt he and I were thinking the same thing, that this was crazy and we should both be indoors. Luckily I took the shot, because eventually they did cancel without a single ride. An hour and forty-five minutes later.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

From a story about the possible closing of an area trailer park. The shot that ran was a nice one of the residents, but I liked this one out the kitchen window. An everyday view of a place we tend to never think about, or worse look down on. Looks like a nice place to me.

There are some locations I keep in reserve, I never go there until the chips are down. This was from a super hot day, one of several, and I save this community pool for days like this. I like how the kid has just left the board, although the other kid in the water really drives me crazy.

Carnival rides at sunset. I think I dragged the large 400 mm sports lens out for this, something I did a lot this year. I like the shot a great deal, but maybe I need to tone it down a bit. Its such a large piece of equipment, I think it keeps me from moving in closer and getting more intimate.

Covering a speed boat race, I found my spot and settled in. These races are crazy dangerous, the boats will often actually take to the air before crashing. So I knew to be on my toes and pay close attention. What I was not expecting was what happened. A boat I was following through the lens started putting out a lot of smoke, and as it passed me it seemed to explode into flame. It comes to a halt and is surrounded by rescuers on jet skis, and some just swimming, dragging the pilot out of the burning boat. Pretty exciting stuff, and luckily I was in the right mental state to get it all. The pilot was ok.

A carny prepares a deep fried twinkie at a rural county fair. I was wandering the fair, one I'd shot before, and not finding much of interest. Some of the guys working the booths called me over,and I got the standard "Hey, take my picture!". Photojournalists get this all the time, and I think we all handle it differently. I always take the picture. Its usually not a good shot, but it gives you an opening. I talked with the guys for a while, get their names, asked them about carny life. I moved on, and about an hour later I saw one of them working in his food booth. Since I knew him, and he knew me, I could just start shooting without making a big deal of it. He knew I was there, but I was already part of the environment, so he didnt play it up. Its not a masterpiece or anything, but its another portrait of someone working for their living, someone we usually never give a second glance.

Two of this years take of the Maryland Renaissance Festival. I must of shot a hundred frames to get just the right combination of faces, flying scarves, and shafts of sunlight through trees of the band named Wine and Alchemy.
And the aerialist, I've photographed her before, and in fact it made this blog back in 07. Here's the link to that shot, I like them both but this one does more for me. Maybe its the eye contact.

The dedication of the September 11th memorial, using the girders I photographed up above somewhere. A better piece, says a lot more. Tells the story that the memorial makers wanted to tell.

I was really sick on a Sunday, and yet again there was that Monday hole that needed filling. So I found myself at a BMX race in the pouring rain. No jousters here, these kids went for it. I got a lot of cliched bike jump stuff, but liked this one of two kids chatting at the front of the race line up.

From a story on Bikram Yoga, yoga done in a room heated to 120 degrees. I was a little worried about my equipment holding up, but it did alright. Note the drops of sweat coming off in torrents.

From a piece on an award winning high school art program. I had a nice set of shots of the kids making art, but this one really stands out for me. Pictures of pictures are rarely a good idea, but when they're scattered on the floor at the bare feet of the artist, I made an exception.

I spent three hours this fall driving around looking for a corn harvest, and it paid off. The farmer was a nice guy, and after shooting his combine from the outside he offered me a seat inside while he harvested more. That was a first for me, and super cool.By the end my boots were filled with kernals.

I love the look on these kids faces. The one on the right has no idea whats about to hit him.

The second before disaster. So for a strong nor'easter that blew through, after shooting traffic jams and fallen trees all day I headed for the shoreline for a scenic to round out a slideshow. I saw some waves slamming into a bulkhead, and thought it might make a neat shot. It did, up until this wave, which is in the process of slamming into me. And the camera. I don't think anyone saw it, or thank god managed to film me. It would have been a viral sensation, something called "DUM PHOTOG GETS NAILED!!".

Cross country runners at the finish line. These are not the top finishers, usually they are so fast they cross alone. I find the best shots come from the kids in the pack, that's where you get some real competition.

This is not that great a shot, but I am proud of it nonetheless. Two men running for a Senate seat, the same seat they both ran for four years ago. And at this point they HATE each other, it seemed to go beyond even the outrageous party vitriol of this election to something very personal. Only they wouldn't show it. At this community forum, they were barely within two yard of each other, not even eye contact between them. This irked me, I could have shot two photos but that told no story. I set myself up with a longer lens at the foot of an aisle, it must have driven the organizers crazy because I did not move. Finally the exchange got so fierce that this moment came, and there was a photograph.

A selection of photos from a party rally at a black college with President Obama. Big deal for me, and I worked really hard on this day, lugging around the heavy equipment. I felt that because the main art was of course going to be a portrait of the president, it should be supported by portraits of those in attendance. These are the best, I especially like the marksman who only showed his rifle the second he unpacked it before hiding it from view, and the toddler taking the shuttle bus to see the president with a button of the first family on his jacket.