Thursday, April 25, 2013

Looking at technology in 1979. It was TV or print.

I remember hearing from the Philadelphia Inquirer's Executive Editor, Gene Roberts, (later Managing Editor at the NY Times) how he saw the need for newspapers to tell people what was going to happen.  Television told everyone at 10pm what had happened during the day, so why read a morning newspaper?

Roberts liked investigative reporting and didn't buy the USA Today's no jumps, short articles. I'd worked at other papers that covered press conferences, but he felt the paper could find their own stories and refused to write a story simply about a press conference.

Buckminster Fuller lecturing about the shape of things.
This view of the news was hard for the photo staff. Taking photos of an event before it happened! But photos were what readers noticed and pulled them to read the story to find out more.

Reporters had weeks to research and interview people, then edit it down and write the article. They didn't know what info they'd use till they started writing. Sending a photographer out with the reporter often resulted in having great pictures, but no mention in the story. The photos then were never published, if it called attention to something only briefly mentioned near the end of the article.

To solve this problem it meant waiting for the story to be written then recontacting the people to set up a time to take the photo. This actually was the best, going together meant the subject had to worry about the reporters questions and didn't have time to be told to stand here and look this way. Photo editors called to get the subject in the right location at the right time, Not distracted by the reporter's needs and questions. (Although sometimes during an interview the subject will make some great expressions and gestures.)

Getting the best photo was easier, since the photographer had a copy of the story. Could pose the subject in a similar environment. Reporters however thought the best picture was the one the reader formed in their mind. They wanted to describe the scene, the way the subject looked in terms that would help tell who the subject was. Why not have the picture show the person?

I remember one story where the Inquirer saw how a new hotel was being completed and they planned a big ribbon cutting. Roberts wanted to beat television and run a story the morning of the ribbon cutting, let the TV channels cover the ribbon cutting. The morning Inquirer would write about the architect and what unique features he designed for the hotel.

The photo department set up an appointment to take an environmental portrait in his office. Laying out the paper there was a problem. The reporter wrote about how laid-back the architect was wearing tennis hoes and blue jeans. But, the photo was of a guy in a suit and tie!

The story ran the next morning, so everyone knew what was going to happen later in the day. Beating out television. Did anyone notice the lede of the story didn't match the photo?

I remember this watching the Bush Library dedication, I had taken Roberts the view that with live TV coverage, other pubs needed to tell what was going to happen before it happened. I thought editors would want photos for a weekly preview of upcoming events, and I tried to get photos of them setting up the exhibits.

It was surprising how little preview coverage there was. The local papers ran special sections the Dallas Morning News on Sunday and the Ft Worth Star-Telegram and Dallas Business Journal coming out three weeks earlier. It was free advertising for the Presidential Library and Museum, hopefully it motivated residents to then watch it live on TV.

CBS tied in a tour inside with Charlie Rose interviewing both President Bush and Laura Bush.

I wonder what will be on the evening news?
After the fact, S.F. Examiner

I also wonder about the new trend for the reporter to take the photos to go with the story. Having been a writer and a photographer, I realized that to take photos first was a mistake. You were chatting, which led into quotes and missing the picture. It's best to do the interview and then concentrate on the photo. But you've already taken up so much of there time, you just take a few photos. Not good.

If you are writing the sorry, or interviewing a person for a video, you need to concentrate on the questions and followup question. The photojournalist is listening and looking, worried about lighting and getting it in focus, but also composition. Hearing what the subject is saying brings out where to pose the subject. Maybe show them working with or on something. So what he is talking about, while the reporter takes notes.

I don't think one person can do both, take photos and take notes. Just running a Q&A doesn't give all the facts. Video flies by too quickly and I think freezing the moment in a still photo lets the viewer study and remember who, what, where and when.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

No photographers allowed

It happened again. I wanted to take photos of the staff preparing the new George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum. The dedication is Thursday, April 25, and I could see an interesting picture of someone hanging a sign, "Oval Office this way," or with half the display hung and the rest of it laying in order on the floor. It would be a great promotion to run previous to the opening. But nobody would return my calls or set up an appointment. After several days of cloudy weather, the sky was blue and I thought I'd go to the library and try to argue my case.

It was a beautiful day and I wanted to take advantage of the afternoon light, so I arrived after 3pm when the light was best. Parking near the loading dock, I started looking for the staff entrance and noticed the wildflowers blooming. The light was just right, so I started taking photos. Finding a walking path, I walked around looking for a good foreground with the Presidential Center in the background. 

Then the security officer arrived and I had to explained how I wanted to do a photo story on the library. I called the communications director and was told that I had to make an appointment to see her.  In order to arrange for another appointment to take photos?

So I'll just take exterior views, the security said it was okay if I stayed on the sidewalk. I started around looking for photos to upload to Demotix, Alamy and Tandem Stock.

It was around 5pm and with the Presidential Library facing north the only shot would be at dusk with the lights on, so I had a few hours to wander around trying to get stock photos. I saw several signs directing visitors to the visitor parking, but then found one which let me get the library in the background. I started taking pictures and the Southern Methodist University campus police drove up and said I was trespassing again and they had to issue be a warning that forbid me to step on the Bush property. 

Okay, I got some pictures and maybe the other building shots could be taken from across the street on SMU property. I took a break for water, then came back at 6pm to scout out the best location for the night shot and the police pulled me over. I thought I was on the campus sidewalk, but they said it was the Bush Library sidewalk! They had to give me another trespassing warning, this time I was forbidden to ever step foot on the SMU campus!

I uploaded the photos that night to the agencies, I still think I got some unique bluebonnet shots that show off the urban park better than they'll look at the dedication. 

My specialty has been to come back with a picture.

At the Philadelphia Inquirer I was sent to Dover AB in Delaware to get photos of the Marines killed in a failed attempt to rescue US hostages in Tehran. I get to the base and they tell me the press wasn't allowed on the base. I drove all this way and don't have a picture!

I  start circling the airbase and wonder if I shoot through the fence with a long lens I might be able to get something of them unloading the plane. I sit beside bushes and wait, and wait getting eaten by bugs, then I see a line of hearses driving out.  I watch them through the lenses and as they drive out a cargo plane starts to land. It tells the story and ran 8-col on the top of the front page!

The Inquirer was still competing with the Philadelphia Bulletin,  and sent me to Kansas City to cover the Republican convention. Shooting b&w and getting prints made in the AP darkroom meant waiting in line and squeezing transmission time in between network transmissions. A transmission might tame 20 minutes, which meant spending a couple of hours editing and waiting for it to get transmitted. 

Friday night was the last day and I wanted to get a different shot. There was a press seating area in the balcony to the rear of the podium, but it was for word people, no photographers allowed.

But it was a great angle to get the convention delegates in the background when President Gerald Ford and his running mate Sen Robert Dole greeted the crowd. Seemed to me to be a good conclusion to the convention and tell the story. I had time and put my camera in the camera bag and walked to the section showing my press pass. They let me in, I chose a good seat with a view and sat there.

They did the roll count, I just sat there waiting. Then they brought the candidates on stage with their families. An exclusive shot, I raised my camera and started shooting. The security didn't notice they were watching the action on stage. I got the photo I had envisioned. 

Rushing to the AP darkroom we transmitted it to the paper. But it never ran. The editors thought it was old news. It had been on TV and they had reported Doles nomination in Friday's paper. No reason to take up space with a photo. Darn

Then there was another time when I had rushed to get the Philadelphia Police arresting illegal occupants living in a commune and calling themselves MOVE. It had been going on for years and I'd taken photos of MOVE members yelling at police who were stationed across the street. 

Photo Director Gary Haynes thought the arrest would be quick and I happened to live the closest to MOVE. I got called at midnight and rushed over, thinking I'd be using my strobe to get a picture of them being led into a paddy wagon.

I waited in front with some other photographers, lots of police were around. We waited and waited, nothing except more police and a big semi truck arrived with a bulldozer? 

The sun rose and they started setting up barricades at the end of the block, two other Inquirer photographers with long lenses arrived. My longest lens was a 90mm!

They told us to clear the street and Bill Steinmetz with his telephoto positioned himself in front, Behind the barricades 50 yards away was no good, but across the alley was a three story apartment building, I rushed inside and went to the managers apartment. He had a view of the back of the MOVE building. 

Both of us wanted to watch and I talked him into removing the screen from the window, a policeman arrived and stood beside me watching. We heard the police demand they come out and then gunfire. I didn't want to hang out and risk getting shot. They sprayed water into the house to get them to come out. 

Then Delbert Africa came to the basement window. Hands up, a policeman behind a protective shield pointed a pistol at him and told him to get out. He walked out with hands held high, two policemen walked up and started beating him, pulled him by the hair to beneath the building kicking him along the way. I kept shooting with my Leica and 90mm lens.

The TV reported how successful the police had been and how they had finally brought order to the neighborhood, then the next morning the Philadelphia Inquirer shocked the city showing the beating.

I got the picture because I wasn't allowed to stand in front of the building.# # #

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Watching the show set-up, gets me to reflect on safety. . .

It was interesting, covering business in Texas has taken me to drilling pads where you need to wear a hard hat, steel toed boots, protective glasses and watch training video before getting to go to the drilling rig.

Setting up a multi-projector (8) to cover a wide curving screen involved taking safety into consideration. Setting up a hotel the main concern was fire and accidents from tripping over cables.

I was impressed with how the crew anticipated the risks and double checked to make sure everything met the fire code or even surpassed it. They explained how required steel clamps holding lights and projector to the rigging wasn't as safe as nylon! That under high heat the steel gets brittle, but new "nylon" asbestos core cables take the heat better.

They didn't have to be told, but straightened huge cables and put them under narrow risers to prevent the crew from tripping. There was a lot of attention to detail and I reflected on the energy industry, couldn't they avoid problems if they made the effort to think ahead.

I'm thinking of the accidents, where they had to dispose of salt water. Existing laws simply stated that it had to be taken to local water treatment plants which were not prepared for it. The law was simply for getting rid of flood water not dispose of frack water. Workers simply followed the rules and dumped in the local creek.

Why didn't companies spot the risk and avoid polluting the streams? Because it wasn't a law.

Seeing the crew make the effort to avoid accidents setting up for the presentation impressed me and made me think that the energy industry needs to make it the rule to avoid problems. Not just follow the state law, but know from experience the risk they are taking.

Putting on a multi-media show means making sure the show would go on, despite equipment failure, Multiple projectors added richer color, but also eliminated the risk of having the projector lamp fail.

Huge screens in front showed the speakers on stage what to say and what was happening behind them on the huge curved screen.

The projectors had to be in exact alignment with the screen all images line up and everything was in focus. Couldn't have happened in the old days, thanks to the computer they were able to blend everything together and are sharp from corner to corner.

As they finished I got to walk up close, standing behind the stage I was surround by images.

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photos by Jim Domke
for Lakeshore  Audiovisual/Chicago