Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hipper than I used to be

A while ago, after I upgraded to the Iphone4, I actually paid for an app. I don't generally do that, but this one seemed worth it.
I bought the Hipstamatic photography app for something like $2. Then I bought a few add-ons for it for probably a total of $6. It's most likely the best $6 I've spent in years.
The point of the Hipstamatic app is to turn your phone into a famous $25 plastic piece-of-crap camera called a Holga. The Holga is the camera that proves it isn't the camera, but the photographer who makes interesting images.
I actually printed a photo I took with the Hipstamatic app and hung it on my wall. I almost never do this with my work. I currently have 4 prints hanging on my wall that are of my photos, including the Hipstamatic one. It's this one of a morning glory in my yard.

I am not really a morning person, so I rarely get to see these flowers. I think they are pretty and really liked the way that lines and wood grain made this photo work so well. The flower itself is over-saturated and that is just fine. This photo is a sort of golden mean in a square composition with sweet color. I love it, and when you love art you should have it.
Then there is this photo of some pumpkins:

What can I say? It's freaking pumpkins, but it's clean and simple and somehow elegant. Sure, it's no Weston, but it looks like film and feels like film and is beautiful. This photo could hang on any gallery wall -- and it came from a dam phone.

Mostly I use the app when I'm bored and want to play, which is what my photography should always be about anyway. It's just with job pressures to get something "runable," whatever the hell that means, I get lost in the stress sometimes. Fortunately I get to go to boring assignments from time to time, like school bond issue election parties, where nothing "runable" happens for a long time and I get to make real photos like this:

Trust me, this was one of my best photos from the event and some papers I've worked at would have run it lede, not the Daily Ambush.

The app works well for portrait photos too:

This is Sarah Jane Nightingale, a plucky Brit with the coolest name in history. She's pretty and smart and will hate me for posting this photo, but you have to admit it's awesome. The bus in the back left and smaller face in on the right add so much, but it feels and looks like a classic black and white medium-format photo. I could have made this with some TRI-X 320 and my Mamiya C33, but I didn't.

Weather you're walking your unbearably cute dachshund; or dackel; or waiting for your portrait subjects to show up and noticing the fall foliage

with this app I have the freedom to see and not give a crap about all of the garbage involved in making a "runable" image. 
Seeing is what it is all about and the process of eschewing constraints makes my other work better. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Sometimes the heros do come home.

Today is Veterans Day and here at the Daily Ambush, like nearly every other paper I've worked at, we were tragically messed it up. Although what we did was better than the first plan.
We ran a story about several WWII vets and plan A was to just run mugshots of them all. That is a bad idea.
So, I had the privilege of talking with B-17 pilot Rufus Grisham while I made a portrait of him. I never miss a chance to talk to WWII vets. I love these guys and the stories they have to tell. I think I might have about 15hours of recordings of their stories. When it was time for me to leave I thanked Mr. Grisham and told him I always enjoy talking to heros. He replied, "I'm no hero. The heros didn't come home."

That is the portrait I made of Mr. Grisham. He is reflected in his framed citation of the Distinguished Flying Cross he earned by flying his busted-ass aircraft safely home after dropping bombs in the Battle of the Bulge Dec. 27, 1944 . To me, and I'm betting the eight other guys on the mission, this makes him a hero.
According to the citation: Grisham's B-17 was hit by enough flak to knock out engine four, reduce engines one and two to 3/4 power and blow out the left landing gear. 
According to Grisham the most he could get out of the engines was about 1800 rpm when the normal speed is around 3700 rpm. This reduced the maximun airspeed to 150 mph. "The B-17's stall speed is 130 mph, so we didn't have much room for error," Grisham tells me. 
So, Grisham is flying a blown-open soda can that is a mere 20 mph from becoming a human-filled boulder --2500 feet in the air back to England from Germany. Folks, I can pedal a bike to speeds over 25 mph easily. 
"I forget my wife's birthday sometimes, but I'll never forget Dec. 27, 1944," Grisham told me. 
Aside from the printer in the right corner, I really like this porttrait. Sure, it's a bit of a gimmick with the reflection and all, but I was able to get so much in the frame that explains who this man is that I don't need to say much about him. There is the model B-17, a photo of him flying a plane, and photo of him and his crew in England and a photo of the only guys left from that crew and oh yeah that impressive medal.
Mr. Grisham is one of those guys who you talk to and think after, "man, I haven't done crap in my life." All these WWII vets seem to be like that for me.

I appreciate everything these guys did and what military people are doing now. The military is a difficult, dangerous job requiring you to put up with a lot of bull.
From left Pvt. Eric Flores, Spc. Andrew Chavez and Sgt. Patrick Miller sit in the back of a Bradley fighting vehicle during a live-fire training exercise at training table 12 on Fort Hood.

Sitting in a Bradley fighting vehicle for hours in central Texas in July is bull. All Chavez wanted to do was get done with training and get home to his girlfriend so he could propose marriage to her on the 4th of July.  All Flores wanted was to find his gloves so Miller would stop yelling at him about not having them. All I wanted was a little more light, some fresh air and the 10 pounds I sweated off back.

First Cavalry Division helicopter pilot CW2 Derek Hudson hugs his 8-month-old daughter, Allora, for the first time while his wife, Tish, holds his glasses and his 2 year-old daughter, Larissa, plays with a toy airplane behind them on the grass at Cooper Field at 1st Cavalry Headquarters on Fort Hood.

Meeting your daughter for the first time in person when she is eight months old is bull. It's pretty obvious that CW2 Hudson doesn't care about anything else in the world at all at this precise moment. I waited a long time before I went to talk to him and his family. 

This is Jesse Peralez, he joined the Marine Corps right from high school. I was hoping to follow him through training and document his life, but I messed it up and our contact wasn't really as good as it should have been. Here he is getting a taste of what Boot Camp will be like. Having some guy scream in your ear about discipline through pain is bull.

Sgt. Lonnie Tettaton holds Cpt. Rowdy J. Inman's ceremonial flag until it is presented to his family while Dr. Sam Canine leaves the chapel at the end of a memorial service at Harper-Talasek Funeral Home in Killeen. Inman died Dec. 26, 2007 in Iraq while serving with the Third Armored Calvary Division.
And what Veterans Day blog post would be complete without talking about those who sacrificed everything? Getting killed when you are on a Military Transition Team is extreme bull. No person deserves to be killed by the people he is trying to help. Nothing speaks to how much respect I have for veterans more than how Cpt. Inman's life ended. He died in a firefight, fighting along side Iraqi soldiers. An internal investigation found one of the Iraqi soldiers in the unit Inman was training and fighting with had ties to local militia groups. I didn't know Inman, never met him. I do wish he could have died an old man, after telling some newspaper photographer 50 years his junior about how he earned the bronze star.

I wish all service personal could die of old age, but when we remove the human cost from war we also remove the consequences and turn it into nothing more than a video game. If that happens our leaders will be able to commit even more atrocities and it is for that reason that a military death is never in vain.

Monday, November 8, 2010

They are called broadcast rights, not sideline rights

     Sometimes I am tasked with covering high-profile events like NCAA sports events. Sometimes the teams I cover find themselves in the national spotlight. Regardless of that spotlight there are always people who don't belong at the event pretending they are a big-time sports photographer.
     Let's imagine you are an insurance adjuster. You go off to work and look at shit to determine how little money your company will give the poor sap who's been paying you for the last 30 years for exactly this moment. Let's also say jewing people out of what they rightly deserve is also a hobby of mine. I think that I'm just as good, if not better, at insurance adjusting than you are and I've been to a few seminars, so I obviously have enough training to be dangerous. Now let's say you head off to work to do some insurance adjusting and there are 65 other idiots just like me there to look at some guy's crashed car with you.
     There is no doubt someone is going to get in your way. It's all good though, you are a professional and you know how to carry yourself and move around so you don't have to be a prick to too many people and can still do your job well.
     Now, let's say it's Jay Leno's wrecked Bugatti Veyron and there are twice as many people as usual and a team of high-profile national idiots. This was Saturday's NCAA football game for me.
    I will start by saying I don't have anything against ABC tv, I have EVERYTHING against them. I was pissed with how they treated Adam Lambert and I don't really like their parent company, Disney, very much. In fact ABC is locked out of my cable box.
     Now to Saturday's NCAA football contest against the Yosemite Sam Ripoffs and the Yellow Bellied Pussy Cats.
     The Ripoffs' home sidelines are crowded with what I call NEPs (Non-Essential Personnel). There are people standing around with their hands in their pockets on the sidelines just watching football. Generally these people get out of your way because they realize you have a job to do. I also kneel most of the time, so I don't really block many people's views. Then there are myriad people who have other careers which pay them well enough to buy VERY expensive camera equipment so they can shoot NCAA sports on weekends and give the photos to two-bit wire services and drive down the price of high-value photography. After that there are straight-up hobbiests who just give the photos back to the team for the right to clog up space on the sidelines. Neither of the people in these groups knows there is a sideline on the other side of the field. Next time you watch a football game on tv and you see a whole wide shot on the field, look at the home sidelines from the first-down marker to the endzone. You will see a large crowd, 5-10% of those dipshits you see in the crowd are actually doing something productive.
    Because the contest between the Ripoffs and the Pussy Cats was so high profile, ABC tv bought the broadcast rights to the game. ABC came in early and put fixed pan cameras all over the place and also had a crew of mobile, shoulder mounted cameras roving quadrants on the sidelines. These shoulder-mounted cameras are tethered to a live-broadcast semi truck with a ton of broadcast equipment and an asshole director watching a wall of televisions showing what every camera sees and yelling like an idiot at everyone. The director is usually a badass, and a total prick during the broadcast. I started in tv when I was 11, so I know what I'm talking about here.
    One of the guys toting his shoulder-mounted camera happened to be so insecure in his manhood that he needed a Sheriff's deputy to escort him around the field. I'm sorry, but if you're so much of a pussy that you need a cop to help you do your job, maybe you're doing something wrong.
     I move a lot during games and listen to the game on the radio for another perspective, so I'm generally in a bit of an adrenaline-clouded tunnel. At some point during the second half I moved myself to the corner of the endzone because it looked like the Ripoffs were going to score. Well, Mr. Vagasaurus Rex shoulder-mount camera douche and Deputy Dan all of a sudden figure this out and rush to get into position. Turns out my position was one of the best. Funny how your insight gets so good when you cover a team playing and practicing for 2 years. So the Vagasaur decides he wants my spot and instructs Deputy Dan to move me.
     I don't know what fantasy land Dan lives in, but where I come from police have no authority to move me from a football sideline if I'm minding my own business. He taps me on the shoulder, I ignore him. One is frequently bumped on sidelines. Dan tries to talk to me, something about, "you need to move so this guy can get your spot." Without looking up from the field, I reply that I am less concerned about performing a penetrative sexual act than I am about who Vagasaurus Rex works for. If the Vagasaur would like my spot, he better get there first next time. The ball is snapped and heavy guys smash into each other in a padded testosterone-fueled quasi homo-erotic symphony of flying man meat.
     After the play is dead a very angry Deputy Dan rushes over to me to explain to me how things work in the poorly-educated La-La Village he comes from. I interject here that I have a minor in criminology and extensive training in police and media interactions and other than the fact that I'm not sadly overweight I am more qualified to be a police officer than Dan is.Dan tells me that since the Vagasaur's company paid millions of dollars for the right to be at this event I should place is Mickey-Mouse penis in my mouth at every request and if I'd rather not have the "privilege" of being on the sidelines he can make that happen.
     I explained to Deputy Dan that I was there doing a job, just like he was, and so were many of the people around me and what did he think about them being there. The only thing I did wrong was utter an expletive and last I checked using harsh language was not something which is frowned upon at a football game.
     So, to Deputy Dan I apologize: I'm sorry I put you in a situation where you felt you had to act, yet were powerless. I'm sorry you are poorly trained and highly paid from my pocket, you're welcome for the overtime pay. Face it, Sometimes people have more knowledge about what is allowed than you do and using intimidation tactics won't always work.
     To the Vagasaurus Rex and ABC tv: I still "Don't give a FUCK who you are."

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sometimes the best part of the game happens off the field

I was tasked with photographing a football contest between cross-town teams Monterey High School and Coronado High School. Both teams pretty much suck, so it was a pretty evenly matched game.
There were a few lead changes and the game was pretty close. I think it came down to a field goal or something like that. It was a while ago and I don't really remember scores and stuff.
At one point I thought Coronado was going to win, so I switched to a wide lens and hung out on their sideline. Then it became pretty obvious that Monterey was going to take it. I decided to play the angel of life rather than the angel of death this time and headed to Monterey's sideline.
After I got there I started looking for the most emotional kids. It's always fun to beat the guys from across town but Cade Seymore had a pretty good game and was stoked out of his gourd about the prospect of winning. Right as the clock hit zero, actually a little bit before, Seymore turned around and yelled to his home fans and gave me this jubilation gem photo.

It was a good moment for me, as it was for Seymore, because he is very emotional and isn't yet aware of the camera. It's really great to capture a wonderful moment and not have the subject being "camera aware." In the frames after this he is definitely aware of me and the fact that I am taking photos.

If there is any confusion about what I mean by camera aware I'll let Abernathy High School's RJ Gonzales provide an example.

Notice the difference? Gonzales is starting straight into the camera and pointing at his beloved high school logo, which looks to be ripped off from some college in Arizona but what do I know. Now look back at Seymore above. He probably knows I'm there, but it hasn't registered yet. He's not performing for me or my camera, he is just stoked as hell.

Don't get me wrong, sometimes camera-aware subjects can make very powerful images. It's just not something I like to do very often.