Sunday, September 11, 2011

Where were you?

Flight 175 approaches the south tower on 9/11. AP Photo
Every generation has a "Where Were You" event, the sort of event where everyone asks, "Where were you when X happened?" It will be hard for most of us to forget where we were or what we were doing on Sept. 11, 2001, no matter how inconsequential it may be.

I was working as the only photographer at the Fergus Falls Daily Journal, a small, 6-day a week paper in northwestern Minnesota. My work day started at 6:45 a.m. (as usual, and yes, it hurt!) processing film from the previous day's assignments. As the editor/page designer and other reporters started to filter into the newsroom, I was sitting at my computer scanning negatives for that day's paper. I was the only person in the newsroom without a direct view of the lone television in the room.

By chance, I turned around to ask the editor a question right when CNN broke through their regular coverage with the image of the World Trade Center's north tower burning. "A plane hit the World Trade Center," I said as I watched the coverage.

After rapidly scanning the rest of my photos I continued to watch the coverage as United Airlines Flight 175 struck the south tower and as American Airlines Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. Before United Airlines Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania I was on the phone with the Associated Press bureau chief in Minneapolis asking to get pictures from the wire (we didn't subscribe to the AP Photostream at the Journal. Too expensive.), which all newspapers in Minnesota were given, whether they were subscribers or not. The Journal, being one of the few afternoon papers left in the state, had the story and photos on A1 about the terrorist attacks in the Sept. 11 paper.

The driver of a delivery truck that nearly hit a school makes a call. Sept. 11, 2001.
After the paper was out, I drove through the city, seeking people watching the coverage of the attacks and reacting. While I found those photos, I also found a photo of a school food service delivery driver who forgot to set his parking brake, causing his truck to roll down a hill and nearly hit the school. It would have certainly been a front page photo had it not been for the terrorist attacks. Oh well!

I still have a CD in my personal archive of all the photographs I pulled from the wire or shot for about 4 days after 9/11. It was interesting pulling that CD out this week to take a look at them. That CD will always help me remember the day our society changed. I am privileged to work in an industry that chronicles history in real time, both the good and the bad.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The photographers of 9/11

The final image shot by Bill Biggart, SIPA Press phototographer killed on 9/11.
News organizations are going crazy this week preparing coverage as the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches. 9/11 was arguably the most covered major event in history: a horrible, long duration event in cities with the most journalists per capita in the country.

Thanks to those men and women who went into harms way to document an important moment in American history we have images and video to remember what happened that sunny day nearly 10 years ago. Some, like Bill Biggart, didn't come home.

Biggart was killed when the south tower fell on him as he was taking pictures. His equipment was recovered a few days later. The image above was the last one he shot, moments before the south tower collapsed.

Photographer Thomas E. Franklin produced the video below to not just commemorate the attacks and those that died in them, but the journalists that risked their lives to bring back iconic images of an event that shouldn't be forgotten.

It's a must watch for anyone who has an interest in becoming a photojournalist. It's a must watch for anyone who is curious about what photojournalists do. It's a must watch for people like me who sometimes question whether what we are doing is right. The photographers in the video, professionals and amateurs alike, all share a curiosity about what happens in the world around them and a desire to tell that story in pictures. It's worth the 12 minutes. It might be worth 24.

Friday, August 26, 2011

"New journalism" and potential backlash

Hurricane Irene approaches Tybee Island, Ga. AP Photo/Stephen Morton
There are a thousand names for what's happening in newsrooms across the country: new journalism, crowdsourcing, community-assisted journalism, iReporting. It's an attempt to get real people in our communities involved in the content they see in newspapers, TV news reports, online news sites and radio news broadcasts.

On its face it is a great idea. Ordinary people not only having a say in what's covered, but actually providing coverage. Cash-strapped and staff-starved newsrooms in every type of media imaginable use this type of reporting to bolster news coverage and give their consumers ownership of the news.

But there's a seemier side to the issue.

This method of news coverage not only helps put professional journalists trained in objectivity out of a job, but it can cast doubt over a submission's authenticity and whether the source of a piece of video/photo/story has a bias or other motive than objective coverage, which casts even more doubt over a news organization's credibility.

But let's even put THAT aside for a moment. Facebook and Twitter have been buzzing this week over a couple of requests from news organizations looking for help in covering major news stories. It's not uncommon. Both Facebook and Twitter are excellent resources for journalists to connect with sources, as revolutionary to news coverage as the cell phone, telephone and the various news wire services were before them.

The Associated Press has taken some heat on Facebook this week after putting out a plea for video coverage of Tuesday's earthquake in Virginia. Before the discussion was hijacked, posters questioned whether they would get paid and why AP wasn't doing their own reporting work. Yet, videos and photos galore have appeared across the Internet and on social networking sites.

Today, the Christian Science Monitor put out a tweet suggesting people tag storm photos so they can be retweeted by CSM. Now, this has been hashed out many times. How can a news organization, even back-handedly, ask citizens to venture out into a dangerous situation to take pictures or video for them? I'm sure any damage to life or property would be reimbursed by CSM, right? What about compensation for helping CSM make money as a news source?

Then there's the question of safety. The National Weather Service has called hurricane Irene the most dangerous storm to hit the east coast in decades. People should take cover, not video with their cell phones. How bad would a news director or editor feel if they found out someone died trying to get a picture of a hurricane for their organization's photo gallery?

There are professional photographers and videographers in the region that specialize in covering hurricanes and know how to stay safe in these situations. There's no way I'd blast off into a hurricane to shoot pictures without proper equipment and training in how to stay safe.

It's a sticky wicket to be sure. On one hand you have the need for news organizations to cover the news in any way possible, including asking for help from their consumers. On the other hand, why should consumers participate in news coverage by an organization when all that is needed is Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc.?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

New Week in Pictures up

Kaohsiung, Taiwan right fielder Chun-Yen Kuo. AP Photo/Matt Slocum
Sorry I was a little late updating our Week in Pictures slideshow. Trust me when I say the wait was worth it.

I stayed away from a lot of the usual suspects this time. No preseason NFL football. Only a couple of MLB photos. I did include a lot of sports images this time, I think. There just seemed to be a lot of good stuff being made out there this week, like the one here from the Little League World Series.

Be warned, however: The sixth image in this week's slideshow may be upsetting to sensitive viewers. My slideshow program won't allow an option to skip or I might have considered using it. The photo was so gripping I had to include it, though. It depicts from a distance a wing walker falling from his plane during an airshow after trying to go from an airplane to a helicopter's skids.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I heart the Brown County Fair

I have a love affair with the Brown County Fair. Shhh! Don't tell my wife!

I don't know what it is about it. I like many of the other county fairs around the area that I cover on an annual basis, but there's something about the Brown County fair that always lends itself to good pictures.

Perhaps it's the volume of classic, brick buildings on the fairgrounds. Maybe the atmosphere? I'm not sure. But each year I go to the Brown County Fair I come back with at least one picture I really like.

The photo above is one of the first photos I shot at the Brown County Fair in New Ulm after moving here back in 2002. Everything seemed to come into alignment when I went into the sheep barn: The light, the composition, the moment between a young 4-Her and her sheep. I still like this photo.

The photos below I've shot in New Ulm over the past few years. Each one of them has a special place in my heart, and I may never know why. The Brown County Fair just seems to be one of those places where I can wander in, stroll the grounds for an hour or two and find a plethora of great pictures.

Evening light strikes a cow as she's led back to her stall.

Andrew Scholtz shows his prospect steer during the 4-H Beef Show.

Mike Griebel helps his son Isaac get his cow ready outside the cattle barn.
Bethany Seifert sits with her cow.
A rabbit checks out the competition during judging.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

You never can tell

Frank Glick's photo at Fort Snelling National Cemetery.
I always keep a camera in my truck. You never know when a good photo will come your way.

The story about the photo at right, taken by amateur photographer Frank Glick during an early morning drive through Fort Snelling National Cemetery on his way to work, is a touching one. As reported in Star Tribune columnist Jon Tevlin's column in June, Glick tracked down the widow of the World War II veteran on whose tombstone the eagle rests.

The photo spoke to her, and since Tevlin's column, the photo has spoken to hundreds of others. Glick, according to a follow-up story Tevlin wrote recently, has sent reprints of the photo to airbases, veterans affairs offices, Arlington National Cemetery, and a base in Afghanistan. All from a photo Glick captured while traveling from one place to another.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, the inevitable accusations of digital alteration (know by the inaccurate and, in my opinion evil, term "Photoshopping") have come into play. The bird is too big, some say. Others point out the sidelighting creating an aura around the bird. Glick reassured Tevlin the photo was not a fake (which is something he shouldn't have to do!), but rather the end result of 60 frames of shooting and a little cropping.

For a photo like this, that's all that's necessary.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Really odd photos get all the attention

Art project in Beijing, China. AP photo
I had to look at the caption when I first saw this photo, featured in this week's The Week in Pictures. Ed Thoma, one of our page designers, often points out pictures that catch his eye for the slideshow. When he showed me this one I had no idea what I was seeing at first. Reading the caption only helped a little.

That's probably why I like it so much.

Ignore the fact that it looks like a giant box of Crayola crayons for starters (Have you seen the person yet?). Ignore that all you really see at first is the back of two young people's heads (no, not THOSE people). While you're at it, ignore the fact that you can't really see anything going on in the picture at all (yes, THAT person!).

Pay attention to the fact that you really have to see the picture before you figure out what (or who) you're looking at.

It's one of those pictures that grabs your attention because you have to spend some time seeing the picture. You have to study it a bit before you realize there's a third person being painted there. The photo is of Chinese artist Liu Bolin, center, being painted to blend into rows of drinks in his artwork entitled "Plasticizer," to express his speechlessness at use of plasticizer in food additives. A neat statement, and a striking photo.

The photo illustrates the difference between looking at a photograph, and seeing it. Looking at a photograph involves a simple physical act. There can still be appreciation, but in my opinion a viewer doesn't really get to enjoy the entire picture. It's like reading the first and last chapters of a novel. You get the point, maybe even enjoy the "book," but the subtleties are missed. To see a photograph is to read into its meaning, to grasp some of the nuances that make a photograph unique and appreciate those subtle parts of the photograph.

The picture, and the above statements, fly in the face of everything I was taught in journalism school that makes a good picture. Newspaper photographs should be a "quick read," I was told. A reader shouldn't have to stare at a picture to figure it out.

Well, maybe not EVERY photo should be a quick read. After all, they put crossword puzzles in the paper too, don't they?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Who's in town?

Jim Kleinsasser. John Cross photo
Oh, yeah! That's right! It's Vikings Training Camp season! I was wondering why there were so many cars going the wrong way on one way streets in Mankato. Not to mention all the SUVs with tinted windows and chrome spinners.

Don't get me wrong. Those who know me know I'm a BIG football fan (though I tend to root for a different team). I even enjoy having training camp in town (but don't tell anyone. I don't think I'm supposed to like it!). It would have been odd if camp didn't happen in Mankato this year due to the lockout. Training camp is a good time to see some of my Twin Cities colleagues and shoot photos of something that gets national exposure. How can I NOT like it?

Of course, I can do without the circus atmosphere, the crazy drivers, the piles of extra work and the general nuttiness that goes with camp. It seems that once 90 famous (or semi-famous) people invade town everyone kind of loses their minds a bit.

Not me. A photographer once told me on one of my first assignments shooting famous people to "act like you've been there, cause you have. Just shoot. They're still people, right?" Words I continue to live by.

I haven't been up to MSU yet. I'm scheduled to shoot the Thursday practice, when all the free agents hit the practice fields. I'm kinda looking forward to it. In the meantime, John and I have created a running photo gallery we'll update each day we're at camp. I posted it below, though it's sized to fit our website's column space, so you'll have to hit the full screen square in the right corner. You can also see it here.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Farewell, Little Buddy

I lost one of my favorite photo models this week. Mokie was a kitten when my wife and I got him 15 years ago and he's been a good friend and constant companion ever since. Needless to say, it's been a long week or so. Any pet owner would agree.

Like most "children," he was often a ham when I pointed the camera at him. To get pictures of him that didn't involve him either showing off or turning his head I often had to sneak up on him when he was sleeping or shoot pictures from a distance with my 80-200mm so he didn't know.

One of the first pictures I shot of him (the one above) I had to plan in advance. I parked my camera next to me during an afternoon nap one weekend when I knew he would nap on the blanket with me. Of course, my planning wasn't perfect, as I had left my 100mm f/2 lens on and not my wide angle. As I pushed my head into the back of the sofa to try to get enough distance to get a photo of him, he woke up. It's still one of my favorite photos of my Little Buddy.

As is often the case with people, my wife and I used pictures to help us through the grief. We spent the weekend looking for as many pictures of Mokie as we could find and put together a little video memorial. It certainly isn't my best work, but it did help us remember all the good times we had with our feline buddy. He will always be missed, but he won't be far from our hearts, thanks to all the pictures I took of him during the good times.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Over and over again

The space shuttle Atlantis lifts off from the Kennedy Space
Center Friday July 8, 2011 (from The Week in Pictures). AP Photo

It's hard to cover the same event over and over again. Even if it's not the exact same event, it often may seem like it. Through the course of a year John Cross and I cover a lot of the same events in our area: fairs, parades and festivals, snow making at Mt. Kato, blizzards, hot days, kids swimming in the local pool. All are annual photos we shoot, and all are events where we have to work to find a fresh look to things, which we frequently do. Part of the challenge of shooting for a newspaper is to constantly come up with something new from an event we've seen many times before.

That repetition can work in our favor, though. Having seen something before can help us to plan a unique photo, or gain access we normally wouldn't have.

Scott Andrews probably knows this better than anyone. For nearly 40 years he's been shooting shuttle launches and landings, setting up remote cameras in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. MSNBC's Photoblog has an interesting story about Andrews and how he managed to gain access to shoot the time lapse video below of preparations for the shuttle Atlantis' final flight.

The end results are impressive, as is his determination and thoughtfulness in using the knowledge he's gained over the years of shooting launch after launch after launch.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Gone fishin'

I shot exactly four frames during my Fourth of July camping trip.

That's almost unheard of. Five days, and I shot only four frames.

I don't know why I only shot four frames. I didn't even get out my SLR gear during our camping trip up to Crosslake, Minn. over the Fourth of July weekend. Usually, spending time with my friends camping and fishing at the Cuyuna Boy Scout Camp inspires me to shoot some nice pictures. It's definitely a picturesque spot. For some reason, call it laziness or apathy or fatigue, I chose not to do any purposeful photography.

There was one exception: The photo above.

When we camp at Cuyuna, we frequently get up as early as possible to do some fishing. This is tough for me, as mornings and I don't get along very well. Actually, mornings and I don't get along at all. It's a shame, since early morning light is great photo-taking light.

I'm usually the one that has to be rousted from my bunk at 6 a.m. while everyone waits for me to get my stuff together so we can try to catch the evening's dinner. By some freak of nature, I was the first one up on Sunday morning. I don't know why. It just worked out that way. As I took my fishing pole and tackle box to the lake so I wasn't the one everyone had to wait for (for a change), I ran across another camper with the same idea we had. We chatted for a bit before he made his way to the end of the dock to try his luck from the shore.

While I waited for my buddies to walk down the hill, I couldn't resist pulling out a digital point-and-shoot I keep in my tackle box in case I catch that lunker Northern and shot two frames of the man fishing. They captured the peace of an early morning I rarely experience, but have come to enjoy on the days I manage to get out of bed early.

The other two frames I shot this weekend? One was of a friend's 4 1/2-pound Northern. The other was another friend's Northern that didn't even qualify as a hammer handle. Brave little fish!

Sorry for my extended absence. Sometimes it seems summer is even more busy for me than winter! Do check out the new Week in Pictures, though. This one is a bonus! It's actually the Month in Pictures. I didn't want you to miss some of the great pictures that have come through in the past month, so I included them in this week's slideshow. More than 50 pictures for you to enjoy this week!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A time to be artsy, and a time to be simple

I think many photographers who have never worked at a newspaper lean toward the excessively artistic when it comes to shooting and editing pictures. Newspaper photographers always have in the back of their heads to tell the story first, then add complexity or artistic flair to a picture. In our mind, artsy does no good if you don't tell the story.

In general I believe that's true, but from time to time the artsy genie won't stay in the bottle and insists on coming out. When that happens, I often have a dilemma. I know editors and page designers often look for the simple, basic photo. On the other hand, I now have this creative image I've probably fallen in love with for some reason or another. Maybe I found a unique angle. Perhaps I worked hard using a slow shutter speed to streak a background, or maybe invested some extra time to get just the right framing.

No matter what the reason may be I have to pick one of the two, or persuade an editor or page designer to pick the more unusual photo.

The two photos below of Mankato West runner Joey Booker, which are also in The Week in Pictures right now, illustrate what happens when the artsy genie's out of the bottle. Waiting for the race to start, I laid on my belly with my 300/2.8 to see if I can get a shot of Booker through the hurdles. I got lucky, and he took a moment to compose himself before the start of the 110-meter hurdles at the section track meet.

 Mankato West’s Joey Booker prepares for his 110-meter hurdles race during the Section 2AA track and field meet in St. Peter.

Of course, I saw a couple of problems with the photo right away. I couldn't see Booker's face, for starters, and he's pretty small in the frame. Of course, the unique angle, good moment and interesting framing had the genie screaming at me to put it in the paper.

During the race I shot the next photo. This is usually more of what the paper's looking for: Clear face, tight framing, little wasted space.

 Mankato West’s Joey Booker qualified for the state meet in the 110-meter hurdles with a qualifying time of 15.22 seconds.

While not a bad photo at all, I really hoped we would run the first picture. Under these circumstances I will often lobby our page designers to run one photo over another, but in this case I wasn't able to be in the office when they put the page together. I was surprised when I saw this:

Thanks to Shane Frederick, who was designing sports pages that night, for picking the more unusual photo to run. It's often hard to decide when to go out on a limb and listen to the artsy genie. Sometimes you just have to go for it!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

You know, that camera won't protect you much!

I ran across these videos recently displaying the dangers of being a photographer. Of course, there are many other professions that put a person in more harm's way, but there can be an element of danger to getting the shot you really want.

All I can say is, I'm glad I don't have to shoot rally racing on a regular basis!

Of course, in both of these cases, I think the photographer is being a bit cavalier about the dangers his chosen location poses. In this one, I don't know if the photographer is that good to know the wall would protect him, or that lucky that the wall DID protect him.

This one really looks like it hurt. The sound is a bit disturbing.

One of my favorite near miss stories is this one by racing photographer Mark Reblias about his experience losing thousands of dollars in camera gear after a remote camera got hit by a dragster's parachute during a NHRA race. The Nikon D700 and 400/2.8 lens he lost carry about a $12,000 price tag! At least he wasn't standing behind it!

A couple of weeks ago I nearly had a close encounter with an errant softball. A foul ball rocketed off the bat and hit the dugout next to my head before screaming past the front of my camera. Now, I've had plenty of close calls in a variety of sports, but this one rattled me a bit.

I've also seen many photographers who think the chunk of plastic, metal and glass they're holding will insulate them from any harm. Yes, I've had my share of moments after a puck whizzes by my face where I don't want to show anyone I was scared out of my mind.

But hiding behind the camera will NOT keep you safe!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The risk you take

Photo by John Cross.
As an artist, I can sympathize with Kate Christopher.

I didn't get to meet the Mahtomedi artist during the installation of "Look and You Will Find It," one of the sculptures I photographed on the CityArt Walking Sculpture tour in the last post (by the way, that's the photo in the slideshow I did NOT take with my iPhone, if you were wondering). Her sculpture instantly drew my attention the moment I saw it, both for its simplicity and its message.

“It’s a piece about attitude and how you look at things and how you approach the day,” Christopher said in a story today in The Free Press. “If people start their day looking down, that’s the life they see."

It is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, it also drew the attention of a vandal, who managed to break off and steal one of the figures.Another piece on the sculpture walk was vandalized recently too.

I have a hard time imagining why someone would vandalize art like this. It seems like outdoor artwork attracts vandals. You may recall the stone buffalo in Reconciliation Park in Mankato being vandalized a couple of years ago in a spray painting incident. The organizer of the art walk in Sioux Falls had similar stories of occasional vandalism.

Christopher summed it up well in a comment in The Free Press. “You have to rage against people who want to destroy public art," she said.

As it is, artists take a risk displaying their work to the public, regardless of the medium. There's an emotional risk that no one will like it. There's a monetary risk that no one will buy it. Now there's the physical risk that some one will vandalize it.

Christopher said she plans to come to town soon to fix the sculpture, which is insured.

Friday, June 3, 2011

CityArt art

My wife Lisa looking at "Fowl Ball" by Lee W. Badger.

A couple of weeks ago I was assigned to shoot the installation of the CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour in downtown Mankato and North Mankato. 25 sculptures were placed in the two cities for a year for walkers to enjoy.

My wife Lisa and I took advantage of one of the few spring days without rain to look at the sculptures. We both definitely had our favorites, and no, we didn't really agree. The good part of the sculptures selected for the walking tour is that they are so varied in style and substance that everyone should find a piece they like.

Our excursion took place on a Sunday morning after going to church downtown. While my cameras are in the truck nearly all the time, we took Lisa's car that morning and all I had with me was my relatively new iPhone. Now, much has been made of all the photography apps available on the iPhone and how handy the little gadget has become. Since the photography bug hit me that morning I thought I'd put it through its paces.

I had a good time taking various pictures of the sculptures, exploring their angles, details, and the way the changing light fell on each sculpture. The iPhone's camera performed pretty well, though it was certainly not my trusty SLRs. I chose not to use any of the App Store's many photography programs to process the images. They're pretty much straight out of the phone. Of course, being a gadget freak, if anyone has any recommendations on a favorite camera app for the iPhone, I'll listen!

I didn't shoot a picture of every sculpture. I did include one photo shot with my D300 from my installation assignment. Any idea which one it is?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

We're back!

"The Blink of an Eye" has returned! After a nearly year-long hiatus from blogging we're back with a new design and new features. Take a few minutes to look around and see what's new.

We've added informational links across the top and renamed our "Photos of the Week" feature "The Week in Pictures" to better reflect what it is: A look back on the images that caught our eye in the past week. Click on it each Tuesday after 5 p.m. to see a new slideshow of images from local, state and national photographers.

Most of the posts will be by me. John Cross will be making occasional posts as a contributor, but I'll be doing the heavy lifting. We hope to turn "The Blink of an Eye" into a place to share some of our personal work and continue to give insights into the stories behind the photos we shoot every day.

Check back with us a couple of times a week to see what's new!