Month: November 2006

Phony Campaigning

I had an interesting experience about a month ago, before the election. My assignment was to photograph a candidate for one of Utah’s congressional seats campaigning door to door. He was supposed to be out in a suburban neighborhood knocking on doors to explain his views and ask people for their support on election day.

There was a little mix-up on the time and location, mainly the location, so by the time I found the candidate he was inside the last house of a cul-de-sac after having visited the other homes.

Before I could go in, one of his staffers met me on the sidewalk and had me wait for the candidate to come out. And then a photographer for the other newspaper in town came out. That’s why they were holding me back, they wanted her to get her photographs. No problem. I started talking to her and found out she had just photographed the candidate visiting each home in this cul-de-sac. She went on her way.

Now the campaign staffer started explaining to me what was going to happen. He said the candidate would like to re-visit the homes in the cul-de-sac so I could photograph him interacting with these people.

Can you hear the red flags snapping up to attention? We were here to photograph some real campaigning, and this staffer wants me to photograph some fake situations, set up and staged for the camera, with families they have handpicked for the situation. I stopped him and said that we were expecting to photograph the candidate actually campaigning, and that I couldn’t photograph a staged situation like this. It had to be real.

To my surprise, he didn’t get it. In my mind, his suggestion of having the candidate fake his way through a series of visits with selected families was a clear violation of standard journalistic ethics. There was just no way I could photograph this.

It took a good five minutes for me to explain to the staffer that his proposal wouldn’t work for me. I don’t know if he ever fully grasped what I was saying, or why I couldn’t shoot his plan, but the candidate had no problem knocking on some unfamiliar doors and meeting some voters. He was actually very friendly and accommodating, and to be clear, he never suggested anything untoward. That’s what we did and those are the photos you saw in our paper. A true situation.

This post also appeard on my work blog, on the Tribune’s website.

Ted Wassmer

I read in the paper this morning that Utah artist Ted Wassmer died Sunday at the age of 96. Brings back a lot of memories and warm feelings for Ted. When I first started at the Tribune back in 1995, one of my first assignments was to photograph this amazing artist. I walked into a downtown art gallery (don’t look for it, it’s not there anymore) and met an 86-year-old man wearing an obvious silver toupee, a white suit coat and shorts. Ted.

He was great to photograph, hamming it up and especially proud of his legs and how good they looked. Even at his age, he had the energy and enthusiasm of a 20-year-old.

After the photos ran, Ted started calling. He wanted to get some prints of the photos. I offered to put them in the mail, but he insisted that I come over to his condo. He said he had something important to do. How could you turn down Ted? Of course I went over.

I took four prints, my favorites from the take. Ted ushered me in. When he noticed I didn’t have a camera, he thrust an old rangefinder into my hands, walked ten feet across the room, and stripped down to a Speedo and started flexing. I was stunned.

“I need you to take a photograph of me so I can show it to all my old buddies at our reunion,” he said. It was some kind of military reunion, Army or Navy, I can’t remember. “Those guys won’t believe how good I look!”

I remember wanting to kick myself for leaving my camera in the car. To this day, I wish I had that photo of Ted in his Speedo demonstrating how good he looked.

Ever the saint, Wassmer insisted that I take two of his paintings with me. He gave me a watercolor portrait and a painting of aspen trees that he had accidentally sliced. Both paintings have hung proudly in my home ever since.

Thank you, Ted. You will be missed.

This post also appeard on my work blog, on the Tribune’s website.

1989: Cro-Mags

1989: Cro-Mags, Speedway Cafe, Salt Lake City, Utah. Photos by Trent Nelson

Before the Cro-Mags took the stage (and this was the Best Wishes-era Cro-Mags with Harley singing, not John Joseph), I heard that the band was being total dicks about cameras. I found the road manager and showed him my press pass from the Provo Daily Herald, where I worked. He said I would be okay.

It was probably during the first song that Harley saw me in the crowd with a camera (I wasn’t using flash, so he must have been watching for photographers). He stopped playing and started gesturing wildly to the manager at the back of the club and then at me. I turned around to see the manager wildly flailing through the crowd toward me. He grabs me by the shirt, sees that it’s me and signals to Harley that I’m okay.

Going without flash I got some great shots of Harley. Unfortunately the Cro-Mags peaked with their debut in 1986, and the band members’ actions hastened the demise of their legendary hardcore band.

As always, clicking on the images will take you to the original in the PhotoShelter photo archive, where prints are available.