Over the years of my career, I’ve photographed just about everything that could possibly happen. With such experience, your mind becomes a database of possibilities and your observation skills become quite sensitive. You learn what to do in a number of situations. And while experience continues to grow throughout your life, your physical ability will eventually begin to drop. I’m happy to announce that I find myself in that wonderful phase of my career where I have both a veteran’s experience and a rookie’s enthusiasm and energy.
Here’s a case where the experience paid off…
Photographing the 1A State Championship high school football game Saturday, Duchesne (pronounced doo-SHANE) is facing Kanab. There’s nothing quite like photographing a state championship game. The kids are so full of emotion. As a photographer you see the passion and excitement of the NBA Finals with none of the security or access issues. At a high school game you can shoot from just about anywhere, short of standing on the field of play.
The main shot you’re looking for at a state championship game is the celebration shot. That very moment when these kids realize their dream of being the best in the state and they explode into frenzied celebration. It’s often the most chaotic scene you can imagine as the fans storm the field and everyone starts jumping around in a mob. A lot of photographers call these shots “JUBO,” short for jubilation, but I refuse to use the word “JUBO.”
You get the best celebration shots with a win at the buzzer. All the tension has been built up for a couple hours and is released in one moment at the end of the game. I’m not going to get that today, with Duchesne leading 24-0 (en route to a 30-0 win). Duchesne is clobbering Kanab. When you have a blowout like this the players know they can’t lose and they often use up their excitement by the time the game’s over.
With this in mind (from experience), I stopped shooting action with about seven minutes left in the game. Eventually the coach would pull his varsity players, and as they came off the field they would celebrate. I wanted to be in position for this. I put down the telephoto lens and switched to wide angle.
With three minutes left, one of the coaches called for the JV players and huddled them together. “Hang onto the ball,” he yelled. “Just hang onto the damn ball!”
At 1:30 left, he put the JV in and the entire varsity team came off the field. Their celebration was fairly muted, but I was right in place when a few of them grabbed a couple of coolers and drenched their coach, Jerry Cowan. Dripping wet on a bitter cold day, all he could say in response was, “I love you guys!”
The unsaid part of this post is that experience often comes from making mistakes. How many coaches being dunked have I missed before getting this one? That’s a secret I’ll keep to myself.
Assignment: Boom Times in Utah My editor called me Tuesday and asked, “Are you sitting down?”
Not knowing where this was going, I lied and kept standing.
“Believe it or not, I want to assign you to do one of your montage-composite things,” he said. “And it’s looking like it will run on A-1.”
Now this was a surprise. I’ve been doing a lot of multi-image pieces since 2002. I’ve put together hundreds of composites, panoramas, and tiled pieces like the one above. But as far as seeing them published, the odds are mostly stacked against them.
The photojournalism world is fixed on powerful single images and old school Life Magazine-type photo essays. Do something other than that and a lot of photographers/editors get uncomfortable. They like things the way they used to be, in that powerful, traditional style that has been around for decades. I like that, too. But sometimes I need to mix it up.
Every time we run one of these types of photographic compositions, someone from the other paper in town always comments on it. Without fail, every time. They tell me how they would never be able to publish anything like it in their paper. Just too radical for them.
After we published a few of these back in 2003, I realized that I had gotten way ahead of the photojournalism community. Every major photojournalism contest had rules that prohibited the techniques I was using (and still do). There was no way I could win awards with these images, aside from the in stepchild Illustration category, a catch-all for digital imagery (mostly photoshopped, cartoony images). And photographers I showed them to either loved them or hated them. There was no middle ground. (To be fair, when I was a young purist, I would have hated them, too.)
All that said, I don’t think that readers get wigged out by things that are different. I think they’re right there with me, taking in the message that the images are communicating.
An image like this is a collection of details. None of the photos by itself is any good. It’s only together, through their collective message, that the content is relayed. The sheer amount of help wanted signs demonstrates the amount of jobs available (in this case mostly retail and fast food jobs). It’s not pure black and white old school photojournalism, but to me, for some stories, here and there, it works.
Yeah, we went a week without posts. Assignments last week just weren’t great for blogging. Among other things, I photographed a cinnamon roll in Logan and a high school assembly in Sandy. Trust me, you don’t want to read about it. Not to worry, I’ve got several posts on the assembly line now. This past Saturday I was sent out to photograph early voting, taking place on Diebold electronic voting machines at the Salt Lake County offices. The election workers there couldn’t have been more helpful, providing completely open access to the polling station. It’s essential to our democracy that the voting process is completely transparent. Saturday’s experience was a welcome contrast to a previous experience I had photographing an election.
Back in 2005, the small town of Cedar Hills, in Utah County, was voting on a ballot measure that would force local businesses to close on Sundays. Driving to the school where the polling station was, I passed several signs that referenced religious reasons why people should vote to close the stores. As I stopped to photograph signs, I got a call warning me that there might be some trouble getting access to the public polling station.
Entering the school with my cameras I was immediately confronted by a local election official, a city employee if I remember it right. She told me I was not allowed to photograph in the gymnasium where people were voting. I politely explained that I was here from the Tribune to photograph the election and that the polling station (and the school) were public areas. She said that wasn’t possible, and quoted me a state law pertaining to elections, saying it was illegal to “disrupt the voting process,” and so she would not allow me into the gym.
Of course, this argument was completely ludicrous. To say that photographing people voting disrupts the voting process is a stretch. This is America and our election process is, by law, open and transparent.
Instead of getting angry and yelling like I really wanted to, I calmly explained to her what I intended to do. I would respect people’s privacy by not photographing or looking at anyone’s ballots. I wouldn’t talk to any voters inside the gymnasium, allowing them to focus on the decisions they were making. And if someone didn’t want to be photographed, I would respect their wishes. I repeated that this was public property, and that polling stations are open to public scrutiny.
This is when the official backed down, realizing that I was right and that I wasn’t going to back down. We came to the agreement that I would not be a disruption to voters and I went about doing my job.
I photographed a mother, Stacey Chappell, who brought her three children with her to vote. She really summed up the community, as I saw it: middle class families with children. She was happy to talk to me once she was finished casting her ballot.
Later, her father got in touch to compliment me on the photograph. He was proud of the photo that showed his daughter doing her patriotic duty as an American citizen.