Got this e-mail today:
Here is a funny one you may or may not have heard:
“AS” from Unit Pride…during that last “tour” when everyone in the band wasn’t straight edge anymore, but coincidentally decided that they weren’t going to drink or smoke anymore right before tour, but not claim straightedge…that time:
First day in NY, we were hanging out with the guys from Up Front at Jeff’s house. We go out to the pool and “AS” takes off his shirt. Tanned into his back was a HUGE X. Thats right…tanned into his back, actually, the X was super white and the rest of his back was tan.
We start laughing and ask him about the big X and questioned him about claiming to not be straight edge. He tried to tell us that he “accidentally” layed on a piece of tape while laying out one day and when he turned over to tan his back, he didn’t notice the perfectly straight piece of tape, with clean cuts at both ends, running diagonally across his back (only in one direction). When he was done laying out, he finally noticed the piece of tape on his back. He then peeled the tape off, noticed he had a ridiculous white diagonal stripe across his back, and decided that he would put on another perfectly straight piece of tape on his back the next day, going the opposite direction, to balance out the white stripe.
So I’m guessing he thought that we would actually believe that after he layed out the next day, the tape he put on would magically erase the tan that he already had on his back and the white stripe he already had would also not get any color.
I wish I had a picture of it, it was a perfectly shaped X across his entire back that was super white against his dark tan. He also told everyone he was Buddhist and a vegetarian on that tour, and when he was caught eating a hamburger from McDonalds, he said that as long as it didn’t satisfy him and he prayed for forgiveness afterwards, it was ok to eat meat.
Two recent encounters have left me pining for the old days when I would spend long hours making prints in the darkroom, watching the images appear under amber light in the developer tray.
During the holidays I watched my uncle, an expert woodturner, as he shaped a spinning block of wood on a lathe into a beautiful child’s top.
And yesterday I photographed Sugar House potter Kevin Winn as he threw a slab of clay on the wheel. Shaped by his wet fingers, that slab of clay turned into a vase.
In both situations I realized just how much I miss working with my hands to create an actual piece of art that I can hold in my hands and admire. There is a soothing feeling when you’re working as a craftsman. It’s a sensation that I’ve realized I’m missing in the world of digital photography.
On the other hand, the computer gives me power over my images that I never had before. I am in complete control over the contrast and tonal range of my images in even the trickiest lighting situations, as this photo of a tree in a snow-covered golf course demonstrates. I’m getting the black and white images that I always wished I could get, without having to be Ansel Adams. And with my digital archive, I can find photos that I took twenty years ago with the push of a button.But I still question whether the benefits of digital make up for the loss of the craftsmanship of the physical creation. Last night I dreamt I was shooting with my Leica, exposing a roll of film. Just like the good old days. Tri-X, ASA 400.
Two questions I get asked all the time:
1. How do you get your assignments?
All of our assignment workflow is done online. The website, user name and password to get on that system is… (right.)
Every morning I’ll check a website that tells me what my assignments are for the day. The assignments generally come from our reporters, and the photo editors will assign a photographer to every assignment that merits our attention.
The online system is a big improvement from the days when the assignments were typed up on triplicate sheets (white, pink, and yellow copies) and stuck on clips with the photographers’ names. Back in those days we also had a rubber stamp of a cow that would be stamped on “sacred cow” assignments. Sacred cows were anything that the editor back then had a thing for, like stories involving trains, historic military re-enactments, etc.
2. Do you only shoot one thing, like sports?
Basically, no. There are 11 photographers at the Tribune and we all shoot whatever the photo editors put our names on. It’s different every day.
A good newspaper photographer has to be a generalist. You have to be able to get usable photographs from any type of assignment under any set of conditions. If you are interested in becoming a newspaper photographer, start carrying a camera everywhere and photographing all sorts of situations. That is the most valuable thing you can do to improve your skills.
Our photo editors are responsible for assigning photographers to the steady stream of incoming assignments. While I’m sure a number of factors go into who shoots what, the biggest consideration is schedule. For example, the people who work late shifts are going to cover most of the night sports and concerts simply because that’s when they work. The people who work the early shifts will be doing more of the education and business stories.
Beyond the time consideration, other factors occasionally come into play. A photographer might know a lot about a certain subject, or have a cultural background that adds to their expertise on a given story. That said, I can’t think of more than a handful of assignments that we couldn’t all do reasonably well.
Ten years ago, being a computer geek was a big advantage. Now, we are all equipped with digital equipment that allows us to send in our photographs from just about anywhere in the world.
It’s contest entry time. Most of the major contest deadlines hit us in January and February. So at the start of every year, news photographers around the world force themselves to sit at the computer going through their work from the past year. It can be a hellish exercise and in the end, contests are no way to measure how successful your year was.
Every time I took a great photo last year, all the other photographers I’m competing with did as well. So for a photograph to win in a contest, it really has to stand out from the competition. And because of that, contest winning photos are often the oddball shots, the fluke moments, and sometimes the result of luck rather than hard work. Contest wins are no good measure of a photographer’s success. Don’t get me wrong, winning is great and losing sucks. But in the end I’d rather be remembered for being consistently above-average than for being once-in-a-while excellent.
The photo above is a shot I took last January at the 2006 Freestyle FIS World Cup at Deer Valley. It’s a shot I’m entering in the World Press Photo Contest. It’s a different kind of photograph and it will stand out. But mark my words, it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance of winning.