Tag Archives: Photojournalism

Witnesses to War

A mobile rebel unit with a truck-mounted gun moves through rebel-held streets. Syria.

With Hamas and Israel at it again, I’m reminded that there has been conflict in the Middle East all of my life. The killing and the dying never ends. A wry joke during my newspaper days was that we could save the headline “Mideast Violence Continues” and use it as needed, which was often.

But there is nothing humorous about the cycle of bloodshed-truce-and-more-bloodshed between Israel and its Arab neighbors, nor about the now 18-month-old conflict in Syria.

Given the region’s history of continuous conflict of one form or another, it might be easy for we comfortable Americans to ignore the human suffering that is inevitable in such a world of relentless repression and aggression.

Thankfully, there are journalists who go physically where so few of us even want to venture emotionally. Below are links to recent work from photojournalists in the region.

* The Guardian published a set of images by freelancer Narciso Contreras from Aleppo, the center of the Syrian conflict.

* The Atlantic includes of Contreras’ work and that of other photographers in this extensive collection (48) of photos from Syria, published a week go. The magazine reminds us: “Syria’s horrific civil war continues. In some places, it has worsened.”

* The Guardian (again) a month published a set of photographs from Spanish freelancer Maysun vividly showing the human casualties in Syria. Warning: These are graphic images.

* The Guardian (yet again) streams photos from the new Israel-Hamas fighting. The fear or the people on both sides of the border is evident.

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Periodismo Peligroso

Three Mexican photojournalists killed

Part of protest in Mexico City against the killing of three photojournalists.

Mexico is becoming an increasingly dangerous place to be a journalist. Three photojournalists were found dead and dismembered Tuesday in the Gulf state of Veracruz, bringing to 44 the number of journalists killed in Mexico in the last six years, according to Article 19, a press freedom group.

While that number pales next to the more than 50,000 Mexicans killed in the same period during the government’s war against the narco cartels (and cross-cartel fighting), it elevates Mexico to No. 8 on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ 2012 Impunity Index, “which spotlights countries where journalists are slain and their killers go free.” Sadly, the year is still young.

Here’s what CPJ says about Veracruz:

… a battleground for the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels, is one of Mexico’s most dangerous states for the press, according to CPJ research. Four journalists were murdered there in 2011, and on Saturday, the body of journalist Regina Martínez Pérez was found strangled in her home in Xalapa.”

I have a long history with Mexico, including being the owner of a house I built there, but with many Mexicans clamoring for an end to the violence, the repressive PRI party on the verge of regaining the control of the presidency that it held for more than 70 years; the cartels becoming increasingly entrenched in local and national politics, and a the country’s always ethically tenuous journalistic institutions fighting — quite literally — for their lives, I fear the worst for the country in the near term.

You think I’m being overly dramatic? Read this story about the threats against Jorge Medellín, a reporter for the national newspaper Milenio. An excerpt:

Mexican journalists take the smallest hint of a threat seriously because they know that killing a reporter is so easy to get away with. The word for this is impunity–killing with no consequences. None for the killer, at least. But the consequences for the Mexican people are that journalists are afraid to report the news.

Learn more: New York Times story on the latest killings; Committee to Protect Journalists; Article 19; Coverage in El Universal, a centrist paper from Mexico City

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Grab Shots: Eyes on the Prize

I saw ad this morning on the op-ed page of the New York Times touting the winners of the Hillman Foundation’s annual journalism awards for social justice journalism, so I jumped to the site to see the photojournalism winners. Sadly — and oddly — the page names the winners but doesn’t link to the work itself. Allow me:

* Childhood Poverty in Colorado — The Denver Post’s owner may be recovering from bankruptcy, but the photography (and reporting) staff is hard at work. Wonderfully intimate and ultimately saddening images from variety of families. The splash page is above.

* Ian Fisher: American Soldier – Photographer Craig Walker of the The Denver Post (again) follows the enlistment, war and homecoming of one soldier. Walker’s work also the Pulitzer this year for feature photography.

* The other photojournalism Pulitzer winner this year was Mary Chind, who shot the dramatic photo below of a construction hanging for a crain in order to rescue a drowning woman. Here’s the story behind the shot.

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Grab Shots: Get Some Perspective

Planet War

Here in the United States, with politicians and pundits of all stripes yammering ad nauseum about each other’s shortcomings, and with our insatiable obsessions with media and celebrity, it’s easy to lose perspective about what’s important in the world. Despite the tolls taken by the recession, we Americans still live in a comfortable bubble marked by the personal freedoms of expression, consumption and, most fundamentally, democratic standards — liberties denied to millions of other people on the planet by oppressive governments, megalomaniac dictators and hard-fisted clerics.

Photojournalism provides us with a window into that crueler world. Here’s a sampling:

* Planet War:  Foreign Policy editors put together a powerful photo essay on the 33 conflicts “raging around the world today,” reminding us that “it’s often innocent civilians who suffer the most.” Above, an Iranian dissident in December 2009.

* 2nd Tour Hope I Don’t Die: A narrated presentation of still and video images made by Magnum photographer Peter van Agtmael reflecting on his coverage of Iraq  from January 2006 to December 2008. He describes it this way: “I tried to make pictures that reflected my complex and often contradictory experiences, where the line was continuously blurred between perpetrator and victim, between hero and villain.  In time, the labels that had heretofore defined my perceptions of the world became meaningless.”

* Hell on a Small Island: Dirck Halstead writes about two photographers, Damon Winter of the New York Times and Shaul Schwarz of Reportage/Getty Images, who covered the horrific human disaster that followed the January 12 earthquake in Haiti. For them, says Halstead, “the camera becomes a shield, a protective layer between terrible death and the photographer.” Here is Winter’s gallery, and her is Schwarz’s gallery.

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Grab Shots: Afghanistan Photojournalism

Afghanistan soldier

The battlefields change, the combatants differ, the technology improves, but some things about war remain constant: Soldiers are young, innocents die and photojournalists capture the carnage. Great human photography often emerges from terrible circumstances. Here are some examples from Afghanistan:

* The Long Haul: The Digital Journalist has a piece by photojournalist Lucian Reed about his life and work in Aftghanistan. It begins: “I’ve been to Afghanistan eight times in the last 18 months. My apartment is slowly taking on the look of a caravanserai. I have more friends in Kabul than Manhattan. My mind is full of snippets of Dari, counterinsurgency strategy and half-remembered warlords, major and minor. My son – not yet quite born – will have a Pashto middle name. I make no claims to being an expert on the place but, God knows, I seem to love it.”

* Field Test, Under Fire: Freelance photojournalist Danfung Dennis writes a technical piece on on DSLR News Shooter about using the still and video capabilities of the Canon 5DmkII in Afghanistan. He starts: “The 5D Mark II is capable of unprecedented image quality, but since it is a stills camera, there are several limitations that I had to address before using this camera in a warzone.”

* Getting Exisential in Afghanistan: Photojournalist Chris Hondros trails a platoon of GI’s on a hunt for Taliban caves. Stuck halfway up a hillside he ponders: “Why am I here? How did this happen? Why exactly am I hanging on the side of a mountain in Afghanistan this morning?  I’m not in Army, I didn’t sign up for this. I should be back home, watching TV or canoodling in bed or having a strong espresso in Brooklyn. Or just about anywhere else.” (In dscriber.)

* Gallery of War: Visit Battlespace, a powerful online gallery of images from Iraq and Afghanistan.

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Grab Shots: Pixels about PJ

*How Not to Get Shot in a War Zone: Advice from conflict photographer Teru Kuwayama. First on the list: Wear your seat belt because “it’s the traffic that’s most likely to kill you.” (Via Photo Editor.)

* Does the World Even Need Photojournalists? That’s a question being asked on Lightstalkers by Aaron J. Heiner. He comments: “Truth be known it’s hard to see why the media would want to pay us to do a task that people are willing to do for free. yes, we have training, and experience, but it seems that the big boys (the networks, CNN, FOX and so forth) would gladly give that up for free man-on0the-street coverage.”

* Dispatches: Report from Afghanistan on The Digital Journalist by photographer David Bathgate. A quote: “Attacks with rocket-propelled grenades and small arms were nearly a daily occurrence during my stay at Firebase Lindstrom.”

* Burn, Baby, Burn: Emerging photographers show their work at Burn Magazine.

*Magnum Blog No More: Photojournalism agency Magnum has put its blog on hiatus, promising new things on its website. You can follow Magnum on Twitter or Facebook.

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Why Journalists Still Matter: Obligation

Mumbai terroristLast year was a tough year for journalism (and many other professions). Newspapers, a dying industry, but still the primary source of original journalism in the world, cut more than 15,000 jobs. Some big ones decided to stop delivering the daily paper. Some smaller ones gave up paper altogether in favor of the Web. And a worse-than-dismal economy guarantees more of the same in 2009.

The decline of print journalism is inevitable for numerous economic, social and technical reasons. But, we have yet to see the sustained emergence of a replacement business model that can underwrite the journalism once paid for by the Daily Fish Wrap.

The proliferation of personal media tools — digital cameras, video recorders and phones — has transferred some of the lost capacity of professional journalism into the hands of everyone. That is a good thing. It means more eyes, more ears, more minds on the watch for news. When I was in the newspaper cattle-prodding business a few years back, I extolled the instant reporting of the London tube bombings by the victims of the attacks. Jeff Jarvis just did the same regarding the recent horrors in Mumbai.

Let us not forget, though, that as beneficial as it is for people anywhere and everywhere to report what they see, they are separated by at least one core principal of professional journalism — obligation.

Good journalists feel an obligation to witness the news and report what they see to their communities — even if that means running toward things that common sense and self-preservation would compel one to flee from as quickly as possible.

The picture on this page is an example of that obligation. Taken by Sebastian D’souza, the photography editor of the The Mumbai Mirror, it shows one of the Mumbai terrorists walking calmly through a railroad station. The New York Times reports that the photo is one only a few showing an attacker clearly. The Times describes the important of D’souzas photos and those of another newspaper photographer, Vasant Prabhu:

“Their photos, some of them unpublished, provide detail and precision that is lacking from other witness accounts. They show brave attempts by police officers to stop the attackers. They also highlight the woeful inadequacy of the officers’ weapons and thus help to explain how just 10 terrorists managed to hold a city hostage for three days.”

Read the whole story. And then ask yourself: Which direction would I have gone — toward the news or away from it?

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Grab Shots: PJ Edition

* From Staffer to Freelance: John Harrington, who writes the Photo Business News blog, points out that all the layoffs in the newspaper business are going to swell the ranks of freelance photographers. He wrote it a while back, but still worth a read.

* More Cuts on the Way: Alan Mutter, former editor and now chronicler of a declining industry, sees more down-sizing ahead “if the industry is to sustain its traditional operating margin,” which, by the way, is still more than 18 percent.

* Silencing the Inner Curmudgeon: When your world is collapsing around you, as it is for many staff photojournalists, it’s easy to let the anger rise and the bile fly. But that doesn’t help you find more work, or learn new skills, or fuel the energy and creativity you’ll need to keep working as a photographer. (I know; I’ve been there on all sides.) If you feel the curmudgeon stirring inside, read Jay Rosen’s post on how to deal with the beast.

* Photoshop, Ethics and the PJ: In my magazine work, I set up a lot of pictures, meaning I arrange the people and control the light in a way pure photojournalists don’t. I also Photoshop the pixels out of an image if I think it makes it snap more. How much of this type or post-shot manipulation has been debated in the PJ community ever since someone first burned the edges of a print. Here’s a good discussion about the topic on SportsShooter, sparked by this original rant and this young photographer’s portfolio.

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Grab Shots

* Get Visual, Buy a Book: Here’s a good list of photo book publishers compiled by A Photo Editor. The cover on the left is from Once Upon a Time in Wales by photographer Robert Haines.

* Hope Amid the Flotsam: Another good read from A Photo Editor on the “endless stream of photography” and, with it, the proliferation of mediocrity. He connects through to a farewell post from photographer Liz Kuball in which she comments:

“It is so easy, when your Google Reader is always full of excellent photographs, to feel as though the rest of the world is producing constantly, consistently, at a level you’re simply incapable of.”

But cheer up, brave hearts, A Photo Editor also points to Magnum photographer David Alan Harvey’s more sanguine view:

“… but if you are “special” there are also way way more opportunities…and so so much room for invention….i swear, i have never seen so much room!!! “

* Get on the Grid: Sportsshooter Robert Hanashiro sings the praises of Dave Honl’s grids (and other gadgets) for speedlights. They work. I use them. Get some.

* Rumor Focus: Nikon Watch keeps the full-frame Nikon mill churning with word of 12mp D400 and a 24.8mp D3x.

* Sync & Swim: Check the Journey-to-the-Bottom-of-the-Sea rig Jill Greenberg used to shoot the U.S. synchronized swim team for a Radar magazine fashion spread.

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Going with the Flow

Just a quick post on this portrait because I am jamming to finish a couple of magazine projects before I head out of town for a working vacation — to the wedding of a friend in Cartagena. Vive los novios!

The magazine wanted a picture for Father’s Day and we found Greg Snowden, the owner of a local green building materials company, and his three sons.

I met them in the store after it closed, put up a big softbox over a picnic table and threw a couple of smaller lights on the background.

The boys were rambunctious and never settled down, mugging for the camera, grabbing at each and pulling Dad into the fun. At first I tried to control them, then realizing I couldn’t I just went with the flow, hoping a make a couple of good frames.

The result is above, one of about four or five usable shots out of 75 or so. I happy with it, although it’s not what I set out to do and therein lies the lesson:

Never try to teach a pig to sing. It doesn’t work and it only P’s off the pig. In this case, the pig sang when it was good and ready.

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Grab Shots

People Magazine cover* People Who Need People: The New York Times asks the question we’ve all been wondering about: “Can a few snapshots of a baby or a bride, accompanied by a fawning article, really be worth millions of dollars?” Read the whole story about why tab magazines now routinely pay celebs to play (like this cover of Branjelina and child).

* Gulf Twosome: The two shooters atop the current photo how-to heap — David Hobby and Joe McNally — report back from the doings at Gulf Photo Plus. David offers the behind-the-scenes story on this SB800-laden image. Joe calls Dubai “3 parts Vegas, one part planet Tatooine, and 6 parts oil money.

* Photographers Wanted: Want to be a photojournalist? These newspapers are hiring.

* Pitching a Home Run: Rob Haggert (A Photo Editor) tells us how to make winning pitches to photo editors. Rule #1: “The absolute fastest way for photographers to get a story made is to approach a writer that the magazine uses on a regular basis.”

* Jumping the Canon-Nikon Divide: Freelance sports photographer Preston Mack switched from Canon to Nikon when he heard these words from an editor: “The cover image doesn’t look in focus.” Read Mack’s whole tale of learning to love the D3 on Sportsshooter.com.

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Children of the Canal

About a year ago, I photographed competing immigration rallies in San Rafael. On one side of the street were advocates for the local Latino community; on the other were members and supporters of the Minutemen, a conservative anti-immigrant organization. Both groups were a rarity in Marin County, an affluent, mostly white, heavily liberal enclave just north of San Francisco.

A few weeks earlier, federal immigration agents had raided homes and businesses in the city’s Canal neighborhood, a tightly packed area of run-down apartment buildings and small homes that is home to 12,000 people, 86 percent of them immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. The agents arrested 65 people, 23 of whom were eventually deported.

The raids were part of the broader immigration debate in the country, a divide that had spawned huge marches across the country. I wanted to put something together for Marin magazine about how the issue played out in suburbs, but was hesitant for a couple of reasons. First, I was jammed with doing the book. Second, after 20 years of traditioal journalism I didn’t want to write an on-the-one-hand-but-on-the-other type story where the emotion got buried under a slag heap of official statements from either side.

After I finished the book this spring, I began talking with Tom Wilson, head of the Canal Alliance, the Canal neighborhood’s primary social service group, about different story ideas. He pointed me to an after-school program that tutors neighborhood children, teaches them other academic skills and exposes them to a world of possibilities outside the Canal. The program guarantees that if a child sticks with it, he or she will graduate from high school and enter a community college.

I told Tom I’d like to photograph the kids in the middle-school program and ask them a few questions about their dreams. Then I pitched the idea to the magazine, adding that I’d write an introductory essay — not a story — about the immigration issue. To my surprise, they loved the idea.

I made the photographs over three afternoons in a classroom. I wanted the pictures to be simple portraits, so I posed the children in the middle of the room and lit them with one umbrella and a big reflector, using the far wall for a backdrop. I spoke with each for about five minutes first, talking about their dreams, their families and their countries of origin. Most of the interviews were in English, a few were in Spanish.

Some of the children dreamed big — to be doctors or lawyers. Others wished for little more than a visit home to their family in Mexico. Some rushed forward to be photographed. Others I had to persuade through cajoling.

If you look at the photographs, you will see the faces of children, but also, in many of them, the eyes of adults who have seen more of the world, a rough world, than any 12- or 13-year-old should.

If you read the essay (below), you will learn how I feel about this children, which is that regardless of how any of us feels about immigration the children of immigrants should not pay the price. Who are we to deny them better lives — especially in the United States, a country founded on that very principle?

* Here are the photographs.

* Here is a PDF of the Marin Magazine package, including the essay.

* Or, click the jump for the essay.

Continue reading »

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Choices: Mine, Yours, the Editor’s

Samantha ParisAnyone who has worked in media knows the end product — magazine, newspaper, film — represents a series of choices and decisions made by individual creators, the team as a whole and, increasingly in films, the audience. (And, of course, web-based media like You Tube or Fark is almost wholly based on audience selection.)

How much weight your decision carries in influencing the final result is often relative. When I ran newsrooms, I had little control over what the creators — the writers and photographers — chose, but quite a bit more over the final product.

Now that I’m freelancing again, I have creative control over how I shoot something, but less to say about how the photo is going to be used or even which one from a shoot will run in , let’s say, a magazine. I have learned, though, how to shoot things differently for different clients — some like light glossy and bright colors, others prefer darker, edgier shots. I shoot to match their style, then always add in some preferences of my own.

The above picture of Samantha Paris, who runs a voice-over training school in Sausalito, provides some good examples of the choices I made in photographing her and the decisions my client, in this case Marin Magazine, made in using the photographs.

I stopped by Samantha’s studios while the writer was interviewing her, just to look the place over and meet her. As soon as I saw the recording booth, I knew I wanted to shoot her in there, but also knew I’d be pushing my technical skills because the space was so tight (about 3 feet by 5 feet) and so dark.

I wanted to use the shapes of the microphone and the pop screen as graphical elements and also have a spotlight effect to the photo. The booth had a window in front so the actor and sound engineer could see each other and I decided to use one light to shoot through that window.

At home, I blocked out a space in my living room similar to the size of the booth, and saw that I could get another light stand in the back corner of the booth and a shorty studio stand on the floor behind Samantha. I did some tests shots and felt I at least had technical control of the shot.

For the shoot itself, I used three SB800s — the one outside the window,the one in the booth corner and the one on the floor. The main and hair lights had snoots and CTO gels to warm up Samantha (not that her personality needed it) and the background light had a blue gel.)

We shot for about 30 minutes in the booth, including a sequence in which she acted out some scenes (left).

I also wanted to make some pictures of Samantha interacting with her students, so we set up some chairs in a front room with a big window and I shot about 20 or 30 frames using the natural light.

Afterwards, looking at the files, I was pleased with the shots in the recording booth (although I did underexpose by a half-stop), but I was pretty sure the magazine would use the more informal and more interactive shots with the students. I also liked the shots of in the booth more when she wasn’t acting and just looking at the camera.

I got first indication of which way the magazine’s choice would go later when my wife, a former journalist, looked at the take and loved the acting shots and those of Samantha with the students.

She was an audience focus group of one and her instinctive response mirrored the one the magazine editor made later. The image below of Samantha and her students, ran big. The “acting” shot ran smaller. My favorite (at the top of this page) didn’t make the cut.

Is there a lesson? Yes, and it’s that we shoot (or write) for many audiences – the audience of one (ourselves), the audience of many (readers, viewers) and the audience of economics (our clients). I love it when they overlap. When they don’t, I cash the check anyway.

Samantha Paris

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The Hands of My Mother

Ines LehmanThis is a story about a simple picture gone wrong and why a do-over is sometimes the right thing to do.

Every month in Marin Magazine I do a small feature called Marin Album — a photograph and a short essay. Typically, the photo is some scenic slice of Marin life, like this one of a cyclist in the Headlands or this one of a little leaguers on opening day of baseball season.

For the May issue, the magazine asked if I could make a picture for Mother’s Day of a mom and her new child. Nice, I thought, that will be sweet. Plus, it’s simple. I can use window light and skip some of the complicated setups I’d been doing recently.

One of the magazine’s writers had a baby a month ago, a boy, so I arranged a visit to her home. When she opened the door, her dog, some kind of pug, started barking and never stopped — I kid you not — for the hour I was there. It was a sign I should have heeded.

I looked around the house. Too dark to shoot in except for the living room. But the windows were behind the sofa, meaning if I put her and the baby on the couch their faces would be in shadow.

This is where the “should have”s” begin – I should have brought in some lights instead of sticking with the natural light plan. I should have asked her to change her green shirt, which reflected an icky tone on the baby’s skin. I should have taped the dog’s mouth shut.

And, when she brought out her son from his crib I should have said, “This is not going to work.” He was a cute kid, as all month-old’s are, but his skin was bright red, blotchy and pimply. a condition I later learned to be “baby acne.” Without some serious Photoshop retouching, this little boy was going to look more like pre-pubescent teen than Baby of the Month. (And, don’t forget mom’s green shirt adding to color mix.)

I should have said I’d be back in a month, but I didn’t. I shot, I used reflectors, I turned them this way and that. Two gigs later, nada.

Later, looking at the shoot in the computer, I kept thinking, “How could I blow a shot of a baby.” All I wanted was this and the best I got is what you see to the left.

I fessed up to the magazine, blamed the dog and said I needed another mom and another baby. That’s how I met 3-month-old Maya, above, and her mother, Ines. This time I told them what to where, brought in some lights and put the dog outside. Better. Much better. And at the point when I wrapped Maya in the blanket and asked Ines to hold her head I knew I had the shot I wanted.

Ines’ hands wrapped around Maya’s tiny head reminded me of what my mother used to say about her hands, how as she grew older they resembled those of her mother.

I used that thought as the key for the text below (after the jump). Continue reading »

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Grab Shots

Amy Vitale * Nikon’s new website, Nikkor.com, is live and features the work of photographers who use — what else? — Nikons. Despite the marketing intent of the site, the work it showcases is terrific. Check the images by photojournalist Amy Vitale. (Thanks to Nikon Watch for the tip.)

* Strobist-in-Chief David Hobby points to this portrait of Admiral William J. “Fox” Fallon by photographer Peter Yang for Esquire Magazine. Yang made the photo with one light, a technique, says David, that anyone can attempt regardless of the price of their gear. (Here’s my mimickry of the Peter Yang shot.)

* The protests against China in advance of the Olympics are producing good images. Here is a vigil in San Francisco seen by professionals and an amateur (and in Flickr’s first use of video.)

* The Photoshelter blog, written by Rachel Hulin, has a Q&A with photojournalist Antonin Kratochivl (Iraq, Myanmar and other conflict zones) that includes a wonderful portrait of him by Clay Enos. (Tip from A Photo Editor.)

* Gregory Crewdson sells his set-piece images for up to $100,000 apiece. JPG Magazine spent the day with him on a shoot. Story and photos here.

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Pulitzers, 2008

Pulitzer PrizeEven though the bulk of the 2008 Pulitzer Prizes announced today were won by large news organizations — the Washington Post took six – one of the awards demonstrates that capacity of great work exists even within the smallest of news organizations.

Photographer Preston Gannaway of the 20,000 circulation Concord (N.H.) Monitor on the Pulitzer for Feature Photography with her intimate essay of a family coping with death. Looking at her pictures is difficult emotionally, but rewarding in their honest portrayal of something that is real in all of our lives. (Slidshow here.)

In my previous blog about newspaper journalism, I once wrote about the power of one, the capacity of any journalist, writer or photographer, to strive for excellence. Gannaway proves the point.

* Also: The Pulitzer for Spot News was won by Adrees Latif of Reuters this picture of a wounded Japanese photographer being held at gunpoint during the riots last year in Burma. The photographer later died.

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Grab Shots

Good work from around the web:

Golden Gate Bridge* Keep an eye on National Geographic’s Week in Photos, a set of some of the best recent photojournalism. The Golden Gate Bridge shot on the left is from this week’s and was shot by John Storey, a former colleague at the Examiner.

* Reuters has a photo blog for its shooters, pictures plus a lot of behind the scenes commentary.

* Getty Images has a blog, too. Here’s a post by Chris Jackson about shooting the royals for 10 days in the Caribbean. Rough life.

* Bryon Houlgrave, a staff photographer for a small paper in Waukesha, Wisc., blogs about this work, which is hella good. See the raging river night shot.

* Photos are where you find them. Here’s a nice feature shot by S.F. Chronicle staff Mike Kepka.

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Private Lives, Public Moments

Holly SeelerA great privilege of doing journalism is the temporary passkey it gives me into the lives of others.

At times, this entrance is burdened with sadness or results in a stinging anger from the injustice in our society that holds so many at the bottom despite all their efforts to the rise up.

More often than not, though, I am rewarded with the pleasure of meeting someone who is charming or beautiful or enticingly smart. They allow me their company, permit me to question them in precise detail or engage me emotionally as I photograph them.

I treasure these moments, hold them in memory as long as possible and savor them for their simplicity of purpose. For me they are the essence of journalism — written and photographic — the inquiry, the interaction, the engagement.

Meeting Holly Seeler and her family — Tess, Jack and Victor — the other day in Sausalito was one of those moments. Seeler has multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that is attacking her ability to walk. Her response to the illness is energetic and forceful, and she has left a career as a creative director to focus on spreading the message of personal change through positive outlook and action.

I spent less than an hour with her. We made pictures. Her husband, a photographer as well, showed me his work. I met the dog, Roxie. Then I left — reluctantly. This was a good house, a good family. They gave me hour out of their lives. I added it to my collection.

See a gallery of pictures of Holly Seeler and her family.

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Schwarzenegger’s CEO

Susan KennedyAs much as I don’t like politics, I confess that I do like politicians – in person, at least. One on one, pols of various stripes are among the smartest, most engaging people I’ve met while doing journalism. They’re articulate, their words are pointed, and they share the same off-center sense of humor that is found in most newsrooms.

Susan Kennedy, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, belongs in that group. I photographed her in her Fairfax home for a Q&A with Marin Magazine. I have my issues with how she and the Governator are running California, but she’s someone you’d love to sit next to at dinner – intense, unflinching and intellectually persuasive. Plus, she’s twinkly.

When I got to her house the reporter was about 30 minutes into the interview. They were in a small office, big enough for her desk and two chairs. There was window on one side with a bench in it, and I immediately decided to use for a post-interview shot. The rest of the room was dark.

There was no space to set up an umbrella, so I decided to point a couple of snooted Speedlights at her, one from the long end of the office, the other from across her desk. I put one like on a stand, gelled it warm, super-clamped the other to the rim of the desk, and started shooting, squeezing my way around the reporter. (See an overview of the scene.)

About 10 frames in, the clamp popped off the desk and it and the strobe clattered to the floor. The upside was that it loosened us all up; the downside was the $100 repair bill.

I reset another strobe (didn’t you mother tell to always have a back-up?) on a stand, and began again.

I shot for about 10 minutes more, listening to them talk, working the angles. I liked the light. It was strong, but tight. Nonetheless, I was looking forward to getting her by the window for some softer light.

That wasn’t to be, though. Another five minutes and her phone rang (with the caller visible on the video-phone screen on her desk.). She was late for a meeting. By the time I stowed the gear, Kennedy was on the conference call.

The lesson of the day is one I learned early on – both as a photographer and as a reporter: As soon as you enter the room (or the event or the whatever), start working. It may be your only chance.

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Grab Shots

Photojournalism work that caught my eye today:

* Joao Silva in Sadr City for the New York Times. Silva is always in the middle of things. Here is his own website.

* Also in the the Times, the Cat Lady of Switzerland, a textbook example of doing photojournalism with small strobes ala Mr. Strobist.

* This Washington Post gallery of the election in Zimbabwe (10 sec. ad). No. 8 in the gallery is show in this post.

* Correy Perrine of the Nashuah (N.H.) Telegraph shows you can make an extraordinary photograph at an ordinary event such as a teachers’ protest.

*Another good use of small strobes on assignment, an author in a jail cell by Ken Ritchie of the Madison Courier.

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