Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Two of the same thing

Fruitport Sophomore Cody Bayle pitches against Spring Lake in the first round of the Big Buc baseball invitational tournament at Grand Haven High School.

Traverse City Central Senior Phothivath Phengkhamkip wins the boys long jump at the Reeths-Puffer invitational track meet.

It may seem odd to say these are the same thing, I say they are the same because to create both of them I needed to pre-focus on a spot on the ground to get a good photograph.

End of Smoking in Restaurants 2-The Sequel

Rachel Glavich, left, and Melissa Slater, right, smoke at The Tipsy Toad Thursday April 22, 2010. Slater said her opinion about the smoking ban, "I don't smoke around my child, but as an adult I prefer the decision." She also said when the smoking ban goes into effect, "I may pack my lunch more or not go to a sit down restaurant."

I thought my previous assignment represented the end of indoor smoking assignments in public spaces in Muskegon, forever.  As I photographed for my previous smoking assignment that I was chronicling the end of an era, or even an epoch.  Since Native American's first invented smoking hundreds or thousands of years ago people have smoked in public meeting places including restaurants.  Now in Michigan only a few isolated locales will remain where people can still smoke in public while indoors--true to history Indian Casinos will be among them.  After I shot my earlier assignment I breathed a sigh of relief as I threw my stinking clothes into the washing machine believing that I would never again photograph smokers in restaurants or bars in Michigan again--I was wrong.

When this assignment was given to me I had two thoughts.  The first was, "didn't I already do this assignment?"  The second was, "how can I improve on my first assignment, will this assignment jsut be a complete dissapointment?"  There are only so many different ways to photograph smokers, and I thought I had already tried most of them.

Day one. My assignment got off to the worst possible start.  I went to the bar I was told to photograph at, and no one was smoking.  The bar staff said they had lots of smokers earlier in the day, which would be great for a historian to know about, but not for a photographer.  So I waited hoping for a few smokers to show up, and as I waited the few non-smoking customers also left.  So sitting in the bar alone in the bar I developed a new plan of attack.  Step one: go to the bar at the time of day the staff said there would be smokers in the bar.  Step two: go to at least one more bar.  I'm not saying my plan would put me in the league of great strategic thinkers such as Napoleon, but at least it would improve my odds.

Day two. I go to The Tipsy Toad.  There are smokers.  Jackpot.  Not chain smokers unfortunately, but at least they lit up.

In the process of photographing these two women I made a modest discovery for the science of communication.  When two talkative women smoke together they take turns inhaling and talking.  One woman smokes, while listening to the other one.  Then the talker put her cigarette in her mouth and the other woman begins talking.  So it is a very rare occasion when both women have the cigarettes in their mouth at the same time.  These two women had the system down to an art.  They kept their sentences to just the right length to allow the other woman to inhale, exhale and then respond.  It was amazing.  Annoying for me because I wanted a photograph with both of them smoking at the same time.  But the almost perfect synchrony each woman had with the other was like a Discovery Channel nature special as the prey moves adroitly in response to the predator.

Final review, the sequel may not be as good as the original, but for fans of smoking it is still worth the price of admission.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

End of smoking in restaurants

I will have another post on this same subject since I became the Chronicle's semi-official photographer for smoking stories. 

The Lubbers Cup on Spring Lake

Beauty, grace, long slender lines, and the sun low on the horizon what more could a photographer want in an assignment.

Investigating a shooting spree

Muskegon Firefighter Chris Drake, looks out of the second floor window of the house on Isabella Ave while police and fire departments conduct an investigation in the building after arresting two men in connection with a shooting. The shooting was the latest in a string of shootings in the neighborhood over the last three weeks.

How to photograph nothing, wait for something to happen.  By the time I knew about the shooting the SWAT team had arrested the suspects and taken them into custody.  They don't seem to advertise SWAT operations over the scanner as much as for other emergency events.  I wonder if it's because they know they people are listening.  It almost seems as if the police who are lied to on a daily basis don't trust us--I can't imagine why.

Chuck Colson speaks celebrates Easter at Brooks correctional facility

Chuck Colson, a former Richard Nixon aide who went to prison on charges related to the Watergate scandal and the Founder of Prison Fellowship Ministries, speaks to prisoners at the E.C. Brooks Correctional Facility Easter Sunday.

Mike Benson, center, a former inmate who now works with Prison Fellowship Ministries prays with a prisoner at the end of the Special Easter Service at E.C. Brooks Correctional Facility.

Rules, rules, rules.  After visiting Brooks Correctional I decided that I don't want to go to prison because they have way too many rules.  Plus they don't even serve coffee on a regular basis due to budget cuts.  It seemed as if almost half of the inmates who attended the Easter Service were there for the coffee and donuts.  I don't even like coffee, but coffee seems so basic being unable to drink it would be a deprivation.  So take it from someone has been there, for a little while, don't go to prison for a long time if you like coffee.  I didn't bother to ask what tea options were available.

My photographs reflected the strict limits I was under.  I could not photograph the prisoners faces, the numbers on their backs and legs, and anything else that could be used to identify them.  I think I walked the thin line of photographing nothing and nobody while still making sure no one was identifiable.  The last picture pushed the boundary a little bit by showing part of the inmates number, fortunately his number is partially worn off. 

This was my first time photographing in a medium security prison.  I have photographed in a minimum security prison filled with guys who just seemed a little confused, and guys I knew were convicted murderers in a maximum security prison.  But this visit was different.  Most of the guys seemed more like homeless people instead of super criminals.  I have a new belief that there are probably very few true stories about prison breaks, because I don't think many of the prisoners would have anywhere to go once out of prison.  I felt bad that I could not photograph the prisoners, because most of them seemed to want to be photographed and to alk to me.  But in prison rules are rules, and I wanted to obey them so they would let me back out, where I can continue to choose to not drink coffee.


Dawn Williams, 22 right, hugs Dren'e Woodfork, 17, in the parking lot of Fountain Funeral Home during the visitation for their cousin Keyara Williams.
One of Keyara Williams cousins, Brittany Flowers, 19, cries while attending the visitation for Williams at the Fountain Funeral Home.

I always find it difficult to photograph at funerals.  In order to empower myself to intrude into the grief of the people attending a funeral I remind myself about the value the photographs have for the community, and the honor it shows for the deceased by making their funeral a public affair.

Way of the Cross

Larry Shalda picks up the cross in front of the downtown post office during The Good Friday Way of the Cross starting at the Muskegon County Courthouse and finishing at the Indian Cemetery Friday April 2, 2010. Father Jack LaGoe said the walk is to show how poor people are crucified by injustice because "if we only weep about something that happened two thousand years ago, we miss the message (of the crucifiction)."
Joel Engel carries the cross across Webster Ave.
Theresa Loss, center, kneels during one of the stations of cross in front of the downtown post office.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Western Michigan Christian basketball wins state championship

Western Michigan Christian Warriors Evan Bruinsma, center, and DeMario Harris, right, fight for the ball with Covert High School Bulldogs Demonte Atkins, left, during the Warriors 62-61 victory to win the Boys Class D State Semi-Final.

Western Michigan Christian Warriors Jeff Burris takes a dive 

Western Michigan Christian Warriors London Burris passes the ball.

Marine City Cardinal Mooney's Joe Broderick, front,  tries to pass around Western Michigan Christian Warriors' Evan Bruinsma, back.

Western Michigan Christian Warriors' DeMario Harris, bottom, falls as he passes the ball around Marine City Cardinal Mooney's Joe Broderick, top,

Western Michigan Christian Warriors DeMario Harris, left, tries to steal the ball from Marine City Cardinal Mooney Drew Torey, right, during the Warriors 66-56 victory to win the Boys Class D State Championship at the Breslin Center.

Western Michigan Christian Warriors' Evan Bruinsma slam dunks the ball during the Warriors 66-56 victory over Marine City Cardinal Mooney to win the Boys Class D State Championship  at the Breslin Center.

Western Michigan Christian Warriors Jeff Burris holds up the State Championship Trophy after the Warriors win the Boys Class D State Championship by defeating the Marine City Cardinal Mooney High School 66-56.

The Ride and writing from my soapbox

Mark Ferguson, 61 a member of Team Bicycle Rack, cools himself off with the spray fan during the Mercy Health Partners Annual "The Ride" on stationary bikes at the Lakes Mall.

    How do you have a bike riding fund raiser in March in Michigan, simple, have a stationary bike race in the mall.  How do you make you fund raising event more famous, simple, send out press releases to the newspaper.  How do you photograph the event for the newspaper, complicated. 
How can it possibly be complicated to photograph people peddling like their lives depend on it and their bikes don't move?  The answer is dumbfounding.  Well it was to me anyway.  I had one important criteria I was required to follow for this assignment.  I could not photograph any storefronts or shop logos.  Which is quite difficult when you are surrounded by shop fronts filled with logos. In order to work within the narrow constraints I was under I decided to keep most of my photographs tight.  This is my favorite example. 
    Why would the Mall, which is in the business of renting space to retailers prohibit me from showing store fronts or logos?  Brands spend tremendous amounts of money on advertising simply to get their logos name into the public eye.  Therefore getting their brand in front of thousands of people for free would be in their best interest.  Risk to retailers--negligible.  Any customer or competitor who wants to keep records of the prices the shops are charging can simply write down the information, speak it into an audio recorder or take a picture of the price for themselves.  Any competitor who wants to copy a fantastic store front display will simply take their own photograph surreptitiously instead of relying on one in the background of another picture.  In either case anyone who cares enough to copy the store will also care enough to make sure they have a source to gather the intelligence they feel they need.  Since it is in each retailers best interest to expand their brand names I can only conclude that it is the mall itself seeking to curtail my right to "stand in" for the public. 
    I believe the mall executives see no potential gain for the mall if any retail brand gains free publicity.  The retailer could benefit from the publicity but the mall would gets nothing.  On the other hand if the retailer was losing money the manager would start looking for every excuse, real and imagined, to shift the blame from themselves.  One easy target of blame--the newspaper, and by extension the mall. Because the mall did not stop the photographer from photographing the store.  So to avoid unnecessary unpleasantness with their tenants they deny their tenants potential publicity.  My ideas are all conjecture, based on a simple assessment of the situation.  There could be more cynical or short sighted motives, but I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt, and even corporations are really just a group of people.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Muskegon Heights at the Breslin Center

Muskegon Heights Tigers get psyched up for their game against the Detroit Country Day Yellowjackets in the Boys Class B State Semi-Final.

Detroit Country Day Yellowjackets Amir Williams, right, elbows Muskegon Heights Tigers Jamil Thornton, left, as Williams catches a rebound.

Muskegon Heights Tigers Jamil Thornton, center, falls to the floor after struggling with Detroit Country Day Yellowjackets Mahesh Umasankar, back left.

A young Muskegon Heights Tigers fan tries to comfort Jamil Thornton, right, and Moses Buckley, left, as it becomes clear the Tigers would lose the Boys Class B State Semi-Final to the Detroit Country Day Yellowjackets, final score 72-47.

Rehearsing for Showcase

Hands symbolizing temptations claw at Quinlyn Mork, 15 of Pentwater, as she plays the role of a teenager facing spiritual struggles during the "Everything Skit" at the Showcase rehearsal.

In my opinion blond hair against a black background=dramatic combination. 
For me the hardest assignments are often the ones that involve good photographic situations.  Trying to make unique photographs in a new infrequently photographed situation is easy since the bar of expectation is non-existent.  But trying to make a good photograph in a situation with high expectations is difficult.  A talent show rehearsal has a number of good standard photographs, including ancers who will always make good photographs.  For me the challenge is to find a photograph that goes beyond the obvious, I want to photograph the dancers in such a way that my photograph adds value to the dancers performance.  My goal is for my photographs to go beyond what the audience normally notices in a performance.  I think this photograph achieved my goal, because I photographed the dance in way that the audience could never see for themselves, simply because the audience could not ignore the performers who were sticking their arms out.  The real audience could never fully forget the people whose hands were reaching out, but in the world of my photograph the arms become shapes.  The people they belong to can be forgotten as our eyes are drawn to the blond haired girl, distinct against the black background.

New Minor League Record

 Robin Bouchard celebrates his 683rd career goal, setting the new minor league hockey record during the Muskegon Lumberjacks game against the Quad City Mallards. 

    The Lumberjacks Goalie Sebastien Centomo makes a save during the game against the Quad City Mallards.

    I have gotten better at calming my nerves before a game.  Every game is a matter of patient persistence, following the action while waiting for the right moment.  Letting the yourself become a part of the game.  Trying to think like the players, to anticipate their next actions.  As the game progresses you begin to feel the rhythm of the game.  Every game is different, not just between different sports, but between different games played by the same team, and each game it's own rhythm.  Until something really good happens. 
    The action in hockey is more or less continuous.  You can watch as the circumstances for certain pretty good photographs start to form, from break away plays with shots on goal to fights.  Most events build, but not a great reactions.  Great reactions are spontaneous outbursts.  They happen fast. 
   My mission was to photograph Robin Bouchard make his historic goal.  Many of Bouchard's goals are impossible to an observer all you see is another player shoot and Bouchard happens to deflect the puck into the net.  The technique usually misses, but it works often enough that Bouchard is now the minor league scoring record holder.  Because of the importance of getting a good photograph of Bouchard making history I decided on a new strategy to cover the game.  I would track Bouchard everywhere he went with my camera.  When he left the ice I would shoot the game, but as soon as he left came back onto the ice I would be on him, and I would continue until he made history or the game was over.
   Even with my theoretically fool proof plan I missed Bouchard's historic shot, or rather my camera does not have x-ray vision to see through the player who blocked my view.  But I got his reaction after he scored, fortunately he turned right after he scored.  If he had turned left I may have missed his most exuberant moment. 

St. Patricks Day Parade

Linda O'Lamoreaux of Whitehall carries the Irish flag while watching the White Lake area Blarney Bash Parade

As they say, "on St. Patrick's Day everyone is Irish."

Blur of Basketballs

    Spring is all about new life, with plants gradually reawakening to see the sun.  But March is also about large orange balls, vocal crowds crammed into small dimly lit gyms, and long drives in late winter storms.  I could not post everything here, just a few of my favorites.  Enjoy.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Fire in a Pole Barn and the most important rule of photojournalism

       Photography is a lot like the game of Othello: a minute to learn, a lifetime to master.  Many aspects of the art seem so simple, but using all of the tools and techniques is a challenge that can use every part of your being.  Physical endurance, creativity, emotional insight, intellectual curiosity, and even spiritual understanding all have their place, but one important rule should not be overlooked: Go to the bathroom whenever you have the chance.  Spot news events, such as fires and crashes can last a long time, you never know when the best photograph may happen, and if you need to talk with the incident commander then you usually need to wait.
   Before going to this fire I had been at another fire, and by the time I arrived I thought it would be nice to use a restroom.  By the time I left I thought I could have helped the firemen put out the fire.
   A good reminder of one of the most important rules for photojournalism.

Child Prodigy

    Marc Yu seems to be a child prodigy, a gifted pianist, an excellent communicator, and is good at telling jokes.  Although his taste in music differs from mine.  He enjoys complex piano pieces that demonstrate his ability, while my pedestrian tastes prefer big crescendos that would make a great score for the climax of an action movie.
   When I was shooting the portrait of him after his performance he told me some jokes.  I think I should repeat one of them because it is so funny.  It may not seem as funny as you read it here, but to hear it from a child dressed up to perform classical music was funny.  If it is not funny then it is probably my fault for not retelling precisely enough.

   A soldier who had been sent to stand gurad returned to his camp and his commander asked whey he had abandoned his position.  The soldier said "while I was camouflaged as a tree birds flew over and used me for target practice, but I did not abandon my position.  Then a dog came and used me to mark his territory, but I did not abandon my position.  Then two squirrels climbed up my leg, and I did not abandon my position.  Then one squirrel said to the other squirrel, lets grab the other nut too, that was when I abandoned my position." 

   To appreciate the humor I think it helps to have been a twelve year old boy yourself.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Alicia and Brad on Grand Haven Pier

    Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.   
    Alicia and Brad were great troopers, for this photograph they posed for what must have been ten minutes, although it felt like an eternity.  The engagement shoot was officially over, but since they came all the way to the lake shore it made sense to enjoy the sunset.  But as we were watching the orange sky after the sun dipped below the horizon I decided to take a few more photographs, and then I noticed that despite the calm lake some water would spray up every few minutes.  So I asked Alicia and Brad to relocate to were the waves splashed, and then we waited. 
    It seemed as if the waves big enough to produce decent splashes disappeared as soon as I realized they were happening, so we decided to give up.  As I literally put down my camera a wave splashed up.  I jerked my camera up to shoot a picture, but I was too late.  Brad said through teeth clenched from the cold "you must have gotten than one."  No, I didn't, it was a total miss, but the wave convinced us to keep being patient. 
    We waited some more, as the sky grew darker.  Fortunately Brad and Alicia seem to be in-love.  So despite wearing light jackets on a chilly evening they remained happy, cold, but happy.  I think they enjoyed gazing into one each other's eyes.  Alicia started laughing at something Brad said.  Then, while Alicia was reaching the end of her little laugh a wave sprayed up.  This time I got it, I was not fooled twice.