Photojournalism

Hoop Dreams

 

Watching all the pageantry surrounding the NCAA basketball tournaments during the past couple weeks reminded me of this photo I took nearly 30 years ago during a photography internship at the Kansas City Times (back when the Star was Kansas City's afternoon daily and the Times was published from the same building as the morning paper). We were always looking for "wild art" back then, and through most of my newspaper photography career. The "Great Picture Hunt" was often frustrating, and sometimes a photographer would spend almost the entire day looking for something visually interesting and come back with something so weak they hated to see their name under it in the paper, but none of us ever came back empty handed. It was always tempting to just pose something for the camera. This was always taboo at any paper I worked for, but we all knew some photographers did it, just like we know now that some photojournalists cross ethical boundaries in how much they manipulate images with Photoshop. But, aside from the dishonesty of presenting something as a found, slice-of-life situation when it was actually choreographed for the camera by the photographer, that photographer will also never know what really would have happened had they not changed the situation. Sometimes the photos you just let happen looked more like a setup than anything we could have posed.

Working for my hometown paper, and the first large newspaper I had worked for, I was sent out to find a stand-alone photo and was determined to bring back something special. Eventually most photographers develop some reporting skills to bring back unusual feature photos - a notebook of ideas in the car, perusing some newsletters or calendars for local schools and senior centers, even a read through the phone book to find some unusual and visual businesses. When most of us started out, howeer, we just drove around looking for cool photographs. I took my picture hunt to a local housing project in K.C., saw these kids coming out of an apartment with the hoop, hammer and basketball, and could imagine what was going to happen. I introduced myself, and then followed them to the telephone pole where James McIntosh, left, held the hoop as Rodja Pearson pounded in the nails. Raimor Darrington looks like he's just waiting to take the first shot, but was really bouncing the ball off the back of Pearson's head. The final photo looked too good to be true, but sometimes we just got lucky.

As for real basketball photography, Rich Clarkson, the dean of NCAA photographers and a Kansas native who ran the photography departments at the Topeka Capital Journal and National Geographic, just finished shooting his 57th, that's right 57th, NCAA Tournament Final Four. CBS This Morning profiled Clarkson, who is now based in Denver, Monday morning

 

 

The Multimedia Schlep

 

 

It used to be so easy. You just threw a couple of cameras and lenses, a bag of film, and few notebooks into a bag and got on a plane. But the digital age's myriad of new storytelling methods, and the increasing requirement of journalists to work and collaborate in a variety of media, means that traveling "backpack" journalists often have little space in their bags for anything other than electronics. Here's a photo of the gear Carolyn and I packed for a two-week reporting trip to Mt. Carmel, Israel. Fortunately, we learned long ago to carry a minimum of clothes so we could fit the gear we bring on overseas assignments. As the demands of our book/photo/video projects increase, we'll soon be traveling with just the clothes on our backs and our bathing suits.

 

Tel Aviv, Israel.

 

Following the Sun

The side of our bus is painted with a command to "Follow the Sun," and we tried to heed its instructions. Really, we did. But at midnight, when a dozen of us were pushing the bus through a blizzard up highway 550 in northern New Mexico, it didn't seem like we'd done very well sticking to the plan. As we attempted to "man haul," (and woman haul) our 55-seat bus up the snow slicked highway, I thought of the coming 100-year-anniversary of Robert Falcon Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole, Raold Amunsdsen's successful round trip to the pole, and of the tourists who are making their own trips to the bottom of the planet to commemorate the centennial. Despite repeated trips off the bus to chain up, push the vehicle, or throw snowballs, none of the travelers on our expedition ever feared losing their lives during our ordeal, just a few hours of sleep.

 

 The Institutes for Journalism & Natural Resources has brought together 14 journalists for its Energy Country Institute led by Frank and Maggie Allen. We're traveling through southern Colorado and northern New Mexico in a bus driven by Dick Sandlin, who's vast knowledge of the turf helps fill in the knowledge gaps of the energy wonks and regional journalists who make up our crew. When he's not busing tour groups through the fickle weather of the southern Rocky Mountains, he leads tours of Spaceport America, but despite his interest in the stars, most of the fellows have come to see as our own polar explorer - something of an Ernest Shackleton of the Greyhound class.

Fellows in the Energy Country Institute are spending eight days visiting sites in New Mexico and southern Colorado to learn how the region will keep the lights on in the coming century. On Sunday we drove from Santa Fe to Colorado's San Luis Valley, a magical and fragile plain sandwiched between the Sangre de Cristo and San Juan mountains. The valley is one of Colorado's most important and tradition-bound agricultural areas, but a diminishing and over-allocated water supply, and an abundant solar resource, are bringing change

We first visited the Ranch of George Whitten and Julie Sullivan, who run a small cattle ranch in Sawatch County.
George's family has been ranching in the valley since the late 1800s. Julie was an environmental activist who brought a group of students to visit George's ranch and ended up falling in love with the rancher. Each of them bears the title of "environmentalist" a little differently. George's philosophy is rooted in the land ethic - he raises grass-fed cattle for meat. Julie arrived at the ranch with more progressive ideals, and was a vegetarian, but eats meat now, so long as she "knows the animal's face." So, while they share the same goals and ideals, they don't always agree the methods and approaches to keep a sustainable ranch running. It's provided an interesting system of checks and balances in an increasingly challenging agricultural environment.

 

 

Others have been sited on grazing land or on fragile wetlands. We left the valley with an understanding that energy, water, tradition and progress are all part of an increasingly precarious balancing act in the San Luis Valley.  After lunching and touring George and Julie's ranch, we were treated to a reception by county and town officials in Alamosa. 

 

 

 

 

The following morning we rejoined them along with representatives from Sun Power, a company that recently brought a 17-megawatt plant online, and Iberdrola, the Spanish solar power company that this week will begin testing a 30-megawatt solar facility it just completed installing in the valley. We heard from representatives from the solar-power companies, officials involved in the plan to conserve the valley's water by taking 40,000 acres of agricultural land out of production, the Chairman of the Alamosa County Commissioners, and representatives of environmental organizations concerned with both the water and energy issues affecting the valley. While virtually everyone we've met is excited by the development of solar power in the valley, in an environment where water and energy are tightly linked, utility scale solar projects are also causes for concern. Some types of solar projects, particularly those that involve turning a steam turbine, use a lot of water.


 

From the San Luis Valley, we planned to head to the Southern Ute Reservation via Wolf Creek Pass, but by the time we left Alamosa, an early-season snowstorm had made that route unsafe. Plan B was to take Route 17 over Cumbres Pass, but the bus lost traction in the heavy snow on the pass, even after stopping to put chains on, leaving us stranded. Two Colorado Department of Transportation snowplows cleared the road so we could turn around, then escorted us back down the pass. We finally took a route back into New Mexico and up Route 550, but even in the foothills of the Four Corners, the bus got mired in the snow, so the fellows piled out of the bus to push it though the steepest section. For at least one of the fellows, freelance writer Lindsey Hoshaw, the announcement of the detours were a shock - she was hoping to get to a hotel room desk to continue working on a story for the Boston Globe. 

 

She's adapted well to writing on the bus. And, although a trip that was planned at 2 1/2 hours ended up taking more than 12, at least nobody had to eat any dogs on our way to the Southern Ute Reservation in Ignacio.

The Image and Conservation

Thursday night at the Society of Environmental Journalists annual conference in Miami I had the honor of moderating a panel of photographers who document threatened landscapes and environmental issues. I had already planned ot use the forum to launch a new blog on my website, but the New York Times beat me to it, honoring the panelists I recruited with a post on its Green blog written by Rachel Nuwer. To me, the attention from the Times was both a well-deserved honor for the photographers - Clyde Butcher, Connie Bransilver, Patrick Farrell and Carlton Ward, Jr. - and a validation of the increasing power of images to tell important environmental stories and to promote the preservation of landscapes, species and cultures.
 
As much has changed in the world of photography as has in the world's environments, and I tried to illustrate that by showing a couple of my own photographs to begin the session. Both photos related to my current book project looking at the global increase in wildfires. i began by showing the first photograph I ever made at a wildfire - a black-and-white image of a prisoner at the Osborn Correctional Institution in Somers Connecticut that I took in the mid-1980s.

 

 

I made the photo after jumping a few fences to get closer to the flames without realizing I had trespassed onto prison grounds. A guard came up to me screaming, knocked me down, and began dragging me out, but when he noticed me trying to photograph the exploding wildfire and the prisoner running for his life, he let go of me, pushed me towards the flames and let me do my work. The paper I worked for didn't publish in color, so we only shot on black-and-white film. I'll be forever thankful to Clyde Butcher, the Ansel Adams of the Everglades, who commented during Thursday's panel that he found the photograph more powerful in black-and-white than he would have in color. I can't claim that the lack of color was a creative decision.

Travel 2,000 miles southwest and 25 years into the future to Bastrop, Texas, where I spent much of September documenting the worst wildfires in state history. I made this photo of a man with the cellphone photo he made of the Bastrop Fire descending  onto his home.

 

 

My, how the world has changed.

Much of the world Clyde Butcher documents has changed for the better, to some degree due to his efforts.

When he started photographing Everglades National Park and Big Cyprus National Preserve in 1984, “there was virtually nothing to photograph — it was one big ditch,” he said in a trailer for a documentary that we showed during the panel. The documentary will appear sometime in the spring. Clyde now makes his home in Big Cyprus and led about 20 lucky SEJ conference attendees on one of his famous "swamp slogs" earlier in the day of the panel. Big Cyprus is clearly no longer a ditch. Clyde saw his photographer as a way to inspire preservation. When officials expressed an interest in the photographs he was selling at art fairs and asked how much he would charge few, he told them he'd give them to them for free in hopes that they might get hung in places where they would inspire people to protect the landscape he loved. As opposed to the 35 mm cameras photojournalists hang on their shoulders, or the cell phones that many citizen journalists use to make their images, Clyde takes hulking, heavy large format cameras deep into the Everglades. He's often waste deep in the glades and has been known to wait a day or two for the right light before clicking his shutter. For that kind of dedication to a single landscape, I always figured Clyde must have grown up there, but he's originally from Kansas City - my own hometown.

Connie Bransilver, the second photographer who spoke, is one of the founding members of the International League of Conservation Photographers. She's as well has shown a long devotion to preserving Florida's most beautiful and threatened landscapes, but she's also worked extensively in places like Madagascar, where she was part of a National Geographic expedition that discovered a new sub-species of lemur. Like a number of image makers, Connie's experimenting with new ways of showing her photos, but unlike those of us who are looking for the latest digital displays for our pictures, her Guardians of the Everglades project is a show of diaphanous, eight-by-four-foot silk banners printed with her photographs of endangered orchids. The wafting silks are both a futuristic multimedia experience and a step back into an ancient art form. While Clyde wades in a swamp for his work, Connie had to stand on a chair to show us one of her stunning, orchid-printed silks.

Miami Herald photojournalist Patrick Farrell's résumé includes winning the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography for his coverage of the deadly 2008 hurricane season's impacts on Haiti. He was also a part of the Miami Herald team that won the Pulitzer in 1993 for coverage of Hurricane Andrew. HIs assignments have taken him to Turkey, Cuba, and through Central and South America. His work has also been honored by Pictures of the Year International and won a National Headliners Award. Most recently he covered the earthquake that devastated Haitii. Patrick's quiet, but his photos are not. The most striking of the images he showed Thursday were what I would call horribly beautiful. Children killed in the devastation of Haiti, shown with both respect and sadness. In the most wrencing of circumstances, Patrick's images showed impecable compositon and a keen eye for telling light. Patrick's photographs brought home the idea that society's vulnerability to disasters is an increasingly important environmental story. He told of covering the earthquake in Haiti, then sleeping on the lawn of a destroyed hotel after filing his photographs. After a few days, he lost even his piece of grass when others in need of space moved into the hotel grounds.

Carlton Ward, Jr., another of the founding members of the International League of Conservation Photographers, is an eighth-generation Floridian who started working in Africa, but realized that his home state was also in need of photographs that might prompt conservation. He's published a photo book of Florida cowboys, and worked extensively with camera traps to document wildlife, as with this photo of a black bear that appeared on the cover of Audubon. He's also photographed features for Smithsonian, National Wildlife, and Outdoor Photographer magazines. Carlton's focus now is on the Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition, for which he and his friend Joe Guthrie, a bear biologist, will trek the length of Florida over a 100 day period starting on January 17th of next year. They'll travel by foot, boat and horse. You can follow them at the expeditions website, or better yet, join them for a leg, so long as you don't mind getting dirty.

 


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