Some of the stories you tell end up sticking with you forever. They echo in your heart. They drift into your consciousness when you don’t expect it. I think this is one of those stories.
Some of the stories you tell end up sticking with you forever. They echo in your heart. They drift into your consciousness when you don’t expect it. I think this is one of those stories.
One of the keys to being a good photographer is having a never-ending curiosity.
If you lack curiosity you will perish. Obviously, this is a mantra extends far beyond the world of photography but you get my point. If you only see images as they present themselves on the surface, your work will become stale and uninteresting. You need to challenge yourself everyday to be better, look deeper and get out of your comfort zone.
You never know when a visual challenge is going to come your way. I certainly didn’t expect to have one tossed at me while I was off work for a week. So when my friend, and fellow photographer Joe Murphy, tagged me in one of those Facebook ‘Photo A Day’ challenges last week I decided to push all my cards on to the table and try hard to make really good images. The subject of the challenge was “nature.” My only problem seemed to be that I was on a “stay-cation” doing nothing but lawn work, home repairs, running my dogs to the vet and working on organizing my photo archive. I had no real plans to get out into “nature”. But since I love a challenge I had to explore the nature around me with a new set of eyes.
From the first image to the last I think I made 8 pretty decent images. The first two are probably the strongest. They also got the biggest reactions on social media for whatever that is worth.
As part of the challenge I had to nominate another person to do the challenge each day I posted a photo. I ended up picking a nice of mix of professional and amateur photographers/nature lovers. The end result was two weeks of wonderful and relaxing images filling my Facebook feed. For some reason I didn’t see that consequence coming, so it was a very pleasant surprise. And now that the flow of images is starting to slow to a trickle, my feed is back to memes and angry posts about the President.
Who knew that a random photo-challenge on Facebook would result in a sensory vacation for my soul? Thanks Joe.
For years my wife and I travelled to Road America, in Elkhart Lake, WI, during July, to watch her dad, Bob Wismer, race his vintage Triumph TR-4 and Tornado Thunderbolt on the historic track. The race weekends were celebrated much the same way other families come together for Thanksgiving. Truth be told, family attendance for Bob’s July race rivaled only Christmas for family attendance. Unfortunately that family tradition came to an end after Bob raced his last race ever in July 2013 at Road America, a month before being diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
Long before Bob started racing his own car, the Wismer family attended races at Road America. Many of my wife’s favorite childhood memories revolve around those family trips to Elkhart Lake. She and her siblings got to watch some of the kings of racing in the late 60’s and 70’s from their blanket on the hill at Corner 5. So the return of IndyCar to Road America, for the first time since 2007, offered some of us an opportunity to start a new/old tradition in the wake of Bob’s passing in 2014.
During Bob’s race weekends I documented the event much the same way I would tell the story for work. But for the new tradition I wanted to take a new visual approach. I brought some DSLR gear to shoot the race but my visual focus, for the Kohler Grand Prix weekend, was to make ‘street photography’ style pictures with my iPhone 6 and the Hipstamatic app. The unique road track and the diverse crowd offered me a target rich environment to stretch myself visually. The following is a collection of my favorite ‘street style’ shots from the race weekend.
But unlike today it always felt like at any minute the game would flip in their favor. 2016 Rose Bowl the Hawkeyes ran into a team which, sans an early season loss to Northwestern, is clearly on par with Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.
Iowa had a great year. It was a mix of skill, guts and luck. Today, they were out skilled, out toughed and couldn’t catch a break if it was handled to them. The thing that makes me mad about this horrible loss is that they didn’t play like the team we watched all year but then again they didn’t play anyone as good as Stanford all season.
To make matters worse today we had to endure Brent Musburger narrate the entire debacle. In the end the journey to 12-2 was pretty damn good, despite the disappointing final act.
Working on the Talking Pictures Podcast, which I host with co-workers Todd Welvaert and Paul Colletti, is one of the highlights of my week. It is a fantastic way to connect with our readers in addition to photographers from around the globe. So when I watched the YouTube video of student photojournalist Tim Tai trying to hold his ground against advancing protesters my first thought (after my blood pressure subsided) was that we needed to get Tim on the podcast. With the help of mutual friend Leah Klafczynski we were able to score the timely and important interview.
Incase you are unfamiliar with Tim’s story, on Monday November 9, 2015 student photojournalist Tim Tai, of the University of Missouri, accepted a plumb assignment from ESPN to photograph the events surrounding the #ConcernedStudent1950 protests at Mizzou. An hour later the 20-year-old photographer found himself face to face with protesters. The YouTube video of his attempt to stand his ground as protesters pushed him and other journalists back would quickly catapult him into the public eye. The 6:34-minute video went viral and journalists across the country hailed him for keeping his cool while trying to make a case for the First Amendment.
We sat down with Tim a few days after the incident to discuss his experience and the fallout of being part of a viral video. He is a credit to our profession and I am proud we were able to help him tell his story.
Video by Mark Schierbecker
‘The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but has no vision.” – Helen Keller.
I have been on a slow burn for a week now. I am no less angry about the Sun-Times firing their entire photo staff today than I was a week ago. This blog entry has started and stopped numerous times as I try to find a focus to my thoughts and emotions.
One of the advantages of waiting a week to write this blog is that I have had the pleasure of watching the 28 Sun-Times photographers be such great standard bearers for our profession. In my 24-years as a member of the Illinois Press Photographers Association I have never felt more a part of our organization. We are all spread out across the state and on many days we are competing for the same stories and in the same contests. But as a result of the Sun-Times actions we are a cohesive unit led by our president Rob Hart.
I am not going to pretend that I know all of the 28 photographers personally. My one close friend on the staff is Brett Roseman, a former Dispatch/Argus intern. It pains me to see this happen to Brett, not to mention another former intern and friend, Marianne Morgan, who was laid off from the Sun-Times in a prior downsizing.
I grew up in the Chicago suburbs and some of those laid off photogs were there making amazing photos when I was in high school. One in particular, Pulitzer Prize winner John H. White, was the person who lit the fuse for my career in photojournalism. In about 1980 JHW came to speak at my high school and his passion and skill for photography were way beyond inspiring. I knew right then and there that I wanted to be a photojournalist.
So on that fateful day when I got wind of the firings, I could not believe my eyes when I saw Rob Hart’s Instagram post http://instagram.com/p/Z8MuF-w7ff/ about being fired along-side his hero John H. White. The gravity of the situation still didn’t sink in until I spoke with Brett. Unfortunately I was the first person to inform Brett of the mass firings. He was unable to attend the staff meeting where the Sun-Times officials unceremoniously jettisoned their entire photo staff. According to Brett he had an inkling something was amiss when the meeting was called but who could have ever imagined a wholesale layoff?
I have had friends laid off before but this is something completely different. What the Sun-Times did was unprecedented and a direct shot right across the bow of photojournalism. It is an insult to readers and the paper’s advertisers. There are all sorts of theories as to why they did it. But even if they have some grand Machiavellian plan it doesn’t change the fact that eliminating their award winning photo staff for any reason was a colossal mistake. I think Alex Garcia of the Chicago Tribune does a fantastic job of detailing “The Idiocy of Eliminating a Photo Staff” in his Assignment Chicago blog .
PRESS RELEASE: “The Sun-Times business is changing rapidly and our audiences are consistently seeking more video content with their news. We have made great progress in meeting this demand and are focused on bolstering our reporting capabilities with video and other multimedia elements. The Chicago Sun-Times continues to evolve with our digitally savvy customers, and as a result, we have had to restructure the way we manage multimedia, including photography, across the network.”
After that was released their plan to train reporters in the basics of iPhone photography quickly leaked out and the mocking quickly followed.
It’s comical to think that the Sun-Times customers, especially their 20-something readers, are going to be willing to sit through an endless stream of shaky 30-second video clips. Kids love video but not boring video of the Chicago City Council droning on about whatever. If I have learned anything in the last 5-plus years of producing multimedia/video is that quality content matters to our customers. Who produces great video? Great visual journalists – go figure.
I am not surprised when people take what we do for a living for granted. At the start of the digital revolution, when our darkrooms were replaced by Macs I had a former news editor look me in the eye with a cold dead stare and say, “You know we’re gonna replace you guys someday with reporters with cameras and no one will notice.” Strangely during our time together he seemed to understand the importance of good pictures. I guess he just didn’t understand how difficult it was to go get them.
Thankfully for me and my staff our bosses understand strong visuals. Every news meeting begins with a discussion about the photos. We are lucky and my staff and I know it.
I think deep down most people understand that the images matter because every time I have covered a story which involves someone losing their home – as long as their family is OK – the first thing they mourn are their family photos. Their visual link to the past has been severed by a fire or a tornado. They can rebuild the house but the photos are irreplaceable.
When you think of events like 9/11 it’s the images that people remember. The images of people running in horror from the collapsing buildings or the heroic firefighters raising the flag over Ground Zero are seared into our consciousness. John H. White expressed this same idea in an interview with CNN last week while talking about the importance of photojournalism. “It’s the visual and for a lot of people 100-years from now, it’s their only connection with history. We’re visual historians.”
TWO HANDS – ONE BRAIN
On the day I was hired at the D/A I was asked by an acquaintance what my new job was going to be. When I told them ‘a photographer’ the person said: “That’s all? They are going to pay you to just take photos?”
I think about that conversation when I am trying to juggle shooting stills, getting video, doing an interview and keeping my head on a swivel so I don’t miss something important. Most of those duties are visual tasks so they come fairly easily to me.
But, trying to be both a reporter and photographer at a busy news scene is sort of like knitting a sweater while scrambling eggs. Neither one is going to turn out right and you’re probably going to get burned.
Reporters and photographers think differently because they utilize different regions of their brains. A reporter’s job is to collect as much information as possible to tell the story. The photographer’s job is to capture that split second moment in time which incapsulates the story.
Henri Cartier-Bresson, the father of modern photojournalism, referred to it as the decisive moment. “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.” “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.”
It is impossible for me to imagine a world without the photographers brave enough to point their cameras into the face of history and hold focus. But let me be clear, all history is not confined to war-zones and conflict. Our history encompasses everything from a high school soccer game to a presidential election and beyond.
I know that to someone who has been laid off by GM this must all sound so ridiculous. I understand that photojournalists don’t cure cancer but what we do is keep focus on those who are afflicted and try to lend some valuable human insight into the disease for everyone else.
The layoffs have been a gut punch to our profession but by no means is photojournalism dead. The 28 talented photographers and all those who were laid off in the years leading up to this move will survive because by their very nature they are curious and adaptable. As John H. White said to CNN – “Those whose visions and values are different can’t extinguish the light of hope.” For we are the “lamplighters to the world.”
Here are a few excellent articles and blogs in this topic which are worth the read.
‘Assignment Chicago’ by Alex Garcia “The Idiocy of Eliminating a Photo Staff”
‘Shooting from the Hip’ by Scott Strazzante “Are you just the photographer?
‘Laid off from the Sun-Times’ Rob Hart : Laid off from the Sun-Times
American Photo – The Sun-Times Photo Layoffs: What We’re Losing
I received the email about Trish’s passing during our afternoon editor’s meeting. I was sitting in the same room, having a similar meeting in 2009 when my brother Jeff called to tell me that our mother had died. Instead of getting up to leave, this time I just sat silently staring at the email and the photo of her waving goodbye. The meeting kept moving forward but I was stuck in neutral. It sort of felt like I was standing perfectly still in the middle of a train station at rush hour.
My first thought was that she was going to get to see my Mom & Dad in heaven. Then I flashed back to the phone call back in 2009 from Jeff and how surreal it was to have to tell a room full of people that I needed to leave because my mom was dead. I guess I just sat there numb contemplating what Trish had meant to me and my family. When I got home my wife Lisa gave me a big hug. We spent most of our evening walk chatting about what a wonderful person Trish was.
It wasn’t until he next morning that her passing hit me. As a stood in the shower, the song ‘Lean on Me’ by Bill Withers started to play and all of my emotions just started to pour out. I remembered how much we leaned on her for the 10-months it took to clean out my parent’s house and I cried. I thought about how much Mom leaned on her in the years following our Dad’s death and I cried. I thought about her husband Will, who she leaned on during her battle with cancer, being all alone in their wonderful house and I cried. I thought about all the nights they hosted me and Jeff so we could decompress in their care and I cried.
I know that Trish forever changed me. She was the kind of person who made you want to be a better, kinder and gentler person. Her kindness had no equal and we would have been lost without her help and guidance in the days and months following my mother’s passing. Why did she help us? God only knows but when I think about a world without Trish I cry.
It seems like I knew her my entire life but that isn’t true. Knowing someone is different than being aware of someone. I guess it wasn’t until my dad died in 2005 that I really learned how special Trish was.
Trish and her husband Will were ‘the hippies’ living next door to my very Republican parents. They always seemed nice but I knew my mom didn’t really understand them. They were the kind of people who had a VW Van and God forbid a McGovern sticker on the bumper. Mom and Trish shared a common cause as members of the neighborhood garden club but I think you could best describe their relationship as reserved, with a gentle political tense undertow.
But little did I know, on the other side of that old picket fence, Trish and Will were quietly waiting for just the right moment build a real friendship. That day came when my father passed away in 2005. Trish & Will tossed my mother a lifeline. Janet grabbed it and held on for dear life.
Up until the day she died in Dec. of 2009 Trish and Will kept a watchful eye over my mom. They helped her with all the little chores that are gigantic hurdles to a woman in her 80‘s and they never asked for anything in return. I was glad to find out later that mom showed them her appreciation with thoughtful little gifts now and again. It was their dedication to my Mom’s daily routine that alerted us to her passing. They quickly noticed that her light pattern in the house had changed.
My parent’s house was packed from the attic rafters, to the basement drain, with a unique brand of treasures and trash. It took us 10-months to clean out the house and sell it. Since neither of us live in the Chicago area Trish and Will acted as our eyes and ears. They also volunteered countless hours of their time to helping us pack and haul things out of every crevasse of the two-story house. Trish even found a home for mom’s raggedy old cat. I could go on and on listing every little thing they helped us with but my fingers would go numb typing.
The most important thing they did for us during those 10-months was to offer us sanctuary in the evening. We were only 25-feet from the chaos but their kitchen might as well been in another state. Those many dinners were full of insightful conversation, a ton of laughs and not to mention a lot of great food and wine. I wouldn’t trade those nights for the world, they made the unbearable bearable.
I took tons of photos over those 10-months and after I learned Trish had died I poured over them again. I was disappointed by how few photos I had of Trish. Then I realized that she probably wanted it that way. Maybe it was because she was camera shy but I think it speaks more to her amazing ability to know just when to offer us a life line and when to step back and let us work, grieve and bond. As hard as those 10-months were I can’t imagine going through that experience without Trish and Will.
On Saturday March 23 Trish’s family and friends will gather to celebrate her life and say goodbye. I plan to say thank you.
This video snippet is from one of our many dinners. I love being able to hear her voice again. Cheers my friend, we miss you.