Street Photographer view of Road America

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.

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The vision will triumph

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‘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.

Davenport native Brett Roseman recently lost his job when the Chicago Sun-Times, where he worked as a photojournalist, fired its entire 28-person photo staff. Roseman, a former Dispatch/Argus photo intern, says despite the set-back he is already making plans to more forward with his career. Photo courtesy of Matt Marton

Davenport native Brett Roseman was one of the 28 photographers who lost their jobs when  Chicago Sun-Times  fired its entire photo staff. Roseman is a former Dispatch/Argus photo intern. Photo courtesy of Matt Marton

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.

John H. White with one of my former interns Eric Davis of the Chicago Tribune. (Photo courtesy of Eric Davis)

John H. White with one of my former interns Eric Davis of the Chicago Tribune. (Photo courtesy of Eric Davis)

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.

Colbert Report mocks the Sun-Times

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

Phil Greer – http://jimromenesko.com/2013/06/06/angry-chicago-photographer-blasts-sun-times-for-layoffs/

Rob Hart on WGN – http://wgnradio.com/2013/06/03/fired-photog-details-sun-times-eliminating-photojournalism-staff/

American Photo – The Sun-Times Photo Layoffs: What We’re Losing

CNN’s interview with John H. White

Daily Herald coverage of the Save the Photographers rally.

Instagram – to share or not to share that is the question

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My dogs Ivy and Luna are no strangers to having their photos posted on Instagram. Posted 12/18/2012.

The first thing they teach us as kids in kindergarten is to share. So is it any wonder why in the digital world people are so open to sharing their photos and personal details on the internet. Sharing is in our DNA.

Instagram tossed a grenade into the photo sharing world on Monday Dec. 17, 2012 with controversial changes to their Terms of Service. Professional and amateur photographers around the world flipped their wigs over the changes.

Here is a concise explanation of the changes via lightbox.time.com by Adam McCauley

“According to the changes, effective January 16, 2013, any photograph posted on Instagram’s service can be repackaged and sold by Instagram for advertising purposes without the user’s knowledge or consent.  In addition, by agreeing to the new terms, users are responsible for any legal claims that may result from the promotion or use of their images.

Long story short: Instagram can use your content to increase their revenue, and if a legal claim is brought against the company regarding how these images have been used, you (the user) might be responsible for the damages.”

Instagram reacted within 24-hours to the firestorm of complaints and they are “listening.” http://blog.instagram.com/post/38252135408/thank-you-and-were-listening

I have my concerns about Instagram’s decision but I do think the photography world needs to take a deep breath and look for perspective while we await Instagram’s next move.

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Veterans Day program at the 9th Street Commons Park, East Moline, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012.

Instagram is a wonderful tool to SHARE your visual thoughts in the same way Twitter is a wonderful way to share your thoughts and opinions. It’s a wonderful way to get some feedback on a boring day. So at its core Instagram is a free sharing service. It’s not your personal website, It’s not your PhotoShelter site, It’s not your company’s file server, It’s a sharing site/method and It’s a free sharing service to boot.

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Election Night 2012: The Rock Island County Republican campaign party at The Stern Center in Rock Island, Ill., Tuesday Nov. 6, 2012.

As a professional photographer I post all sorts of images at http://instagram.com/tmizener/ but nothing I would be worried about being monetized by Instagram. My concerns fall with the legal implications of my photo being used. I am not going to rush to judgement on the New Terms because and my guess they are going to change.

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Fine wine and craft beer are frequent post topics on my Instagram account.

Instagram’s  ham-handed roll out of the “New Terms of Service” reminds me of Netfix’s PR nightmare last year when they botched the attempt to split their DVD and Streaming video services. Instagram will respond to their user’s complaints and I firmly believe they will amend their amendments. That all being said – who really thought these guys invented Instagram out of the goodness of their heart? Not me. So I am never surprised when this stuff happens. Someone has to pay the light bill. I am just glad the photo community rose up to keep Instagram on their toes. However, I think the people who deleted their accounts in a fit of rage might have jumped the gun. Everyone needs to kick back have a glass of wine, post it on Instagram and wait to see if Instagram can avoid driving their business over the cliff and into internet oblivion.

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My niece Zara enjoys a New Glarus beer in this Hipstamatic image posted on October 16, 2012. http://instagram.com/p/Q3fzTRK7zR/

Black Friday – Hipstamatic street photography

Black Friday 2012 was perfect for some late night street photography. I didn’t really have any intention of heading out into the fray but this year’s early start made it a little easier for me to be convinced to participate. Over the last few years my nephews and I have maintained a Black Friday tradition of shopping together at a few select stores. I thought we were going skip it this year when we couldn’t find any thing to buy in the newspaper circulars but they were not to be deterred. So in the name of tradition we headed out to Target and Best Buy in Moline, Ill.

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Once we arrived at Target I became focused on photographing the madness. The line outside the neighboring Kohl’s was too good to pass up. After shooting the long line at Kohl’s I headed into Target to find my nephews and checkout the craziness. I made a few nice frames there and then we were off to Best Buy.

At Best Buy, where Jeff was kinda looking for a good deal on a 40-inch TV, we got in the back of the growing line of shoppers. It was cold and I could not believe how many people brought their small children out at midnight to shop. The following in a collection of images from our 2 1/2 hour adventure. Oh by the way our purchases consisted of Matt buying a game at full price, I bought a 32GB SD card for no good reason and Jeff never did find that 40-inch tv.

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Lincoln School: The beginning of the end

I can’t count how many times in 23-years at the Dispatch/Argus that I have been assigned to take an updated “building mug” of the old Lincoln School in Rock Island. Since it closed in the 80’s the building has been on a slow and steady descent into hell. Its demise has been so slow that it never seemed to look any different. The beautiful red bricks and striking arches are an architectural mirage. According to the demolition crew the reality is the 119-year-old building is long past saving.

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Since the final decision was made to demolish the structure there has been a steady stream of people stopping by to say goodbye to their old friend.  Everyone I spoke to at the site said the same thing “I wish they could have saved it.” “They should have turned it into a … fill in the blank.”

When the school was closed back in the 80’s the Quad-Cities’ economy was being ripped to shreds by the farm crises. I am not a historian but my best guess is that Lincoln School is an unfortunate victim of circumstance. When the factories which employed so many of the neighborhood’s residents started to struggle, the resulting socio-economic changes left very little money to rehab a money pit built in 1893. Ralph Walters, the school’s retired physical education teacher, told me that the building was a maintenance nightmare during its final 20-years. 2012 is a brand new world when it comes to rehabbing old buildings but we need to remember what was going on economically in the area when the building was shuttered. It will be sad to see those wonderful arches fall to the wrecking ball on Monday. Hopefully something useful will spring from the roots of the beloved old school.

Over the years of photographing old Lincoln School I have never taken the time to walk around it and study it with my camera. On Monday, during the process of shooting photos for the D/A with my Nikon D300s DSLR, I started to make some some photos with my trusty iPhone. I utilized my favorite photo app on the iPhone Hipstamatic. After I had what I needed for the paper I spent 30-minutes trying to capture the character of the building using Hipstamatic. If you follow me on Instagram (@tmizener) you know I am an iPhone photography addict  and this project is taylor-made for a Hipstamatic essay. I love the dramatic black & white 1:1 format, especially for portraits.

On Thursday we got the word that the demolition of the school’s gymnasium addition was going to start so I headed back to the site. The distance of the demolition action from where I had to stand behind the safety fence isn’t conducive to taking images with an iPhone. As a result I concentrated my Hipstamatic photos on the people who showed up to watch. During the 2-hours I was on the scene I had to toggle between my responsibilities to the newspaper and the Hipstamatic project.

Lincoln School alumni John Baxter with his class photo from 1964-65.

Once I was back in the office and finished my newspaper edit I was finally able to look over the Hipstamatic images. I was pretty pleased with the results. I have picked 14 of the better images from both days to a slideshow posted below.  I especially like the photo of John Baxter (above) holding his class photo with the school in the background. I hope to capture more of these ‘alumni portraits’ on Monday during the demolition of the main building. With any luck lots of Lincoln alumni will take the time to stop by the site. Fingers crossed.

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*Note the only non-Hipstmatic photo in the slideshow is the one of the cat living under the school steps. That image was taken with a Nikon D300s and a 70-200mm lens. I cropped it to the 1:1 format and toned it in Photoshop to give it a Hipstamatic feel.

Instagram: Twitter for photogs

I sat down tonight to write about my new found fascination with Instagram and quickly discovered that PhotoShelter Chairman and co-founder Allen Murabayashi did it much better in his PhotoShelter blog post entitled “Why Instagram is Terrible for Photographers, and Why You Should Use It”. So why am I still typing? Because I can’t sleep 🙂

Instagram post of the Rock Island Co. Fair Queen. Shot with a D300s, transferred to my iPhone and posted via Instagram to Twitter and Facebook.

Despite being 46-years-old my brain seems to naturally sync well with today’s social networking way of life.  For as much as I post on Facebook these days it is ironic that I started using it reluctantly. My nieces and nephews strong armed me into joining and I never looked back. I came to Twitter reluctantly – when my employer suggested I Tweet. By the way if you follow me on Twitter please accept my humble apologies for not being very interesting. I embraced the camera app Hipsatmatic the first-second I found it in the iTunes App Store. I thought

“Wow, what a cool photo toy.” I quickly realized however that the Hipstamatic app is not a toy. It is has quickly become an invaluable tool for me as a storyteller.

Anti-meat protest in Davenport shot with Hipstamatic app

Eventual John Deere Classic winner Zach Johnson with Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz. Shot with Nikon D300s, transfered to iPhone, tweaked with Snapseed and posted via Instagram.

Last but not least I have finally come to embrace Instagram. If you are a professional photographer the Instagram fine print probably scares the bejeebers out of you – I know it scared me. But then again any kind of fine print frightens me.  My journey to Instagram was sparked by a question on Facebook from an old high school friend – Karlton Uhm. He was looking for some ‘expert’ advice on which photography iPhone apps to use. I gave him my 2-cents worth advice which I believe included a jab at Instagram. But his question got me thinking about the app – why did Facebook buy it? Why is everyone taking about it? Am I the last one to the party? So I started to play around with it and discovered that some of my friends and colleagues were posting on Instagram. Photographer friends like Marianne Mather (fotomather), Brian Ray (brayphoto), Scott Strazzante (scottstrazzante), Amy Vinchattle (amyvinchattle), H. Rick Bamman (hrick30), Rodney White (Rodney) and Talya Arbisser (photosbytalya), just to name a few, were all on Instagram and posting some cool stuff. Hmmm. If they’re not scared off by those spooky details maybe I should give it a whirl.

Golf fans sports some wacky pants during the John Deere Classic shot with the Instagram app on my iPhone.

Sleeping golf fan during JDC. Shot with Instagram app.

What I quickly discovered was that Instagram is basically Twitter for the typing impaired – a.k.a photographers. Photographers are visual thinkers and posting our thoughts and observations in the form of photos seems a perfect fit. I really embraced the app during the PGA Tour’s John Deere Classic. Some of the photos I posted were transmitted from my D300s via the EyeFi card into my iPhone where I edited them and posted them via Instagram. Others were shot with the iPhone using various camera apps including Instagram. It was fun to try something new visually as I walked around the course. As a photographer Tweeting that I was walking up the 9th fairway is pretty boring stuff but posting a quirky picture of two golf fans in wacky pants is kinda interesting – or at least it is to me.

I use a variety of sources for the photos I post on Instagram. Some are DSLR photos transferred to my iPhone. Others are shot with Camera, Camera +, Instagram and my favorite app – Hipstamatic. I won’t get into the debate over the app filters. If you want to read about that click in the link I mentioned at the top of this post. The bottom-line for me is that I love a challenge. Trying to make great photos with my iPhone is just like trying to paint in oils after years of using watercolors. The goal is the same but the tools are different. Being a photographer is all about connecting with your audience and the best way for me to connect with people is to utilize the various social networking platforms. My stuff varies from work related images, like the ones from the John Deere Classic, to a photo of my dog Ivy sleeping on the couch. No matter the photo I am not interested in posting crap so even if I am posting a dog photo I try and make it a good one.

So after a slow start with Instagram I have come to firmly believe that it is one of the best ways to for both pro-shooters and amateur photographers to connect with their audience/friends.

Feel free to follow me at tmizener on Instagram.

My dog Ivy chases birds. Photo taken with the Instagram app and cross-posted on Facebook.

Shot with iPhone Camera app, cropped and posted via Instagram.

Shot with Hipstamatic app and posted via Instagram

Nice moment at JDC shot with Nikon D300s and transfered to iPhone and posted via Instagram.