A sensory vacation

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Day 1: Morning dew in our neighbor’s front yard

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.

 

Day 2: Rainy afternoon.

Day 2: Rainy afternoon.

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Day 3: Fallen blossom in morning light.

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Day 4: ‘Interloper’.

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Day 5: Actually this isn’t the photo I posted of my dog Ivy, but it’s from the same time period. Upon further review I like it better.

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Day 6: “Take-off”

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Day 7: Colorful blooms

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Day 8: Even though I am off the hook for anymore Nature Photos. On Day 8 couldn’t resist the contrast this morning on our deck. Someday we will get a new deck but until then I will enjoy the aging wood below my feet while I sip my coffee.

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12-2 will feel better in time

The Swarm takes the field back in October at Kinnick Stadium. (Photo by Todd Mizener / tmizener@qconline.com)

The Swarm takes the field back in October at Kinnick Stadium. (Photo by Todd Mizener / tmizener@qconline.com)

In 1986 we sat in the Rose Bowl dumbfounded at Ronnie Harmon fumbling 4 times and dropping a sure touchdown in the end zone. Chuck Long got sacked 4 times and the Hawkeyes lost to UCLA 45-28.

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.

Podcast: At the center of the storm with Tim Tai




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.

Tim’s website – http://timtaiphoto.com
Tim’s photos for ESPN.com

Video by Mark Schierbecker

A friend remembered

Trish Sept 2012This blog entry is written with a heavy heart. On Feb. 7th one of my favorite people, Trish Snowdon Heelan, passed away after succumbing to the ravages of pancreatic cancer.

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.

Trish at home - Feb. 2013

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.

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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.

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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Street photography in my backyard

I haven’t had much opportunity to do any street photography in the last year so I decided today that the annual Coal Valley Community Garage Sale might be a good opportunity to get back into the game. In the past I have shot with either my Canon G-10 or Nikon P700 but today I broke out the vaunted iPhone. I shot from my right hip using the Hipstamatic app. To make things even more challenging I brought Ivy, my chocolate lab, with me.

Most street photography is practiced in urban settings but today’s adventure was strictly suburban. The village-wide garage sale attracts a unique blend of folks all furiously looking for a bargain. The streets of our sub-division quickly morph into a bizzare flea market for the day. It can be treacherous walking, especially when you are taking pictures and walking a dog.

The fun thing about this kind of photography is that you take aim without taking aim. I hold the camera, mostly to my side, and point it in the direction of what I think might be an interesting photo. Sometimes I walk and shoot and other times I stop and wait for a moment to come to me. I wasn’t sure anyone else approached street photography in the same way until Scott Strazzante, the award winning photographer from the Chicago Tribune, started his blog Shooting from the Hip. Scott is the current master of this art form and his blog is well worth bookmarking.

Since you point and shoot without the aide of looking through the ‘viewfinder’ sometimes you strike gold and sometimes all you get is knee caps and asses. You shoot a lot and sometimes you capture a nice moment. The art of street photography is a well worn photographic art form. More examples of current street photography can be found at www.street-photographers.com/ and www.lfph.org/what-is-street-photography

If I had to pick one image from today that I was really satisfied with it would be this one of a little boy in the $2 “Thing” mask. I saw it developing as a walked up the street and was able to get to him in time before he took it off. I missed the shot of his brother trying on the “Thing” shoes.

One of the other freeing things about this kind of photography is that it is photography for photography’s sake. My newspaper photojournalism requires me to get names and talk to my subjects. When you shoot like this on the street you are just a fly on the wall. In a few of my shots the subjects are reacting to Ivy which adds a unique spin to the aesthetic.

Here is the rest of my edit. It could be tighter but it’s Saturday and I am enjoying a glass of wine while I type. – Todd

My election night in Moline

The real fun starts after the voting is over. Election night is always a bit of an adventure because, more often than not, each photographer has to cover multiple campaign parties. On Tuesday night I put veteran shooter Gary Krambeck on the candidates with parties in East Moline. Todd Welvaert concentrated on Rock Island based events and I was in Moline with the two Republican candidates vying for the nomination in the 72nd District.

The key to election night photo coverage is that you need to try and capture a happy photo, a serious looking photo and get to your next party. We start shooting about 7:30 pm and need to be back in the newsroom 10-ish. Covering a campaign party usually involves stalking the candidate as he greets guests and takes phone calls. Sometimes you get lucky and you get a genuine reaction to election results other times a hug or a smile has to pass for a winning candidate photo. There is nothing worse than walking to your car when you hear a big cheer come from the party you just left.


My first stop on the evening was Neil Anderson’s campaign party. After about a half-hour  a few election results started to trickle in. His campaign manager asked for quiet in the small basement office and as she started to read the results I trained my camera on the candidate and his wife. She read the results from 3 or 4 precincts and they were all heavily  in Anderson’s favor. The whole room went wild. I had my picture(s) and it was off to the next stop. It usually doesn’t go that smooth. Of course at 8 pm things could have changed but but it didn’t matter. Given space considerations for Wednesday’s paper I knew we were only going to use the winner’s reaction photo in this race. If Anderson was going to win my photos of him pumping his fist were perfect.

My next stop was Anderson’s opponent Jonathan Wallace. Wallace started his evening waiting for the election results at LaFlama Restaurant in Moline but later moved to the Republican headquarters a block away. I made one semi-interesting image at LaFlama of Wallace but since the election was still hanging in the balance I followed him down the street to the headquarters in hopes of getting a better reaction shot. I spent the next hour taking pictures of people staring at computer screens and smart phones waiting for the slow moving vote totals to be posted on the web.

As I photographed the youthful Republican crew it dawned on me that I might be photographing the dawn of a new era in Illinois Quad-Cities politics. In the past, on election night, the candidates always seemed to be older than me or at least about my age. The only 20-somethings running around were campaign volunteers or the kids of the candidate. The two candidates battling for the nomination in the 72nd District were both in their 20’s,  Anderson, 29 and Wallace, 21. If you add 23-year-old Rock Island County Recorder candidate Tony Holland to the mix it made for a striking departure from past elections.

My favorite photo from the evening is Wallace’s girlfriend finding refuge outside on the sidewalk in front of the Republican headquarters trying to follow election results on her MacBook Pro. I found photographing these political newbies refreshing. I have spent my fair share of election nights hold up in a smoky bars with drunken politicos but Tuesday night was different. Both campaigns had a decidedly fresh look and as a result they were easy to photograph. Only time will tell how fresh Anderson will look in November after months of campaigning but for at least one election night I got to breath a little fresh air.