Covering a political fundraiser.

Last Friday - on Sept. 5 - I had a new type of assignment: covering a political fundraiser. Client was the candidate the fundraiser was for. The event was being held indoors on a college campus, so I put the flash unit and diffuser on the dSLR - only to be told upon arrival by the event’s “star” that the many old paintings all around the room meant no flash could be used.
Shooting without flash turned out to be the easy part of covering the event. Unfortunately for the “star” - a candidate for a judgeship - his white hair blended into the paint in most conceivable backgrounds around the room! Constant motion prevented use of the dark paintings as a background - as did the candidate’s dark suit. His wife’s and daughter’s hair and outfits did stand out in photos.
Depth of field was shallow - due to the use of non-flash available-light shooting.
I discussed sizing the photos for Web site use with the candidate during our time at the event, recommending a good size for such use - and had the smaller ones all emailed to him in plenty of time. The one of local musician Tom Maxwell (below) playing the event was his favorite.

Area musician Tom Maxwell plays Matthew Martin’s fundraiser in Chapel Hill, N.C.,
Sept. 5, 2014.


Covering the Tea Party - Part III

Sometime between April 2010 and October 2010, the Tea Party here in central N.C. underwent a drastic change. It went from being merely an expression of unfocused rage to being capable of focusing on one issue - and showed that - as of just before the 2010 elections that it won for the “conventional” Republican Party, both here in N.C. and nationally.
While its April 2010 rally in Greensboro was the as-usual unfocused rage - complete with a man with a memorable lengthy stream-of-consciousness rant on a sign taller than he was - the October 2010 rally focused on a pending sales-tax-hike referendum locally two weeks later. That was clear from a first-ever large banner up front (photo below) - again, a first ever for the movement.
The movement’s change would become increasingly clear in the first months after the newly-elected-in-2010 state legislators took office in Raleigh - but that October rally, predating that election by a couple weeks, was the first sign that the Tea Party now was an actual political party-within-a-party.

This sign at an Oct. 14, 2010 Tea Party rally in Greensboro, N.C. clearly shows the movement by then is capable of a unified focus on one or more issues and politicians.


Covering the Tea Party - Part II

The Tea Party’s start was in the disorganized “street” rallies that became its iconic symbol - but, almost immediately after delivering in 2010 what the “formal” GOP couldn’t (election victories at both the state and federal level), it largely got off the street and into much-more-organized “conventional” political activity such as pestering legislators as key votes approached in Raleigh. The “street” rallies almost immediately got much smaller in attendance - or even just weren’t held at all any more in some cities and had much smaller attendance in the others they still were held in. That necessitated a major change in covering it.
It was very hard to tell whether the “formal” GOP had coopted the Tea Party or the reverse - but continued coverage of the movement meant having good sources within it rather than depending on roadside signs announcing “street” rallies. I developed such a source at the level that the Tea Party and “formal” GOP merged here in central N.C. - while staying in close touch with the veterans of the “street” rallies for the considerable information they still provided.
In Feb. 2011 - right after the inauguration of the new politicians it had elected - the Tea Party did the first of its new-style activities here in central N.C., picketing the Greensboro office of Sen. Kay Hagan, who had generally sided with Pres. Obama and who had voted for Obamacare; both were highly unpopular in this state. Only a couple dozen were present - very unlike the “street” rallies downtown that had turned out hundreds each.
On Aug. 7, 2014, the Tea Party again picketed Sen. Hagan’s Greensboro office (below) - with about the same number present. Like the first time in 2011, those involved crowded into Sen. Hagan’s office itself before picketing outside the building. This time, however, she was facing reelection - and in a close match - in only a couple months.

A Tea Party member pickets Sen. Kay Hagan’s office in Greensboro, N.C., Aug. 7, 2014.
One of my photos from a 2012 Tea Party rally was published on a paid basis in the Scandinavian news magazine Illustreret Videnskab Historie.


Covering the Tea Party - Part I

Political rallies, politicians’ appearances - of any kind - are among my favorite things to cover. So the emergence of the Tea Party - which started as a street-protest movement of “the people who don’t protest,” middle-class whites, most over 40, was a fascinating story from the start.
Its roots - at least in central N.C. - were in protests against illegal immigration that dated to June 2007, when building tradesmen in my county who were angry about the sudden glut of illegal immigrants in the building trades protested at the courthouse. I’d covered those earlier protests. These people were the nucleus of what later was termed the Tea Party here.
After its 2010 election victories here in N.C., the Tea Party largely got off the streets - and largely shifted to at-the-legislature activism instead of its iconic rallies. But in covering it I had developed a great source very early on: a local organizer who was at the level where the Tea Party and the “official” Republican Party merged. I also had a second source among the building tradesmen involved in the Tea Party - and in the earlier illegal-immigration protests. These sources gave me advance notice of upcoming events - and I covered most all of the movement’s street rallies here in central N.C. I even covered street protests of the movement’s that didn’t have widespread notification.
One older man’s sign I photographed at a 2010 rally in Greensboro made clear what the Tea Party’s only unifying theme was, despite all the different issues on homemade signs participants brought: that Tea Party members just wanted back the U.S. as it long had existed - even quite recently (below). Discussions with the building-tradesman source made clear that was the one unifying driving force fueling the movement. Other than that, it is a movement of unfocused rage - something my coverage found early.
At least one of my photos from a Tea Party rally ran paid in a Scandinavian news magazine.

Tea Party member demands back the America he knew.
Another Tea Party rally photo of mine ran paid in a Scandinavian news magazine.


My alternative camera - a Canon G15

I have two dSLR bodies - each with a top-grade Canon “L” lens on it, one the 24-70mm f/2.8 USM, the other the 70-200mm f/2.8 IS USM. But I also have a backup small digicam - Canon’s G15 - and find it very useful, especially for some situations.
The G15 comes with a 28-140mm (equiv.) lens - a fast one at that, f/1.8-2.8. That - combined with the first of Canon’s semipro G-series digicams to really produce publication-grade photos at a very-high ISO setting - makes this camera very useful for situations where unobtrusiveness is essential, as well as for having a semipro camera that you can have with you at any time, even when your dSLR is in the car while you shop or eat. A dSLR-like mode dial - and a setting dial - allows easy setting of shutter speeds or aperture for shutter-priority and aperture-priority modes; top shutter speeds approach dSLR level.
No-flash photography is easy at ISO 3200. It’s large enough to firmly grip - and designed for firm grippability - while still far smaller than the rangefinder 35mm cameras long favored by street photographers and famously used while covering the Vietnam War by top photojournalists. It also has a very-easy-to-use exposure-compensation dial. It’s great for the same situations those 35mm rangefinder cameras were favored for - only far more versatile with that fast zoom lens.
I keep mine attached to quick-disconnects for use with a neck strap kept in the car - and on ISO 3200. And it proved handy for a no-flash, unobtrusive photo (below) of some Duck Dynasty merchandise in a retail place at the height of Duck Dynasty’s marriage-equality controversy - and that photo sold.

Shot no-flash in a retail environment with a Canon G15 at ISO 3200.
Sold through reseller to unknown buyer.


Covering a night rally

Political rallies of any kind - like politicians - are a favorite subject of mine, no matter whether they are right-wing Tea Party rallies or left-wing Occupy events. But the local annual right-to-life rally here in Alamance County this year would be different - as it would be at night and on a bitterly-cold January day when the temperature was in the mid-20s.
So I set my dSLR to ISO 6400 - and wore electrician’s gloves, thin enough to operate the camera and lens and offering a good grip on everything, yet providing good enough insulation from the bitter cold that night and the wind.
ISO 6400 allowed me to shoot no-flash photos - with the camera handheld - and still get great photos (below) of the candlelight vigil.
The cold did pose a problem - keeping the dSLR’s battery from putting out enough power to operate the camera. So I took out the battery and warmed it by taking the glove off one hand to hold the battery for a few minutes - as long as I could tolerate; I’d used this method before on other stories in cold weather. That got the battery operating again - and the camera. I promptly put the glove back on for tolerable conditions - and allowing me to hold the camera still, not shiver!
I got plenty of “keeper” photos - and soon had them uploaded to a news photo agency, along with a text description of the rally.

Political rallies are a favorite subject of mine.
Here, a nighttime right-to-life rally.


Covering Occupy - Part II

It was late Oct. 2011 - and the Occupy movement was getting increasingly troubled, a consequence of an encampment-based movement without “sheriffs” as varied local Occupies nationwide made actual police unwelcome, lacked any real government of their own, and most of all were open to anyone who drifted in. From the flagship Occupy in Manhattan to Los Angeles, Occupies, were ending up in the news for all the wrong reasons - assaults on journalists, sexual assaults on Occupiers, and child neglect among them. Illness and public-health problems were plaguing Occupies.
Occupy Chapel Hill - in North Carolina’s iconic “college town” of Chapel Hill - was among them. Being that I’d be covering an unrelated story that day in that area, I spent the spare time waiting for the other story to start covering Occupy Chapel Hill on-spec.
Occupy Chapel Hill had a sign - which I photographed - telling members that they could wash their plastic utensils! While the sign said that two nearby churches were allowing use of their restrooms - during daytime hours only - reuse of plastic utensils sounded like the kind of thing that led to the public-health problems that Occupies by now were notorious for.
As of the day I covered Occupy Chapel Hill, it was getting along well with the police. On a paved area in front of the old post office in the town’s main shopping area, it had between 12 and 40 people there at any time that day - with it apparently functioning more as a place to drop in than as an actual residential encampment the way that the flagship Occupy Wall Street worked. About 12-16 tents seemed unoccupied during the daytime hours.
I shot photos of everything there while waiting for the story I really was in the area to cover.

Three of the about 12-16 tents of Occupy Chapel Hill.


Covering Occupy - Part I

Oct. 2011 made the Occupy movement national news - and it very soon spread from its origin in Manhattan. Fueled, ironically, by the same things that fueled the right-wing Tea Party movement - resentment of Wall Street and its role in causing the depressed economy, an abysmal job market for the middle class, and a perception that Washington just didn’t care about the plight of middle-class Americans as it did for its Wall Street cronies - Occupy was even here in North Carolina very soon. About two or three weeks after the flagship “Occupy Wall Street” was first national news, Occupies were founded in several North Carolina cities - Greensboro, Charlotte, and the “college town” of Chapel Hill.
I covered Occupy Greensboro by plan - and Occupy Chapel Hill while waiting to cover another story in that area of Chapel Hill. Occupy Greensboro I covered its first day - when it was a march from the area near City Hall, before it settled into a New York City-style encampment.. Occupy Chapel Hill was an encampment - if a tiny one - when I covered it, with all of 12 to 40 people depending on time of a weekend day present.
Occupy Greensboro attracted some 300 to its march that was its first day. People brought all sorts of homemade signs on all sorts of topics - again, ironically like any Tea Party rally that I’d covered. Like the Tea Party, Occupy was visibly fueled by unfocused rage - evident from the signs’ varied messages. The overall image, though - again like the Tea Party - was middle-class white people (mostly) who’d ended up poor through no fault of their own and were very angry (below).

This Occupy Greensboro member looks straight from a Tea Party rally.


On assignment for the New York Post - Part I, the Jill Abramson story.

It began as a voicemail on my phone from a prior repeat client - but when I called them back 15 minutes later, they’d decided not to hire a stringer for this story: just-fired New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson was to speak at not-distant Wake Forest University’s commencement.
So I immediately called around to other possible clients for that story. Abramson - and her sudden termination by the New York Times - was a big story, especially among the three dailies in New York City but also far beyond, fueled by allegations of sexism. Of those I called, they either were sending their own staff people - or using wire-photo feed - except for the New York Post, where the photo desk first told me they’d consider it, then called me back to hire me. Phone and email discussion provided what kind of photos they wanted and a price agreed.
My job in this assignment included everything from locating where and when the commencement would be held to arranging credentialing.
I arrived early and shot some “scenery” photos as one of the first press people there - but it soon became evident that dozens of press people were covering this - even two just from CNN and three from Associated Press.
Abramson was all smiles when presented an honorary degree (below).
I had all photos sent to the New York Post via FTP in a timely manner.

Jill Abramson smiles as she is awarded an honorary degree.


I saw it, I shot the photo, I sold the photo: the “Duck Dynasty” controversy. 

Although now having shot on-assignment for two years, I still shoot on-spec anything newsworthy - and upload the photos to a news-photo agency. I do this for potential additional sales of photos that I own - and for additional exposure when on-assignment work is slow.
So it was last Christmas Eve - when, at the height of the “Duck Dynasty” controversy over gay rights - I saw a display of “Duck Dynasty” merchandise for sale at a local Cracker Barrel restaurant.
I got out my backup digicam - a Canon G15 - and shot a package. Canon’s G15 is unobtrusive - and ideal for such work - but offers near-dSLR capability except for the lack of an interchangeable lens. Its combination of a very fast lens (equivalent to 28-140mm), great photos even at very high ISO, very easy exposure compensation - in an inconspicuous package but one still easy to grip firmly - make it a great backup digicam, especially for breaking news stories as that camera you’d always carry that has immensely more capability than a smartphone’s camera. While your dSLR is out in the car as you eat or shop or whatever, that G15 is with you.
A photo from my package (below) sold through a reseller to an unknown buyer several months later in March.

“Duck Dynasty” merchandise for sale in a restaurant - at the height of the controversy.