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.


On assignment for the New York Daily News - Part II, the NFL-related story

The call came the month after as the first assignment from the New York Daily News - in Dec. 2012 - at about 5:30 P.M.; the photo desk at the NYDN needed photos of the latest New York Giants rookie standout’s parents and fast. Specifically, they needed the photos by the next morning - and already had told the parents that I’d be there at 8:00 P.M. or so at their home in Danville, Virginia, just across the state line; that barely left time to get there.
The photo desk told me to get photos of the parents with football trophies or other football-related things - and that they’d told the parents that.
The photo desk emailed the address and agreement to the fee. Then my work began; I printed out Google’s street directions door-to-door - and a map of the destination area.
This assignment obviously called for the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens - and that, along with a flash, went.
I arrived to find something useful - a father who understood photography, being that he’d gotten into his own dSLR after his son got further into football! He and I discussed lenses. The parents and another son tacked up a background for me in the hallway - torn from a large roll of white paper.
The parents, surprisingly, didn’t have much in the way of football trophies downstairs, despite the NYDN’s phone discussion with them - but I got Mom to pose with their son’s take-home ball from the 2012 NFL draft (below). I shot a variety of horizontal-format and vertical-format photos of the parents - one of Mom with the football. Flash - when used - was bounce with a diffuser.
I got back to edit the photos, prepare captions - and had it all sent by FTP to the NYDN by around midnight, hours before deadline. One of the photos ran in a story on the player, David Wilson.

Shelia WIlson, mother of David Wilson of the New York Giants, with her son’s take-home ball from the NFL draft.


On assignment for the New York Daily News - Part I, the Petraeus/Broadwell scandal.

I got the call in Nov. 2012, with the phone literally in my hand; the New York Daily News was hiring me on-assignment for two days coverage of Paula Broadwell’s home in Charlotte, N.C. at the height of the Petraeus/Broadwell scandal.
I had the photo editor at the New York Daily News email me her address and agreement to the arranged fee for coverage starting in four days - and then my work began. I printed out from Google street directions door-to-door to Broadwell’s home in Charlotte - and a map of her neighborhood. I then used Google News to find what was possible on her - especially what vehicles she had; photos run by a London daily provided the license plate numbers - and a view of her rather-unique-looking home. I also obtained what information was possible on other members of her family that way.
My choice of my 70-200mm lens was easy as it would allow me to work from the sidewalk on public property legally - and out of range of her hands or feet if she got angry - yet produce close-up views as it had during the John Edwards trial. I did not yet know how essential that would be!
I arrived to two television stations’ live trucks and a subcontracted shooter for a network - all apparently present day after day.
On the first day, I shot mostly “environment” photos - the ill-maintained house in a rich neighborhood, one of their SUVs with a West Point alumni license-plate frame (a glaring reminder of West Point’s famous honor code saying that cadets shall not cheat nor tolerate anyone who cheats) - most of the day. By that day, the Broadwells had hiding down to a fine art; drawn-down shades on all windows - and neither parent even sticking their head outdoors when a neighbor came to take their young kids to play. But, finally, Paula Broadwell’s husband Dr. Scott Broadwell backed one of their SUVs into the tiny carport attached to the house and began loading it full of things; it now was obvious that the family either was going somewhere for Thanksgiving - or just leaving home, period.
The husband snuck Paula Broadwell into the SUV from behind the passenger door - hiding her from both me and the several television crews there. He then practically dived into the driver’s seat - as I shot his photo (below).
I went home, evaluated my photos for the best - and sent them to my client by FTP as easily as if I were in its offices in New York City. I then went back to Google News - and learned that an Associated Press stringer, no longer at the Broadwell home, had been assaulted by Paula Broadwell when she used a wide-angle lens making her stand close to the car door and resulting in Paula Broadwell swinging the door into her lens with her head being gouged by her dSLR!
I completed the assignment the next day uneventfully - with nobody there but that contracted shooter for the network.

Paula Broadwell’s husband, Dr. Scott Broadwell, as he jumps into SUV.


Covering the 2012 presidential campaign - Part II

The call came unexpectedly - and provided nil notice; it was from a source that I had developed in this county’s Republican Party organization - who was at the level at which the “official” Republican Party and the Tea Party interfaced and seemed to merge, providing good information on both. The source told me that Mitt Romney’s son Tagg was going to be appearing locally to campaign for his father - in a couple hours - at county GOP headquarters.
What the source didn’t know was distances, whether a campaign bus would come, or other details essential to choosing which lens to use - my 24-70mm or my 70-200mm, the latter of which I’d used at a Newt Gingrich campaign stop in April during the fading days of Gingrich’s own presidential campaign. In the end, I chose the 24-70mm - which proved to be an excellent decision.
When I got to county GOP headquarters to cover this story, the place already was packed - very different from all the earlier events that I’d covered there during the presidential campaign.
Tagg Romney arrived - and, with a huge campaign sign as backdrop, spoke to the crowd as I shot photos. He was a far better speaker than his father the candidate - never a good situation for a presidential candidate! The next morning, my photo of Tagg Romney speaking in front of that huge sign (below) was running atop three stories in the London Telegraph. A headshot photo of Tagg Romney that I’d shot there ran in the London Daily Mail. Unfortunately, what I’d say was the best photo I’d shot there - a “shot for the Jumbotrons” photo of Tagg Romney, who’s been urged to run for Congress, autographing yard signs - has yet to run.