Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Desk, Chair, and File Cabinet

I met an interesting guy today, his name is Jackie Harris. And apparently, he thinks all you need to start out in life is a desk, chair, and file cabinet. It's a unique outlook on life: start with the basics, don't get to fancy. Harris is a local entrepreneur who runs a used furniture warehouse in San Angelo. He's also a locomotive nut. He pulled me into his office and gave me an hour-long crash course on all things trains. It reminded me of the first time I visited Brooke's family's house in Houston when my then girlfriend's dad (now father-in-law) gave me the exact lesson, but instead of trains it was Indy Racing League. Harris also makes furniture and holds the secret to a family barbecue sauce that's been handed down since 1948. I know it's an odd mix of talents, but like I said, an interesting guy.
SIDE NOTE: I came across a thread on the site (you can find the link to that website in the column on the left) the other day that listed 30 Photos That Changed the World. I scanned through the photos quickly to see if I could name any of the photographers who took the photos before reading any of the information that was attached to each one. I knew 10. How many can you name?

Monday, April 26, 2010

Texas in Bloom = Heaven on Earth

If you've never seen the Texas Hill Country in early to mid-spring you're missing out. Especially after a winter of heavy rains. The wildflowers bloom with an explosion of color that line the Texas highways and country roads. On Saturday, my wife and I took a day trip down to Fredericksburg with our friend Tracy so that Brooke could take a few senior portraits of Tracy for graduation from Angelo State University. Tracy wanted to get a few photos in the wildflowers, and how could anyone say no to a trip to Fredericksburg.
We had a very wet winter so I was hoping to see a bumper crop of wildflowers this year, but I was a bit disappointed with the lack of flowers we saw. There was only one good road that we found (Highway 71, between Austin and Brady) that really had some good viewing. I took a few photos while Brooke was working with Tracy, but I'll be the first to admit that I am not a landscape or nature photographer. I wish I was, but I'm more than willing to be truthful on this point.
SIDE NOTE: I've added a new link to the LINKS column on the blog to the VII Photo Agency's new online magazine, VII The Magazine. It is a more comprehensive collection of work and multimedia works from other photographers from around the world, rather than just the work of the current members of the VII Photo Agency featured on the their original site. Be sure to check it out.

Monday, April 19, 2010

April Photo Column

Wow, two posts in one day! My second "I Am" column ran today featuring a new American citizen, Mari Johnston. I first met her last month during a naturalization ceremony at Angelo State. My April column was not coming together very well. I had two subjects drop out on me and I was struggling to find another when I came across Mari. Working with her to get this story together also proved difficult as she works strange hours an I was constantly shooting out of town assignments. So the resulting story and audio slideshow seemed a bit weak. The photo above ran on the front page of today's paper with the column below:

SAN ANGELO, Texas — On March 17, Mari Johnston stood before a federal judge, raised her right hand and swore an oath.
It was an oath to adhere to and defend the laws of this country as a United States citizen.
“I was so happy that all of my hard work had finally paid off,” said Johnston, who was born in Tokyo. “I felt like I had accomplished this great thing in my life.”
The path to citizenship wasn’t so smoothly paved for Johnston. First she had to get her application approved.
“The application is so expensive, and at the time I didn’t have the money for the fee, so I had to apply for a fee waiver, but my application was rejected,” she said.
And not just once, but twice, stirring up fears that she might have to start all over again in her native Japan or continue to renew her green card.
“I had already established myself here,” she said.
Eventually her application was approved.
“I was so thrilled, I was jumping up and down in my apartment,” she said.
Now that the task of citizenship is complete, Johnston is working as a custodian with the San Angelo Independent School District. She plans to further her education, hoping to earn her teacher’s aid certificate or work in the library of one of the schools.
“I love to read, and I’m a pretty quiet person, so the library would be perfect for me,” she said.
Not to mention she would be working closely with children, affording her the opportunity to showcase her Japanese culture, adding another thread to the colorful tapestry that makes the Concho Valley and America unique.

You can see the slideshow I put together to go with the column HERE.

SIDE NOTE: The photo blog The Big Picture on the Boston Globe website has posted two collections of photographs from the volcano eruption in Iceland. You can see them HERE and HERE. There are some very cool photos.

To State and Back

Wow, it's been a long and hectic month since I posted last. I just got back from the state gymnastics meet in Alvin. That's about 30 miles southeast of Houston, which means that's about a seven hour drive, one way, from San Angelo. I went down with Nathan Wright, one of our sports reporters, to cover the Central High School boys and girls teams. This year the girls team is attempting to capture their fifth straight state title.
There was a huge stink cloud that hung over the entire meet for the three days of competition. It stemmed from complaints from coaches and other gymnasts that the Central girls team was using an illegal competitor. Her name is Julia Hansen and she is a German foreign exchange student who was an elite gymnasts when she was younger. The argument everyone was making was that because she as competed in international meets and was not an American citizen, Central would have an unfair advantage in the state meet and therefore Julia should not be allowed to compete. The coaches association held a vote before the meet and approved Julia's participation and concluded that her scores will count towards the Central team total. But, that didn't stop the nasty and negative comments from flowing out of the mouths of the very coaches that allowed her to compete.

I had the opportunity to photograph the district, regional and now the state meets and have come to know Julia to be a very sweet and upstanding young woman who wanted nothing more than to be able to fit in at a new school by joining the gymnastics and track teams. I have never before been so ashamed of coaches that are supposed to be leaders and role models for young adults. Most of them didn't even respect her enough to use her given name when referring to her, they just called her "German girl". In a side conversation with Nathan, Julia said that because of the hostility and negativity of this last meet, she is thinking of leaving the sport of gymnastics for good. It's just my opinion, but I thought coaches were to supposed to encourage and inspire their athletes, not tear them down.
As luck would have it, Central did not win their fifth straight state title, losing by 1.2 points to take second place, much to the delight of the all the competitors I'm sure. A mistake on the balance beam, uneven bars and the floor exercise did them in. The girls did a great job this year and look to be strong next year as well.
SIDE NOTE: The Pulitzer Prizes for photography were announced on April 12. Mary Chind of the Des Moines Register won the breaking news Pulitzer for her photo of a daring river rescue. You can read about the the day the photo was made HERE on the Register website. The feature photography Prize went to Craig F. Walker of the Denver Post for a two year project chronicling the training and deployment of a Colorado high school student to Iraq. You can read the news brief and view the photos and the Denver Post pages of how the story ran in publication HERE. You can also view the multimedia presentation HERE.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

New Month, New Shift

March finally ended, but it ended on another sports assignment. As a matter of fact, April started on a sports assignment, too. One of the sports writers and I traveled to Odessa for the Region III gymnastics championships. The Central teams were back in action, the girls trying to defended their title, one they have retained for the last eight years, and the boys still trying to knock off Permian as the region champions. I made a few lackluster photos, some I liked and a few that I thought I probably shouldn't have turned in, but hey, what can you do. Actually, now that I think about it, they probably weren't that bad.
This will be my last week on the night/sports shift before I switch to days, so I have already received a few assignments that are non-sports related. Yeah! Yesterday was Good Friday and of course all the churches in town will be holding special services with several events in between. The Catholic Diocese holds an annual Procession of the Cross each year where members of the church carry a cross through a neighborhood in southeast San Angelo. I actually enjoy shooting this event. The imagery behind the whole thing is kind of neat. So as I'm going through the shoot, I told myself that I wanted to have a few photos in the GALLERY on the website to have been shot with the 50mm f/1.4 lens. These are two of my favorites. I really love this lens. I love how the backgrounds melt away and the natural vignetting of the photos is really cool.