Friday, July 29, 2011
So here's an interesting twist for an already unusual case. Warren Jeffs promptly fired all of his lawyers (again) before the opening statements and decided to represent himself! He then asked the court for more time to prepare, at least the weekend anyway, and organize his defense. From what I've heard from other reporters who were in the courtroom, Jeffs spoke in a low, very monotone, robotic voice and taking eerie and prolonged pauses between sentences. This apparently went on for 25 minutes. Through all of his pleading, 51st District Judge Barbara Walther decided not to give Jeffs anymore time and to proceed with the trial in the afternoon. Whew, what a morning.
So after shooting the morning arrivals at the courthouse, a group of us decided to head over to the brand new Stephens Central Library across the street for breakfast and coffee. This is a great facility with a cafe on the ground floor owned and run by my Cambodian friend Toro. The library has large glass windows allowing for a good view of the front lawn of the courthouse, so if anything happens we'll be able to see it, re-act, and get across the street to shoot what's going on. We were probably in the cafe for about 30 minutes when all of a sudden every reporter sitting in the courtroom came running out of the building, scattering in every direction while frantically dialing on their phones to report what had just happened. Myself and four other photographers see what's happening, grab our camera gear and sprint out the door, dodge traffic and try to determine what the fuss is about.
Jeffs stood up in court announcing he had fired his defense team and will now represent himself in the trial. The case has just become a little more interesting. A few minutes after the courthouse's journalistic colonic, the former defense team, led by Deric Walpole of McKinney, gave an impromptu press conference explaining that they respect Jeffs' right to self-representation and they will stay in San Angelo and act as support should he have any legal questions. HERE is Matthew Waller's story from the day. It's worth the read. Needless to say, the trial is taking a bizarre turn.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
This is my tree. I claim it. It's mine.
This tree is where I have spent the last three days while covering the trial of Warren Jeffs. The tree is my respite, my oasis, my retreat from the 100+ degree, wind-wiping days. Without it, I am nothing but a grease spot on the pavement, a puddle slowly seeping through the cracks of the sidewalk. I'm not trying to be dramatic, but this tree is a life-saver.
Today was pretty much the same as the first two days. People in, people out. And we finished a little early to boot. They were able to whittle down the jury pool to 12 with two alternates meaning the trial would be starting on Thursday afternoon. Very exciting. Matthew Waller can explain all the little details for you better than I can because he gets to sit in the courtroom. HERE is the link to his story. For me, I'm content with just sitting in the shade under my tree, watching the squirrels chase one another, maybe doing a little reading while keeping a keen eye on the side entrance for anyone entering or leaving the building.
More to Come....
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Well, as expected, today was just about the same as yesterday. I sat in front of the Tom Green County Courthouse in the morning to photograph all the usual suspects and important players involved in the trial of Fumdamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints prophet Warren Jeffs. Those players are 51st District Judge Barbara Walther, who signed off on the search warrant to raid the FLDS Yearning For Zion ranch back in April 2008, Deputy Attorney General Eric Nichols leading the prosecution, Warren Jeffs (obviously) and his lawyer Deric Walpole, who has only been on the job for about a week. It's a quick 15 minutes from the time the first player arrives to when the last one walks through the courthouse doors. Then I never really see them again until the end of the day. And let me tell you, today was a long hot one outside the courthouse.
Judge Walther has a history of working long hours until the job is done. I think she had it in her mind that they were going to seat a jury today even if they had to work into the evening, which of course, they did. So this was easily a 12-hour shift for me, sitting around waiting for people to come in and out of the courthouse. The media pool, myself included, got our hopes up that this was going to be a fast day just like yesterday, but Judge Walther had other plans. At 8:00pm everyone finally left the courthouse. I ran back to the newsroom, edited and sent photos to the wire agencies. My day was finally done.
I think I'll shave a few hours off my time sheet tomorrow and come in a little later since our reporter, Matthew Waller, said they will not be starting court until 1:00pm. It'll be nice to catch up on some sleep. HERE is a link to Matthew's story.
Monday, July 25, 2011
The day has finally come, Warren Jeffs is going to trial. Jeffs has been charged with two counts of sexual assault of a child. I was told this morning that I am going to be on the early shift for as long as the trial goes on, so that means I'll be stuck at the Tom Green County Courthouse for the foreseeable future. There's no telling how long this jury selection and trial is going to take. Jeffs has a history of prolonging his court proceedings.
As expected, there was an influx of media into San Angelo for the trial. A few news stations from across the country, newspaper reporters, but oddly enough just two still photographers: Myself and Eric Gay with the Associated Press out of San Antonio. I don't expect many of the out of town news outlets to hang around through the end of the week, leaving myself and our courts reporter Matthew Waller to cover the story.
So it looks like my days are going to be filled with early-morning photos of the prosecution, the defense, 51st District judge Barbara Walther and, of course, Warren Jeffs himself. It was refreshing to see him in a suit and tie today rather than the usual orange jumpsuit and wrist and ankle shackles. There was also heightened security around the courthouse with roped off areas on the courthouse lawn and the closure of Irving Street between Harris and Beauregard downtown. Local law enforcement hasn't done that since the court hearings for all the kids that were pulled out of the Yearning For Zion Ranch back in 2008. I'm sure once the jury has been finally selected the security will lighten.
More to come....
Monday, July 18, 2011
Two bouts in two days in two separate cities? Why not! After the Texecutioners' bout Saturday night in Austin, it was down to San Antonio for the San Angelo Soul Sisters' bout against the Charmed Forces. The Soul Sisters is the team that my wife rolls with. Great girls, great attitudes, great to around. Sadly, The Scarlet Shredder (Brooke) was not able to compete in the bout on Sunday. Brooke was out of town the entire week before on business, missing out on all the practices leading up to the competition. She would, therefore, have to send her support for the team telepathically.
Okay, so the night didn't go as smoothly as the Soul Sisters had hoped. The Charmed Forces were very fast, they had some big time blockers and their jammers were pretty shifty. But the Soul Sisters held strong and finished the bout with their heads held high. Here is a slideshow of photos from the bout. Thanks ladies for letting me hang around and feel useful.
A few friends and I went down to Austin for the day on Saturday to hang out and go to the Texas Rollergirls derby bout between the Texecutioners and The Mile High Club out of Denver. IT WAS AWESOME! Man it was so much fun. If you've never seen roller derby before, especially between two nationally-ranked teams, then you haven't lived.
My buddy Jimmy and I headed to Austin Saturday morning to meet up with some other friends for lunch, a few drinks and finally the bout. It was held in the Austin Convention Center which is new venue for the team. It holds more people, better location, etc. etc. We arrived early to get respectable seats (really anywhere is fine with a good view of the floor), check out the merchandise table (I got a tee-shirt), grab a few more drinks and wait for the show. Before the main event, members of the Texas Rollergirls (Austin's roller derby league) held an exhibition bout on behalf of the Austin police and fire departments. It was abo0ut 20 minutes long and was a nice introduction to the sport for those that had never seen a bout before.
After the exhibition bout the Texecutioners were introduced to the crowd. Since I have been somewhat in the derby world since I started covering our local San Angelo team in January, I have come to the conclusion that I am a derby freak. It is so much fun. It was very interesting to watch the different strategies of each team and how they executed them. Derby can be a hard sport to follow because things can get pretty fast-paced and there are several penalties that can be issued to players, both minor and major. I still have a hard time figuring out when someone has actually committed a penalty. One second they're on the track, then headed to the penalty box the next. I couldn't believe how fast the teams were moving on the track and then all of a sudden, the entire pack would just stop, wait for the jammers (the players who score the points) to catch up, and then take off again. Girls were skating backwards, throwing whips and delivering hits like gangbusters.
There were a few pretty big hits that caused arms to flail, skates to point skyward and pads to crack on the smooth skating surface of the convention center floor. Unfortunately, the Texecutioners came up short at the end of the bout, but it was fun anyway. After the bout, the group of us chilled for the rest of the evening on 6th Street, devouring a Godfather pizza from Roppolo's Pizzeria. When I finally crashed for the night I drifted off into a derby dreamworld, spurred on by the echoing sound of the Texecutioners' war cry: Texas!, Texas! Kill, kill, kill!
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Well, I'm going back and forth on how I want to go about shooting this year's crop of All-West Texas preseason football players for the tab, so I thought I would go back and take a look at the photos from past seasons. Ultimately, 2007 was my favorite year.
I first photographed the players with an old Polaroid SX-70 Land camera and then had them hold the photos for an addition shoot with the digital camera. It was a fun project to work on, but I have to say I was a bit nervous at first because I was coming close to deadline and needed this to really work out. Fortunately, the editors were on board when they saw the first few photos and let me run with the idea after that. The players had a lot of fun with it as well and I received a few phone calls from some of the players and their parents saying how much they enjoyed the football tab.
I save all the thank you emails and cards I get in the mail to help remind myself that I don't do this just to get a paycheck every two weeks, but because the community I work with is worth covering. And it doesn't hurt that I get to do what I love for a living.
Monday, July 11, 2011
I don't do portraits. Well, I can, I'm just really bad at them. I get nervous having to interact with the person or persons I'm photographing, I fumble over every setting and button and I'm constantly second guessing myself more than I'm actually shooting. In short, I'm a mess when it comes to taking someone's portrait. Give me an assignment where I can be a fly on the wall any day of the week, but when it comes to shooting portraits I spend more time making myself comfortable behind the lens than I do trying to make the subject comfortable in front of the lens.
With that being said, I have about 24 portraits to shoot for our upcoming annual football section we publish before the high school season starts. The Sports department comes up with a pre-season All-West Texas team of players to look out for and each one gets a short bio and photo. For some reason I feel this always falls on me, but each year I manage to somehow stumble my way through it. And another problem I always seem to run into is that I never know how the photos are going to run. The editors and designers may decide to crop the photo a certain way negating some of the visual aesthetics in the frame.
The past few years we have just done some very basic, single flash portraits of the kids, but this year we wanted to do something a little different. We are hoping to set up a day where all the players can come into the office and we can run them through the studio and the Sports staff can do their interviews at the same time. One idea brought up was doing some light painting or light writing. Sure. Let's try it out. I got into the studio, turned off all the lights and just started playing around. Let me tell you, this is hard to do by yourself. It's much easier if you have someone to trip the shutter and strobe for you.
I grabbed Justin Zamudio, our business section reporter, to stand in as a model for a few shots. We played around with Christmas lights and flash lights wrapped in colored cellophane. It was fun, but I just think it needs a little more of something. Obviously, I'll put each player in different poses and move the lights around, but I want to avoid having every photo coming out looking the same. And with 24 kids coming in that can be real challenge.
I think we'll be able to pull it off though. These photos are obviously just test shots, but we came away with a few more ideas and a work flow that's not going to keep us in the studio all day long. More to come...
Sunday, July 3, 2011
On Saturday night I was assigned to head out north of town to spend a few hours at the local dirt track, Six Raceway and Sports Park. I have only been to this track one other time and had a great time shooting the races. This assignment was much like the other one, though for a different section of the paper. The first shoot, which I did either two or three years ago, was for the GO section which publishes on Fridays. This particular shoot was for the Got Game page in the Sports section and will publish on Sunday, July 10. Basically, I was to go out and just play around and see what kind of images I could come up with.
On the race ticket for the night was stock cars and dwarf cars. Being an open-wheel race fan myself, I was particularly interested in the dwarf cars. Apparently there is a local club here in our neck of the woods, the West Texas Dwarf Cars based out of the tiny town of Rankin. These guys were a great group to hang out with. They also mentioned that this particular night was going to be one of their three charity races that they hold each year. All of Saturday night's winnings will be going into a fund for a sheriff's department employee in Eastland to help offset the cost of traveling to and from Bethesda, Maryland to see his son who was recently severely wounded while serving in Afghanistan. Like I said, a great group of people.
I was having a good time, however I did forget that once the sun goes down there are absolutely no lights in the pit area making it very difficult to shoot pictures. Not to mention the lights on the track are pretty dim as well. I'd like to go back just as a spectator and fan to watch the races on my own time. I think the tickets are pretty cheep and races go on for quite a while. It would be really neat if I could find a venue somewhere close that is going to have some dwarf car racing. That is just some good, clean fun.
Friday, July 1, 2011
Man, if I end up doing one more assignment that has to do with anything that involves the Catholic Church, I think I just might become their official photographer. I had to re-adjust my usual schedule to accommodate the Pops Concert this Sunday at the RiverStage here in San Angelo, so I didn't really start work for the week until Wednesday. It's a pretty crap deal when it's the middle of the week and it's actually the Monday of your work-week.
On Wednesday I was headed to the Mount Carmel Hermitage to hang with the monks for a while. They were going to be celebrating there 20th anniversary of founding the hermitage and it was my job to make a few new photos for the story and maybe a few for the archive. What I didn't know was that I was only being given 30 minutes to work because Father Fabian, the head monk, was headed to town and taking the rest of the monks with him. Needless to say I was only able to make a few photos before heading back to town.
The following day, reporter Matthew Waller and I headed out to Winters to cover a Rural Life Mass led by Bishop Michael Pfeifer at a local farm. The mass was held under a grove of trees. I was hot, but there was a stiff breeze which kept the temperatures down a bit. Every once in a while a ray of sunshine would break through the canopy of leaves overhead illuminating the congregation below. Including the photo above, these were a few of my favorites from the evening:
And finally today I was assigned to photograph the 50th anniversary mass of two local nuns at Our Lady of Grace monastery in Schleicher County. I've never been to this place before so I left the house a full hour before the event started just so that I would get there on time. Boy am I glad I did. I got there with just five minutes to spare. This place was out in the boonies and I never would have found this place if it had not been for Google Maps. Oddly enough, I saw and talked with Father Fabian and Bishop Pfeifer at today's mass. I wonder if I could get on the Catholic Diocese of San Angelo's payroll?