Friday, June 29, 2012

Dancing in Glendale

The thing about being a photojournalist is that you get to meet the most interesting people. Yesterday I went out to Glendale, about 20 miles from downtown Phoenix, to photograph a group of senior citizens who stay fit by dancing. 

Dancing seniors are nothing new. Almost every senior citizens' center in the Valley (and there's probably close to 100 - we have lots of senior citizens) has a dance program of one sort or another. What makes these dancing seniors different is that they perform traditional Mexican folklorico dances, with the billowing skirts and ranchera music. Many, but not all, of the dancers are Latino citizens. It was a lot of fun watching them twirl around the dance floor like a bunch of kids. They may be older, but they don't miss a step. The young lady pictured above is 71 years young. Several members of the group are in their 80s. The youngest is in her 60s. 

I used my 5D Mark III and 5D Mark II cameras for this assignment. I've been using the 5D Mark III as my main camera since I got it in March, before a trip to Vietnam. The more I use this camera, the more I like it. 

It's not that image quality is better from the Mark III (although it is). It's that the Mark III is a much better camera - by that I mean everything about it is better. Although it's essentially the same size and weight as the Mark II, it feels much better in the hand. When you turn it on and start working with it the difference is night and day. 

The Mark III is much, much faster than the Mark II. The autofocus, in particular, is so improved that the Mark III could be a sports camera. Certainly the Mark II was used for sports (I even shot some basketball and football with mine) but I don't think many people ever considered it a sports camera. As much as I liked my Mark II bodies, they can't hold a candle to the Mark III. Even with something like senior citizens performing folklorico dances, the Mark II's autofocus would have struggled to keep with the dancers. The Mark III, on the other hand, is spooky fast. Images snap into focus instantly, and the camera's buffer clears so fast that's no appreciable lag shot to shot.

I still use my Mark II body as a back up or second camera to my Mark III and that works out well. The image quality off the two is so similar that it's easy to batch process the files together. At low ISO, below 1600, the Mark III is a little better but above 1600 the Mark III's advantage gets more dramatic with each stop increase in ISO. ISO 12,800 from the Mark III is better than ISO 6,400 was on the Mark II. The amazing thing is that five years ago the thought of photographing at ISO 6,400 (and getting acceptable results) was just a dream. Back in the days of film, ISO 400 was considered "high speed film," especially for color slide film. Working at 12,800? You would've been locked in an asylum for suggesting that. 


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Court Makes a Decision


SCOTUS ruled Monday on the legality of SB1070. They struck down most of Arizona's tough and controversial immigration law, but let stand what some consider the most egregious portion, the "Papers Please" passage which requires local law enforcement to check the immigration status of people they suspect of being illegally in the US. Overall, the state's efforts were soundly rejected by the Court. However immigrants' rights group and civil rights advocates are concerned the "Papers Please" section will lead to widespread racial profiling. The Obama administration agreed with them and immediately rescinded 287g authority from Arizona law enforcement and then set up hotlines for people to report suspected profiling to the Department of Justice.

Jan Brewer, Arizona's finger wagging governor, claimed victory because one small part of the bill was left standing, but most other analysts called it a loss for the state and big win for the government.

There were protests and press conferences at the capitol all day and a protest at the ICE office in Phoenix in the afternoon.

There are more photos from the day's activities in my archive.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Candle to Curse the Darkness

A woman holds an electric candle above her head as thousands of Unitarians file past her during the National Day of Witness at Tent City Saturday night. 

The Unitarian Universalists are in Phoenix for their annual general assembly. This year they brought their tradition of fighting for social justice to "Tent City," the infamous outdoor jail created by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio in the early 1990s to cheaply expand the county jail system. 

The tents have been a lightning rod for critics almost from the day they opened. Critics maintain that housing prisoners outdoors, with no air conditioning, in canvas tents on concrete slabs, is inhumane. The Sheriff counters that if tents were good enough for soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan they're good enough for his prisoners. 

No one disputes that the tents are hot. Really hot. I had an assignment in Tent City one summer when the daytime temperature was 110F. The thermometer in one of the Tent City tents showed 122F. 

Being in Tent City is like being in a convection oven. The sun beats down on the concrete and gravel surface and shoots up into the tents. There's no escaping the suffocating heat. And it doesn't cool down much at night. 

Once the dog days of summer set in, by early July, the night time lows in the Phoenix area and the tents (which sit on the edge of downtown) it cools off to only about 95F. 

I don't know if housing prisoners in those conditions meets the legal definition of inhumane, but it's not how I want to live - housed with 10-20 others in 60 year old canvas tents (the tents are Vietnam era and older army surplus tents). 

It's easy for the Sheriff to call the people in Tent City "criminals," but most of the prisoners in his jails, including the tents, are still awaiting trial. They haven't been convicted of anything except lacking the resources to make bail. Even among the ones who have been convicted, the prisoners are mostly "doing time" for DUI, low level drug dealing, prostitution and other misdemeanors. The murders, drug kingpins, pedophiles and rapists are transferred to Arizona's Department of Corrections shortly after they're sentenced. 

Saturday's protest was peaceful. The Unitarians and their local allies (the protest was cosponsored by Puente Arizona, a local human rights organization) held up their small electric candles in the darkness and sang hymns and civil rights era protest songs. 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Still Waiting on the Court

Immigrants' rights activists pray at the State Capitol Thursday. 

The wait continues at the State Capitol. The Supreme Court was expected to rule on US v. Arizona, the Department of Justice lawsuit against Arizona for SB1070, earlier this week but didn't. Then they were expected to rule today. And didn't. 

Of course, whether or not they're "expected" to rule really depends on who you talk to. Only the Court really knows when it's going to rule something, and they don't generally share their schedule in advance, so when people say the court is "expected" to rule on something, they're really either 1) guessing the court will rule or 2) hoping the court will rule. In this case the guessing and hoping was for naught. Now the next day the court could rule on SB1070 is Monday. Or maybe Wednesday.

The ruling on 1070 is one of two rulings that will create a buzz and impact politics nationally. The other is the lawsuit determining the constitutionality of the health care reform act passed in 2010. I think the health care suit is of more importance nationally, but almost everyone in Arizona, whether they're for 1070 or against 1070, is waiting on the US v. Arizona. The crowd at the capitol, which so far has been unanimously opposed to 1070, is growing every day the ruling is delayed. 

There were only about 20 people there Monday and I was the only journalist there for most of the morning. Today there were 40 people there and almost every media outlet in town had at least one crew or person there. When I left the capitol, several TV networks were setting up anchor stations, presumably for Monday's newscasts. 

There are more photos from today's vigil, and events revolving around SB1070, in my archive

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Water

Phoenix's legendary summer heat - months of brutally hot temperatures with daytime highs above 105 and nighttime lows that don't get below 90 - are hard on anyone who has to do anything outdoors. But the weather is especially hard on the homeless and street people. They don't have a sanctuary to avoid the blast furnace like conditions on the street and they frequently don't have access to clean, cold drinking water. 

Compounding the problem is that they frequently have other health issues or chronic diseases made worse by the heat. Several civil society groups, like "I Will Listen" reach out to people on the street and provide them with fresh food, including fruit, and cold drinks.

These photos were made at an "I Will Listen" water station in central Phoenix, practically in the shadow of the State Capitol, Wednesday afternoon. There are more photos in my archive

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Prayer for a Court Decision

Georgina Sanchez leads a prayer vigil at the Arizona Capitol Monday morning

The US Supreme Court is expected to hand down its decision on SB 1070, Arizona's tough, and controversial, anti-illegal immigration bill soon. The bill, signed by Gov. Jan Brewer in 2010, has galvanized the immigrant community because they fear it will lead to racial profiling and greater discrimination towards Latinos. 

The bill requires local law enforcement to check the immigration status of anyone they encounter during a "lawful detention, arrest or stop" in the normal course of their job and they suspect might be an undocumented immigrant. It's that last part that worries immigrant rights activists. They worry that someone pulled over for something as trivial as a broken tail light could end up in jail and being deported, regardless of their citizenship status, just because they don't have their papers. 

There is some basis in fact for their concern. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is being sued by the US Department of Justice for widespread racial profiling. Deputies have, on more than one occasion, arrested US citizens of Hispanic descent for being illegal immigrants just because the person couldn't prove their citizenship on the spot. During a recent protest, Phoenix police officer arrested a number of people for blocking traffic, Anglos and Hispanics received markedly different treatment during their detention. 

The Court's ruling was expected today. I went down to the Capitol to photograph the reaction. There were a handful of people on the lawn in front of the building, conducting a prayer vigil against the bill. For a long time I was the only journalist there. I made this photo when Sanchez, a leader in the immigrants' rights movement, stood to lead a prayer during the vigil. I thought her expression mirrors the expression we frequently see on a suffering Christ figure. A little after 7:00AM word came that the court would not release any rulings Monday, so everyone went home with plans to come back on Thursday, the next day the ruling could come down.

There are more photos from today's vigil, and SB1070 in general, in my archive.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Gearing up

The first in an occasional series of blog entries about preparations for my move to Bangkok.

My new 13 inch MacBook Pro with a G-Tech 750gb external hard drive and SanDisk Firewire 800 compact flash card reader. 

I'm putting together the last of the gear I'm taking to Thailand. I have all of my actual camera gear set: camera bodies, lenses, flashes, bags etc. I already have most of my compact flash and secure digital cards. The only big expense left was a new Mac laptop.

My current laptop is a 2009 13 inch MacBook Pro. It's been a great little computer. Like all the Macs that I've owned, it's bulletproof. From the hardware to the OS to the installed software it's never given me a second of trouble.

But it's starting to show its age - editing 20+ megapixel raw files from Canon 5D Mark III and Mark II bodies was torturously slow. Editing video? Virtually impossible. I maxed out the RAM last year and that helped a lot, but compared to my other computers it was no contest.

The little MBP couldn't hold a candle to my 2011 model 27 inch iMac or the company provided 2011 vintage 15 inch MacBook Pro I was using before my layoff. The new computer would be my main computer in Bangkok and I just couldn't face editing the number of photos I'm going to be making on the old MBP.

I was on the fence, trying to decide between a 13 inch MacBook Air and a 13 inch MacBook Pro.
(more after the jump...)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A Vigil for Manning

A protester speaks out in support of Army PFC Bradley Manning during a vigil for Manning in central Phoenix Wednesday

This is my first full week of unemployment. Everything I've read indicated that it's important to stay busy and on a schedule when you're unemployed, so when I learned that members of CodePink and others were going to hold for a vigil for Bradley Manning I went downtown to photograph it. 

It was kind of liberating. When you photograph an event for a newspaper, you're expected to shoot to meet the paper's style, which is understandable since the newspaper is the one paying you to be at the event.

But when you're photographing an event for yourself, or to keep your skills fresh to help in a job search, you're free to shoot to please only yourself.

I'm not sure this picture would have been accepted at the paper I used to work at. Newspapers generally prefer "straight" photos from protests. One photo that more or less sets the scene. A picture that has a sense of place, shows the number of people in attendance and has a human face in it. A picture that repeats all of the factual information in the story, but doesn't add too much to that. This doesn't have any of that but I like it because it's different and still captures what the protest is about. 


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Gearing Up for the Race

Congressman David Schweikert (R-AZ) gestures while talking to his campaign staff and volunteers at their office Saturday morning. 

I think the most interesting race of the 2012 election, at least in Arizona, is going to be the primary battle between Congressman David Schweikert and Congressman Ben Quayle in the 6th Congressional District. Both are conservative, Republican, freshmen from the suburbs around Phoenix. Quayle is the son of former Vice President Dan Quayle, Schweikert a former Maricopa County treasurer. Both were elected to Congress in 2010, from neighboring districts. Thanks to the 10 year ritual of redistricting, they were thrown into the same district for the 2012 race, hence the primary battle. Both men are well known in Maricopa County GOP circles. It's the race I'm most looking forward to covering this summer. 

Whoever wins this primary battle is almost certain to be sent to Washington. The district is overwhelmingly Republican and both are campaigning in the primary as though it's the general election.

There are more photos from this morning's meeting in my archive and available from ZUMA Press


Saturday, June 2, 2012

Moving On

I am somewhere in the picture above. A free prize to the person who correctly identifies me (not!). With Thai Paramilitary Rangers in the southern province of Pattani, when I was working on a story about the Muslim insurgency in southern Thailand

I've been a photojournalist for as long as I can remember. Even when I didn't know the word "photojournalist" photojournalism is what I was doing. Or trying to do. I started carrying a camera in 6th grade. We were living in Thailand and my father bought a Canon FT-QL at the PX in Bangkok. He bought it as his camera but somehow I always ended up toting it around.

At career day in Junior High, when my classmates talked about growing up to be a cop or a firefighter or doctor or a lawyer (the overachievers wanted to be lawyers), I didn't know what I wanted to be but I photographed for the school yearbook my classmates talking about their goals.

I guess the answer to what I wanted to be was in what I was doing while others were talking about what they wanted to be.

In High School I was the yearbook photo editor. I don't have that yearbook anymore, but I still remember learning to think in picas rather than inches and learning math by figuring out how to alter development times for film based on how the film was exposed. I was never very good in the darkroom and I still suck at math.

I lost the camera when I went to college. It stayed with my father. I went to Hamline University, and worked for a while as a reporter and editor at the student paper but it was never as much fun as being a photographer.

Even though I was a reporter, I was still drawn to photography. I worked part time at a now long defunct camera store and processing lab. I ended up buying a camera, a Fuji ST605 35mm SLR that accepted M42, "universal screw mount," lenses, while I worked there.

That old Canon FT-QL and then the Fuji are what set me on the path I'm on today. When I graduated from Hamline I didn't know what I was going to do and drifted for a while, the whole time making pictures. My wife pointed out that the photography thing was kind of an expensive hobby and suggested I should find a way to make money at it. To me that was a novel thought; get paid for doing something you love to do.

I went back to graduate school at the University of Minnesota to work on a Master's Degree in Photojournalism. The summer after my first year, I got an internship at the Brainerd (MN) Daily Dispatch, fell into a job at the Fergus Falls (MN) Daily Journal at the end of the summer and never went back to school. For all I know, the U of M is still carrying me as a student.

Not many people can say their career paths were serendipitously set when they were in Junior High. Mine was. I've been a paid newspaper staff photojournalist since 1984. I've worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida, New York, Texas and, for the last 13 years, in Arizona. My wife has moved with me to Inverness and Ocala (Florida) to Poughkeepsie (NY), El Paso and Phoenix. We've been in Phoenix longer than we've ever been anywhere.

Friday that streak ended. Newspapers are retrenching. The Arizona Republic has been through some gut wrenching layoffs. Unpaid furloughs have become the norm and pay raises are a thing of the past. Our readership has moved to the web and our advertisers have moved with them.

This is not a problem unique to the Republic or Gannett. Newspapers across the country are wrestling with the same issues. Hardly a week goes by when layoffs, buyouts and furloughs aren't announced at some newspaper in the country. Through the retrenchment I've survived and my editors at the paper, even when I've pointedly and loudly disagreed with them on stories and photos, have supported me. For that, I am grateful.

The Republic's newsroom is being reorganized. Again. As a part of the reorganization, the job I've been doing most recently, night photo editor, is being reconfigured. Friday afternoon I was offered the new position, it was a sincere offer and I thought about it, but in the end I chose to decline and instead accepted a separation package. It was the kick in the pants I needed and I felt great after I crossed the t's  and dotted the i's.

Today is a day of firsts. It's my first day of official "unemployment" and my first day as a freelance, no staff safety net, photojournalist.

Where do we go from here? Freelancing is always where my heart was - I thought a newspaper job would be a stepping stone to a freelance career. (I think a lot of photographers feel the opposite, they hope freelancing will lead to a staff job). The photographers I most admire are magazine freelancers. People like Maggie Steber, Bob Krist and Bill Allard. I've taken workshops from all three and to this day I consider them friends.

In 1988, I was ready to leave newspapers and freelance in Nicaragua. We couldn't afford it and I didn't have the courage to take the leap. In 1994, I took a leave of absence to work on personal projects in Mexico for three months. It was a great experience and I didn't want to come back but again, lacked the courage to commit to life without a steady paycheck. In 1999, after a workshop with Maggie, I was ready to commit to freelancing. Instead, I applied on a lark to the Arizona Republic. To my surprise, I got the job and we've been here since.

Yesterday, I committed to a life without a steady paycheck. It's been years in the making.

We've been traveling to Southeast Asia regularly for the last six years or so. At one point in Bangkok I made the observation to my wife, sort of as a joke, that Bangkok could be "Plan B," I could freelance in Bangkok when I get laid off. We started looking at apartments, first just to see what there was, but later with the real goal of finding a place.

So that's the plan. Monday, I file for unemployment and Gannett's transitional pay plan and start looking for a job. If I don't find the right job by the end of August, I head to Bangkok to try to freelance. We've given me a year to get established in Bangkok. If it doesn't work out, I come back and work in the Apple store.

In the meantime, I'll be around. You can follow my wanderings here at the blog, on Facebook or through email. My photos are available from my website or at ZUMA Press. Reach out.