Monday, April 30, 2007

#3 - Falling Down

From point A to point B: our economy and society relies on efficient and safe transportation networks. But when this freedom of movement is impeded, the result is chaos and often a major news story--particularly if the problem occurs in a vast metropolitan area and on the same stretch of roadway, twice. The recent gas tanker explosion and fiery destruction of the Bay Area's Interstate 80 brought to mind the first catastrophe this freeway had endured and an equally challenging assignment I had to cover: the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake and the collapse of an elevated segment on the Oakland/San Francisco Bay Bridge.

When the main tremors struck, I was seated in the first base field box at Candlestick Park photographing the Giants/Athletics World Series match-up. Like a rowboat rolling over a sequence of small wakes, the sensation of the experience paled in comparison to the enormity of damage it inflicted on the region. However, once the initial excitement and momentary hoopla waned and the news-radio reports started flooding in, everyone in that ballpark realized the magnitude of this event but no one could predict its impact on all of our lives for the months and even years ahead. But for me, and practically every wire service photographer in Northern California, the immediate future was certain--48 sleepless hours of earthquake devastation coverage awaited us.

On the second day of this assignment, the collapse of a Bay Bridge section and the resulting commuter nightmare it caused became the focus of the story and arrangements were made for aerial photos of this hotspot. Considering the cost of a charter helicopter and the tightly restricted airspace around the area, I prepared for any eventuality packing a 600mm lens plus a 1.4 and 2X extender. (Note: as a point of reference, most aerial photography is done at an altitude of 1000 feet where a 70 to 105mm lens, depending on the subject, is more than sufficient). Long story short, my preparations paid off for as we hovered over the site and I struggled to identify it(through the haze and distance we were allowed to fly-over), the ultra-long glass and accessories became a necessity and this transmitted photo was taken with nearly an 800mm focal length lens!

The lesson here is simple: when bridges are falling down and aerial photos are the first or only option, prepare for the worst and your results will be the best.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

#2 - Stealing 2nd

"Holy Cow!" -Harry Caray, late Chicago Cubs broadcaster

Casually mention the words "second base" to any sports photographer covering a ball game under a tight deadline and they're bound to smile. For even though it's considered a cliche' shot(much like the "armpit" in basketball), that frequent but timely 6-4-3 double play with the leaping second baseman and sliding baserunner is an ace-in-the-hole and often the only game action photo an early deadline will allow.

In honor of a new season, I offer my favorite second base photo and an account from two decades ago of perhaps the strangest play I ever witnessed while documenting any sporting event.

With its afternoon schedule, cozy atmosphere, and historical ambience, Chicago's Wrigley Field was a sports photographer's dream venue. My assignment on this sunny and warm June workday was the Cubs versus the Astros, and sipping on a soft drink perched in a third base field box chair, I gazed at the batter's box as Houston's Billy Hatcher slapped a single into the outfield. Then suddenly, like a shot from a starter's pistol, he took off for second base--stretching and streaking, gaining momentum with every stride. Hastily I pointed my 400mm lens towards the runner and zone-focused in on the base just as infielder Paul Noce dashed over to snare the catcher's throw. I can't recall actually "seeing" what happened next, as my camera mirror was flickering in a rapid fire sequence of film frames, but I can remember Hatcher soaring over the dirt before lunging for the bag. When the dust settled, Noce was tagging Hatcher, Hatcher was clutching second base, and the base itself was resting near the outfield!
The game was halted immediately for infield repairs and a tirade by Cub's manager Gene Michael who insisted the baserunner was out. After a lengthy conference, the umpire and all officials agreed that Hatcher safely stole second base because it never left his grasp regardless of its location(some 5-10 feet from where it really belonged)and even though Noce was applying a tag(but after the play had ended).
Without the luxury of a television instant replay(or a digital camera's preview feature), I left the stadium confused and uncertain about what I would find on my film. But after souping it, I smiled from ear to ear for the decisive moment was recorded and a photo that truly embodied Stealing 2nd was captured!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

#1 - Final Rendezvous

(Note: like most newsphotographers(I'm guessing), I saved the credentials and press passes from significant assignments, and over the years, I've managed to accumulate quite a collection of them. Not long ago, I sorted through this large box of "memories" and decided to highlight some of the historic events and people that impacted my career and in essence, all of our lives. This post is the first installment of the series.)

It was a fitting tribute of celebration and closure for a horrific national disaster. It could never happen today, and will probably never happen again, considering contemporary security measures and logistical concerns, not to mention the financial issues for matters like crowd and even litter control. But on this very evening, 21 years ago, I stood in amazement on the top of a parking structure near the banks of Buffalo Bayou recording and watching as one man's dream brought the Houston, Texas skyline to life.

French New Age artist Jean Michel Jarre composed and orchestrated this multi-media musical wonder, which incorporated skyscrapers as giant projection screens with laser lights and fireworks erupting from their rooftops and tower speakers that seemed to rival the buildings in size. The free hour long concert attracted hundreds of thousands of spectators and was intended as a reception to salute the mission and crew of the ill-fated space shuttle Challenger flight(which exploded shortly after lift-off on January 28, 1986, killing all seven astronauts on board). While probably most remembered for the death of the first teacher in space, Christa McAuliffe, the mission was to feature another first: astronaut Ron McNair, an accomplished musician, was scheduled to play and record the first musical piece(a saxophone solo)in space which would have been mixed into a track on Michel Jarre's final album release. But as a result of the NASA tragedy, the Houston Rendezvous became a commemorative event dedicated to the memory of McNair and the crew of the Challenger shuttle.
From a news coverage and photographic standpoint, I clearly recall two details from this assignment: first, the abundance and intensity of light and the flawless execution of the concert; and second, the enormity of the crowd and the resulting traffic I was forced to battle to meet my filing deadline. After scouting ideal locations and vantage points a week in advance, I(and several other newsphotogs)chose the rooftop of a parking structure about one mile away from the mainstage/skyline. Arriving several hours before the show, we set-up tripods for timed exposures and waited for nightfall. When the concert began, we were all shocked at its luminosity(not to mention sound quality)and reveled in the thought of our finished prints. (I dare say even spectators that hand-held cameras had acceptable results--it was that bright!). But when the show ended, the problems began. Since seating was free and consisted of any elevated/flat or private/public space within a two mile radius of the downtown area, every highway and street was flooded with departing traffic and I had an early PM filing deadline to meet. It seems dreamlike(and legal!)now, but I recall jumping a few curbs and driving on some lawns, and eventually I managed to transmit my photo on time.
In an age where photographing skyscrapers is practically forbidden and concert tickets sell for hundreds of dollars, it's sad to think that a production like this really is a Final Rendezvous.