Monday, December 29, 2008

#15 - "Where's the Beef?"

"I like photographers -- you don't ask questions." - President Ronald Reagan, to the White House News Photographers Association

Now that the latest Presidential election has mercifully come to an end, taking all the hoopla, promises, and rhetoric along with it, I believe Walter Mondale summarized the whole process best: "Where's the Beef?". No, he wasn't criticizing the lunch spread at the formal introduction of his running mate, Geraldine Ferraro, nor was he pitching burgers for Wendy's (the originator of the phrase), he was simply challenging Ronald Reagan's economic policies during their 1984 debate. Since then, our leaders, problems, and times have changed dramatically, yet all the campaign platforms seem to remain the same. Yes, Mondale's quip still rings true today, but that's not to say all these countless photo ops completely lack meaningful moments. After covering two of the races in the 80's, here are a few of my favorite memories:

When the national media mob descended upon Mondale's hometown of Elmore, Minnesota, to document his historic selection of Geraldine Ferraro as our first female Vice Presidential candidate, I scrambled to secure a spot at the welcoming picnic behind the rope in front of the buffet table thinking that's where the two would go first. Sure enough I was right, but just as they arrived on the scene so did the press--an unruly pack, elbowing and pushing their way forward trying to gain a better vantage point in a very limited space. Suddenly I was surrounded by a sea of angry photogs, my legs pinned to the buffet, with one hand on my camera and the other on the table to balance myself. The candidates paused for an instant before us, then quickly faded into the background ahead of the rope they use to keep us away. Snapping my shot, I felt fortunate to be up front with a 20mm lens despite the fact that the table was nearly flipped over and I would've been the first one to land on top of it! The Secret Service made sure something like that wouldn't happen however, so I just brushed the potato salad from my sleeve and whistled my way back to the darkroom knowing I had a UPI Exclusive.

No matter where he appeared, former President Ronald Reagan had the uncanny ability to transform mundane political events into memorable news-worthy ones with perfectly orchestrated moments like this image captured at a simple New Orleans' fundraiser.

Covering the 1984 Iowa Caucuses provided my sweetest experience as a photojournalist. Singer Carole King was in Des Moines to perform for the Iowa Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign and to endorse Senator Gary Hart, and I was her chaperon for the trip! From mid-morning to early evening, we wandered around town, laughing and visiting and greeting and photographing, until her benefit concert began that night. And what a superb performance it was, a fitting conclusion to a day with too few minutes.

Speaking of fleeting time, that's something best characterized by the candor, pacing, and pitch of any message delivered by the Reverand Jesse Jackson, whom I consider the best orator and media handler/manipulator of our time. He's purely a pleasure to witness in person.

When Senator Bob Dole decided to announce a Presidential run from his hometown of Russell, Kansas, on November 9, 1987, I'm almost certain he never considered that: the nearest airport was half the state or 3 hours drive away; my luggage and my darkroom would mistakingly arrive on separate flights several hours apart; my motel room in Russell needed to be booked in person before 5:00 p.m. and I'd arrive in Topeka at 1:00 p.m.; the airport baggage claim closed at 10:00 p.m. and I'd rescue my darkroom at 9:00 p.m.; the rally started at 8:00 a.m. and I'd go to bed at 3:00 a.m.; the morning would be bitterly cold and extremely windy; and there wouldn't be a single picture until supporters released the balloons in front of the stage. It took nearly a 36 exposure roll of film, motor-driven continuously, and a great measure of timing (and luck!), but I managed to file this one frame that dominated newspaper play the next day. But my celebration was short-lived, someone stole my transmitter after the return flight to Chicago!
A new Administration waits in the wings and excitement abounds nationwide. There is much talk about change and reform, but what normally happens is this: politicians love to add and then cut pork, but rarely do we hear or see anything about "the Beef".
Note: Special thanks to friend and ODOT co-worker Kevin Beckstrom, cartoonist and graphic artist extraordinare, for his contribution to this month's post. More of his fine work can be found here: