My brush with a Kennedy

Central Michigan University, in Mt. Pleasant, MI, hosted the 1975 Special Olympics International Games. It was a huge deal. Special Olympics founder, Eunice Kennedy Shriver was attending the event. I had just graduated from high school and was already working at the local daily newspaper.

During the opening ceremonies, I was assigned to cover stage events and speeches while our other photographer, Dale Atkins, roamed for more exciting pictures. I didn't care. Being just weeks out of high school and already living my dream as a newspaper photographer so who was I to complain.

As expected, I got the typical politician at the mic picture. Over and over and over again. Everyone who was anyone came out for the games. Finally, it was Mrs. Shriver's turn at the podium. By this time the light was high in the sky and extremely harsh. She was my money shot, the one the editor wanted for page one. I had to get this right. So I trained my brand new Nikon Ftn and 200mm f/4 Nikkor on her face. The successful picture came when she pushed her hair off her right ear. Her arm formed the perfect side of a triangle and provided for a dynamic composition. The editor loved it and ran it huge on page one the next morning.

When I saw the paper, I was thrilled. Well, for an hour or so. Seemed Mrs. Shriver did not like the picture. In fact, she hated it so much she called a friend, the owner, and publisher of the newspaper chain, and demanded I be fired, effective immediately. How dare I portray her with such course, wrinkled and unflattering skin! Forget the fact she spent most of her time on a sailboat in the ocean!

Thankfully, the editor had my back, so I didn't get fired. But I wasn't allowed to photograph Mrs. Shriver at any time during the games. In fact, I was told to stay clear of her, as far away as possible. So for the rest of the most significant event in local history, I was all but sidelined.

Looking back at those events today I laugh. My career nearly ended all because I made an honest, straightforward picture of a powerful and influential person, and they didn't like how they appeared. It was the first, but wouldn't be the last time I stepped on toes as a photojournalist.

 

 Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaking at the 1975 International Special Olympics opening ceremonies.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver speaking at the 1975 International Special Olympics opening ceremonies.

Eye See You!

Making a connection with your subject is paramount in creating an exciting and engaging portrait. Sometimes that connection comes from the most unlikely source. 

Commissioned by art director Amy Rajokivc thru the Dymun-Nelson agency, I was tasked to create a series of portrait images for the Heinz Endowments annual report. The job went along well with each person sharing their story and experience. The conversations went back and forth, with rapport quickly established. Then came the library. 

At the Homewood Library, we were photographing children in a reading program with their favorite book. Many of the children were somewhat shy at first, but I'm just a big kid so getting down at their level and letting my inner child take over did the trick. 

Then this little guy came in. From the moment he sat down he was beaming with a smile that could light up the room. Every time I looked into the finder of my Hasselblad, he let out a giggle or a loud squeal. Now, I knew I was good with kids, but he was way beyond anything I ever dreamed! Everybody on set was astonished. The expressions I was capturing were almost too much. The most dramatic reactions were coming every time I looked down in my camera. I was getting confused until he pointed and exclaimed "EYE!!!" He saw my eyeball reflected thru the lens of the Hasselblad, and it broke him up! We all had a great laugh and a great time. 

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Breathe

Some days you need to take time for yourself. A breather, a pause, a respite. Smell nature. Feel sand between your toes. Sit under a tree and listen to the leaves. Do whatever gives you peace. If you don't recharge your batteries, they die. If you don't renew yourself, well, I think you know my meaning. We all need to walk away for a day, a week, a few hours. Do whatever it takes to find your center. Keep yourself fresh so the light can shine from within you. 

I've been on a slow recharge for a few days. Yesterday, late afternoon was spent listening to trees and feeling the breeze around Lake Arthur. I needed to find my quiet. As I was leaving, this scene got my attention. It was the congruity of nature. Rock and trees, leaves and branches, light and dark all working together in harmony and peace. Mission accomplished.

  Rock face at Moraine State Park / Lake Arthur

Rock face at Moraine State Park / Lake Arthur

Andre and Me

To know where you're going, you must know where you've been.

I've said it before, studying the history of art and photography provides you a broader view of the world. Filed away in the recesses of your mind will be snippets. Fragments that can be inspiring, even without consciously knowing.

In the case of "Oil Platform, 1992," I didn't realize the relationship between my photograph and one by Andre Kertesz, "The Balcony, Martinique, 1972," until several years later. Are they the same? No. There are subtle similarities, yes. Do I remember seeing the Kertesz picture before I made my image? Now, yes, then, probably not consciously. I'm sure it was always there, logged in my brain, bouncing between the synapses. Maybe a spark came through that day, or perhaps I just recognized an intriguing alignment of elements – lines, ocean, shadow, clouds, and colors. But whatever it was, seeing the similarities makes a case for studying art and the history of photography. You never know when you'll find a spark.

  Oil Platform, Gulf of Mexico, 1992 – Terry Clark

Oil Platform, Gulf of Mexico, 1992 – Terry Clark

  The Balcony, Martinique, 1972 – Andre Kertesz

The Balcony, Martinique, 1972 – Andre Kertesz

Interpretation and dissection of an image

In my photography, I often strike a balance, black and white, yin and yang, positive space and negative. Intricate graphic elements to enhance the overall design of the image. I use a lot of lines and spirals and frame dissections to intensify a sense of movement, even when it does not exists due to stationary subjects or high shutter speed to stop the action. It's the feeling I'm after, and I'll use every tool in my belt to achieve the desired result. 

For me, I do not want to see a picture; I need to feel it. Does it hit me on a visceral level? Does it envoke a response? Is it calming or jarring? Is there a third effect in action?

In this photograph, "Cars," a lot is going on and not much at all. It's almost Seinfeld-ish. An image interpreted in a variety of ways but is about nothing. Two cars, going down the road, photographed thru a highway fence. That's it. Or is it? 

Art interpretation is rarely that easy. 

Compositionally, you have the conflict between black and white. There's a separation of the scene by the pattered fence. The horizontals and slight diagonal lines move through the image but are blocked on one side by the heavy weight of concrete and shadow which frames the image on three sides. And then there's the support for the bridge, the linchpin of the photograph. 

Beyond the dynamic design of the image, either further reach of artistic explanation or interpretation is on the viewer. For me, it was an iPhone snap out the window while stopped in traffic. Did I see the graphic design? Of course, I saw it, that's why I made the picture with the only device within quick reach. It was one and done. The light turned green, and I drove on. Do I see more in the picture? Maybe. Maybe not. How about you?

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The Traveler

As photographers, we write with light. It's the essence of what we do. 

Light shapes, sculpts and envelopes who we photograph. Every form of it has a different effect and sends a distinctive message. With light, you can make your subject appear soft and inviting or harsh and threatening. You can add drama or mystery. Shape it, bend it, diffuse it, reflect it or channel it any way you want to convey the feeling and narrative you desire. 

With light, there is always darkness, the shadow. The two opposites, yin, and yang work together or tear apart depending on your intent.  

In "The Traveler" the daylight is sharp, and the shadow is heavy. Because of the angle of the sun, it appears she's moving in that direction, into the light while the shadow feels heavy, weighing her down. Variations of gray on the wall and the diagonal line from the shadow further enhance the illusion of movement. Questions abound. Why is she traveling? Where is she going? Is she afraid or looking forward to the journey. The two other subject shadows stretching toward her adds another layer of mystery and suspense. Are they merely fellow travelers, protectors or antagonists? 

Success or failure of a photograph depends on many factors. The viewer's interpretation weighs heavy on that decision. But, each person decides for themselves drawing from their life experience and tastes. No one person is correct or wrong. Hence the old saying, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In the end, it's up to you, the creator, to decide if the story you told by writing with light was a tale worth telling. 

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Happiness is the truth

Sometimes you meet people who are plain joyous. They have an inner something that no matter what they do, or their station in life they are happy. Not pleasant smiling, but full on Pharrell Williams "Happy." You can almost imagine them dancing while doing whatever they do. 

"The Ringer" was one of those guys. My encounter with him on a tour of a turkey farm and processing facility was brief, but his personality was vivacious. He was a darn happy guy, proud of where he worked and what he did. He was helping people have a fantastic holiday dinner with good friends and loving family. How can you argue with that logic? 

So, on this hump day Wednesday, remember, no matter what your toil, how stressful the job, or the conditions of your work, if this guy can be happily ringing the necks of turkeys, what's your excuse?

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Always looking for pictures

Always be looking.

Leaving the opening of my friend Julie Kosser's senior show last week on the north side, the sharp brilliance of sunset strafed across the buildings in the alley. The chiaroscuro of the scene just begged for a photo. Always carrying a camera, I happily obliged. 

Other than a good set of eyes, a handy camera, and accurate metering there is nothing special about the technique of this image. It is, as they say, f-8 and be there. Being there, present, aware and ready to go is the key to success.

Always be looking and always ready.

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Sunshine reflected

If you always carry a camera you never have to go out to photograph. All you have to do is see.

Two people walking down the sidewalk by the old Allegheny County Jail added a human element and scale to the textural quality provided by reflected sunshine off the Mellon Bank Building. Photographed at a stop light from my car window with a Fuji X100F. Always be ready, and always carry a camera.

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Earth Day

Happy Earth Day 2018. It's time to get out there and hug a tree.

I'm only a little sarcastic. Seriously, we have one planet and need to take care of it at a grassroots level because it's painfully apparent politicians aren't willing or capable of caring. I suppose there's too much money coming in from the other side. But I digress. 

It's a beautiful day in Pittsburgh, and I hope everyone will celebrate the land where we live. Make a picture of and for Mother Nature. Trees, flowers, the rivers or the multitude of creatures great and small that share our rock. Breathe in the springtime air. We all deserve it. We all need it. 

I made the picture "Roots" during a visit to Vermont. The Widelux was the perfect choice to include the exposed roots of the mighty tree, as well as the trunk and branches stretching into the sky. While the scene was alive with color, I decided black and white would be more striking. I wanted to record the scene in it's most basic graphic form to emphasize the struggle of nature against all the odds. Here was a tree thriving as it clings to life on the side of a mountain. I bowed to the awesomeness of its lifelong travail. 

Today, and every day, find your bit of awesomeness out there. Honor the earth. It's the only one we have. 

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