We Need Murrow

    Ever heard of Edward R. Murrow? He’s a legend in journalism who gained notoriety reporting out of London during the German Blitz in World War II.   He had a habit of taking radio microphones to the tops of buildings to record the sounds of bombs dropping. As the war ended, Murrow was also one of the first to cover the liberation of German concentration camps. When he got back to the states, Murrow was an avid proponent of television as a tool with great potential for education, and was a strong proponent for non-profit news programs. Today, he’s largely remembered for his direct opposition of Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare.

    For those who don’t know, the Red Scare was nation-wide paranoia of alleged Communist infiltration and subversion by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Americans were told Soviet agents could be lurking everywhere, undercover as your neighbors, co workers, government employees, and even family members. Everyone was a threat, and it was your responsibility as a citizen to report any and all “suspicious activity” because the fate of the free world depended on it.

    Wisconsin senator Joseph McCarthy was the face of this paranoia and it bolstered his career by making wild, largely unsupported accusations of communists within the government and the entertainment industry. Those who opposed his aggressive methods were usually labelled as communists themselves, largely silencing opposition and often ruining lives in the process.

    Murrow saw it as his duty as a journalist to counter the senator’s campaign of fear. Along with his team of reporters, Murrow assembled a series of broadcasts to expose the belligerent, hypocritical nature of McCarthy’s witch hunts.

 

 

I find those old reels as relevant now as they ever were. The current political climate is the most sinister, brutal, and ugly I have ever known. Truth and integrity don’t seem to apply anymore in an age of “alternative” facts.

I feel that, right now, we need Murrow more than ever. But we don’t have Murrow. He passed away decades before I was even born. He never got to see a world where barriers to publishing are almost non-existent and content can be instantly delivered to devices the public can carry in their pockets. We can never know how he would have reacted in the face of the Far-Right wave that has swept into Washington. We cannot say how he would have reacted to the ever-increasing commodification of news. We will never know how he would have challenged a political regime to which objective facts are completely meaningless, and complete fabrication is a daily occurrence.

All any of us can do is try to learn from Murrow’s legacy. He taught us that knowledge and friendship cannot be restricted by border walls. He charged that it is one’s duty as a citizen to be informed.   Murrow taught us that hyperbole is a tool of fear-mongering and holds no place in reporting, and every legitimate reporter must use the power of journalism in the defense of truth and liberty.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid of the days to come. For all of my life, I had liked to imagine I would be able to stand in defiance of oppression. It was an easy fantasy to maintain, for I quietly believed previous generations had left no dragons to slay. I suspect it’s that complacency that has allowed those beasts to return—not at our gates, but in our walls. All I can do, all any of us can do, is use what tools we have to fight for what we know is right.

What comes now will not be easy or glamorous, but it will be necessary. We are going to have to stay vigilant on the local stages of government as well as the national, calling out misuse of power and standing against it. That means seeking out news beyond one’s social media feed, corroborating information, being in touch with government, protesting, and above all, voting.

We can take some comfort knowing history favors progress and those who abuse power may have that power stripped from them. We all have a long fight ahead of us, but it is one I believe we can win.

 

 

Since You All Love Toads So Much

On Wednesday, I posted two pieces. One was a breakdown of a landmark patent that could change the world of commercial photography for the worse. The other was a photo of a toad I took with my cell, accompanied my a little blurb stating that don’t much care for toads. Traffic when I posted the former plummeted. But, for the latter, I received a slew of comments between this site and my Facebook in rushing to the defense of toads. I guess that means more toads for all!

Amazon’s Lighting Patent Could be Bad News for Small Business Photographers

I woke up to a particularly thought provoking and puzzling bit of news yesterday morning. It appears that Amazon, everyone’s go-to store online for pretty much anything, has been awarded a patent for a lighting setup. Specifically, this patent for lighting on a seamless background.

Screenshot 2014-05-07 10.11

Now, from my understanding of patent laws, this Amazon patent would only apply to this specific lighting setup, not the idea of shooting on a seamless background entirely. So, it looks like Amazon isn’t looking to monopolize portrait or product photography, just protect their highly specific, go-to setup. That’s the good news. Now, here’s the bad news.

See, the legal system here in the states is based largely on precedent, meaning that once something is judged as acceptable by the courts, that same judgment could carry over to other similar cases. I worry that once the larger photo chains see that lighting setups can be patented, they’ll try to patent their own shooting setups. I would not be surprised in the least if heads of said photo chains had their respective legal teams racing to the patent office the minute this news broke. And the worst part is, if these companies had these patents, they could theoretically begin to drive smaller studios out of infringement for patent infringement. What’s even worse is that even if that smaller studio didn’t break the patent or proved prior precedent, the larger studio could simply drag out the litigation to spend the smaller into oblivion.

I have no desire to be an alarmist. If any of you know me in person, you already know I’m usually the first one to try to explain why whatever supposedly “sky-is-falling” news is nothing to panic over. After all, I read the entire patent, and it is an extremely specific document that took Amazon since 2011 to be approved. But still, the idea that lighting setups could be controlled by a single company worries me. I hope that I’m wrong about this and it all just blows over, I really do. And if I made any mistakes in this piece, please let me know so that I can correct it.

 

Remembering Georgie

Tuesday, the city of Kent lost a much beloved icon with the passing of Georgie Condos. For those of you not from the area or who have never met him, Georgie was a paraplegic man who did more work in the community in a day than most people will do in a week. Either wheeling himself around in a wagon as a child, or zooming down the city streets in his motorized wheel chair, Georgie has always believed in pulling his own weight. That work ethic combined with his upbeat attitude has made him one of the most popular men in the city.
I was fortunate enough to have gotten to know Georgie through a project for the Kent Stater. I remember waking up at 4am to go out and photograph his daily routine, starting with his paper route. I jogged behind his motorized chair for hours as he delivered papers, ran errands, and cleaned the streets. Along the way, people would go out of their way to stop and talk to him. I can safely say that, in the weeks of working on the project, I never saw a single person who wasn’t happy to see him.
“I’ve grown up in Kent, I’ll die in Kent,” Georgie said. True to his word, since 1948 Georgie has lived the entirety of life in Kent, and we were all the better for it.

An Open Apology to Westboro Baptist

Last week I wrote a piece about the Westboro Baptist Church’s “picket” at Kent State. If you missed it, Kent State University suspended a wrestler Sam Wheeler after he made some highly derogatory, anti-gay tweets, WBC threatened to protest, never showed, but Photoshopped themselves into a photo at Kent State, and claimed they were there. A few hours after I posted my piece covering the whole thing, I received this message from Westboro Baptist’s Timothy Phelps in response to said piece.

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At first, I dismissed the comment as the WBC blowing hot air. That is until I followed Phelps’ link to his site, GodHatesTheWorld.com. I browsed a bit, and was blown away when I saw these photos from his site.

 

And so, I would like to formally apologize to the Westboro Baptist Church. Given the amount of time all this globe-trotting must take, it’s completely reasonable that the WBC wouldn’t have the time to come to the Kent Campus in person. After all, traveling to countries as diverse as Madagascar, Bangladesh, and Tanzania, and posing for stock-quality photos, must leave them so spread out and funds too low to travel to a lowly campus, no matter how much of a “bully” that school may be.

That being said, I do need to offer a small correction to this image, which was Tweeted at me.  

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See, this monster here in this image is, in fact, Godzilla. Fagzilla was a creature from Nigel Crumpington’s series of anti-smoking films released in the United Kingdom back in the 80s (see below). It’s an easy mistake given that both have purple spiky bits.big-ben fagzilla

As far as the rest of the image is concerned, we can’t let that setup go without some sort of resolution. So, I present to you, Godzilla and Sign Face…

Politely discussing their differences over tea and scones.

Tea and Scones

The Impossible Protest:The Westboro Baptist Church At Kent State

I had one of my more interesting post-graduation journalism experiences yesterday, and it was almost too surreal not to type up. I’ll get to exactly how in a minute, but we’re going to have to take a step back and give some context first.

Last week, University of Missouri football player Michael Sam came out as gay. While this was well received by his teammates, family, and America in general, it’s the unfortunate truth that some backlash was to be expected. One of the more vocal detractors was Kent State wrestler Sam Wheeler, whose Twitter feed looked a little something like this:

sam-wheeler-michael-sam-tweets

Unsurprisingly, the higher-ups at Kent State were none too pleased about those and suspended Wheeler from the wrestling team. And that’s when the Westboro Baptist Church got involved. True to form, WBC took to Twitter and put out a press release denouncing Kent State as “bullies,” and announced a picket of the university in protest. Because, well, that’s pretty much what these guys always do.

After a brief internal debate on whether or not to give this group any more attention, I decided it was better to be shooting than staying home, and made tracks to the university. I found a place to camped down on the eighth floor of the library overlooking the two most likely protest spots on campus and kept all my social media open in case they showed anywhere else. I didn’t have much faith that they would show though. See, when an organization as hungry for attention as Westboro didn’t bother to put a date, time, or location on the press release, it made my journalism spidey-sense go all tingly that something isn’t right. And, my hunch was correct, the WBC never showed. Dejected counter protesters sulked away with their signs and rainbow flags like Linus missing the Great Pumpkin.

But then I got home and my buddy Phil sent me this:

Screenshot 2014-02-22 12

At first, I was worried that I had gone home early, but then I actually saw the thing full screen. I don’t know what bothers me more, the fact that they didn’t show, that they then Photoshopped one of their protestors into an old photo and then claimed they were there, or that it s just such a bad Photoshop. But it didn’t stop there. Oh no. This went on for most of the night. It only became a more inexplicable decent into madness.

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Now you, like me, are probably thinking that this has to be a joke, probably a fake account trying to mess with the WBC. But no, I can confirm after extensively reviewing this page and where it connects to, this is 100% the official Westboro Baptist account. I just don’t know what to say. There is a bus. That is a goddmaned hot air balloon! Do they expect anyone to believe this? Are they that far off in their own little world? Was the whole thing a joke to them? Did plan to get the entire campus into an anti-protest and news frenzy, only to pull the rug out from under us, and then pour salt into the wound with bad Photoshop? I’m just too baffled to know at this point. In the end, I decided that the only way to fight crazy is with more crazy, and responded with in the best way I could.

Rainbow Lasers!

For, what better way to fight bigotry than a Godzilla firing fabulous, rainbow lasers? Or, perhaps, you know a better way. I strongly encourage everyone reading this to save the screen-caps and shopping them again in the most awesome way you can. Link them back here by next Sunday (3/2/14), I’ll post them, and we’ll have a contest to see which one reigns supreme.

 

Ducks On The Winter River

As a photographer, I’m always looking out for new locations, subjects, and experiences to shoot. However, I find that I am compelled to periodically return to a handful of subjects. As anyone following me will know, I the Cuyahoga River is a frequent subject on this site. I feel like I should have more of a problem with that than I do.

The riverfront is one of my absolute favorite places to walk, and it’s never the same twice. The sounds of the animals, the current of the river, the personalities of the people I pass on the path, the smell of the trees and soil, all meld to create what feels like a living, thriving, changing organism.

I have watched ducklings grow up and start families of their own. I witnessed trees older than the path beneath my feet die and be swept away by the raging waters of the spring thaw. I have seen layers of graffiti showed me confessions of love, battles against authority, and art that could not be contained by canvas.

So, I ask my fellow artists, if any of you have had the privilege of watching an environment grow. If you have, I would love to hear about it. If not, I encourage you, all of you, to take the time to understand the world around you; not just watch, but feel it. You’ll be surprised by what you’ll discover.

 

The Year In Review

A full year. Since I graduated. Since I proposed. Since I started freelancing. Since I started the site to keep myself in practice. I suppose that I should take a hard look back at 2013.

                Let’s start by looking at things from a purely objective standpoint and take a look at the numbers.

  • Numbers Total Hits: 9,709
  • Overall Average Hits Per Day: 27
  • Most Hits In A Single Day: 283
  • Total Number of Followers: 110
  • Total Number Of Posts: 205
  • 205 posts/ 365 Days= 56.1% of Daily Goal
  • Then again, I was working 60-80 hours a week the last two months of the year, so taking off November and December, we get 196 Posts /304 Days= 64.5%

 What do these numbers tell us? Well, they tell me that I need to do better. I While I have started writing, editing video, and dabbling more with graphic design, I haven’t come as far with branching my skills as I would have liked. And yes, I have been shooting daily, it hasn’t necessarily been what I want to be working on.

It might be fair to say that I’ve been… disconnected. After I graduated, I lost all of the resources available to me through the university. That doesn’t just include the photo gear and technology, but the connections though fellow students and teachers. Add all that to the fact that my car died early this year, and funds have been relatively low. So, with no money, no car, and no connections, it honestly felt like a year adrift.

But, those are just the numbers and the setup. What did this year in photos actually look like? (Be sure to click to open in theater mode. There’s a cut line for each one of these. )

Where does that leave me? I wouldn’t call the year empty, and I can’t say there was nothing fulfilling.  I wouldn’t say that I didn’t grow, but I still feel like I could have been more. I feel like I’m falling behind my peers. All I can do is try to keep at getting myself off the ground this year.

I photographed this collision with my cell phone on my lunch break. Thankfully, there were no fatalities. The photograph was picked up by one of the local papers.

I photographed this collision with my cell phone on my lunch break. Thankfully, there were no fatalities. The photograph was picked up by one of the local papers.

Still, with everything I shot this year, one photo stands out more than anything I did. It was the photograph I took on my lunch break with cell phone of the car crash. It reminded me how much I can care; not just about news, but about people. I had just finished Dave LaBelle’s Lessons in Life and Death, and learned just how much photographs of tragedy can help those involved cope and come to terms with those events. I felt like I had a responsibility.  It reminded me that no matter where I am, or what I’m doing with my life, that drive for journalism, and news is always there. I’m never going to give up.

From My Site to the Paper

gilley paperA piece I wrote a few weeks ago titled Mrs. Gilley’s Garden, received a ton of positive feedback and I was encouraged by friends and family to submit it to some local papers. To my pleasant surprise, the article was picked up as an op-ed piece in the Record Courier. I don’t know why I opted to include the photo of me with Mrs. Gilley; I’d been landscaping for hours beforehand and look terrible. I also didn’t write the headline. Still, I submitted the article in the hopes that it might be able to help someone else going through something similar. With any luck, it will do at least a little bit of good.

If nothing else, the article has already helped Mrs. Gilley a bit. After reading it, my mother went out and bought her a digital photo frame which I loaded with photos of her garden. She had some trouble expressing in words what the frame meant to her, but I’ll take her glowing face as a sign that she was appreciative.

Mrs. Gilley’s Garden

20130816_132853_1-2Those who follow this site know it’s fairly common for me to post photos that I take while I’m landscaping. Some of the best shots, including the butterfly photo with this post, come from the yard of 95-year-old Mrs. Gilley.  It hurts me to say that, in the eight years that I have been working for Mrs. Gilley, I have watched old slowly degrade both mentally and physically.

When I first met her, Mrs. Gilley was kind, intelligent, discerning, and completely unflappable. Even in her late 80s, barely a day went by I couldn’t see Mrs. Gilley in her floppy sun hat and floral work gloves tending to the various gardens plots in her expansive yard. However; as the years went on, I watched her begin to slip. It started when she was able to do less and less of her own gardening. It became more and more common for my grandparents, who live next door to her, to see her tumbling down the hill in her yard. Eventually, she couldn’t even stand up from her kitchen table without taking a fall. At the same time, I watched as she had greater difficultly remembering things, had trouble maintaining conversation, and even forgot what was going on around her.

Anyone who has had this happen to a loved one can tell you how much it hurts to watch this. It feels like watching the person you care about being slowly drained away until there is nothing left. I had actually seen it twice before; first with my step grandmother, then my paternal grandmother. Seeing it again was almost too much for me. As ashamed as I am to admit it, there were times I made up excuses not to have to go in and talk to her. I assumed she would be napping, tell myself that I had other work to do, or that she was visiting with family. I knew it wasn’t the right thing to do, I just couldn’t stand to watch as she broke down. I couldn’t see that again.

Yesterday though, one of her caretakers came out to get me after I had finished mowing her lawn. As I went into the house, I couldn’t escape the quiet dread that was creeping up in the back of my mind. It was almost as if I didn’t see her as she was now, if I didn’t acknowledge it, she could still be that lively person she always was, even if it was just how I remembered her.

The caretaker said that Mrs. Gilley wanted to thank me for all the work I had been doing. When the caretaker excused herself to get cleaned up, Mrs. Gilley and I were left alone. What followed were slow minutes of silence. My mind just kept flashing back to how powerless I was to help my grandmothers before, and how powerless I felt now. I tried to make small talk, ask her easy questions just to break the silence. She gave short answers before asking me about Karen. “Tell me about your fiancé,” she requested in a slow, labored voice.  I told her that she had already met Karen on a few occasions before, that the wedding was next year (not the coming weekend, which she kept thinking it was), about what the two of us were doing for work, and about the children she babysits. Minutes after I had answered, she looked at me and said in the same tone as before, “Tell me about your fiancé.”

It looked as though she hadn’t been able to retain any of what I had just said. The realization only made me feel all the more hopeless. Instead, I tried to shift the conversation more toward what she had been doing. I tried to coax as much as I could from her about her family, and how she had been getting along with the caretakers. It was all I could think of to engage with her.   

“You’re listening, but you aren’t talking,” Mrs. Gilley eventually scolded.  My stomach dropped with guilt. I had no idea what to say. On some level, I had to actively remind myself that the person I cared about was still in there. Of course, that effort only made me feel worse, and it became more difficult to think of something to say. Then I remembered, I had taken photos of the butterflies in her garden earlier that day. I got up and took out my phone.  I began flipping through the garden photos. “It’s beautiful!” she would exclaim every time I stopped on a particular photo. I slowly started to see a smile cross her face.  As I went further through my digital photo album, I started to show her other wildlife photos, shots of Karen, the kids she babysits, and even my cat. She loved them all.

And just like that, even if it was just in a small way, Mrs. Gilley was back. Some of the light had returned to her eyes, and her voice had more enthusiasm than I had heard in months. She was even commenting on certain photos, and it let us actually converse more than we had in weeks. As I watched her smile, the conversation just became easier, more natural. Time flew by, and before I knew it, I needed to go meet Karen. After a quick hug, I left feeling like I had made real progress for the both of us. 

Still, I can’t help but feel I’m being selfish somehow. Truth be told, I feel more than a little self gratifying in taking so much away after just sitting with her for 20 minutes, while Mrs. Gilley’s children do everything they can to take care of  her and the caretakers are giving her round-the-clock attention. After all of that, my gesture feels like nothing.

Now that I’ve found a very real way to reach her, I plan on doing everything I can to make up for the time I lost. I started putting together little albums on my phone to show her the next time I go see her. I’d like to even go a step further and make her some nice prints of her garden if I could put together the money. At this point, that gesture is the least I can do. It’s a small contribution, but it’s as good a place as any to start. I still beat myself up about not being able to do more for my grandmother and step grandmother, but there’s a chance that I may be able to make up for some of that here. I just need to remember that no matter how far gone she may seem, I may still be able to help if I just find the right way to reach her.

 

Karen was nice enough to come in with me when I visited Mrs. Gilley this week and snapped a few photos on her cell.

Karen was nice enough to come in with me when I visited Mrs. Gilley this week and snapped a few photos on her cell.