Search Warrants

The phone rang a few minutes before 5 pm. So much for knocking off a little early and spending time at home with my son.

I arrived at the scene to find only a few uniformed officers, and a bunch of narcotic task force members. Most of the task force guys know me by name, and are known to work undercover. That limited what I could make images from, not legally, but from a personal ethics point. So I hung out on the edge of the sidewalk and found out that the task force was executing a search warrant. Not a lot was going on that I could see, the action was inside the shed/workshop behind the house. I could see in a small section of the doorway, and saw when Wayne was going through some things near the window. So I looked at my options and decided that one way to shoot it was to show how hard it was to tell what was going on - make the photo a bit mysterious and try to get the viewer to look closer. The shot works and I was even able to keep Wayne's face pretty obscured in the process.
In case you can't guess, the light was awful. Just after dusk. I was glad that the shop area had that light over the door, even if the lights inside are fluorescent and make some weird color casts. To make the second image look decent I used a couple of layer masks, correcting color for different sections - one for the open doorway, one for the white car (looked blue in the original out of camera file) and a third mask for the workshop front. I didn't alter the content of the frame at all, just got rid of color shifts that the camera could not overcome.

The third frame was early on when I arrived. I had a lot of the undercover officers moving around the scene, so when they finally were out of site the only image that I saw with activity was two of the Gallup officers walking past the shed and back to the main house.

In the end, two women were cited and released, and the home's owner/renter (?) was picked up for possession of two pounds of marijuana.

My final image for the day was actually shot around lunch time. Weather forecasters have been saying we are going to get a big storm through here. So when the snow started to fall I decided to get some lunch and let it pile up a bit before working on some weather images. Crossing the railroad tracks near my house I saw these crows on the tracks and stopped for a couple of quick frames. For me the contrast of black and white was interesting, though not exactly an award winning image, I still like the shot for personal reasons.

After lunch the snow had all but stopped. I waited the rest of the afternoon and even after the search warrant was served and still no snow. So much for the weather guys knowing what they are talking about...


Fitness Documentary

As the new year stares us in the face we think about doing things different, better. Improving ourselves and our lives. Almost everybody makes resolutions, and often those include fitness goals. That gave today's assignment a great timing. The Navajo Nation Special Diabetes Project is creating a documentary over the next six months that deals with physical fitness and success stories.

Christopher Burnside has been following the efforts of Miranda and Ernie Tsosie for the past month, so when I showed up this morning with my bag of lenses they hardly noticed. I got a few smiles and nods here and there, but for the most part they just went about their workouts. Cool. And to make things better, since the story is about the making of the documentary it actually worked better having Chris get into my frame with his camera.

At one point during the workout Ernie made reference to his fitness affecting his personal life and his performance on stage. That is when it sunk in that I had photographed him several months before - as part of the comedy duo - James and Ernie.

Today Ernie and his wife worked out hard today, and I was tired just from watching them. He claims it is getting easier, both physically and mentally. Maybe next year I'll have the energy to think about working out...


Clean Sweep

My assignment was to "go to the golf course and get some shots of them working on the greens." Of course, with patches of snow still on the ground there was no work going on. I did find some teenagers working in the maintenance yard, cleaning up the shop area. The light coming through the open doorway was interesting, and I made a few frames. That's when the one boy looked at me and asked if I was from the Independent. "Jeff... Jones?" he asked. I nodded. Turns out I photographed him several years ago when he was practicing for an upcoming motocross race. I made a few more images and he piped up, "You know, this isn't my job. We got in trouble and are doing some community service hours." Oh. So much for doing anything with the photos was my thought in response. "I guess you really don't want to be in the paper then... how about if I just keep the caption generic and say that you are working at the golf course and not say why?"

"Whatever. It doesn't bother me. We got in trouble and its our fault. we were just stupid." I didn't press for more details, and I kept the caption generic. After all, the photos were supposed to go with a golf course story. But now, I find myself wondering what the brothers had done, and being mildly impressed with this one young man's ability to accept his actions and the consequences.


Kindergarten Traditional

As the year winds down and everybody goes into Christmas break mode we get a lot of last minute calls from places wanting us to cover this or that event. Many of them are similar to each other, and often times the last minute notice simply does not give us enough time to cover the event.

This was not the case. The staff at the Crystal Boarding School (near Navajo, NM) called us a couple of weeks in advance to tell us about their event. Then they also called the day before to remind us and see if we could come out. I have been very sick with a sinus infection and sore throat, but if people were willing to work with us to give us advance notice then I was willing to drive the hour each direction and cover their event.

The event was actually the children's Christmas program. Some of it was disorganized and some of the kids were not very interested. The kindergarten class did not have that problem. These children stole the show, performing a traditional Yei Bi Chei dance in their traditional Navajo dress. I was very happy I had been invited, though because I am sick I talked only briefly with a few people before leaving. I figured it would be better to be slightly rude and leave than to visit with a lot of people and pass off my germs to everybody. Merry Christmas, eh?


Christmas Pies and Food Drives

This is one of those "Oh yeah, by the way" type of assignments that we sometimes get. Still it had potential to be fun, and I had an open block of time so I went over to Juan de Onate elementary school to make some images of kids baking Christmas pies. When I arrived the preparations were done, and the pies were already in the oven. Disappointing, but the pies still had to come out of the oven...

So the students all marched down to the cafeteria, wearing their hand-made aprons, and took turns standing on a milk crate to peer inside the oven and check their pies. (I was impressed at ho well the staff and the teacher did of keeping the first graders safe and orderly in the kitchen, well away from the oven and other potential hazards.)

After a short wait some of the pies were ready to come out. The kids circled the little tray full of pies and it left me trying to figure out how to show the interest they all had. Normally I like facial expressions to carry the images. This time I think that the downward gazes and extending hands do the job of showing how interested the kids all were.

The afternoon gave me a simple assignment, but one that I was glad to cover. Students at the alternative high school had collected just under 1,000 pounds of food to donate to the local food bank. Once it was gathered the students then toted it out to the parking lot. I nearly laughed, but held my tongue when I realized that the administrator's truck was in the shop,and the students were loading nearly 1/2 ton of food into the trunk of his Ford Taurus. Definitely NOT the vehicle I would choose to move that much cargo with.


Holiday Musicians

The music teacher from Turpin Elementary School invited us to cover his annual holiday concert again this year. Some of it was cute, some of it painful. You know, typical kids performances. For the most part the kids just stood up and did their thing, with Mr. Markham directing with his back to the crowd. Since this was the product of his hard work I wanted to show him in the image, and show a bit of interaction if I could. People doing things and connecting with others tells a story. So I snapped some frames of different performances, then came some students in traditional Navajo dress, mixed with Santa hats on others. all of them were playing wooden flutes. It seemed such an odd mix of cultures that I started looking for a way to make an image from it. That is when Randy started playing the flute and walking back and forth in front of the students while directing them. It gave me an image that summed up the different cultures as well as the idea of teacher showing students.



The Window Rock Scouts were undefeated this season, until Saturday night's game at Gallup High School. To be fair, the Scouts are a 3A school from Arizona, while the Gallup Bengals are a 5A school in New Mexico. They are not all that evenly matched, especially in size. That doesn't mean that they had no business being on the court. They put on a good game, and even took the lead to start off with. In the end they lost 69-59.

I did something at the game I have not done in a while - shoot with direct/on camera flash at the Gallup gymnasium. We have gone through a lot to get lights set up in the rafters of the gym. The photos look nearly studio quality as a result. But at one of the earlier games I got a urgent text message from one of our other photographers that one of the power packs was sparking and had smoke coming out of it. These power packs are old and may not stand up to another rebuild. In the meantime I chose to use my camera mounted flash unit rather than play games with the big lighting kits. It appears to have worked okay. I just need to dial the power down as low as possible to keep from distracting the players.


Push, Shove, Block and Deny

I am really having a rough day, being made to feel like photography is a crime. First I had issues with the church play (see other post for today) and then what should have been a simple spot news photo of fire crews working on extinguishing a small kitchen fire becomes a really big confrontation.

The call for the fire came in just as John Bowersmith and I were getting ready to have lunch. The Burger King kitchen was on fire. Only about 6 blocks from the office we both made our way over there. Smoke was pouring out of the roof. I got an angle to try and see into the open back door of the restaurant and started making some images. There was not much to see, and the firefighters knocked the whole thing down in just a few minutes. That's when Officer Cindy Romancito of the Gallup Police approached me and told me to back up. Fine. I was not in the way of anybody, and the fire was pretty much out anyway, so why not. So as I started moving back I asked her where to. My exact language was "Where's the perimeter?" At the time I thought my question was pretty clear. Now that I have had a while to think about it I guess she thought I meant "There is no perimeter tape, and no line, so I don't have to back up." Really, I just wanted her to tell me where I was allowed to be - how close. Usually when I come on scene with other officers they tell me "Behind the police car," or "the edge of that spot..."

Suddenly she is getting angry and repeating "back up" but not giving me directions of where to. Having had my fill of people not wanting me to take photos, and being tired of the police in particular acting like my job is a criminal act I stood my ground, asking again where the perimeter was I needed to move to. Then she pushed me. Not a shove, but rather she placed her hand on my chest and applied steady backward pressure to have me move back.

My thought was that I wanted to be sure I could tell exactly which officer it was that was giving me grief, so we could have the paper's attorneys talk to the police department about this later. So, I used my camera with the wide angle lens and made a photograph of her for verification. That's when she got really upset and started trying to cover the lens of my camera. All the while she kept telling me to back up. I did, slowly, wondering how far back I was supposed to go, and made a few images as I went. She grabbed the camera two, possibly three times, blocking me from taking photos.

Now for the really interesting parts. John Bowersmith caught some of the incident with his own camera - though not the part where was pushing me. To see one of his images and the story in the newspaper (it ran on page one) go to The Gallup Independent.
The other thing that has me wondering to myself was that after it was over she strung up police tape - and most of our confrontation was outside of the boundaries of where the perimeter got established. So what was the purpose of making me keep moving back, other than to cause me grief?
(This entry is being posted much after the event - but using the date of the incident for the blog placement)

Church Rehearsal

Hardly feels like it is Christmas time already, Especially after being absent from work for the past week, travelling to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for my daughter's graduation from boot camp and MP school. Regardless, it is the holiday season, and rather than give all the attention to the big churches that are always getting attention I decided that I would focus on my own church. This is the first Christmas pageant we have had in several years due to a lack of children in the church. That has changed now though, and there are a dozen children involved in our congregation.

I am not especially happy with this image, but having some issues with getting out the door this morning for work I arrived later than I wanted to. That only gave me a few short minutes to make images before the rehearsal ended and the kids shed their costumes and fled. When I broached the subject of making images during the actual event tomorrow, my wife acted like I had gone completely daft. "Of course you can't take any photos during a worship service" she said. This attitude has me perplexed. Without going into issues of faith and belief too deeply, I wonder at the idea. What the Bible says is that we are supposed to use our gifts (talents) and spread the good news. The church has a goal of expanding its membership and becoming more noticed in the community. So, by my way of thinking it should be perfectly fine to promote the church and its ideas using my skills and spread the word to as many people as possible - which the newspaper is my best conduit for. Posing photos is out. Never an option, so the best thing is to photograph the event. That is the ethical way, and only proper way for a photojournalist to work. Tell the truth, don't manipulate.

So, that really left me confused as to what my role is supposed to be in this church. Like perhaps there is something wrong with making photographs. If there is, then I have some serious issue with my life because my work is the biggest item that I use to define myself.


Birds, books and authors

Children's book author Brenda Muncy, from Kingman, Ariz., holds her pet macaw, Scrimshaw, while talking to students at Gallup Christian School west of Gallup. Muncy wrote her first book, "Castaway Kitty", as a Christmas present for her grandchildren and after they shared the story at their school she was encouraged to get the story published, which she finally did after four years of searching for a publisher. A second book is due to be released any day.

Kids and colorful animals... click. What else do you need?


Interesting Lessons

Lincoln Elementary teacher Shannon Linville is surrounded by her students as they talk about modern, unexplained mysteries. Linville received a certificate of recognition from the Gallup-McKinley County School board for outstanding implementation of continuous improvement in the classroom.
So how did this image happen? By me biting my tongue and dutifully taking the posed image of the teacher and the school board member shaking hands and handing over the certificate. People think that the readers want to see them, but these images (which are called 'grip-n-grins') are useless to anybody except the people in the frame. There is no context and no interest. Those images are not journalism, but laziness. Where is the action, the 'doing' of the image? That type of image tells the readers nothing, and the information must be gleaned entirely from the caption or the story.

So I waited. I appeased them all by making the image they expected from me. Then as the school board member and others, including the reporter filed out of the room I stayed behind under the pretense of spelling her name right. Soon the students were asking questions and I stalled, making a production of supposedly packing up my camera bag. Soon I was forgotten about and the teacher was working with her kids. They had a book about Bigfoot and the Bermuda triangle, and she had every body's attention. There is a lot more in this frame about her being a good teacher and having a relationship with her students than the posed image with the school board member ever did.


Navajo Santa

As a last minute assignment I learned that former Navajo Nation chairman Peter MacDonald would be speaking at a senior citizen's Christmas party. I made some images of him and then learned that Santa Claus was back stage, waiting to come out for an appearance.

I had no idea that the bearded jolly man was so lonely at times. Even Santa needs some time to himself to put on his game face and psych himself up to be jolly.

A short while later he was out amongst the crowd, sharing silly hats and making the crowd laugh. Since he was speaking entirely in Navajo I have no idea what he was going on about, but it certainly had the crowd in a merry uproar.

Where is the Outrage?

Former Navajo Nation chairman Peter MacDonald asks the audience at a senior citizen's luncheon where was the outrage among the tribal leaders when the news of the abuse of an 84-year old woman made it onto the front page.

The image was a pretty standard podium shot to start with, so I set the camera to a slow shutter speed and rear-curtain flash sync. This froze the action of his face and the hand, but gave a little bit of ambient light from the background to show the blur of his fingers as he spoke. It is a bit subtle, but it gave motion and a bit of urgency to an otherwise static image of a guy at a podium.


Colorful Dusk

This image is my trying to salvage a bad image situation.

My intent for the evening was to get an image of the sunset and moon rise together over the Pyramid rock near Church Rock. Unfortunately I miscalculated the moon rise time (need to figure out the charts and how to use them in the future) and also where the moon would rise. The sun was set farther than I wanted when the moon finally came up, so there was no light on the foreground. To make things worse, the moon rose quite a bit farther North than I expected, and I ended up not having it rise above the peak of Pyramid rock.

When I turned around to pack up and return to my car I saw the colors and the receding telephone lines, and made a couple of images of it. I certainly did not come away from this self-assignment with the image I was planning on.


Elderly Abuse

Recently an elderly Navajo woman reported that she was abused by members of the BIA. The 84 year old woman stated she had been threatened, manhandled and even had her cane thrown onto the roof of her hogan.

Of course the incident is being denied, but a small group of elderly people came out today to protest the incident, and meet with the Navajo Nation President, Joe Shirley Jr.

They marched a couple of miles along the main highway in Window Rock, then arrived at the president's office only to find him, the vice president and the first lady all out of the office and unavailable. Eventually a member of the president's staff did come out to meet with them in the waiting area of the office.


Where I was -- The Balloons

For anybody interested, this is the red rock cliff that I was shooting from. The angle is a bit deceiving, as this is shot wide from the very southern end of the cliff, and it stretches back for half a mile or more. I walked up the back of the cliff (which was still a tough climb)

And, you can see that there is a reason they call this Red Rock State Park.

Balloon-mania: aka Baaaalloons

After several years of bad weather at the annual Red Rock Balloon we finally had a perfect day for lift-off today. For something a little different I decided to hike to the top of the rocks and shoot my images from above. I did this some years ago, and had some nice images from it, but today gave me an unexpected gift. I have never seen any critters on top of the cliffs before, so when I got to the top and found myself staring at a herd of goats I was not sure how they would react.

They started out keeping a wary eye on me, then slowly moved away from me, but with only the cliff in that direction they were somewhat trapped. I made several different images, but none were really strong. Then the balloon came up the side of the rocks, and as the pilot neared the peak he hit the burner to get more lift. The roar from the burner scared the goats more than I did, so they decided it was time to leave. As they hurried past me I tripped my shutter and the resulting image is one that I really like.

The rest of the images here are other things I saw during the mass ascension. Overall, the day went well, and the photos came out clean and bright.

Dining Interiors

Sometimes my job is not at all about journalism. We are called upon to create images for our advertising department more often than I would like. This setting was for our weekly 'Dining Guide' section where we run photos of different restaurants along with ads for other restaurants. The person in the restaurant wanted a photo of people waiting in line at the counter. Fine, except that there was some interesting light coming into the main dining room area and the tables and chairs had a warm color that I liked. So, after doing what the client requested I wandered to the other side of the space and made this shot for my own enjoyment.


MY first basketball game of the season went well enough. I was experimenting with using my Nikon D-80 camera for sports, and after some adjusting, trial and error I was able to actually use the camera for sports. It does have a limitation of only 1/200th second for a flash sync. speed, and only handles 3-frames per second (as opposed to the D-200 which goes at 5-fps, and the D2H which rips 8-fps). I actually found that by setting the ISO sensitivity down to 400, and dropping my shutter speed to 1/125th was when I got the best results.

Overall the images turned out well, considering I was using direct/on-camera flash to light inside a gymnasium with yellowish-orange walls and ceiling.

Festival of Trees

As a fund raiser for the local Kiwanis club, the past two years a variety of businesses have set up Christmas trees and donated items to go with the trees. Once the trees are set up people can buy tickets for a chance to win the trees. Tickets are two for one dollar, and once purchased you simply go to the trees you like and drop your ticket in the container next to it. Then a drawing is held to give away the trees and items.

The space that was used for setting up the display is the empty K-Mart space at the mall. Very large, and less than interesting light made making a photo challenging.

At first I made some images of employees from Wal-Mart (don't get me started about them!) setting up a tree, but there was something a bit static and uninteresting about them.

I finally decided that I could add some tension/movement with a slow shutter speed, and at the same time kill my lighting problems. I set up a tripod (now there's something I rarely do for newspaper work) and set a slow shutter speed that would make the people walking through the area into ghostly blurs.



A semi-truck lays on its side in the median of I-40, three miles east of the New Mexico/Arizona border, while a tow truck salvage crew get ready to start pulling the cargo and setting about righting the truck.

(Below) - A police officer looks at the damage to a car that slid out on the hill and smashed into the curb. When he stopped to check on the driver a second car slid down the hill, hitting the first car and knocking it into the front of the patrol car. The damage was minor, but they still had to send a second patrol car to write up the accident report for the first unit.

I am not sure what time this morning the snow actually started, but we got somewhere around an inch of the frozen mess on the ground. We get a couple of these snow falls each year, and still people are surprised, and do not adjust their driving in the slightest. What really surprises me is the truck drivers on the highway that have so much trouble.

The Wreck on I-40 was right next to a rest area, so I parked there to keep my vehicle safe from getting hit wile taking photos. As I was walking by the truck area I found this driver working on his wipers and the sprayers to keep his windshield clean. A big problem with snow around here is that it melts away pretty fast, and the result is a lot of slush and spray on windshields.
The lighting for this was awful - I knew I didn't want to mess around with using a flash, and I didn't have a lot of time to get the shot (he was done in only a minute or two). So I shot the photos in RAW/NEF file format and metered for the clouds and added 2/3 of a stop. I did not want to lose the details completely. Then back at the office I used the Shadow/Highlight tool in photoshop CS2 to darken the highlights and bring out some detail in the shadows. After that I fine tuned the image using a couple of layer adjustment masks to dodge out spots on his face and burn down some of the detail in the clouds.

At this point I am shooting almost exclusively in the camera RAW format. It gives me some real flexibility in the final image toning, but is gobbling up space on my external hard drives.


Art and Authors

This sculpture and painted pony are the work of more than three dozen artists, and it is truly a one-of-a-kind piece. This week is the Reunion of the Masters, where several of the more famous Native American artists come and give demonstrations at the Gallup Cultural Center, and to top off the event the sculpture is being raffled off. When I was there at the gallery I was told that more than 125 tickets had been sold, and the price was $1,000 per ticket.

What's really interesting about today is that I started out with no assignments for the day. Checked around for something going on, and our local community calendar had a listing for the reunion of the masters demonstrations. I wandered on over, got the images of the kids and the author (below) and decided to photograph the sculpture as long as I was there. Back at the office I edited and filed the photos and was heading out the door when a reporter told me she was doing a story on the event, and a second story on the raffle of the sculpture, and wanted to know if I could get some photos for it.

Something new this time around was to also include some authors in the events for the week. Author Roberta John came to the gallery and read both of her books to students. I tried a couple of different angles for this, and decided that this image worked the best - showing the cover of the book, the author's face and some of the children she was reading to. The editors decided that they wanted to run the other photo (below) . It is certainly a different angle, but I didn't like that the image was not showing any expressions of the kids, and the main element in the frame is the table, which is somewhat boring.


Red Rider

I don't think that he's a city employee, and I doubt that his gear is standard issue for the fire department, but this guy hitched a ride on the back of one of their trucks to make an entrance at the shopping mall.

I am not a fan of Wal-Mart at all, and our publisher does not want us covering anything there, but I really wanted to go after hearing that their corporate offices had declared their stores off-limits to all media for this biggest shopping day of the year. Let's embrace the American way of life, and all be one big team and family at Wal-Mart, but only when it suits us. Hmm. I guess they are just following the lead that our current political leaders have set - making photography and reporting of the actual events a restricted activity. The land of the free? Only if you are choosing to conform.

In any event I decided that I really didn't want to deal with the crowds and the hassles, especially when the management had been very inviting to my request for permission to cover their event.


Thanksgiving Feasts

After shooting the Toys for Tots event I had a second assignment to go to Care 66 and get photos of them making their Thanksgiving dinner. The facility is an interesting one, in that it is a homeless shelter, but it is different. The residents are required to get jobs and they take life skills classes and it is more like a rehab center than it is a shelter. The downside of this is that the residents are almost all in positions that they do not wish to be photographed or identified. The acting program director and one of the residents who is from Cuba were willing to be photographed to promote the work of the center.

Thanksgiving Exercise

I had to work today - Thanksgiving. The event was early enough in the day not to disrupt things for me too much, and the reason was certainly worthwhile. The police department helped put together a 5K fun run to raise money for the Toys for Tots toy drive. They had more than 40 people show up for the run (and more than one participant walked the course). The event itself was pretty mundane to photograph, but after the run I found these three children hanging out together, and it seemed to be the best image of the morning.


Flight Plan

I was having some concerns with one of my lenses not focusing sharply at long range, so I looked up into the sky and saw a jet flying overhead. I composed and fired the camera a couple of times and the image was acceptably sharp. The color looked a bit flat, so in Photoshop I hit "Auto-levels" just to snap the color and contrast a bit and see what it looked like. I expected a mild shift in color. Instead the auto setting took the image to extremes of contrast and I found myself liking the resulting image. Yes, it is an exaggeration, and there is no news value to it. Just an image that made think :Huh, that's kind of cool."


Football Post Season Prayers

For the first time since I started working for The Gallup Independent ten years ago the local football team has been included in the play-offs, and just barely. Getting in on a wing and a prayer comes to mind. Two other teams in their class were disqualified because they had ineligible players during the season. The notification of their inclusion in the play-offs came so late that the players had already turned in their equipment and missed one week of practice.

In the end the game was lopsided, and the Gallup Bengals were de-clawed as they lost 43-3. At the end of the half they were losing 41-3, and the opposing Sandia Matadors did not try to run up the score, but then the Bengals fumbled the ball out the back of their own end-zone, chalking up a safety.