Watch Where You're Walking

We have a lot of pedestrian traffic in Gallup. We also have a lot of self-absorbed motorists who think that they are immune to laws, like yielding to pedestrians, using seat-belts, speed limits and not driving drunk... The Gallup police set up a sting operation of sorts in downtown today. They had several officers wait for cars to come and then they would walk out into the crosswalk and see if vehicles yielded to them. If cars did not stop thy radioed ahead to several officers two blocks up the street who pulled them over and gave them a verbal warning along with a flyer about pedestrian safety.
For this photo I knew I wanted to show how fast some of the vehicles were going, and how close they were to hitting the officers. I tried using a long lens to compress the image, and it worked okay, but to really get the effect I needed to slow down the shutter speed. The Nikon D200 and D80 both have an ISO sensitivity of 100, so I was able to set the camera to a low ISO, and a small aperture (f/22) to bring my shutter speed down to about 1/30th second. This gave enough time in the exposure for the moving vehicle to blur while still keeping the relatively stationary pedestrian sharp.

Daylight Football

Here are a couple of images from today's little kids football games. They call it the "Route 66 Bowl" because the take the top Gallup team and pit them against the top Grants or Laguna/Acoma team.


Wolf Bites

It has been a few years since I was able to visit the wolf sanctuary in Candy Kitchen, NM. Yesterday I stopped in for a feature story that one of the reporters was working on, and I got to go and play with the puppies. The white wolves in the first two photos are Arctic wolf pups, about six months old. They were a bit frisky when I first got into the enclosure with them, but they soon got bored with me and went off to play. There was also a Timber wolf pup in the area. Getting a photo of him was nearly impossible. He craved attention, constantly jumping up on me and crowding against me. During his excited jumping he snapped at me and managed to clip the bridge of my nose. He didn't draw any blood, but I do have a small puncture spot on my nose.

The last photo is of an adult wolf in a different enclosure. The adults seem a bit more wary of people, and so I stayed outside and used a 300mm lens, focusing through the fence. If the light on the chain link fence is right it is possible to shoot right through the fence and not have it show up in the photo.


Willie Wanna-be?

For the last 35 years Eldon Gibson has been a fan of Willie Nelson. He was also an outlaw biker. Now at the age of 73 he has given up the outlaw life-style, and instead spends his time painting, creating artwork from steer hide, making knives and he has even written a book about his biker-days, though he says parts of it are made up or embellished a bit.


Old Glory - a tribute

I have been taking the Epson Print Academy on-line course. One of the featured photographers they have had is Jay Maisel. This image is my own interpretation of an image that he had and showed during the video. His photo was far more abstract than mine, and the pole was a centered triangle, but I have always been a fan of strong diagonals and off-center composition. I don't have any idea if the newspaper will want to run this image, but for now that is not important. What is important is making images that I find interesting.


Abstraction in Nature

I have heard photographers say over and over that some of the most interesting things to make images of are right in your own backyard. Well, maybe my own front yard. We have a pair of trees in our yard that are getting ready to turn colors for fall. As I looked around the yard I realized that the ugly leaves on a weed-like plant on the other side of the yard actually had a lot of color to it. So, time to break out the 60mm macro lens and the tripod. The color was pretty saturated because of the overcast skies we had, but to give the image a bit more pop I kicked in a bit of side-light from a fill flash.


T-Pin Head

Here's an out-take from today's assignment at the cosmetology department. The students are apparently in the spirit of Halloween, and have created their version of this scary movie character.

Cancer Care

The cosmetology department at local branch of the University of New Mexico held a spa day today, giving people manicures, pedicures and facials for $5 each, and the money was then donated to one of the local teams in the Relay for Life, which is a group of cancer survivors and supporters that raise money for research with an annual walk.


Rocky Road

After yesterday's soccer game I looked off in the distance from my parking spot and noticed this view of the east-end over pass in town. I was still shooting with my 300mm and 1.4 tele-converter, which worked really well to compress the elements together, and the crossing power lines that I normally loathe add a nice bit of tension to break up the otherwise tall frame.


Heading the right way

More soccer action. The guy using his head is from the visiting team, so I doubt the sports desk will use it, but I still liked the action and body language.



While on assignment to get an image for the paper to go with a story about the main overpass being re-opened to facilitate Christmas shopping I spotted this contractor working on cutting down a very large pile of scrap metal with a torch. The photo for the overpass was pretty static and uninspired. This photo felt a lot better, even though it doesn't fit the story very well.


Traveling Light

As I walked out to my car this morning I felt like it was going to be a good day for images. There was fog in the air and the sun was trying to burn it off. I had an assignment to cover a small protest march in Window Rock, Ariz., but I had some spare time, and nothing starts on time in Window Rock. So I kept my eyes open during the drive. The fog was interesting, but it didn't seem like it would reproduce well in newsprint. It would be simply some grey objects and grey skies.
As I got closer to my destination the fog was burning off except in the low areas. The result was some color and light, and then the band of rock jutting up above the fog to give some type of scale and boundary to it. Then I borrowed the old landscape photographers trick and used a silhouette of a tree on the side to frame the image a bit, and it also blocked the sun from shining onto the front element of the lens and creating some really bad lens flare.

as I said, the march, like most things, did not start on time. As I waited for them to come into the area I has pre-selected I spotted this trail that ran up above the road and would give me a higher vantage point to look down and make images from. As I stood there waiting for my assigned subjects to appear this Navajo gentleman passed me, saying good morning as he walked. I watched him and was struck by the line of the sidewalk leading toward the hills, and then the crazy, out of control shadow line from the fence. I'm still not sure what the line from the shadow is supposed to be symbolic of - I could make up a story I suppose. In reality it is simply a compositional element to help lead the eye to the subject. The cowboy walking the line.


A True Homecoming - and some luck

After two tours in Iraq this soldier returns home and is greeted by her mother and her two-month old sister, who she gets to see for the first time.
I knew what the image was going to be for this assignment when it came across my desk. Yeah, right! The assignment was that this family, who live in Sanders (roughly 45 minutes west of Gallup) were going to surprise their daughter at a Gallup gas station. Several family members gathered, along with more than a dozen motorcycle riders (mostly Vietnam veterans who participate in events like the Run for the Wall).
The image I thought I was going to have when I got there was her shaking hands with the riders, and perhaps an image of them escorting her down the highway. But suddenly she was there and her mother was holding this child. As they moved close together I realized I was on the wring side of them to see their faces. They ignored me and the other family members were leaving this open space around them so I could move around freely. I got three frames off and the moment was over. The managing editor was there to write the story, and when he realized that I had this image he suggested that I could go home, as that would be all I needed. I did shoot some more, but nothing worked like this image, and he was right. This was the moment that really told the emotion of her coming home.

Soccer. I have settled into a method of covering it that seems to be working well, using a 300mm and 1.4x tele-converter on one camera for the halfway across the field stuff, and then a 70-200mm zoom lens for the nearby stuff. What did I use here? A lot of luck. I was watching the action across the field with the long glass. Suddenly the ball started coming toward me. I fumbled with cameras and lenses to switch to my other rig. I was set to shoot a horizontal image and the girls were still moving closer. Without even getting my eye to the viewfinder I pointed the camera and hit the auto-focus activation switch and then pressed the shutter.

There is an old saying that comes to mind here:
It is better to be lucky than good.


Fan Mail

After a very long day of shooting yesterday and having to work this weekend (my usual days off) I took it easy today with only a short office meeting and work on some advertising images. I covered six assignments yesterday, including a rush advertising project, and ended up handling more than 30 images for publication.

As I was packing up the office to leave the managing editor tossed an envelope onto my desk and made some comment about it ticking. Inside I found a hand-written card from a lady who, should I call her elderly I would insult greatly. This woman and I have run into each other from time to time as I have been out working. She is a busy activist in the community, and our public library is named after her. She wrote:

What a joy your nature photographs are! You did it again with the extraordinary image of the blue heron in the Gallup area. Only you could have captured that moment. Then along came the spider!
Your sports photographs as well as your human interest ones are exceptional. Have you thought about compiling a photographic book with poetic quotations?

What was really interesting to me was that just yesterday I had told the managing editor that the only images I had gotten any feedback on lately were my nature photographs. He told me that he didn't mind running them.

There have only been a few times in the nearly ten years here that I have had somebody take the time to respond to my work. It felt really good to know that something I thought was worth spending time recording also touched somebody else.


A Good day of Shooting

Homecoming week. Almost every year I am the one that has to cover the annual "street painting" contest in front of the high school. It is done after school and the sun is going down, giving some bad lighting conditions. In other years I have been on tight timetables and not able to stay as long as I wanted. This year I got to stick around and keep working to see what I could get.
At first the shadows of people were a real problem for my getting the shot I thought I wanted. There were these awful patches of hot light and dark shadow. Once the painting filled in more, and more people stood around to watch I started to see a pattern of light and shadow stripes on the colors begin to emerge. The people that I had been wishing would move away only 20 minutes earlier were now helping me make a very different image than I thought I was going to come away with. In the end it was my favorite image of the day.

Earlier in the day I was sent on a quick feature story assignment to photograph the new chef out in the middle of nowhere. Franco Lee, who used to be a chef in Las Vegas, is now running the kitchen for breakfast and lunch in the little chapter house area called Coyote Canyon. The restaurant is simply The Coyote Cafe. He starts work at 5 am and finishes up at the cafe around 2 pm. Then he drives back to Gallup and runs the kitchen of a restaurant on the west end of town for the evening hours. He said he only gets about 4-5 hours of sleep a night, and I have no idea how he can manage the pace. I was tired from simply watching him work.

This final image from today was from a disappointing volleyball match. The Gallup team lost the match in three straight games. I wanted to show something that said they tried but came up short. Although the action on the image is a little late - the ball is already going behind her, I still kept the image because of her expression and because of her reflection in the floor.


Pushing Education forward

A Navajo taco is a thing of pure evil. Simply, they taste fantastic. Dough stretched out and deep fried (many Native Americans make fry bread), then the fry bread is filled up either a very large hamburger patty or with taco mix. Very good to eat, and very toxic. I read somewhere that a single piece of fry bread has 1,000 calories. As a person who is losing a battle with his weight the last thing I need is to eat these things.
Regardless, it is very common for people to get together and hold a Navajo Taco sale to raise money for whatever is needed. Today these mothers and grand-mothers gathered to make their fry bread and sell it to raise money for one of the area pre-school programs.

Earlier in the morning I attended a ground-breaking ceremony for a new middle school that is being built on the west end of Gallup. The new middle school is the start of a process that will see our city go from one public high school to two. As is required here, a traditional Navajo blessing was perfromed with the singing of several native songs and the sprinkling of corn pollen.
Photographic access for these blessings is totally up to the individual medicine man performing the blessing. It also depends on the blessing being performed. A more public blessing like this is generally something that I am allowed to photograph. As always though I find the person performing the blessing as soon as I can and ask permission. In this case photographs were acceptable, but not audio recordings.

Gallup and the Navajo Nation are far behind the rest of the country in many things, and many people, realizing that education has to be a priority for things to get better, or at the very least for the area not to fall even farther behind, are pushing to makethings like new schools and programs happen. There are still many areas that people do not have running water, electricity or telephone service on the reservation, but as I drive around the reservation I am seeing openings of new school buildings and improvements to existing ones.
Peronally I see eduation as a double-edged blade. It will solve the problems in some ways. It will also take a terrible toll on the traditions and beliefs of the youth in this culture. Fewer and fewer children canspeak Navajo. They know video games and 'R'-rated moviesand cartoon characters. They don't know how to speak to their grand-parents in their own language.


Flashing flags and grazing horses

Much of the time the work that the photojournalists at The Independent end up turning in is self-generated. In some ways it is nice to have so much freedom to go out and find anything we want to make images of. Other times it is a chore to find something that is going to be of interest for the readers and the editors.
Today was a day of wandering around with a purpose. I had a few basic assignments - a "portrait" of an RV parked out at Red Rock Park for example. The girls practicing with the flags was not planned. I had an errand to run at the high school, and when I pulled up to the building these three girls were practicing their routines for this week's homecoming game performance. They were on the shady side of the building which really gave me a chance to drop to a slow shutter speed and capture some of the sense of motion in the flags.

The horses grazing image was just something I spotted as I was driving out to make an image for the story on RV parking at red Rock. I was crossing the bridge that traverses the railroad tracks and glanced down to see the colors of the flowers and weeds. The colors are unusual because of the extended drought we have been experiencing here. I parked just off the bridge and as I walked to find a pattern in the weeds these two horses emerged.
News? No. But it is a part of what life is here. I find it interesting that out here only the Indians are true cowboys.


Columbus Day

This image was made Saturday at the San Rafael 100th anniversary celebration. Members of the Knights of Columbus escorted the clergy members from the Post office to the Mission, then stood guard at the entrance to the chapel. Their uniforms were spotless and the gentlemen wearing them were obviously proud to do so.
My first shots were of the three men in the entryway. Although it works well for setting place, the wide angle lens put some distance into the image and lost some of the detail in their uniforms and the ecpressions in their faces.
So I switched to a telephoto lens and looked for a tight image with a clean background. The two gentlemen on the right were my first idea, giving a repeating pattern to the image. The background did not work well though, and I didn't even press the shutter. I didn't because that's when I noticed how clean and colorful the wreath behin the other man was.
Becuase he was in shade with daylight streaming in and a lot of white on his uniform I under-exposed the imae and shot in RAW/NEF format. Using the controls in Photoshop CS2 I was able to bring out the shadows slightly without losing the highlight details. And I love the slight smile on his face. Rather than guarding the entryway their presence was an invitation to join in.


Saxophone Swinger

While in Grants yesterday my assignment was to cover the Chili Fiesta. The festival was pretty much a non-event, with only about 50 people in total attendance. I took a few images of the judging, of one of the ladies cooking her red and green chili and then looked for something with visual appeal.

There is some debate within our editorial depatment over whether this is called a feature photo, a 'stand-alone' (cause it has no story text) or, the most contentious one, 'Wild Art.'

Regardless, the small event suddenly came alive with a tenor saxophone. He had a sound system behind him for the drums and other instruments to accompany him, but the music from his horn was powerful.

I have always wondered how to photograph music. It seems to be the opposite of light. But he was moving and putting some emotion into his playing, and for this one frame it felt like I managed to catch the feeling of the music.


100 years of faith

This weekend the Village of San Rafael, NM and the Mission there celebrated its 100th anniversary. I saw the advertisement for the event in the other paper -the Cibola Beacon (we use our presses to print the paper for them). The people were friendly and open to having me there, and I had to be somewhat rude and make a very brief appearance. We had one photographer on vacation thisweekend, and the other had to go to his hometown for a funeral. That left me having to come in on my day off and working solo. I was stretched thin with assignments in Grants, San Rafael and also back in Gallup, so I only stayed at the mission for about 30 minutes. The light was doing wonderful things with the scattered clouds, and several people were wearing great clothing.

The real heart of the celebration was set for after the Noon mass. There was a blessing and some dancers performing... but I had to be back in Gallup for volleyball.

Friday Night Football

The Gallup Bengals lost tonight - but they were playing the 5th ranked team in the state, and they went to the locker room tied 6-6 at the half. I don't know if it was because they were playing good football, or I was just in the right frame of mind, but I came away with a half dozen images from tonight's game. Some nights I would be lucky to get two.
The rain that rolled through and caused problems for the air show today broke about an hour before game time, and I had decent weather for working.
This first image is almost full frame - just cropped off some empty space on the right side of the image. I was using my D200 and a 300mm f/2.8 lens. The other image of the tackle was done with the Nikon D2H and a 70-200 f/2.8 VR lens. I shot everything in RAW/NEF format, and the extra control for shadows and highlights helps give me an option to minimize the bright spots from the flash and bring out detail in the shadow/black uniforms.
Yes, I still want to have day time football games, but if I could have more games like this one then I wouldn't mind the Friday Night (lack of) Lights.


Cloudy Flights

Today was the Gallup Airshow. Bad weather was the name of the game. Clouds, wind and rain. The image of the helicopter taking off is from the aircraft making a hasty exit to avoid getting caught in a major storm that came through.
A pair of stealth jets did a single pass fly over, and Herb Baker took his T-28 plane to the air for an arobatics display. Lots of school kids came to watch, and it was a hit with them (hey, they were not in class), but over all the show was small and lacked much "show".



I have begun to struggle with soccer already this season. A lot of the images I have made are looking the same. The two people colliding as they chase the ball is becoming a standard shot for me to anticipate and make.
Today I covered two games - the girls game was decent and I got a few unique images. By the end of that game the sun was disappearing behind the cliff next to the field, and the light was fading. The boys game bean and I thought about needing to start using a flash unit. Instead I decided to turn on the Auto-ISO setting on the camera, set a high shutter speed to catch the action fairly well and let the camera adjust the sensor to get the exposure. The game was moving along. I had a few possible images, and suddenly the action came right at me. I moved and the shutter speed allowed for a little bit of blur on the ball and the boys feet. Between the players being right in front of me, the motion blur, the auto-ISO option on the camera and shooting a RAW file instead of the JPEG format to give me image controls all added up to a shot that I like and that flash would have most likely ruined.


Tufa Jewelry Maker

I met Aaron Anderson at his Gallup home and got to watch an artist at work. Many of the Navajo artists, potters and jewelry makers think that he is making a mistake by sharing his secrets and letting people see how he does "it". He thinks that it is a waste to work on learning a skill and not passing it on to others.
Besides, just because he lets a person see him work does not mean that they can do what he does. I could watch footage of Evel Kneivel jumping cars a thousand times and still not have a chance of succeeding. And that it the thing - he works so quickly and makes it look so easy... but what he is really doing is showing his years of experience.
Tufa is the stone that he carves by hand to make a mold. Then he melts silver (sometimes gold)and pours it into the mold to create his art. Each piece he makes is unique. When you buy one of his creations the Tufa stone he carved for the mold is sold with it.
Once the mold cools the jewelry - in this case a bracelet - is still far from ready. It needs to be shaped, cleaned, have a stone - usually turquoise - mounted on it, then polished to a spectacular shine

Burning Down

Volunteer fire fighter Ed Cavanaugh stands next to a burning building and waits for a tanker truck to arrive with more water.
The building was only a few miles out of the city, but there are no hydrants in the area, and a bridge near the blaze would not support the weight of a loaded tanker truck sent from Gallup to assist. So the smaller trucks had to shuttle back and forth from the scene to where the tanker was and refill.
Even if the tanker had been able to cross the bridge the building would still have burned down, as the building was already fully engulfed when the call came in from the dispatch center.

The other images I created todat were of the crew from Hinkley Sign Company taking down a well known landmark sign in downtown. The sign was for the Downtown Plaza, which has housed a locally owned grocery store for years. The old neon lighting and the sign itself was so decayed that it was cheaper to replace than spend money upgrading the wiring and maintaining the old lights.
The first image is a bit loose and is a hard one to read the details in since it is so small, but I loved the position of the word "Down" in the foreground (from the Downtown Plaza sign) which summed up what the crew is doing.
The final image is the guys removing the old neon tubes from the front of the sign after taking it down.


After the facts

The police scanner said that there was a structure fire on the eastern section of town. Then the dispatcher paged out the fire units from the station across the street from the newspaper. I was pulling out of the parking lot as I saw the fire station doors open, and after allowing them to pass at the intersection I followed. The fire turned out to be minor - some new insulation in one of the homes walls was ignited, presumably from being in contact with the pipes from the hot water heater. Not much of a photo from the front of the house, just a few firefighters standing around a ladder while two guys got on the roof to check for smoke. So I went back to the outer perimeter and hung out with the ladder crew that had been on standby. Soon they were released from the scene and started packing up the hoses. When I saw the guys starting to straighten the lines before pulling them back onto the truck I got down on my knees and waited for one of them to move in front of me. I got off two frames. The first frame his back foot is still on the ground and doesn't have the same sense of motion and tension this frame does.

When I first got to the scene there was a police car blocking the road about a block and a half from the scene. Being a dead-end street there was no other access, so I simply parked on the street, grabbed my gear and started walking. He realized who I was, promptly jumped from his car, ran to the trunk and pulled out a roll of police tape. By this time I was already passed him, and he hollered out, "I think they have it out already" to discourage me from moving on to the scene. Instead I stopped at the rear truck and checked in with Ray Ross from the fire marshall's office. With his permission I advanced right up to the house (across the street to stay out of anybody's way). There really was not much to photograph, as I said, but the constant police interference with our news gathering is a real problem. The current chief, Sylvester Stanley, has decided that ANY fire is suspicious and is therefore a crime scene, and all access to the area is restricted. Officers with the department for years that used to speak to us freely now move away because the only thing they can say is to contact the PIO -- who incidentally only works from 9-5 and has NEVER returned a phone call to me about an incident.

There is a rumor in our office that many of the New Mexico newspapers are filing a class action lawsuit against the police throughout the state, for their interference and prevention of us exercising our constitutional rights to a free press. Right now it is a rumor, but I can hope that it makes people re-examine the police/media relations. In Gallup they have steadily deteriorated in the ten years I have worked for this newspaper.