Lawrence Harding was my first photo essay. I managed to get it published in the Post Tribune with help from friend and photo editor Andy LaValley. Lawrence Harding (and people like him) is/are the reason I picked up a camera. Shooting famous people can be thrilling but it doesn’t compare to shooting someone like this man. I think a lot of photojournalists choose their careers in order to give life and legitimacy to the people in this world who are overlooked and undervalued.
I grew up near Gary, Indiana and the racial lines were very clearly drawn when I was growing up. I used to go there as a social worker in the 90’s and I felt cheated that such a divide existed. When I left social work, there wasn’t really a reason to go there anymore, so when I began to learn photography, I drove there looking for interesting photos and people. One day, a very small white and blue church caught my eye and I knew something interesting was going on inside.
I drove by several times over the course of a month – scared to knock. I finally mustered up the courage and when I knocked, a man swung open a door in a long black robe, looked at me and said, “Praise the Lord!”
He welcomed me into his small church – Lively Stone Pentecostal. He was trying to get his church going and besides a few community “revivals”, he only preached to his family. His son played the drums and his wife and daughter sat in the audience. I followed them and photographed them for the next few months. The family welcomed me into their world and I learned what many outside of Gary would not. Without a camera – I would have had no reason to knock on his door. Sometimes I wish everyone had a camera so they would have a reason to go into places they would have no reason to visit otherwise. They too could see the faith and strength of a beautiful family like this in such an “ugly” place.
I too am drawn to magazine covers with Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt – but why do we pick them up when we know better? Why does crap and banality continue to thrive when there are people like this man who are out there doing so much more?
Mr. Harding told me of a check he found underneath his door one day. It was for $30.00 and it had a note on it saying “Keep on doing what you are doing.” The last time I talked to him, he had to abandon his little church and he became a guest preacher at another larger church in Gary. Sadly, his young wife died of a brain tumor. I will always be grateful that me and my camera were touched by this generous, beautiful family.
There are two reasons I wanted to be a photographer/visual storyteller: the first is cinematographer Caleb Deschanel . Many photographers are influenced by other still photographers. I was definitely influenced by fellow Hoosiers Peter Turnley and David Turnley, but I did not know of them at the age of 10. I fell in love with images without words through the cinematography of Caleb Deschanel when I walked out of the theatre in 1978 after seeing The Black Stallion.
I had never seen a movie where the first half was almost without dialogue. I loved horses, but I left the theater loving film and the power of storytelling without words even more. I was so in love with it I could barely sleep that night. I’ve since seen the movie over and over again – even as an adult. I remember 10 years later melting down into tears over one of the scenes during Christmas break from college. My brothers turned to me and said “What the hell is wrong with you?” This scene was/is especially memorable for me. *link below.
The Black Stallion
In November 2009 I had my dream assignment. I randomly contacted a then stranger, Alan Chitlik about his work with Backstreets Magazine shooting my favorite musician, Bruce Springsteen. Before I knew it, I was on the phone with editor Chris Phillips and he was asking me to shoot the Detroit show. I absolutely couldn’t believe it and within 24 hours I was driving from Chicago to Michigan to shoot “The Boss”.
Unfortunately, photographers usually do not have free reign like they did in the 70’s. Instead of running around the front and jumping on stage, photographers have to go near the sound board and they are only allowed to shoot a certain number of songs before they are led away. We were only allowed to shoot 3 songs. I was lucky enough to get a free front section pass after I finished my work, but I had to lock my cameras away.
I shared a small podium with some local Detroit papers and when Bruce hit the stage with the E-Street Band I fired away. I’ve always liked Clarence Clemons, but I was concentrating on the main man for most of my time. After hearing Clarence passed away, I searched for photos of him. When I was learning photography an editor told me, “If you shoot someone famous, always get as much as you can, because when they die, you have something valuable on your hands.”
To my disappointment I only had one or two shots of Clarence. Whether financial or emotional, why is it that when someone dies they suddenly become more “valuable”? Like a photographer we begin to think of all of the moments with them that we missed or didn’t appreciate. I think this is especially true of people who are not front and center like Bruce. Clarence was a big man, and even though his saxophone was key in most of the songs I love, my eyes would always wander back to Bruce, leaving Clarence in the background.
Luckily, in life we have more than 3 songs to appreciate someone. And sometimes it’s hard to remember.
Shot my first MLS game last night – the Seattle Sounders vs the New York Red Bulls. What an experience. The chants, the energy and the stadium packed with fans in green and blue was a completely new experience to me. Shooting a pro game for the first time is thrilling but it is also stressful. Finding the right entrance, walking into a press room full of strangers, following the protocol and figuring out the mores of the other journalists is enough to throw you completely off. Luckily, I had the privilege of being taken under the wing of great photographer and all around decent human being Anthony Bolante.
All I can say is that the night went so wrong that whatever I shot last night would not have been possible without him.
Whenever I shoot graduations, I usually spend most of my time looking for great facial expressions, but then, for some reason I always become focused on what shoes graduates have chosen to wear. Everyone is basically in the same garb, so their only form of self-expression is on their feet. It’s such an important day and I picture them shopping for their dress, or suit, but more importantly they’ve got to choose what footwear they will reveal to their peers and to the crowd.
I saw this girl confidently walking past the other girls with the high heels – slip and all. I watched them stare at her and watch her strut by after her name was called. I might have suggested she make a different choice if she were my child, but you know what? I think her choice reveals that she’s probably got more going on than a lot of those students. She may not become a corporate CEO, but I venture to say that she’s going to do just fine.