Life isn't always faire

July 1, 2010 

The biggest perk of working in a small market is the access you can get. Rolling in with confidence and a couple of expensive cameras is all it takes at many events and the knowing nods and smiles have only come easier the longer I’ve worked here. Of course, there have been plenty of exceptions.

Perchance thou hast guessed this tale will follow that vein.

When I heard that reporter Dori O’Neal was going to focus her story on John Moore, a former Tri-Citian who died in March, I braced myself. Moore was an actor with the Seattle Knights, a group that had spurned my attempts at access during last year’s Ye Merrie Greenwood Faire. The knights were dedicating this year’s shows to Moore, so I figured I had a better chance at talking my way inside the rope.

I approached a friendly face more than an hour before showtime. He gave me a similarly tentative spiel that I heard last year and said he’d ask the head honcho, Dameon Willich, creator and director of the Seattle Knights. He returned with a lukewarm response that seemed like a definite maybe to me, so I said I’d check back in a few minutes. I made another loop through the faire to populate the photo gallery before checking back in, hoping my low-pressure approach would loosen their steel grip on access.

It didn’t.

Despite my liaison’s promise that he would do what he could to get me access, his continually vague responses weren’t assuring. He said they didn’t want a horse to step on me — a mutual concern, I tried to explain. He said I was welcome to take pictures from anywhere around the ring — hardly generous considering any spectator could do the same. I tried to explain that the varied performances and tough lighting meant I’d have to move around, which meant I’d have to either find a way to shoot over the crowd or fight to the front — potentially blocking audience members. I reminded him that we were running a story to pay tribute to their friend. I tried to explain that I keep both eyes open while shooting and have a good sense of my surroundings.

All of these arguments were met with the same grimaced nods that politely told me I was wasting my time. The only direct response I really got was that I wasn’t worthy of directly asking the chief for permission. Not that I thought my middleman was sabatoging my chances, but I seriously doubt he put even a tenth of the amount of energy I spent in trying to convince his boss.

My last ditch effort was to concede to their concerns and ask if I could get some shots of them getting suited up before the show. I figured if I could get in there, I could show them I’m not an idiot and maybe even get a word in with the director. Again, safety was the issue, even though all the horses were tied up and they were allowing children to pet them. This goofy outtake of Strider checking out my lens as Madilynn McWilliams, 11, right, and her friend Maya Leshikar, 10, both of Kennewick, tried to feed him was a small consolation as I internalized my pouting:

I picked out a spot that he said would be a good vantage point and sat under the rope before a knight from the green faction asked me if they should move their staging area. Apparently, this good shooting area included a handful of people, armor and weapons between me and the action. I asked him if I could scoot inside the rope if I kept myself tucked in a corner.

“No problem,” he said without hesitation.

Dammit...where was this guy an hour ago?...

I kept a low profile as I shot the choreographed fights:

But the mix between shade and bright river background causes some funky lighting. Even though the sun is actually behind me (as you can see lighting the woman’s face and sleeve), the much brighter light behind them gives the photo a fuzzy, washed-out look at certain angles:

Even though the exposure is exactly the same for the two photos above. Sure, a little toning can deepen the blacks and restore some contrast:

but it’s tough to shoot in. I did spend some time working the spotty pockets of light, exposing for the highlights. It’s a lower percentage tactic in this situation, but I like the results much better:

It was a terrible angle for getting jousting, however:

And seeing the knights’ own photographers and videographers definitely contributed to the grinding of a few microns off my molars — especially when they got in my way:

The frustration continued after I left my cozy spot in search of greener pastures. It seemed like everywhere I went, I’d either end up getting blocked or face an even more aggravating exposure situation.

I finally got a chance to speak with Willich, however, after he got knocked off his horse in a joust and got some assistance getting his armor off. They ended up parking right in front of me, so I got a twofer, photographing something that was pseudo behind-the-scenes. He grumbled at me that this wasn’t the type of photo they wanted me to make, but I didn’t dignify that with a response. I made some photos and took adolescent delight in including the horse’s ass in the frame:

As I gathered names for all the other knights I photographed, my seething subsided. Everybody was very appreciative of our coverage and I didn’t have to deal with a single pretentious performer who insisted on only giving me his or her character’s name. Even the unhelpful ones who had kiboshed my attempts weren’t doing so out of malice. I don’t know what their insurance policy is and letting a stranger in is always a liability.

I have become spoiled by the largely unfettered access I enjoy at most of my shoots. Even though it is my job to try and show our readers something they wouldn’t have been able to see otherwise, it’s not my right to do so. And while it’s disappointing to know that I could have made stronger photos with better access, it’s not all bad to have these humbling experiences from time to time.

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