Homeless Photos

April 22, 2011 

People often ask me how many pictures I take on a typical assignment. Thankfully, there's no such thing as a typical assignment and frame counts can range from a few to dozens to hundreds depending on the type of shoot.

Sometimes the question is more pointed — a query stemming from annoyance at my perceived snap-happiness.

Do you really need to take this many photos?

But usually it seems to come from genuine curiosity and people are always amazed during click-heavy shoots at how many images are made for the one or two that end up in print. While I often write about the positive reasons that led to a photo's publication, oftentimes it's another frame's negatives that tip the decision elsewhere.

Last week, we ran a story about the progress being made to open a shelter for homeless teens. I went to photograph Julio Aranda at Vista Youth Center in Kennewick, which isn't a homeless shelter, but a place for teens in rough situations to go. Aranda, who says his mother kicked him out of the house when he was 17 because she found out he was gay, has gone through stints of homelessness and is volunteering to help get the shelter opened.

After chatting with him about what made Vista special to him, the recurring theme was feeling safe and welcomed in a second family. I hung out and tried to build rapport with the other people there before making a frame I really liked:

It felt like an honest moment that illustrated this point, but I also had a feeling the impending gay kiss might put the kibosh on its publication. Sure enough, there were concerns that this would stir up a nest of letter-writing and phone-calling hornets, as well as steer the dialogue about a homeless youth shelter (for teens of any sexual orientation) in a touchy and unproductive direction. While I don't really care about a flood of calls and letters since nobody ever contacts me directly anyway, the latter is a problem I wholly agree with and we went this this shot:

It's missing the moment between the two on the right, and is a weaker frame overall. It still conveys the same message, however, and even this tame version prompted an online comment from someone who was "turned off" by the image.

Unlike some other times in photo decisions past, this one didn't upset me in the least. If anything, I was mad that I somehow missed this shot in my original edit, only coming across it again while looking through my take to write this blog:

The focus is a little off, but it's sharp enough for the paper towels we print on. I still like the intimacy of the first frame, but this would have been a better replacement and I wish I would have taken another look. It was a busy evening, however, and my plate was still full with producing photo galleries from a baseball game, Jazz Unlimited at CBC and that Sunday's story about record numbers of baby barn owls at Blue Mountain Wildlife's Benton City rehab facility.

A similar fate befell my favorite owl photo, as well. After offering up four options for print,

the final shot of two- to three-week-old barn owls was, unsurprisingly, not well-received. It's unsettling, creepy and gross to see these crumbly terrordactyls munch on mouse guts and ultimately, the first two photos tell the story best. I also like this detail of a days-old chick in Michele Caron's farmerly hand,

as well as this alternate feeding shot,

but when such an overwhelming majority of my photos never garner any response, it's hard not to fall in love with the nightmarish frame that still makes me shudder a little bit.

Oftentimes, I make my favorite frames knowing full well they won't run in the paper. Nowhere is this more true than while covering sports, when I usually find the frames I make away from the action more interesting.

Sometimes these shots come in handy to mix up the images used for front-page cutouts that promote content in inside sections, like when Spokane took game three of the recently resolved playoff series with the Americans,

or this young adherent to the Cotton Eye Joe routine at the Toyota Center:

But these types of shots usually end up solely in photo galleries. With local pro sports, however, they almost always end up homeless due to low reader interest in galleries of Americans, Fever and Dust Devils. Still, I can't pass up on opportunities to play with reflections,

negative space,

or making Ams mascot Winger look like he's Dancing in the Moonlight:

Even though creativity is the foundation of this job, there are usually limits to what is publishable. A lot of times I understand the reasons and other times I wonder why a photo needs to be a "quick read" when the image is going online or in a newspaper and not whizzing by uninterested viewers on a highway billboard. Homeless or not, making images for myself helps keep me going, pushing me creatively and even snagging the occasional award.

So, yeah, I do need to take this many photos sometimes.

And in sad news...

The same day that reporter Paula Horton passed this link about the most stressful jobs was the same day tragic news broke about photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, who were killed covering the unrest in Libya. It looks like CNBC updated that stressful job entry to include this news.

In case you missed it, Hetherington co-directed Restrepo, which was nominated for best documentary at the 2011 Academy Awards. I am terrible at remembering names, so Hondros' didn't ring any immediate bells, but while reading through various news obits, I definitely remember his work.

I was planning on rounding up a bunch of links to other tributes, but my friend Scott Brauer already did on his blog DVAFOTO, where he wrote "What’s clear from their work and what’s being written about them after today’s tragic news, though, is that they were among the best in the business."

Couldn't have said it better.

EDIT: In lieu of flowers, the loved ones of Chris Hondros kindly request donations be made to The Chris Hondros Fund. This fund will provide scholarships for aspiring photojournalists and raise awareness of issues surrounding conflict photography.

The Chris Hondros Fund
...c/o Christina Piaia
50 Bridge Street #414
Brooklyn, New York 11201


(509) 585-7205
Click here to subscribe to the RSS Feed.
Become a fan of Behind the Fold on Facebook
Follow me on Twitter

Tri-City Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service