Identity Crisis

July 22, 2011 

Capturing the right moment can be tough. I whine about it all the time in a vain effort to educate people about the horrors of community photojournalism. No, I don't just take photos, I try to tell stories with my images, and in that process I get to talk to people. Sometimes, though, the tough part isn't making the image, it's getting the name associated with it.

While people are often surprisingly willing to give me the information I need to write my beefy captions, the opposite reaction can be even more confounding.

As expected, this happens most often while covering spot news. I never expect the people directly involved to volunteer their names, but sometimes it's the first witnesses who want to remain nameless. As crews fought a grass fire near some Kennewick apartments on Wednesday, I met the guy who called 911.

"I thought I was just going to come outside and go on a nice date, but it didn't work out," he said of smelling smoke and changing his plans to warning neighbors and working a garden hose.

"You're going to give me a nice quote, but not your name, huh?" I chided, hoping to coax out an I.D.

"I don't want to be praised or anything," he replied.

I doubled my d'oh later, thinking I was going to go wide and smoky for my photo,

and failing to ask for this firefighter's name, even though I'm sure he would have given it to me since he was nice enough to adjust his hose to avoid splashing me with wet, charred grass:

Some local fire stations require firefighters featured in the media to buy ice cream for everybody to discourage showboating. I don't know if that applies when they appear without identification, so I'm hoping I was able to repay his kindness with my incompetence.

The attempted record-breaking pillow fight at Howard Amon Park in Richland last Sunday was a prime example of fluffy frustration. It was fun, chaotic event, which always makes getting names a little tricky. It was pretty smooth sailing for the most part, though, as I shot features to my heart's content:

That was until I realized that I had some schmutz on my lens that I hadn't noticed for a long time. Since I was wandering into the fray and didn't want my camera smashed into my glasses and face, I shot from the hip, composing in a befittingly haphazard manner. I didn't notice until I was reviewing a scene I liked to see if I should bother getting their names:

The fuzzy blob ended up right over Makenzi Martin's face as she tried to pull Drew Moore to his feet.


It gummed up another shot I liked, but didn't notice until I had gotten back to look over my take:

The only identity impediment came after photographing an explosion of feathers:

I had photographed one of the kids in the mix more singularly and found the child's keepers, who told me I could only use a first name before alluding to a messy custody situation. I liked the more chaotic scene anyway and they weren't concerned about the kid's photo being in the paper, so that shot was a contender for print.

Another possibility was the guy with the Guy Fawkes mask on from V for Vendetta:

He was hunted mercilessly by roving packs of children screaming, "Get the rapist!" The assaults didn't stop as I tried to get his name even after I tried calling a time-out. You could see some dried blood around the edges of the eye holes in his mask, which had been damaged to the point that he had to hold it on with his hand.

After initial hesitation, he gave me his name, age and city of residence without any convincing from me. I sympathized with him being accused of being a rapist by children unfamiliar with the movie and felt bad that he had been ganged up on the whole time he was there.

Those feelings turned into laughter a couple hours later when he send a mass email to ten different Herald employees:

Subject: URGENT: Concerning the 'Record-Setting Pillowfight' and a certain Masked Contender

Firstly, I apologize for the spamming of those of you who had nothing to do with reporting on this event. However, the news I carry is dire.

The Masked attendee who participated in this event (the only one in a 'V' mask) who was partitioned by a reporter - a pony-tailed man in his mid-20's, with thick black glasses and perhaps of Asian or Pacific Islander descent, would like to relay the following information:

* He wishes his name to be known as 'Anonymous' NOT the name given, ie: 'When asked his name, '[He] wished only to remain Anonymous.'' etc.

* He wishes to have a line included in the news story, such as "Clearly these citizens do not remember the fifth of November, much less the gun powder treason and plot.. Grave day indeed." At the very least, mention the participants on a head-shot fest not remembering the 5'th of November. V has a very tongue-in-cheek type of humor.

* If a photo could be found of the event of swarmers attacking V, this would be grand. However, this is indeed optional. Quite optional.

I appreciate your reading this, and may your eves be full of vigor, and your days the same. Long live FREEDOM! FOREVER!

PS: If someone had answered the phone, this would not have happened. Sorry for the spam again.

I dig the funky funny elements in the photo, but that hilarious and oddly unsettling email cemented it. I went with straightforward chaos:

The frame could use a little more pizzaz on the left, but it sums up the event in a fun, easy way.

The next day, I covered the Mid-Columbia Pride Parade. Though I was disappointed that I didn't plan my parade shoot better considering that I work and live near downtown Kennewick, it wasn't tough to get some fun, colorful photos from the brief Pride march and the ensuing park gathering:

During the parade, I liked a shot of a gay couple watching the parade and asked for their names. One of them hesitated, saying that some less-accepting family members might object to seeing their last name in the paper associated with Pride. I didn't really push the issue too much, but after a moment, the first person asked the other if being nervous about that was a sign of weakness. After some self-applied pressure, I got the name along with a request to please find a better photo to run in the paper. I chatted with them as we walked toward the celebration in the park and found out both were from the area, had moved away and then back to be closer to family. Both were about 40 and neither thought a pride parade would ever be in Tri-Cities while growing up in a time when coming out in high school didn't seem to be an option.

It was interesting to talk with them about growing up here, especially considering how hard it must still be to come out as a teenager. I liked the shot, but didn't love it, and felt their story wouldn't be well-served in the condensed caption format. Plus, I didn't want to further stress what already sounded like a strained family relationship.

I had another shot I liked that featured the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence during the parade. I had met a couple of them before the parade and loved the outfits. I snapped this shot of Nick Smith of Kennewick fanning himself while the parade briefly halted on Kennewick Avenue and went in search of their names:

I wanted to I.D. Michael Penhallegon on the right since he's so prominent, but he didn't want to give me his name at first. I pressed on a bit, asking questions about the charitable organization that another member described as a "21st century order of queer nuns."

"It's kind of like joining the gay Elks," Michael explained.

I loved the succinct quote and how it related the pageantry of the group to an organization most of our readers would be familiar with and was relieved when he gave me his name on my second request. I'm not sure what changed his mind. Maybe sticking around and learning more about them showed I didn't see them as a freak show to be ridiculed. Perhaps others' willingness to give me names encouraged him to do the same. It could be as simple as persistence paying off.

It's funny how something as basic as an introduction, something people do without thought most of the time, can become complicated when that name may be published.

Speaking of no names...

On a listserv I subscribe to, a college photographer brought up an alarming issue she's dealing with at the student paper where she works, but she asked that I keep her name and that of her newspaper anonymous for now because the situation is still in flux. While the paper has always owned the copyright of the images its shooters make, a new adviser has decreed that students are no longer allowed to show their work in portfolios on their personal websites. This copyright arrangement mirrors that of professional newspapers. The Herald owns the copyright to photos I make, but it provides me with a living wage and health benefits. However, these students are only paid $13 a day. It's a bum deal for them copyright-wise, but it's absurd that they can't even showcase their work to aid in the already difficult task of finding gainful employment after school. It's a sickening situation that totally undermines the educational service student publications are supposed provide.

Apparently, the adviser's fear is that the paper will lose out on revenue streams from reprint sales because people can just steal the images from online and countered that students would be allowed to include their work on portfolios they burn onto a CD. This adviser seems quite out of touch since it's crazy to imagine looking for work these days without a basic web presence. And it's not like the images aren't easy to take off the paper's website anyway. People are going to steal web-sized images no matter what safeguards you put in place, but it's not like the people who do that are the people who were going to buy reprints anyway.

The funny thing is that this student was mostly concerned about getting the adviser in trouble if names were named, even after the adviser enacted such shamefully draconian policies. Part of me thinks the adviser may be trying to teach a hard lesson to these student journalists about the unforgiving business they're entering, but it sounds more like these ideas are an inbred monster baby of greed, ignorance and incompetence. Here's hoping they're able to come to a fair resolution.

Photoshelter turned 6 years old this week. Happy birthday to them and here's hoping their photographer-first mentality of business continues going strong. A few years ago they started the Photoshelter Collection in an attempt to shake up the stock photo industry. Unfortunately, they couldn't make it work well enough to compete with the established big boys, and you can read more about it at Vincent LaForet's blog. Shortly after they decided to abandon the Collection in favor of concentrating on their main product, the personal archive, competitor Digital Railroad folded and horrified its subscribers by only giving them 10 hours to download their archives. Obviously, the digital run on the bank slowed their servers and left many former patrons worried that their supposedly safe photos may have been lost. Photoshelter jumped in and offered three months credit for the Dear Johned photographers and help in migrating their archives to Photoshelter. The savvy saviors also offer a bunch of free guides to the photo biz. So if any photographers reading this are looking for off-site backup, business and website tools, I can't recommend them enough. You can use this referral link to save some money too.

Speaking of stock photo tragedies, check out this funny collection of 60 unusable stock photos.

And finally, just for fun, the overblown closing of Interstate 405 in Los Angeles last weekend produced a great photo by some intrepid friends who staged a dinner party on the empty highway.

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