Fire and rhinestone

July 26, 2013 

I was the kind of child who would hide when the doorbell rang. My mom would force me to come say hi to her guests and I would shift around uncomfortably before running back to safety. As I got older, I was terrified to talk to girls, almost giving myself an aneurism while secretly writing a note in middle school to slip into a crush's locker. I found out later she thought it was somebody playing a prank because surely I, who had never expressed any direct interest in her, couldn't have been asking her out.

To clarify that it was from me, I stood outside her bedroom window with a boom box.

Just kidding. I wrote another stupid note and hyperventilated as I slipped it in her locker.

My middle school self probably would have had a panic attack if he knew what I had to do last Saturday night.

After meeting with Richard Wyer and Kelsey France for a story about their treatment at a local VA clinic, I headed to my fourth consecutive Miss Tri-Cities pageant.

As you can probably guess, the event has become pretty routine to cover. And as creatively shameful it is to show you this sequence, it illustrates the straightforward nature of photographing a staged program like this. Here, in order, are Miss Tri-Cities 2010-13:

Expected though it may be, it's hard to argue for a better moment in the evening than the winner's ecstatic moment. That doesn't mean I don't try to get something else. I worked to spice up the photo gallery with some backstage stuff,

played around with some panning,

and looked for subtle little moments, like this "Little Sister" who looked like she needed a break,

and the girl next to her who was ready for bed:

I'm also always on the lookout for the runners up who can't quite hide their disappointment,

It was the first year we've had to cover the pageant with earlier deadlines, so I grabbed a reaction quote from Janae Calaway to pass along to reporter Geoff Folsom, who had to rush back to file his story.

As I was working on my photo for the paper, I heard some traffic on the scanner about an apartment fire. It sounded like the most urgent part of the battle was over, so I looked to Twitter to find a location and headed out toward Sacajawea Apartments in Pasco.

The fire looked to be long out, but I grabbed a some snaps of the building,

the damage,

some rescue efforts


and the displaced residents:

While talking with residents, several pointed out the woman whom they said started the fire after falling asleep with candles burning. They pointed her out, told me her name was Pamela, and I saw a TV reporter setting up for an interview:

As I walked over, I saw that he was actually interviewing the man behind the women, so I approached quietly and noticed a cat nestled on the sidewalk. I asked if I could take a picture of the cat and the woman sitting up said yes:

I asked if it was her cat and she said no, it was Pamela's. At that point, Pamela got up and said she didn't want to be recorded on video or photographed. I relayed what her neighbors had told me and she confirmed that she fell asleep with candles burning. After the TV reporter left, I tried to get her to tell me the story again on video, but she declined. I suggested an audio recording and she surprisingly agreed. That allowed me to send the audio clip back to editor Kristina Lord, who was posting information as Geoff and I got it from home at 11:30 p.m.

I was also able to include her interview in the video:

It was way too late to get any of this into Sunday's paper, unfortunately, but we were able to put together a pretty decent report for the web.

What's strange to me is just how normal it all felt while jumping from pageantry to tragedy. At no point did I reflect on the odd transition and how my evening plans had drastically changed until I was cursing my slow work computer while trying to download, import, edit and post the video at 1 a.m.

Even weirder is that I wasn't even nervous about approaching Pamela to try and tell her story. It's easy in these situations to assume that somebody won't want to talk to you. I've even worked with some reporters who were hesitant to even try, throwing out that very assumption. That's not to say that I'm always able to get somebody to open up. Just a couple days ago, the victims of an RV fire in Kennewick refused to talk to me, with one person posturing aggressively to tell me that as I asked if everybody was OK.

But while I almost always try to get the victim's side of the story and stand by the importance of covering breaking news like this, I know it's not the most important job being done on-scene. I try very hard not to exacerbate what is already a difficult time for these victims. I don't run in Hard Copy-style with cameras blasting in their faces, and some people are clearly so unhinged and unconsolable that I don't approach them.

None of this seemed possible even nine years ago as I started down my path in journalism. I still have plenty to improve upon, however, and Saturday night was a good reminder that good things happen when you push yourself outside your comfort zone.

Speaking of discomfort...

How would you like to be jammed in this designated shooting area, working hard to get pretty much the same picture as everybody else there? I wouldn't, but here's a funny feature at Time showing 44 photos from the shooters who had to cover the royal baby's first appearance.

Were you yawning like me over the news? Then you might like this story by Bob Garfield of On the Media about the media frenzy leading up to the biggest non-news news story of the week.

Also on NPR is a look back at how a simple shot from 40 years ago can resonate so deeply today.

Be sure to check out Kendrick Brinson's awesome take while photographing DJ Khaled's video shoot for No New Friends. I also liked the three lessons Kendrick shares from photographing rappers:

1. Nothing starts on time.

2. Rappers are some of the most collaborative artists I’ve come across. They’re always supporting each other and dropping each other’s names. (Photographers could learn a thing or two from them.)

3. There is real life and then there is a rapper fantasy world. This video represented the stereotypical idealized rapper fantasy. This isn’t how rappers live–with moats and helicopters and countless cars. Every rap shoot offers glimpses into this made-up world where beautiful women and rosé flow freely, but it’s all a show, for the most part. (I’ve photographed a rap producer who got out of his Honda and into the Escalade before a shoot.) Even after the scene with Khaled and the women in the hot tub, he went to Rick Ross’s trailer and told Ross how amazing the women were and how incredible the scene was.

It’s all a dream.

I appreciate them taking me along for the ride.

Laia Abril has a haunting collection of selfies by anorexic women that she's photographed on her computer screen for Thinsperation.

And finally, check out Gregg Boydston's Instagram photos from the front lines as a hotshot firefighter.

But wait! There's more!

Discomfort, that is, as I had the nauseating pleasure of riding with Will Allen, "The Flying Tenor," on Thursday to preview this year's air show. I don't know that I'll write a full post next week, and I'm fighting the effects of a long day, a sweltering cockpit, little food and Dramamine, so suffice it to say that this was one of those amazing experiences you get to have every so often in this job. I'm not a big fan of roller coasters, though, so hopping aboard was mostly due to the realization of how rare this opportunity is.

It was also a very difficult shoot, as I tried to snap blindly with my iPhone from a front seat that was a tight squeeze even for my svelte frame. Thankfully, I didn't screw up the GoPro footage, so here's my video from the day:

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