The photos we want to make don't always jive with what the event organizers had in mind. Some media relations people seem genuinely shocked when I dismiss their suggestion that I snap a smiley handshake in front of a logo and sign orgy. Thankfully, many of the media handlers we work with frequently aren't that controlling during these carefully contrived situations.
Some are definitely better than others, though, and in my experience, covering stories at Kadlec Regional Medical Center has always gone the smoothest. Much of the credit goes to Jim Hall, director of community relations, but when he's not there, Delt Clark, community relations coordinator, and Nan Domenici, community relations specialist, maintain their higher level of media care.
I should start by saying that I'm not disparaging the other area hospitals. I've just worked on stories a lot more frequently at Kadlec. While part of that is because of scheduling, I think that's the first reason they're easiest to work with.
They let us know when things are going on.
That doesn't really affect my step in the process, however. By the time I get there, it's less about what Jim and company do, it's about what they don't do. Beyond introductions and informative back stories about who the important subjects are in the story, they back off. The sensitivity of medical privacy means they're always close by, but they don't hover like some public relations people. I never feel rushed, they don't constantly ask what I want the subjects to do and they never ask the ever-annoying question, "Don't you want a photo of this?"
And while I'm sure a lot of planning and organization goes into making these stories possible, they seem to unfold organically.
As a photojournalist, that's the best part. I know these are set-up situations, but they're set up in a way to allow for some real moments to happen.
Like most media-friendly events, these shoots usually start with the press conference. I'll typically shoot these as an extreme backup while hoping to find some interactions before or after the stand-up-and-talk-for-the-cameras portion of the program. Some are clearly better than others, but I ultimately didn't go with any of these shots:
What's great is that there is usually something else planned that creates less-rigid photo options. Kadlec staff joined Dominic Ocham, his brother and his friends for some Mario Kart on the Wii after Dominic won "Hero of the Month" for being so brave during medical treatments at the hospital's pediatric ward:
I also poorly composed this fun moment of Marilyn Gregor turning away as the Northwest MedStar helicopter landed on the roof of Kadlec before a press conference to encourage people to call 911 at the first sign of stroke or heart attack:
Gregor had a heart attack a few weeks prior and didn't want to call 911, but her husband J.T. insisted and she ended up having double bypass surgery.
The most common visual portion is a tour, and while they aren't always the most photographically exciting, I'm always relieved to see it on the itinerary after a press conference. I definitely like this shot of Dr. Miriam Zaragoza leading Ashley and Lauren Nies, both 10, on a tour of Kadlec's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) after the twins decided their 10th birthday present would be to donate money to the place that helped make their lives possible:
The extra bonus was that Dr. Zaragoza was one of the girls' doctors 10 years ago. I like the funky light and back story, despite the photo being slightly backfocused, much more than the stand-up shots above of the girls holding money.
And though Jim wasn't in charge of a recent story at PMH Medical Center in Prosser, he inadvertently helped me out again as Aurora Weddle, diagnostic imaging manager for PMH, led Dr. Wassim Khawandi, a nephrologist at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, and Susan Kreid, vice chairwoman of Kadlec Health System, on a tour. They breezed through the CT scanning area before Jim, who was shooting video footage for Kadlec, asked if they could go back and whether it was OK for people to enter the room.
In my capacity, I couldn't ethically direct the tour, but since Jim is there for Kadlec, he's operating under different guidelines. Still, if they just went in there to pose for Jim, I would either not shoot it or I would make it clear in the cutline that they were doing so for a Kadlec video. As it happened, the extra nudge from Jim meant they hung out in the room and chatted a bit, which gave me time to sneak in and find a different angle to shoot from:
I'm just hoping I didn't blow up his shot by going in there. It was especially welcome, since my first runner up would have been this unfortunately tilted shot later in the tour:
Blech. The only thing it had going for it was that Dr. Khawandi had done research on 3-D ultrasound.
Most recently, the Zauggs stopped by Kadlec to donate toys in honor of their son Aidan, who died in December 2008 from a rare form of brainstem cancer. There was plenty of side action, from unloading the goods,
to bubble time during TV interviews,
and more play time after:
The funny thing was that with so many options, I went with this shot from right after the press conference:
Any of the above shots would have worked fine, and if the Zauggs had donated the toys in the previous two photos or if their donations were going toward the play room, then one of those probably would have won out. I went with this last shot because I liked the gesture of Brennan, 1, seeming to offer crayons to Kelly Harper, unit manager for pediatrics at Kadlec, along with a glimpse of the variety of toys they were donating and the rest of the family.
Kadlec's approach to media relations isn't unique in the area, but it is unfortunately uncommon. I'm not naive enough to presume this approach is totally altruistic. They certainly have their own public image to worry about, and I'm sure that's the top priority. Keeping that best foot forward is a lot easier by being pleasant to work with and not being pushy with their agenda, and it's a tactic I wish more organizations would employ.
Good photos (in theory) get good play for the stories they're paired with, and when control freaks restrict our ability to make quality photos, everybody loses.
Speaking of loss...
A photo of Occupy Wall Street by Andrew Burton caused a stir when The Washington Post ran it on the front page. It's an interesting discussion about photo selection and a common charge leveled against photographers and editors that only the sensational images get played up. I think in this instance, not knowing more information about what happened makes it a volatile photo choice, since images are so open to interpretation. Still, there's a reason it sticks out as a strong moment amidst the sea of protest sign photos I'm long sick of seeing already.
This piece cleverly illustrates what motives creative people. Extra props for all the Back to the Future references too. Note to my bosses: this doesn't mean we don't want raises, too.
And it was a good week for gearheads as Canon announced its juicy new 1Dx a day before the potentially game-changing Lytro Light Field camera was unveiled. That little guy looks a lot different and is much cheaper than I had originally thought.