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MLK Another Way

As I wrote before, seeing the same annual events from different perspectives can be a challenge. Columbia Basin College's Martin Luther King Bell-Ringing Ceremony is probably the best example. Sure, being here for the summer of 2007 as an intern means I've had an extra year of Water Follies and graduations, but the bell-ringing was my first assignment as a full-time staffer on Jan. 21, 2008, and I've covered it every year since then.

The general itinerary of the event hasn't changed since I started covering it, so I braced myself for a lack of surprises on Monday. I took a quick survey of our archives to remember what we had run in the previous years.

This terrible photo of Vickie Kelly of Richland and her husband Greg, right, chatting with 2008 Spirit Award winner Judge Dennis Yule, who presided over the Kellys' adoptions of Elizabeth and Ben, was one of my first published photos as a staffer.

You can see why they pay me the big bucks.

Next up is Christopher Kang, who attended Oasis School in 2009 and displayed his poster, Unity, along with his schoolmates before the ceremony:

Last year, I focused on Bobby Sparks of Kennewick as he showed off a bell to his great nephew Corey Brown, who joined his brother Marcell in the annual flower presentation. Sparks told me that he brings a bell from his late mother Annie Sparks' collection every year and that about 20 of Annie's descendants were among the roughly 400 in attendance:

I liked this shot of the flower presentation from this year's ceremony,

but was reluctant to highlight the flowers two years in a row. Even while shooting for the photo gallery, I try to avoid the same types of shots I know I made in the past. This top-down shot of a box of bells is some nice eye candy, but too easy to make and, in my opinion, not worth repeating annually:

There are some parts you just can't avoid, however, and the always energetic and entertaining Federation of Choirs is a prime example.

Though I did try some gimmicky zoom bursting last year to try and mix it up.

The statue outside is a good element to include,

as is the perennial craft station featuring headbands with silhouettes of all colors holding hands:

But I opted to avoid that this year in favor of an equal cliché:

Collecting the bells as people file inside the Gjerde Center is another easy go-to:

And I couldn't resist working a window reflection during the national anthem,

even though I did the exact same thing last year:

One aspect I've always tried to capture is the actual bell-ringing. I don't have my take from 2008 anymore since we didn't produce photo galleries then and we generally don't archive unpublished photos from events like this, but I'm guessing the surprisingly brief ringing that kicks off the ceremony caught me off guard. Even this knowledge in 2009 didn't keep me from making a straightforwardly boring snap:

It looks like I didn't even bother last year, instead opting to key in on a girl reaching for her bell:

This year, with the sun shining again, I decided to work some silhouette action in hopes of something a little more graphic and visually punchy:

It's far from perfect and as I shifted around to try and close up the space between the subjects and the sun, I couldn't find a good adjustment before the ringing ended. I like how the lens flare points toward the main hand and the small repeated bell shapes below, though, and was pretty happy with it.

After finishing the whole ceremony, I snapped the easy congratulations-on-your-award photo of keynote speaker Shirley Long of Lockheed Martin and nurse Dora Domingez, right, praising Dr. Lewis Zirkle for winning the 2011 Spirit Award,

thinking that it would be a solid secondary to accompany the bell-ringing shot I liked. As is often the case, however, my attempts at mixing it up are met with a consensus lack of interest. The shot of Zirkle went as main and the bell-ringing shot went black and white and small on the jump.

It's obviously frustrating when an attempt at something snazzy falls short and your CYA has to shoulder the load again. Granted, I should have been smarter about picking my spot and quicker at recomposing to tighten up the frame a bit, but it's not as if the shot of people congratulating Zirkle is without faults. A step back and I could have included more of Domingez. Pressing the shutter in anticipation instead of reaction could have resulted in less awkward blurring of her approaching handshake, as well.

Compounding the frustration is how unyielding the standard sensibility is of what a newspaper photograph should look like. If you want to break the mold, it can't just be a home run. You need an out-of-the-park-grand-slam-ball-smashing-into-a-criminal's-head-thus-preventing-a-rape-and-robbery-in-the-stadium-parking-lot for it to fly higher than a standard shot we've all seen a million times before. As seen in my worst photos of 2010, the threshold for publication isn't always that high, and while I'll advocate a photo that's easy to read as much as the next guy, I think a less-obvious photo that forces the viewer to look at it a little longer can be good as long as it's not too messy or convoluted.

The worst part, though, is that after covering the same event four years in a row, my two favorite shots related to the holiday aren't from the ceremony at all. On my first day as a staffer, I shot this at Morning Star Baptist Church in 2008 after covering the ceremony at CBC,

though I prefer that one in black and white:

And this portrait of the 2009 MLK Spirit Award winner, Angie Ash, was shot days before the ceremony:

I'll keep working at it, though, and while I have a dream of not covering the bell-ringing next year, I'll try not to squander the opportunity to see it in yet another way.


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