News Columns & Blogs

Ground Breaking Bad

In the echelon of ugh-worthy assignments, ground breakings are tough to categorize. On the one hand, it's a pre-packaged event like any other press conference, rife with corporate logos and podium oration. On the other, it has some built-in-faux-interesting visuals you can count on.

You know, the golden shoves and people in suits and high heels digging up dirt and stuff.

That's the shot most people think we're all out to get, and while I always shoot it as a backup, it would feel like a colossal failure to actually submit it for publication. My first one was right before that ultimate cliché, and I climbed atop a roof for the ground breaking of the new Richland library during my second day on the job on Jan. 22, 2008:

Hey, just because it goes against the grain doesn't mean it's good. My next cringeworthy entry to the annals of crap photo assignments is of Joel Tefft looking over his agenda before breaking ground on Black Heron Spirits a couple years later:

Apologies to Mr. Tefft for the terrible photo on his fantastic day. Despite my griping, I understand the importance of these ceremonies. They're great for those involved in organizing these new projects and they're good for the community — generating jobs and supporting the local economy.

They still suck to shoot, though.

And like any bad assignment that results in lame photos, they take a disproportionately lengthy amount of time to shoot. I show up early and stay late to get such classic moments like important-people-shaking-hands-and-talking:

Sometimes a fun moment happens during the presentation, like when Arc of Tri-Cities participant and board member Greg Berg joked that State Sen. Jerome Delvin should pass a law to prohibit kids from teasing others with developmental disabilities, getting a laugh from capital campaign director Cathy Preston and the rest of the crowd:

Sometimes you get an unexpected surprise, like when DermaHealth Dermatology & Dermasurgery and DermaCare co-owner Sidney B. Smith's son Bradley, 4 at the time, played with the props after a ceremony last May:

And sometimes you nearly succumb to the obvious, using the shovels as a graphic element:

Is that really better? Not much, but part of why I think it's better is because it's not the totally obvious shot everybody thinks you're there to get. Journalists cringe at the idea of being manipulated into telling a certain story through visuals or words and that is what these events (and all press conferences) are all about.

Finding something truly different is tough, and for my eight ground breaking assignment at the paper, I joined the governor at Railex in Burbank. I showed up early and got all the usual suspects,

trying to work the press conference set props for a couple CYAs:

Of course, I shot the shovels in the ground:

But then a strange scene developed:

In some ways, it summed up ground breakings perfectly. The absurdity of talking at a podium in front of construction equipment and using golden shovels for photo ops mixed with genuine excitement at what this $18 to $20 million project really means for the area and the collaboration needed.

The one hitch is that Gov. Gregoire is turned away. She turned back a moment later, but it lacks that surreal symmetry from before:

The shot lined up well in another respect since this was the third time in a week we were photographing the governor's visit east. It fails the traditional newspaper photo requirement that you see the important person's face and would have been a nearly impossible sell if this would have happened on the first assignment.

It's a photo that I think other workaday photoj's can appreciate, though, and a small victory during a time of many defeats in this beleaguered industry.

For some triumphantly amazing timing...

Check out this shot of Curiosity landing as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The rover has since sent some nifty little panoramas.

In honor of the NASAriffic week, Petapixel has some gorgeous shots of earth from above.

I guess I should have just told you to check out Petapixel because that's where I found out about the sweet candid moment that Patrick Lu captured of a proposal in action.

I wonder what the next fad will be by the time that couple gets married. Right now, there's somebody looking to hire some Hipstamatic photographers to supplement their wedding photography. Insert your own commentary here. It's been a long week.


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