25 May 2009

2009 West Point Graduation *(by the numbers...) 23•May•09

Graduating cadets toss their covers skyward during the United States Military Academy 2009 Graduation and Commissioning Ceremony at Michie Stadium in West Point, NY on Saturday, May 23, 2009. 970 cadets received their diplomas and were commissioned as 2nd. Lieutenants in the U.S. Army. Times Herald-Record/CHET GORDON

This past Saturday was my third West Point graduation. With a such a hectic week behind me - in covering the foiled Newburgh bombing plot, and the fun hot-air balloon flight the previous Friday - I was finally looking forward to the annual "big one." There's something particularly special about working at West Point. I know I use buzz words like "special" a lot, but covering an event like the United States Military Academy's graduation is truly what it's all about, since I've been here at the paper. West Point is our big leagues; our Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, and Meadowlands Arena, if you will - all wrapped up into one campus environment. Hey, wait a minute - those are all familiar venues in my career as well. Throw in the military traditions, pomp & circumstance, and pageantry and you just can't miss as a photographer. There is a lot of mental preparation that goes into my graduation day coverage at West Point. Details: I remember standing in a Lowe's hardware mega-store the night before comparing the differences between a set of black or white heavy duty plastic ties I'd need to help secure my remote cameras. (I went with a bag of the black 24" version this time.) Media personnel were required to wear "slacks & a collared shirt" so I'd even considered shopping for an inexpensive pair of khakis, but found a serviceable pair at home that I could get dirty during the day. Hardware: Sometime the night before I lay out all the gear I'll bring with me before packing up. It's just an old military thing with me. Attaching and re-attaching the camera plates for the magic-arms, cleaning the lenses, and of course checking all the Pocket-Wizard cords and firing the remote cameras in various combinations. This year all the pre-shoot checks went on until about 1AM. Then a 4:30AM wake-up call follows, as this certainly isn't a day I can afford to be rushed out of the house and down to the stadium. Working media are required to arrive in the press parking lot on post by 7AM. By the time I pick up my credentials and load my trusty cart full of gear onto a press van, I'm on the field by 7:20AM or so, inspecting where I'd like to install my low-angle remote camera in the benches where the graduating cadets will sit. Access: This is the second year the West Point Public Affairs folks have allowed me this opportunity to install a remote camera for a different view of the traditional "hat toss" (top photo), so I'm very grateful. By 8AM I begin installing a second remote in the north end zone stands with a 70mm - 200mm zoom lens pointing back down at the graduating cadets seating area, which I thought might make a nice third view of the "hat toss" as a vertical image. Ironically, none of the images from that camera resulted in anything I particularly liked.
(Last year it rained heavily just 20 minutes before the jubilation moment.) We had clear skies all morning this time, although there was a moving cloud cover again and a few faint raindrops about halfway into the ceremony. I kept my fingers secretly crossed during the ceremony, as I hadn't covered the remote cameras in plastic bags. We had really good access on the field, which provided a few new views of the ceremony for the media types. It's also pretty sweet to have literally unlimited access to the Foley Athletic Center (the indoor practice facility for the football team) where the cadets spend their final few moments before formally marching to nearby Michie Stadium. Plenty of good feature images to be made there, as some cadets are actually napping with their white cotton gloves over their faces, etc. Imagery that the general public doesn't
ordinarily get to see. Cadet "march-on" time is 9:40AM. This is also where the "game clock" officially starts running for me.

Multimedia: Here's a simple slideshow of the day - everything from "soup to nuts" in covering the graduates' day at the nation's premiere military institution:*(Click the arrow at the bottom left of the player to start the slideshow, or click the image / or the arrows at lower right to scroll through the show manually. Enable full screen viewing by clicking the 4-way arrow icon above the credits button at lower right of the player. There is no audio with this brief slideshow.)

I've thought quietly to myself the past few days how some of these new 2nd. Lieutenants will go on to storied and decorated Army careers - some heading to areas of conflict in the world today, with some even seeing combat. As we all are well aware, some may not come back...

"It does this old Marine proud to work the West Point Commencement and Commissioning ceremony again..." -cg.

22 May 2009

"The FBI..." 21•May•09

It always starts with a phone call.*(For good assignments & good pictures) Never fails. You take the call. Here's the scene at home, as best as I can remember - 11PM or so - I was settling-in and nodding off with the headphones on, watching a movie on the Mac, totally engrossed with the second DVD of a gift box set of the old TV series "Homicide: Life On The Street." Ironic that it would be our street reporter Doyle Murphy calling at 11:26PM. (we've been covering the homicides & funerals here in Newburgh the last 2 years - see my earlier posts here on the blog) Ironic too that I'd left the work cell phone turned up loud enough to even hear it ring on the windowsill just inches from my head. "State Police SWAT teams have Broadway closed uptown, and had I heard about the bomb plot earlier that day...?" He asked. "What?" I replied as I sat up like a bolt. (I'd been out all day Wednesday on the usual hectic Spring day in our coverage area and finished up covering HS championship golf up in Poughkeepsie. I'd even made an attempt to get to bed a little earlier Wednesday night because I was facing another hot day on Thursday morning in Kingston for a HS championship track meet...) Little did I know, I'd be up all night right in my city, and then with literally no sleep (Note: less than 2 hours) back down in White Plains in Westchester County, with all the NYC media, staking out the federal courthouse, hoping for even a glimpse of these four "terrorists" who had been arrested on charges of shooting down military aircraft here at Stewart Air National Guard Base, and bombing synagogues in the Riverdale section of the Bronx. "Yea man, I'm up. I'll be there in 15 minutes..." It was classic NYC style hustle to jump into my clothes, grab enough gear and speed up Broadway. I'd actually passed the second scene with heavily armed FBI agents outside the tenament building on Broadway & Lutheran Streets. "Wow..." I remember murmuring to myself. Serious shit. I reached the scene at 11:40PM or so and immediately began making pictures as best I could under the street lights. Pumped up the ISO on the Canon 5D Mark II to 3200. Steadied the camera on the back corner of a Caddy Escalade to make the top image. Told Doyle about the scene down at the other end of Broadway I'd passed. We headed down there, and I made frames there - this time with the ISO pumped up to 5000. Was kind of bummed at myself, as I'd forgotten the monopod & 300mm f/2.8 (used for golf that day, and for track on Thursday...) Keeping the newsdesk editors informed of what we were seeing, I knew I had time to get back home and move a few images to make the later editions of the paper, and web stories. Back home by 12:20AM and sent in these first two images at 12:36AM. Got back on the street (this time with the 300mm & monopod) and began making images of what appeared to be at least 20 armed FBI agents milling around. It was now after 1AM.
We stayed at this scene past 3AM, moving around the neighborhood, looking for different views of the building, and at times even joking with one of the Newburgh City Police detectives, and a talkative FBI agent in plainclothes who ventured across the Broadway to chat us up. Made images of the agents removing evidence from the building (images I'd made countless times on stories in NYC through the years), so I knew we'd have something that no other media would have.

We "owned" that scene for a few hours - well past 3AM. No coffee needed for this all-nighter. Adrenaline was keeping us on top of our game. This was going to be big. Really big. I eventually left the area around 3:30AM and was too keyed up to go right to bed. Decided to edit my second take from out on the street, and sent in 9 more images at 4:32AM. If memory serves, I was back in the bed a little after 5AM, as the morning birds were already chirping and the morning glow of sunrise was already on the horizon...

*Jump to early Thursday morning. Another phone call - this time from the boss. "Pictures look good. You should head to White Plains for the arraignment of these guys.." Great I'm thinking. This could all work out and I might get to see one of the perps if the authorities move them to / from the federal courthouse in Westchester (some 70 miles south of me - and right in the heart of my old coverage area at the Journal News in the '90's. )

Now, on literally no sleep - I'd call it a hard nap actually, here I was racing down the highway to another stakeout. The uniform of the day would be shorts, as I'd knew it'd be a long wait. The suspects were already in the fortress of a courthouse, so the all day waiting game began. No breaks, no bathrooms, only an occasional food run by the assembled media types. The only pictures to made here were of the lawyers speaking to the press, and the US Marshal's Service vans transporting these individuals into / out of the building.
Smoked van windows and a drive-in sally port proved to eliminate any views of the subjects. I was on the scene for 9 hours, before heading to a Kinkos in the city to send in my photos from the day's take.

Forget about the time factor, workday hours and just silently make the commitment to yourself to stay on the scene, keep your antennae up to cover an event like this.

Chatting it up with old photo colleagues from Westchester and NYC, TV cameramen, and other reporters helped the time pass by too. (the stories shared among longtime journalists are great & the jokes just as scathing.)
Just like the old days... -cg.

19 May 2009

"Brother Malcolm..."

During the annual birthday pilgrimage in 2004 to the gravesite of El Hajj-Malik El Shabazz (Malcolm X) and his wife, Betty Shabazz, at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, NY, Westchester County.

Today is Malcolm X's birthday, born May 19, 1925. He was assassinated on February 21, 1965, as he spoke before a packed audience in Harlem’s Audubon Ballroom. He was just thirty-nine years old. He would have been 86 today...

16 May 2009

"Takes Your Breath Away..." 15•May•09

"Up, Up, and Away..." Oh this was sweet! I still cannot muster the words for the hour or so I spent aloft with balloonist Chris Healey for a story last evening. Takeoff (or should I say liftoff) was perfect. Touchdown / landing was like a dream - even in the middle of the street in a residential bedroom community. Floating above our coverage area in the evening light was a treat of aviation accomplishment in it's simplest form. The pilot is a pro & his ground crew top notch as I watched them unfurl and inflate the balloon. They were just magnificent to watch and grab a few frames of, while I was literally falling over myself to get a remote camera with a fisheye lens securely installed in time on the top railing of the gondola. I think the ground crew had the balloon out of it's large storage bag and just about fully inflated in something like 15 minutes. That alone didn't give me much time to secure my remote Nikon D-1X. This was the kind of assignment that a working photojournalist dreams of. Everything just worked and the images "pop" with color, saturation, and simple composition. With all that's going on the world and in particularly in the news business I love so much, it was almost unimaginable to be at times literally skimming the treetops & rooftops, and within moments climbing up to an altitude of 1300 feet or so. For those of you that know me, my love of all things aviation, and the many friends I've made around the world at all levels of flying - this flight ranks right up there with some of the best experiences I've ever had - Anywhere. "Check this one off life's to-do list..." -cg.

07 May 2009

"Getting into the 'Zen' of things..." 07•May•09

Viewers of my work occasionally ask me about purchasing prints, particularly of my personal & travel related work through the years. Lately I've been examining other ways of pointing potential clients to the work as well, and finally came upon a web hosting service called Zenfolio. A few colleagues utilize this first class application in conjunction with their sites & blogs, geared specifically for photographers. Zenfolio offers user friendly web galleries, slideshows, and most importantly - the capability for photographers like myself to market and sell their images as prints and even rights protected digital downloads, directly from the site. You know, "e-commerce." I am currently running a trial version and uploading a few galleries while I familiarize myself with yet another animal to feed here on the web. Stay tuned and look for direct links here to my "Zen" page soon. This is definitely going to fun. Big fun. -cg.

My direct Zenfolio page

03 May 2009

Pete Hamill @ The Mike Levine Journalism Workshop. 01•May•2009

Pete Hamill. Mike Levine Journalism Workshop. The Eddie Adams Photojournalism Workshop Barn in Jeffersonville, NY on Friday night, May 1, 2009. For readers and those of you in the business - you'll know who Pete Hamill is. And for those of you here in the Hudson Valley / NYC region within the confines of the "writer's side" of newsrooms, you'll know who Mike Levine was. It was a pleasure volunteering this weekend when I could to photograph during the inaugural MLW (Mike Levine Workshop) tucked in the hills of Sullivan County, NY. Click here for more on the MLW this weekend. "Thanks, Mike..." -cg.