30 May 2011

Memorial Day. - (Present Day) Newburgh, NY.

Spent the morning at the Memorial Day Parade here in town, basically for myself, as I wanted to put the old Nikon D-1X through it's paces again. Ended up utilizing the 14mm (equivalent to a 20mm on the digital body) and just had a blast "getting in real close" to a few subjects. Also shot 95% of the take on Aperture priority, which I almost never do. With the sun constantly playing peek-a-boo behind an overcast sky, I didn't want to keep using the hand meter or "chimping" (looking at the images on the back of the camera) while walking the parade route. By tweaking the exposure compensation settings on the camera, I was pleasantly surprised by the results of this "quick hit" self assignment. ~cg.

NEWBURGH, NY. Vietnam War veteran Richie Sanchez (53) watches the Memorial Day Parade proceed along Broadway in Newburgh, NY on Monday, May 30, 2011. Sanchez served in Army as an infantryman in Vietnam during 1975 - 1976. © Chet Gordon/THE IMAGE WORKS

"Memorial Day..."

Today is Memorial Day. So much more than cookouts, ballgames and day trips to the beach, lake or catching another blowout holiday sale at the dreaded local mall. Don't think so, ask any family member who's lost a loved one...

Semper fi.

28 May 2011

Gil Scott-Heron. b. April 1, 1949 - d. May 27, 2011.

Recording artist Gil Scott-Heron performing at the Asbury Park Community Center in Asbury Park, NJ in 1993. Heron, sometimes known as the godfather of rap was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949, and raised in Jackson, TN. He died on May 27, 2011 in Harlem. He was 62. © www.chetgordon.com/blog

I just learned this evening that Gil Scott-Heron has died. He was one of the most influential poets and recording artists in the last 30 years or so, and one whose body of work I greatly admired. Some of his signature tunes and readings like "Johannesburg", "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", "The Bottle", "Winter in America", "Must Be Something", "Angel Dust", "Lady Day & John Coltrane", "We Almost Lost Detroit", and "The Bicentennial Blues" all spoke to social injustices in the inner cities and the hypocrisy he continually exposed in Washington, as well as Apartheid South Africa in the '70's. Although his work didn't get a lot of mainstream airplay, he had quite a following both here in the U.S., and like a lot of outspoken performers, internationally as well. His work is now routinely sampled by other artists. Nowadays he's been referred to as the "godfather of rap", which of course doesn't do justice to his musical genius and political awareness and activism. There would be no Chuck D and Public Enemy, Michael Franti, and I'm sure no Jay Z if there hadn't been a Gil Scott-Heron laying it down 30 years ago. In an interview on WFUV-FM, his reply was simply "I'm just a piano player from Tennessee and I'd rather they call me that, then call collect..." I had the opportunity to photograph Gil in a really small venue in Asbury Park, NJ back in the early '90's. If memory serves, this image was obviously made on a film camera back then, probably one of my old Nikon F-3's or even an f-4. I'm pretty sure the image was shot on T-Max P3200. I remember when he arrived in the community center's gym and there were probably all of 20 - 30 people there milling around with folding chairs set up. He mumbled a few inaudible things on stage to the band and proceeded to put on a knockout show. I'd also seen him perform in Atlanta, and a few other times in the NYC / metro area, including one of his regular stops at the club SOB's on Varick and West Houston Streets in lower Manhattan. ~cg.

21 May 2011

"Class of 2011 - Dismissed...!" West Point, NY. 21•May•11

(3) - Newly commissioned 2nd. Lieutenants toss their covers skyward in the traditional "hat toss" during Army's Graduation and Commissioning ceremony in Michie Stadium at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY on Saturday, May 21, 2011. Navy Admiral Michael Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff delivered the commencement address as 1,031 cadets received their diplomas and were commissioned as 2nd. Lieutenants in the U.S. Army. CHET GORDON/Times Herald-Record

"Army Graduation by the numbers..."

Working this year's graduation down at West Point was no easy matter. It never is and shouldn't be looked upon as any mere graduation day. Ever. Not even after working the four previous events, including POTUS (Obama) on station for last year's ceremony, I still had a ton of intricate details to prioritize in my mind and more importantly - in my mind's eye. There are again too many variables to anticipate and to sort out in any cohesive order, so I'll try to put some of the challenges in perspective here a little.
In no particular order: 4:30AM wakeup call, begin packing the car at 5:30AM departure (above left) to stadium. 5 - camera bodies. lenses - 10.5mm fisheye to 600mm (the 300mm f/2.8 + a 2x tele-extender attached at times during the ceremony), 1 - Gitzo monopod, 1 - heavy duty luggage cart, 4 - SuperClamps, 2 - Manfrotto Magic-Arms, 7 - Pocket-Wizards, 1 - pair each: pliers, wire cutters, channel locking pliers, half dozen zip lock freezer bags, 1 - bag 24" black locking plastic ties, 1 - rain poncho, 1 - full rain suit, 1 roll of black gaffer's tape, 1,031 graduating cadets, 1,241 frames shot before first edit, 88 - frames on second edit, 30 - (selects or "keepers") frames...

Secure areas literally in the shadow of the stadium itself on post forced me to actually leave the base, drive out the back gate, and head through the small village of Highland Falls to the main gate. That brief detour cost me nearly 30 minutes, for what would be on a normal day, probably a 6 - 8 minute drive. Keep in mind, all vehicles had to be re-inspected at the gate and I still had to make my way up to the press parking lot, near the opposite end of the stadium were I was only 45 minutes earlier a little after 6AM. Imagine arriving for an assignment literally 4+ hours early, and still worrying that you're late. Although I didn't get into the stadium (more security checks, hand-wanding metal detectors, and bomb sniffing dogs) and finally on the field with my cart full of gear until nearly 7:30AM, things worked smoothly in installing the first remote camera (above left) on one of the aluminum benches for the graduating cadets. Even as a few very brief early morning rain drops fell, and a fog hung over most of the academy, I'd decided while waiting in traffic again to enter the main gate, that I'd install at least the main remote camera. Besides, I loaded up on both zip-lock freezer bags that would fit over the camera if needed and I could easily add another plastic grocery bag over the rig if needed too. Unless there was going to be a downpour, I was intent on installing this #1 remote for the third time. This was the year to make it all work since there weren't going to be any top level dignitaries on the dais, like a POTUS or even a VPOTUS. (Vice - President). In fact, First Lady Michelle Obama had addressed the graduating cadets the night before in a brief ceremony, and luckily I hadn't drawn that assignment. Once the main remote was securely installed and sort of locked into place with the help of two black heavy duty plastic locking ties, I got permission from the West Point PR folks right on the field to place the second low angle remote mounted on a black metal finished floor plate under the stage, and pointing back toward the cadet seating. I knew this camera would probably give me a good picture as well, depending on how the lighting conditions evolved during the morning. I'd thought all week how this second remote camera would provide an additional view of the cadets marching into the stadium, seated and standing during the ceremony, and finally a second unique view of the "hat toss" to end the ceremony. Fortunately I was able to borrow the metal floor-plate from a freelance colleague here in town. It was only a matter of minutes before I had this camera aligned under the main podium at field level. I'd also thought alot about lens selection on these two remotes, and had even briefly wondered how things would've worked out if I had placed the Nikon in this position with the fisheye, and this Canon 1-D on the benches, angled straight up toward the main stadium grandstand to make the lead image. By the time both remotes are in placed, secured and confirmed to be firing from a Pocket-Wizard in my hand (and eventually on the camera in my hands) I barely have enough time to make a restroom pit stop, have a few bites of a power bar, and start looking for feature images of the audience, etc. Ironically, the Cadet First Captain walked around the field about an hour before he and his 1,000+ classmates formed up in the Foley Athletic Center to march into the stadium, and that would become my lead image below in the slideshow to officially start my workday making images... ~cg.

Here's an edited take from the ceremony:

"All for the Corps..." West Point, NY.

Today is Army Graduation Day at the United States Military Academy in West Point, NY. It'll be my fifth Army graduation I've covered since joining the staff at this newspaper, so obviously I've been thinking a lot about all the preparation that goes into an assignment like this. The ceremony is one of the two biggest days I work all year (the other being the Army - Navy Game in early December). Ironically, both days start about 4AM for me and involve the USMA. Here's a look some of the gear I've utilized and a few favorites from previous graduation and commissioning ceremonies in Michie Stadium... ~cg



20 May 2011

"Battle at F/Stop Ridge"

This is just fun. Sometimes we all just need a good laugh... ~cg.

16 May 2011

"What is it about fighters...?" (continued) Newburgh, NY 15•May•11

These from last night, particularly following 15-year old fighter Gary Acosta (bottom 8 photos), who I'd met and photographed on Friday in the Newburgh Boxing Club gym. ~cg.

Trainer Ray Rivera of the Newburgh Boxing Club tapes the hands of fighter Felix Davila prior to his 165lb. bout during the Junior Olympics Metro Championship Boxing Finals at the Newburgh Armory in Newburgh, NY on Sunday, May 15, 2011. CHET GORDON/Times Herald-Record

13 May 2011

"What is it about fighters...?" Newburgh, NY 13•May•11

Fighter Randy Hinkson (21) of Plattekill wraps his hands at the Newburgh Boxing Club in Newburgh, NY on Friday, May 13, 2011. Ray Rivera, the club's owner / trainer may have to close the gym in June due to financial hardships. CHET GORDON/Times Herald-Record

Spent a few hours this afternoon at the Newburgh Boxing Club here in town. This for an upcoming story on the boxing club that may have to close, due to financial problems and haggling with the city. I've grown to the know the owner / head trainer Ray Rivera, as I've had a few assignments there the past few years. I've also covered fights where his fighters have been on the card. It's really good to see some of his fighters now appearing at bigger venues, which in turn means bigger purses for these inner city athletes.

It truly is the 'sweet science...' ~cg.

Fighter Gary Acosta (15) of Newburgh hits the heavy bag at the Newburgh Boxing Club in Newburgh, NY on Friday, May 13, 2011. Ray Rivera, the club's owner / trainer may have to close the gym in June due to financial hardships. CHET GORDON/Times Herald-Record

06 May 2011

*"Life Without Parole..." Kingston, NY. 6•May•11

"F*ck You, Niggah! Suck My Di%k...!"

Trevor Mattis is forcibly removed from Judge Donald Williams' courtroom after an expletive laden outburst directed at the judge, during his sentencing in the Ulster County Courthouse in Kingston, NY on Friday, May 6, 2011. Judge Williams sentenced both Mattis (23) and co-defendant Gary Griffin (30) to life sentences in state prison without the possibility of parole for their roles in the shooting death of Charles "C.J." King Jr. on a midtown Kingston street in February 2010. CHET GORDON/Times Herald-Record

I've been in this business for more than 20 years and can honestly say I've never seen or heard anything like the instantaneous few moments in a county courtroom I witnessed today and photographed. Never. Ever. My career has taken me to earthquakes and other natural disasters, war zones, and I've even stepped over and around bodies in the street on numerous occasions as shocking as that all might be. I've seen and covered a lot of truly bad people at criminal trials, perp walks, stakeouts outside police precincts - particularly in New York City, and probably more police activity on the street and at crime scenes than I care to remember just now. But today's assignment called for the sentencing of two known gang members who were convicted of killing an individual who'd turned state's evidence and previously testified as a prosecution witness in a prior shooting in Kingston, NY approximately two years ago. The victim, an individual that put the finger on the brother of one of our defendants today was eventually shot in the back of the head execution style by one Mr. Trevor Mattis, all of 23 years old. (top photo) Mattis, known as "Little - T" was the trigger man in a retaliatory killing for his brother, and his accomplice and the facilitator for the killing was one Mr. Gary "G - Money" Griffin, a known leader of a sect of the Bloods gang in the Kingston, NY area. Griffin provided the handgun used by Mattis to kill the victim on a Kingston street in broad daylight. I'd also met with the victim's family a day after the shooting back then, as our work schedule paired me with a senior reporter and now section editor who handled those interviews with the victim's family like a polished TV crime sleuth. When this trial started, I'd also photographed these two defendants in the hallway as they were brought into court dressed in civilian clothes during the jury selection phase of the case. Long story short, they were both found guilty of Murder in the First Degree three weeks ago, during a jury trial presided over by the same county judge.

The words above highlighted in red that Mattis shouted toward the judge as he was hustled out of the courtroom (still cuffed and shackled no less) rang out almost like gunfire over the hushed courtroom. (I am not hesitant or ashamed to include them here - although I did just recently alter the spellings of the profanities - as they're included in the court's record and were heard by approximately 100 people in the courtroom. They are in the public record.) My instincts took over as this defendant's arrogance was evident throughout the morning's proceedings, but no more than when the judge was about to impose the first sentence on this young man. When he sat down, as if to show, 'I don't want to hear this anymore', I kind of sensed there might be a reaction or altercation of some sort on his part...

*(Updating this post now on Sunday evening, May 8th.): As I've had a few days now and thought back on the whole day's court proceedings, it still kind
of makes my head spin. I realized that I hadn't sat down in the courtroom for more than 3 hours, standing quietly and respectfully in a corner off the empty jury box, with a local cable TV reporter. I'd made nearly 300 images on two cameras; beginning first in the hallway outside the courtroom when both defendants were escorted off the elevator (left) and into a holding room just off the courtroom, both wearing the county issued orange jumpsuits, and in handcuffs, and leg irons. Then from my secure spot adjacent to the prosecution and defense tables, I tried to wait for key moments during the proceedings, concentrating on making images of them throughout the morning. Both of their defense attorneys made lengthy statements, followed by the DA, and eventually two family members of the victim read handwritten, prepared statements to the judge. It is those kinds of tense moments when the whole room is emotionally charged, observers and immediate family in the gallery are sniffling, and I'm standing there 30 feet away and still have to make good images. Changing lenses a few times to insure that I'd have a few decent image files on the Canon 5D - MKII also was a big concern of mine. I remember only minutes before Mr. Mattis' outburst and lunge toward the judge, I'd actually switched back to the older 1D body with the 70mm - 200mm attached. Again opting for the faster motor drive and smoother auto-focus, instead of the richer file of the newer 5D - MKII, I'd reminded myself. It's a good thing I'd gone with that camera as the judge began to admonish the first defendant, Mr. Mattis. When he belligerently continued to mouth off to the judge, sat down, and then had to be restrained by a slew of court officers and sheriff's deputies, I was "on him" like a big sports play, or as they say in baseball terminology, describing a fast paced, assisted putout or "bang - bang" play at a particular base. Occasionally locking eyes with Mattis (left) wasn't easy either. How do you look a 23 year-old killer in the face and not be effected? I found myself closely observing them both during the whole proceeding and remember thinking that these two young men are of age to be my children. Certainly they are someone's sons. The whole racial aspect of case gnawed at me too; here were two more hard core Black gang-bangers going away to state prison for life, and Griffin (right) even quoted a Malcolm X speech as he was led away, decrying, "I've been railroaded! I've been bamboozled...!"

The final word came from the judge though, whose authoritarian words were delivered so calmly, it was almost frightening, as they too also hung in the air of the silenced courtroom, "Mr. Mattis (and subsequently Mr. Griffin) "...you shall be remanded to the state penitentiary for the remainder of your natural lives..." ~cg.