Archive for October, 2011

Access All Areas – Behind the Backstage Pass

Posted in Blog, Photography with tags , , , , , , on Monday, 17 October 2011, by Stan

Media pass

You’ve seen us media types at concerts, speaking engagements, sporting events, red carpets, etc. We run around with more cameras hanging from our necks than we have arms to operate them. Big, burly bouncers, bodyguards, and security personnel part like the Red Sea when we walk backstage. We are permitted to get close enough to dignitaries to take those exclusive photographs that grace the pages of your favorite magazines. All thanks to a laminated card called the media credential.

That’s the glamorous part that most of you see. What you don’t see is what is required to get one of these passes.

When the stars align and everything goes off like it should, your client will have already made arrangements with the media relations team. Your credentials may even have been sent to you in advance. If not, when you arrive on scene, all you have to do is walk up to the media table (or easily locate your contact, whose name was provided to you beforehand), pick up your media pass, and you’re good to go. Simple as that. You get great shots/interviews and your client is happy. I’d love to say that’s how it works all the time, but it doesn’t. There are those days when at least one thing will go wrong. And that goes for apprentices as well as seasoned pros with decades of experience. In fact, the episode I am about to relate to you occurs in one form or another more often than you would think. During these times I use the following principles to get the job done: 1) do your Research, 2) arrive Early, 3) be Patient but Persistent, 4) act Professionally. You can remember it by the mnemonic REPP, as in, create a good REPPutation.

Research

Sometimes your client will just tell you to meet them at a certain place. It is then up to you to get to the location (on your own) and set up access (again, on your own). A little time spent with sage Uncle Google ahead of time can save a ton of frustration down the road. In my most recent experience, all I knew beforehand was the name and location of the venue, and reason for the event. Using the Internet I learned that media credentials would be required, so I applied. Good information to know because I had to drive almost 250 miles to photograph this event and it would not have been cool to get there and not be able to get in.

Early

Arriving early should be a given. Doing so allows time to not only find the site, but to find the best location from which to photograph your client. In my experience here, I also needed the time to find the media station to collect my credentials. That wound up taking well over an hour, mainly because the venue spanned five blocks.

Patience/Persistence

I knew the right questions to ask to get to the media station. But the people I asked did not know the answers.

Me: “Can you tell me where I can find the media table?”

Volunteer: “The what?”

I think I talked to about five people before reaching the right person. Hearing the response over the walkie-talkie, “yes, I remember that name” [see Research above] was like finding the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Ironically, the road meandered through a full circle before ending two doors from where it began…on the same floor of the same hotel.

Professionalism

Also a given. But you’d be surprised how many photographers, reporters, etc., act unprofessionally on location. Bellowing an indignant “Do you know who I am?” to the security person is a good way to get shown the door…and it won’t be the one leading backstage. I’m digressing here but that line gets used a lot. And no, it doesn’t work.

Even with them in hand, or swinging from a lanyard around your neck as is most common these days, media credentials are not always honored. About 15 minutes before show time, I arrived at the location where my client was going to be performing. Then I looked around for some nice background to photograph my client against afterward. That’s when I was stopped by security. (Security was tight for this event). I had just driven almost 250 miles – after driving an additional 120 miles earlier in the day – to get here. Temperatures were still in the mid-90’s, it was an outdoor event, I was badly dehydrated, very hungry, and had just spent nearly two hours trying to secure this media pass. Now it was being questioned. I stayed calm enough to explain to the person who challenged me why I was there, including how I applied for the credentials, while trying to keep in mind that he had a job to do, too. He accepted my explanation and the evening went on. The alternative? Say what was on my mind at the time and most certainly be tossed or detained. Then have to explain to my client why the person they were counting on to get pictures of them performing didn’t get them because he got thrown out before the event even started.

Having that coveted all-access pass certainly makes the job of photography much easier. As with travel, sometimes getting one is half the fun. My hat is off to those photographers and journalists covering stories on a military installation at times other than an open house. My recent experience is a walk in the park compared to what they have to go through to get credentials to get on base.

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Remembrance

Posted in Blog with tags , , , , on Monday, 10 October 2011, by Stan

911 Remembrance Booklet

As the nation, and to an extent, the world, paused Sunday to reflect on the September 11th attacks, I was having mixed feelings. Don’t get me wrong. I, too, mourn the loss of over 3,000 innocent lives that were cut short by the cowards that hit us ten years ago. But I know that the media can over-hype even solemn occasions to the point where they become just another story du jour.

In 1986, a very good friend of mine took me sightseeing around New York. We stopped at the World Trade Center and went up to the observation platform at the top. It still gives me an eerie feeling to realize those towers on which I once stood were destroyed intentionally by enemies of this country. The pictures from that day now have so much more meaning.

On that Tuesday morning 10 years ago, I was in Culver City and saw the photos of the smoking towers on the Internet. At first, like many, I thought it was a trailer for a new Hollywood action film. But when a collegue rushed in and asked if I had seen it, then explained what had happened, I was stunned. I listened to the news the rest of the day, hoping that somehow a newscaster would say something to help me make sense of what was happening.

Last month I traveled to Las Vegas to see The Sledge Grits Band perform at the 9/11 Remembrance – Igniting the Spirit of Unity event. What really got me was the remembrance museum they had set up at the Plaza Hotel. There they had a few artifacts and a room full of photographs. Down on Fremont Street there was a six-foot, 2-ton section of I-beam from one of the towers. Seeing the television footage of the towers smoking and falling from a distance is one thing. But seeing the close-up photos of the mountainous pile of debris that used to be 1,300-foot tall skyscrapers and realizing that thousands of people were buried alive in there…

The weekend-long event was a moving tribute. Law enforcement, emergency medical personnel, and military were there. Terry Revella, former New York law enforcement official in various fields, is one of the organizers. That day, Revella, still on the force back then, heard the report of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center and drove over to help. He says he was on the ground for no more than a minute before one of the towers fell. By the grace of God his life was spared. He described what went through his mind as he listened to the deafening sound of the tower collapsing around him.

On Friday they had the opening ceremonies to the 3-day observance. Mimi Sledge, singer in the Sledge Grits Band, belted out a rendition of The Star Spangled Banner that set the tone for the weekend-long event. She followed that by singing Lee Greenwood’s  “God Bless the USA”. Personally, I doubt anyone who heard Mimi on Friday will ever forget this event.

Igniting the Spirit of Unity was the theme for the remembrance. The spirit of unity we all had in the days and weeks and months after we were attacked. Revella talked about how not only law enforcement and emergency personnel were running into the buildings to help save people, but even the “hot dog vendors, and homeless” helped.

Jeremy Staat, NFL football player and friend of Pat Tillman was on the program. He explained his decision to retire from a successful and lucrative carrer in the NFL to serve his country in the Marines. He has established the Jeremy Staat Foundation, whose mission is “[t]o bring living history to the classroom by offering life experiences to our youth through a Veteran Speaking board without taking away needed financial resources from our lacking educational system.”

Many people have since succumbed to illness caused by breathing in the asbestos-laden dust from the collapsed towers. Remember, asbestos was commonly used in building materials during the late 60’s early 70’s when the towers were constructed.

During the remembrance event, they talked about the search dogs. One search dog, Porkchop, was at the event. Normally the media reports that search dogs are being used for rescue and recovery efforts, but nothing is ever said about them after their job is finished. Out of over 300 dogs on the job back then, only 25 are left. A lot of them died from inhaling toxic chemicals in the dust.

One thing that struck me about this event was how candid everyone was when they spoke. I learned things the media would never report. I listened in awe as the speakers shared their stories, most of them survivors of that terrible day.

Remembering what happened on September 11, 2001. Honoring those perished in the attacks themselves, and the 1,000 more who have died since. Saluting those who have risked and given their lives in service to our country. Encouraging our nation to get back to the spirit of unity our nation had back then. This is what the organizers were trying to bring back. And I think they succeeded.