Shooting the Next President

(Attn. Homeland Security: In photography, “shooting” is a term we use for “photographing” someone. You know, as in “photo shoot.” So no need to worry. And by “worry”, I mean wiretap, surveil, or put me on a list. I’m not a terrorist.)

In July, I was fortunate enough to get the photo assignment to shoot presumptive presidential nominees John McCain and Barack Obama. They visited San Diego for the National Council of La Raza conference.

Barack Obama at the National Center of La Raza Conference

Obama Speaking

Obama delivered a speech punctuated by applause. But it was still a bit lukewarm compared to what I expected. I’d heard stories of his charismatic delivery and rockstar-like receptions. That was all there, I guess, but there was a lingering stress in the air. Obama needed to get defeated Hillary Clinton supporters excited about voting for him. He got loud cheers in reference to oppressive immigration raids, but applause was absent from his discussion of details: securing the border first, path to citizenship starts at the back of the line, fines for non-legal status, etc. When the speech was over, he shook hands with the students seated behind him and made his way slowly through the front edge of the crowd.

The press were given a sideline area at about half-court in the convention center’s large ballroom. My 70-200mm zoom lens only got me close enough for a decent medium-wide shot. I had to crop the shot above by 50 percent to get something usable. At this distance, my lens looked pretty weak compared to the pros bumping shoulders next to me — the ones you see at sports games with what look like space-age sniper rifles. I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to get closer and, more specifically, that we weren’t allowed to get any closer. The only concession was being taken two-by-two into the center aisle for about 60 seconds, once.

John McCain at the National Council of La Raza Conference

Introducing John McCain

McCain’s appearance had a dramatically different tone. For starters, his wife Cindy McCain accompanied him on stage. It felt warmer than Obama’s solo performance, somehow less formal and more classy at the same time. I couldn’t help thinking McCain scored a few extra “family values” points with the Latino crowd. He spoke not as if he were trying to impress, but as if he were having a conversation with friends. He took questions from the audience after his speech. And after conference organizers said the Q&A session was over, McCain threw the microphone into the crowd to take another question.

Before the speech began, there were rumors that we’d be escorted in small groups to the front lines. Apparently the McCain people caught wind of photographer’s complaints and agreed to allow us better access than during Obama’s speech. The conference staff members I spoke with said the campaign staff set the rules in terms of press access, not the conference itself.

Conclusions

McCain’s performance was definitely the most interesting of the two candidates, not only in terms of his interaction with the crowd but in his campaign’s interaction with the press. But I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes in the end. Of the photos I uploaded to Flickr, Obama’s mediocre shots have been viewed more than twice as much as McCain’s more dynamic photos. And of McCain’s, two-thirds of his views come from the photos of his wife Cindy.

We don’t learn anything terribly valuable from these numbers. Yeah, Obama has more buzz than McCain. And on average, Cindy McCain has more than either of them. Perhaps it’s really only an indicator of the superficial nature of the statistical mob. We can only hope the people vote based on their version of who will be the best president, not merely on who will be a best looking one.

How to Make Tequila: Tour of Casa Herradura

On our last trip to Guanajuato (November 2006), we took a detour from Rosario’s home state and headed to Amatitán, Jalisco for a tour of Casa Herradura, makers of Herradura and Jimador tequila. Rosario shot the tour with her new video camera while I took photos.


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Flash Lamp Photography: Behind the Scenes of an NPR Interview

I met Race Gentry standing with his antique camera and vintage flash lamp outside his mother’s home in La Jolla. I was there to record audio for an All Things Considered story and shoot video to accompany the interview on NPR’s website. Race is one of the few people around who uses the 100-year-old technique.

Screenshot of NPR media player

In typical tape sync fashion, Robert Siegel spoke to Race by phone. I stood next to Race, holding the mic six inches from his mouth — my recording of his voice would later be combined with the host’s voice by NPR editors, giving the conversation a higher quality, natural sound. Unfortunately, we had to stop the interview every few minutes because of the military flights going in and out of MCAS Miramar. We were also interrupted for trash collection. And again for recycling.

Race explained the process of pouring the powder in the tray, setting the percussion cap in place, pulling the trigger to ignite the cap, and the explosive flash that follows. The first flash lamp he demonstrated with wouldn’t fire. He was using toy paper caps, but the humidity or bad luck kept it from firing. He switched to another flash lamp that uses rare, original percussion caps. That definitely did the trick. The massive smoke cloud was pretty impressive.

Take a look at the final video, listen to the interview and hear the flash lamp sound. Race Gentry also has his own flash lamp videos on YouTube.

Tijuana Video Competition: 119th Birthday Card

Video Contest for Tijuana's 119th Birthday

The Tijuana Convention & Visitors Bureau offers $500 to the best video birthday card for Tijuana’s 119th birthday. The deadline is July 9th by midnight. Submit your video to the Tijuana Birthday group on YouTube. Judges will announce the winner on Tijuana’s official birthday, July 11th.

Rules:

  • Videos should be between 60 to 90 seconds in length
  • Video must reference Tijuana’s 119 years and its birthday
  • Video must include images, icons, or visual references to Tijuana
  • Videos can be in Spanish or English or both
  • Video must include text promoting “TijuanaOnline.org” at end
  • Video must not be vulgar, offensive, negative, or in bad taste
  • Submit your 60-90 seconds video no later than July 9th

Death to Elmo (Piñata)

Whatever lingering cultural history may have once enshrined piñatas, I don’t think these kids are learning about its pre-Columbian heritage:

Principal Svadean: Look, Pedro, I don’t know how they do things down in Juarez, but here in Idaho we have a little something called pride. Understand? Smashing in the face of a piñata that resembles Summer Wheatley is a disgrace to you, me, and the entire Gem State. (Napoleon Dynamite, 2004)

You can’t help chuckle at the iron of a child bashing their favorite cartoon character with a stick only to be rewarded with candy. While I agree with Cindylu that piñatas are problematic, I can’t help smiling when everyone dive-bombs the ground, scrapping over Blowpops and Smartees.

Piñata Song

Dale, dale, dale
No pierdes el tino
Porque si lo pierdes
Pierdes el camino
Ya le diste una
Ya le diste dos
Ya le diste tres
Y tu tiempo se acabó!
Hit it, hit it, hit it
Don’t miss
Because if you miss
You lose your way
You hit it once
You hit it twice
You hit it three times
And your turn is over!

Tijuana / San Diego Driving Time-lapse

Heading north through Tijuana on the Via Rápida, getting gas for $3/gallon, crossing the border, driving on the I-805 in San Diego.