[Look Ma! I'm in the Press Corps!]

being an account of how a fine art photographer
(or a lousy art photographer as the case may be)
found himself surrounded by Genuine Photographers who didn't know what a Holga was.

by kyle cassidy

News photography was never my thing. To be a news shooter you have to get up early, be on time, carry a big camera bag full of stuff like lens tissue, gaffer's tape and pliers, planning for all sorts of continginces. None of these have ever been my strong suit. However, I've always been fascinated by journalists and like to hang out at the Pen and Pencil club pretending that I may in fact be one of them. (To the untrained eye, I can sometimes pass for an ugly Jimmy Olsen.) Normally I'm out shooting UFO hoaxes and dolls performing Dangerous Stunts. But when the opportunity arises those who need to justify their equipment purchases to the IRS get off their lazy duff's and start working. So I take the occasional news assignment....

I call two days before the event to get my name on the press list and get the schedule. The President will arrive at 2:30, I need to be there at 9:00 a.m. to fight with the rest of the media for a spot on the press riser and setup my equipment.

I'm not sure what they're going to let me bring and what kind of space I'm going to have so the night before I pack my Bogen 2001 tripod and monopod as well. I pack the F100, 80-200 f2.8, Tokina 28-70, four rolls of Fuji professional slide film (400 speed) and 15 rolls of Arista Pro 400 in case I need to push something. I've learned long ago that bringing twice the amount of film you think you'll need still isn't enough. I also pack my Nikon F2 as a backup camera. I consider bringing the Leica or the Holga but decide against it because of the lens incompatibility.

I show up at the auditorium at about 9:30 and run into Candace DiCarlo, another local shooter. She suggests I set up next to her so we can talk, which I do. For her, "setup" was dropping her camera bag in the center of the riser to stake out some space. The riser is a two tiered wooden platform rising over the last five rows of the auditorium. I unfold my tripod and plop it next to her bag, front and center. First come, first serve. The TV crews are mostly there already, about seven cameras on the highest riser but no other still photographers. The riser is frighteningly far from the stage. I'd been thinking I was probably going to be shooting from ten or twenty feet, but we're closer to sixty feet away. I look through my 200mm lens and everything seems very far away like people waving from the deck of a cruise ship as it steams off.

At 11:30 Candace and I go out for coffee. We're supposed to come back at 1:30 while the D.S.S. "sweeps" the building and our equipment. As we're leaving the building two well known media faces start sauntering up the steps in bold oposition to the request that we all be there no later than 10:00. A cameraman from Channel ---, standing behind me says "Look at that arrogant ass, they better not let him in." They are, in fact, denied admittance and there is much grumbling. The cameraman seems very pleased.

Paranoid about the distance to the stage, I buy a 2x teleconverter at the local camera shoppe, eat lunch, and head back over at 1:15. There's a huge crowd outside of the venue and my camera is inside the building. It feels very strange, not having a camera with me and I keep seeing great shots. I try not to look at anything but my feet and make my way to the crowd of press. I meet Steve, we're wearing the same Domke vest. He's the "official" shooter for the event, and tells me he's spent an uncomfortable week preparing. He's not only to shoot from the pit during the event, but the meet-and-greet's before and afterwards, they've alotted him one second per handshake. One shot. Better be dead on. He's carrying a pair of F4's in stroboframe brackets.

We all mill around outside for a while, amidst the crowd of people with nothing to do waiting for the motorcade to drive by. Around 1:45 they guide us to the "press table" which is set up outside. There they check our names against a list and pass out our "press credentials" -- yellow neck tags with our names and organizations on them above which hovers a presidential eagle. We go through metal detectors and some burly folks from the D.S.S. examine our beepers, cell phones, and any other junk we're taking in with us. Then it's back onto the platform to sit with our stuff. The president is supposed to arrive at 2:30 so I have some time to kill talking to Candice and Yvonne, a corporate photographer from New York hired by one of the local bigwigs to get shots of him and the president. Unfortunately, he neglected to get her the proper access and she's stuck on a riser 60 feet away from the action with a 28mm lens. I offer the use of my 80-200 and teleconverter while her boy is on stage with the Big Guy.

Looking down the row of press photographers I'm pleased to see only one Canon body -- all the rest are Nikon. Though my 80-200 lens seems paltry comparied to everybody elses 300 f2.8's and 400 3.5's with their monster-huge front elements. I have definate lens envy. Is there no end to this?

I put the 80-200 with the 2x teleconverter on my F100 and peer at the stage through it. The result it reasonable, but at f 5.6 I'm going to have to be shooting slow, or relying on my SB-28 to kick light sixty feet. It's then I notice that the 2x doesn't conect with the AI ring on my F100 -- why? because there is no AI ring on my F100. The camera has no idea what the F-stop is set at. It will work on the F2 though. Thankfully I brought a backup. I load Fuji chrome into the F100 and Arista Pro into the F2. Yvonne is shooting with a pair of Nikon FM's so the AI coupling is a non-issue for her.

Periodically someone from PR stops by to tell us that the President is going to be later than expected. 2:30 comes and goes. So does 3:30. During this time the Penn Glee Club comes on stage and sings every tune in their repoitoire -- mostly 1930's-ish sounding stuff with refrains like "fight fight fight for the blue and red, score score score glorious team, we're forever loyal to dear old Penn-sillll-vaaaa-niiiii-aaaa!" 

Eventually the show gets on the road, the President is announced, he comes out with the Big Wig, John Street, the Mayor of Philadelphia, and Judith Rodin, president of the University of Pennsylaviana. Also toddling along like the dozen dwarves is the White House Press Pool -- the big guns, the guys from Time, Newsweek, the Washington Post, New York Times. They're unfettered on the floor in front of the stage. I notice that every single one of them is using Canon bodies. One guy has four of them around his neck, each with a monster telephoto lens, he's wearing a big Domke camera bag, a backpack and a fanny pack with lens holders on it. He looks like some over laden space soldier. They crawl around like ants shooting away and I wonder what it must be like to shoot the same guy over and over, every day, doing the exact same thing. How many pictures do you need of the president standing at a podium or sitting in a chair trying to act interested as the CEO of some laundry detergent company gives a 20 minute speech about how great Bill Clinton has been for the detergent industry?

All of our VIP's get a chance to introduce him, as though we don't know who he is already. Yvonne gets her shot of Clinton and her guy, she's happy.

I plug the F100 onto the tripod and shoot a roll. I'm not happy with the frame lines but there's nothing much I can do. I shoot a roll of Arista Pro with the teleconverter. The shutter on the F2 goes off like a cannon compared to everybody elses F5's and N90's. I feel self conscious at the noise. When the roll ends, I start to rewind it and, inexplicably, the rewind knob snaps off and flys out into the audience, I'm staring at my camera with half a roll of film stuck in it and no way to get it out. Luckily I have a backup for the backup. I switch back to the F100.

When the president finishes his speech most of the audience begins to file out, but Clinton climbs down from the stage to shake hands with the constituants. I hop off the riser, followed by a t.v. news guy and we're told "no press beyond the riser." So we glumly return. After about 20 minutes, I realize that I still haven't gotten my shot and I'm missing a great opportunity, I figure they can throw me out if they want to, so I start climbing over rows of seats and arrive at the crowd up front, consisting of a couple hundred people. Behind me is a string of other photographers follwing like ducks. I manage to weasel my way towards the front and get a couple of good shots, but there's always someone's head in front of me. Candace raps me on the back and asks if she can hold onto my shoulder while she climbs on top of the seats. She does and is thusly precariously pearched for 30 or 40 seconds before the president starts to move along the crowd. Candice climbs down and we move along too.

My closest proximity is maybe seven feet and with the 80-200 I have to zoom out to the widest my lens allows just to get a head shot. I consider pausing to put the 28-70 on, but figure I'd just lose momentum. My film hits it's stop and starts rewinding. It's an agonizing 9 seconds of prime missed shooting opportunity as I pull out another roll and change quickly, holding the spent onel in my mouth as I run down the line to keep shooting. As the President gets towards the door we're about five feet away from one another with a double row of people in between us. I figure I have my shot somewhere on these two rolls so I reach my hand out as he passes -- he gives a perfunctory shake, waves, and is out the door. Someone yells "Thank you, Mr. President!" he turns and shouts "You're welcome, all of you!" and he's gone.

I was very excited when Clinton won in 1992 -- after a dozen years of Regan/Bush I felt suddenly vindicated in some youthful exhuberance, I thought things were going to be different. It was the first time I voted for anybody who won. And the future was different, things certianly got a lot better, but after several years I became disenchanged at what I percieved to be a serious shift to the right on his part, the Welfare Reform Act, his waffling on gays in the military, and what I percieved to be the coddeling of China. He obviously wasn't the liberal I'd voted for, he was more like Sam Nunn. Bill Clinton in the White House turned basically into my version of a liberal Republican. But compromise, I suppose, must be in the vocabulary of any successful politician. His conciliatory gestures to the right didn't seem to win him any friends on Capital Hill (I was baffled when Bob Dole started saying "He's stealing my ideas!" -- why run against him then?) but I think it did win him some support from middle-of-the-road Americans.

I voted for him twice, and was glad finally for the opportunity to say "thanks" in whatever tiny way possible.

Then it's all over but the wondering -- the ancient photographer's mantra: will the film come out? Did I forget some setting and expose all the film at the wrong ASA? was I focusing? My batteries were low, did that affect my flash sync?

That night I develop the Arista Pro at 1600 and am tragically underwhelmed by the performance of the 2x teleconverter. It's very soft focus and ugly as somebody elses baby.

In the end, though, the F100 and SB-28 came through like the calvery. Most every shot is perfectly exposed and a lot of them are in focus -- this says less about the camera as I was focusing manually, but I'm pleased nonetheless.

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