Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Week of roll over vehicle crashes.

   This past week was unusual in the number of roll over vehicle crashes that occurred in The Mercury coverage area. We had five accidents over six days. Four of them were on various stretches of Rt. 422 from Amity Township to Lower Pottsgrove Township. The other was on Manatawny St.
   The tri-county has always had more than its share of collisions over the years. But, to have a week where we are out covering that many roll over crashes was a first. I don't know if all could have been prevented, but bad weather wasn't a factor on any.
   We've had a moderate winter with temperatures above freezing quite a bit. So none involved sliding on ice. We've only had two measurable snowfalls all winter. It had been quiet for a while, going several weeks without any serious wrecks.
   Maybe the warm dry weather had motorists driving faster.  One crash involved a driver turning a vehicle into an oncoming motorist clipping the car, causing it to barrel roll several times. The driver suffered only a scraped up arm. The unfortunate thing is that he was homeless and living in his car. He lost his home when they towed it away.
   On another crash I covered, the driver of a tractor-trailer lost control on a curve and the truck smashed through a guardrail rolling down into a ravine. The Amity and Monarch fire companies had to rescue the man from inside the cab. He was in serious condition and airlifted to the hospital. I'm happy to report that all drivers from the various accidents survived. And that alone is good.
  There is one possible answer to preventing the crashes, maybe we can take more time and just slow down and hopefully there will be less of these incidents. I for one need to drive more slowly.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Donald and Ivana at K-Mart

     One of my most memorable photo assignments from the black and white darkroom days is of Donald and Ivana Trump shopping at a local K-Mart. It's one of the top ten pictures that I've taken for the newspaper. The photograph caused a media frenzy.
     The Mercury received a news tip about them shopping for school supplies for their son Donald Jr. at the discount store. I drove around the parking lot and found a Mercedes with New York licence plates and waited until they exited the store.
     They were pushing a cart loaded with bags and Trump walked up to me and asked who I was, where I was from and what I wanted. I told him my name, I was from The Mercury and I was there to get his picture. He walked behind his car and that's when I shot the photo of the Trump's with the K-Mart sign directly behind them.
Ivana and Donald Trump at K-Mart
     The Associated Press picked up the photo and ran it worldwide. Within hours, the photo desk phone rang off the hook. I talked to People Magazine, Newsweek and newspapers across the country.
     The photo was the top story in the 'Big Apple' the next day and I received papers from Newsday and The New York Post with the photo taking up the entire front page. After things settled down, I watched Jay Leno on the Tonight Show. I was surprised that he started his monologue with the Trumps at K-Mart. In all the years that followed I haven't had a reaction like that over any other photo.

Friday, February 24, 2012

President's Day

Gerald Ford
  Since it was President's Day and in honoring the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, both born in February, it's timely to blog on the subject of photographing the Commander in Chief.
George H.W. Bush
   Photographing the President of the United States is one of the most challenging assignments. Politics aside, democrat or republican, to be a few feet from the most powerful man on the planet is not something that I take lightly.
   While I consider it an honor, it's not an easy event to cover. There is the endless standing around and waiting.
Cameras are checked and rechecked by
the secret service.
Bill Clinton
      There are metal detectors to pass
George W. Bush
through. Then you have to hold your ground on a platform along with other media types as they jockey for position.
   But once the president is announced and they play 'Hail to the Chief' I get tunnel vision as I focus on the president and fire off frames.
   I never turn down a chance to see
the president knowing that I am covering history in the making.

   While I waited in line to pass through the metal detectors to see President Reagan speak at the Great Valley Corporate Center, a bubbly woman handed her camera to an F.B.I. agent to be inspected. She excitedly told him, "I can't wait to shoot the president!" Without skipping a beat the agent looked up and in a monotone voice said, "Ma'am never say shoot the president."
    She blushed and walked quietly to her seat.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the Scene of a Police Standoff

   I woke Thursday to find four inches of snow covering the ground figuring I'll be shooting snow pictures today. There are several accidents on Rt. 422 and by 8 a.m. I'm dressed and ready to drive out to photograph the crashes and the rush hour traffic jam that no doubt would have been part of the story.
   But breaking news stories change quickly and I received several calls and texts on a man with a gun with Pottstown police surrounding an apartment with guns aimed at the building. A call like that will get the adrenalin going.
   Many times calls on incidents turn out to be nothing, but today's was serious. Now I'm rushing. Urrrr, it never seems to fail when something big is going on I get delayed. I start the car, but have to clear all the snow before heading over. With the streets a bit slippery I'm careful but still intense trying to get there. Then, I come up on two school buses crawling along Manatawny St. They turn onto State and out of my way, but a water delivery truck decides to pull in front of me as I continue down the road.
   I clear all traffic on N. Hanover St. and park near Gay St. I can see police in positions near the Logan Court apartments. I work my way down to get a safe spot where I can shoot photos showing more than a police car blocking the road. It's early in the incident and I'm able to get across from the building and stand up against a wall. I photograph four officers using a patrol car as a shield with guns drawn down on the building. This is the lead photo for The Mercury and website. I also get audio and video of police trying to talk the subject from the building with them stating over speakers, "Albert, This is the Pottstown police department. Come out of your apartment through your sliding front door with your hands in the air unarmed!"
   It turns out to be a long standoff with the man holed up in his apartment refusing to exit his home. The day is cold and a stiff breeze is blowing the fluffy snow from trees down onto the officers who are steadfast at their post. Some are holding weapons with their bare hands for hours without moving around or taking a break.

An elderly woman looks out her apartment window where I'm standing. I give her a wave and she smiles back at me closing her blinds. After and hour or so, my daughter texts me and asks if I'm at work. I tell her yes not letting her know the situation going on around me. She fills me in on the days events with her kids and I chit chat until I text her that I have to get off the phone. It breaks up the tension of the moment.
   CMERT, a tactical SWAT team, dressed in military style fatigues and helmets arrive and set up. I am moved back as they begin their operation. From the several locations I work my way around, I photograph renters being assisted by police as they cleared the complex for their safety. I also snap pictures of the CMERT team and their armored vehicle along with the Montgomery County sheriff's robot moving in on the apartment.
   Then police deployed a flash bang grenade to try to stun the man inside.  This tactic fails. A short time later, the suspect fires five shots with police returning fire. In the years that I've been at the paper I don't remember anyone ever firing on police when I was on the scene. But I was in a safe area away from danger.
   By now it's 5pm and police lob canisters of tear gas into the apartment. Photographer Kevin Hoffman is working the late shift and is on the scene with me. It's getting dark. I have delayed long enough and I can't stay at the scene any longer. I've sent back photos from my phone and tweeted various events without getting detailed in case the suspect was watching on twitter,  but I need to head back to The Mercury. I have been out in the cold for nine hours from close to the start and editors want the higher quality images and video that I have.
   I get a video on line and a gallery of photos together along with what is used in the paper. It's after 7 p.m. and I get a call from Hoffman that he has a good photo of the suspect being taken from the apartment. The story is complete.
   I don't look for these kinds of events to happen, but if they do I will be there to cover them. It's what I do. The Mercury had their highest numbers on the internet site that day so it must be what readers want to see when a story like this takes place.
   I thought I'd be able to do a follow up in the morning, but instead I'm on my way out with police reporter Brandie Kessler. We're heading to Manatawny Rd in  Earl Twp. for another SWAT incident after an alleged murder. 'Here we go again. Buckle Up!'

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

PAC-10 Championship : Am I watching the movie Hoosiers?

   It's game time. Set the scene. Spring Ford is taking on Methacton in the PAC-10 boys basketball championship. All of the school age fans from both teams are dressed in white taking up half of the gymnasium bleachers. Standing as one, they chant and cheer and laughingly jeer each other. And as if choreographed, a signal is given and the Warrior fans strip off their white shirts revealing a black one underneath.  Now, they are archrivals waving the shirts like terrible towels. The game hasn't even started.
Methacton fans support their team.
  Roll film and ... Action! From the opening tap, the game was in high speed. Up and down the court racing from end to end. Methacton takes a small lead, Spring Ford fights their way back. Spring Ford goes up, Methacton makes a run and evens the score. One drains a three-pointer the other counters. Back and forth to the point of fatigue. The game was filled with precision shooting and well played defense. The pulse rate of the fans is one heartbeat from a coronary.
Brendan Casper shoots game winner.
   And it all came down to one shot in the final nineteen seconds. I thought to myself, 'Am I watching the movie Hoosiers where Hickory High's ficticious star player Jimmy Chitwood is passed the ball and dribbles around looking for the last second desperation shot?' Methacton's go-to guy Brendan Casper receives the inbound pass and begins to make his move. They are down by one. He had missed a foul shot that could have tied the game just seconds before.
   Man, I'm having fun. After a long season with blow outs and average games this one is up there with the best. I have plenty of shots already to choose from, but I need to capture that moment where someone makes the game winner. It's the money shot. I'm as focused on what's going on just as the players on the court. The screaming is now muffled in my ears as I seem to be on autopilot with the camera. I try to remain calm watching things develop as seconds tick off the clock.
Methacton's Casper and Dinan celebrate.
   Casper is out near the top of the key but all I can see is the top of his head as players defend around him. Everyone knows that the last shot will be taken by him. All the weight of that playoff game is on his back. Come on where is he, where is he, I say to myself. The final play seems as if in slow motion and the bodies cluttering the court in front of me fade to the side. With just over ten seconds to go I can finally see him clearly. Casper takes a step, raises up and launches a jumper from just left of the foul line with Spring Ford's Ryan Keefe waving a hand in front of his face. I fire the shutter and freeze the moment in time and then watch the ball arc toward the goal. Swish. The shot is good and Methacton is up by one. The crowd goes wild, I can hear the deafening screams again. I continue to follow the players with the camera trained on the celebrating as Spring-Ford calls time out.
Methacton Warriors are the 2012 PAC-10 Boys Basketball team champions.
   Hard-charging Pat Dinan runs toward center court arms waving as Casper lets out what looks like a roar as he heads to the bench. Another key moment. I look at the viewer on the back of the camera and the reaction photo is clear and I know this is the lead shot for The Mercury sports page and the web.
   One last chance for Spring-Ford in the waning moments and the shot falls short. Methacton wins 58-57. The fans are delirious spilling out onto the floor in one massive hug. The Spring Ford team and fans are quietly dejected in defeat. I hate to see either team lose in such a hard fought game, but tonight, the Warriors prevailed.
   I hope that once the players are in the locker room after the game, all the wild emotions calm and with the team huddled together one of them utters those wonderful words, 'I love you guys.'

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Sometimes, the best photos aren't published

  Sometimes, the best photographs that I take aren't published in The Mercury or online. And that's what happened Monday night when I covered a wrestling match at Spring Ford High.
   I was shooting the 106 pound bout between Parkland's Tom Yankanich and Spring Ford's Nick Suero. It was very competitive and a good match to shoot photos. Both wrestlers were active and they attacked and countered each others moves. When Suero was down, he constantly tried to get to his feet only to have Yankanich take him back to the mat. Up and down and then they faced me and I shot the photograph, at left, that didn't get published.
   Suero was in mid air as Yankanich swung him to the mat. Click. The photo is probably one of the better wrestling pictures I've taken this year. It didn't run due to the fact that even though it was my favorite shot of the entire match, to use it would have been inaccurate. Parkland won the match overall 41-15 and the shot would have been good if the Parkland wrestler would have won the bout. But the fact is, Suero of Spring Ford battled back and won his individual duel by a score of 5-3.
   To use the photo would have been a disservice to Suero. The picture shows Yankanich in control making it look like he would have won the match. I have to be fair and honest with the coverage. It's tough sometimes when you grab a good shot that has to end up on the cutting room floor. Unused and unseen. But I want to properly portray what is going on and the right thing was to choose a different shot showing Suero being the superior wrestler on that day.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Travel - Yellowstone and Old Faithful

     There are national parks out west that I call my 'Big Three'. They are - The Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Yosemite. Deb and I have been fortunate to have visited them and I like all three for different reasons. The Grand Canyon has to be the most overwhelming visual sight leaving me completely silent when I looked over the edge for the first time. Words can't describe it and my photos can't show how awesome it is.  You have to travel out west and experience it first hand.
     Yosemite is a natural site so large most just travel into the valley to view the granite monoliths and waterfalls. The first thing we saw driving into the park was Half Dome. I needed more time and will have to revisit as there is so much to do and see. I'll blog more on these places at a future date.
Old Faithful Geyser
      Deb and I found that Yellowstone was our favorite national park in which to interact. Yellowstone seems to give so much back. While you're hiking or driving throughout the park you're not just viewing the landscapes, cliff walls or flowing rivers. You're standing on the ground of a boiling caldera. There are geysers spraying water into an emerald sky. The lower falls in the Yellowstone River roars down the canyon. Steam vents hissing, mud pots bubbling and wild animals roaming freely across the wilderness. And the rustic Old Faithful Inn is like no other hotel we've ever stayed.
    On our second day at the Inn, I woke around 5:30 a.m. I headed down to the massive lobby to just sit back on a quiet morning and looked over the wooden structure waiting for the sun to peak over the surrounding hills.
With bears, wolves and other wild life roaming the park I thought it best to be able to see where I was before venturing on the boardwalks that are built for safer walking. It was mid summer, but at this early hour I saw two others as I made my way along the trail. I stopped to view all the different natural features. Looking back over my shoulder off in the distance, 'Old Faithful Geyser' was in her full glory. 

Bison have the right of way, who's going to argue.

     The best part was that there were no crowds surrounding the geyser as they are at mid day. Just the geyser and me on this chilly morning. What a sight and I still had another hour before breakfast and a sightseeing tour around the park. I could have walked for hours and not have gotten tired or bored. Time was limited as I walked alongside the Firehole River and I saw four more geysers erupt that morning.
    After breakfast we boarded a bus and saw bison, eagles, coyote, elk and mule deer along with many other furry and feathered creatures and breathtaking landscapes. It was nice having a guide riding along filling in all the unique aspects of the park I didn't get from books and the internet sites that I had read before taking the trip.
     It was a satisfying visit in Yellowstone, and there is so much more to experience. We will travel back, but there are many other places in the United States for us to see.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Count Your Lucky Stars

     There are quite a few different words that I can use to describe the vehicle collision on Troutman Rd in Upper Providence Twp. Wednesday afternoon. I 'll use the word amazing.
     The driver had lost control of his vehicle on a curve and smashed into curbing on the side of the road. He was ejected from his convertible landing on a grassy hill. His vehicle went airborn and landed on the roof on top of him. When I got to the scene I expected the outcome to be grim. I asked about the condition of the driver, and was told he was able to walk away from the crash after being pinned underneath. Fire and ambulance personnel inflated airbags to rescue him.
     Amazing! I have covered crashes where cars with less damage have ended in tragedy. I looked at the vehicle and just shook my head. When the driver was released from the ambulance at the scene, he appeared fine as he walked around surveying the damage.  The most he did was rub his shoulder. I don't think it appeared he even had a bandage on a cut.
     If the car landed just feet in a different direction, who knows how it would have ended. On this day, it may have been tough for him to have been involved in the crash, but he should count his lucky stars for the way it ended.


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

High Flying Hoops

     Tuesday was a good night in the PAC-10 basketball world. For one team anyway. The game was held at Pottstown High with the Trojans hosting Pope John Paul II. It was a barn burner. With Pottstown still in the running for a post season playoff spot in the PAC-10 final four, the game was intense and fast-paced.
     Over the winter we basically cover three sports - basketball, wrestling and swimming. So after a while, it can feel like you're photographing the same thing over and over again. But when the games starting taking on more significance in the standings and teams are running and gunning it's likely the photos I shoot will prove to be more interesting and exciting. I took a good shot at last nights game that I'm really happy with. The photo attached is of Pottstown's high flying Elijah Jackson soaring over PJP's Jamel Stinson. Pottstown won the close game by a score of 39-37 and the post season is within their grasp with a couple more wins. Pope John Paul II are a lock for playoffs if they can close out the season with a win.
     After numerous years and seasons covering sports, I still enjoy going out and seeing teens battle on the courts and playing fields. It isn't difficult shooting sports and it does help to have a working knowledge of the games. It's crowded on the basketball floor with ten players and three refs stuffed on half the court. Looking through the lens following the ball can get you bugged eyed after a while. And it seems like I always have a ref in my viewfinder taking pictures from under the basket.
     I can appreciate the dead eye gunners who drop in the three pointers from outside the arc, but for me, I go for the players who have to mix it up for rebounds and pounding it inside for a hard earned two points. That is where I get my best basketball photos.
     I've always enjoyed playing hoops since I was kid bouncing a basketball along the sidewalks in town. I used to watch church league games held at the Northern Junior High, now called the Pottstown Middle School. The young kids got a chance to watch older guys play and at half time they'd let us shoot around until getting back on the floor. I have been to many high school games probably seeing my first as a young teenager. Working at the Mercury I have followed games from the Ches-Mont League to this day in the PAC-10.
      I wasn't good enough or dedicated enough to play on the high school team but I enjoyed many a day on the asphalt court at Franklin Elementary School. It seemed like we'd play all day long, games to one hundred a point at a time. The guys would run the rubber off the soles of their sneakers and burn the skins off of knees. Basketballs were rubbed smooth by the constant dribbling on that rough court. The kid who brought the best basketball always got to play whether he was any good or not.
     I'm looking forward to the high school playoffs. There are some really skilled players that should provide some court side drama on the floors across The Mercury's coverage area. And if you get a chance, take in a game now and then. It would be nice to see the stands filled again and I'm sure the players would appreciate it.