As a photographer, there are a few opportunities that you just have to experience at least once for yourself, even if it is outside of your realm of interest. For example, bowl games and rivalry match-ups are included in this list, as well as at least one really good rock concert. Now, looking past the newsworthiness, visual appeal or story that may ensue from picking up an assignment such as these, there is one reason that reigns over all as the reason to pick up one of these stories.
They just make you feel cool.
Journalists don't get many opportunities to feel like a badass in the eyes of the general public. "The media" is typically hated by many people for a handful of reasons and to sources, we're just obnoxious, and we won't even try to dissect why people hate the paparazzi. However, when you photograph one of the aforementioned events, everyone loves you (if you're not standing in their way). They want you to take their picture, they think you have the coolest job in the world and everyone just generally loves you (although this may be due to the amount of alcohol present).
Another one of these events includes photographing the president, which I had the opportunity to do Wednesday in St. Louis.
Now, I might be hyperbolic when saying that everyone 'loves' you when you are covering a presidential event, but they are least are glad you are there. Why? So you can be used as their soapbox to tote their grievances or support of whatever political issue their care about most, whether it's gun rights, abortion, health care or general conspiracy nonsense.
After class on Wednesday, I travelled to St. Charles (a suburb of St. Louis) with a senior staff writer, Wes Duplantier, to cover President Barack Obama's tour about health insurance reform. The Maneater was granted credentials for two events, a speech in St. Charles and a reception in St. Louis. I was, to say the least, excited. This was the president!
Now, after experiencing this event, I realized it wasn't the president that was so interesting to photograph. After all, he mainly just talks, shakes people's hands, and makes gestures. Sure, it's neat, but after about 10 minutes of photographing his speech, I was bored. The important thing about a young journalist getting to photograph something like this is the experience.
I learned a lot during this assignment. Here are my words of wisdom from my experience:
1) The White House Press Corps are badasses and you will forever be jealous of how cool they look.
2) Be careful about what you say. I typically use the word "shoot" to talk about something I am covering. I had to watch my language for this particular assignment.
3) Kindness goes a long way. I made a point to be kind to the security team that checked in our bags, the media relations crew in charge of corralling the media, people who attended the event and other journalists around me. It helped me out in the end, such as when I was a few minutes late re-entering the place where Obama's speech was to be held (I left for a few minutes to photograph protesters). The security team recognized me because I had made small talk with them earlier in the day and let me in.
4) Don't be an idiot. All day, I was surrounded by other journalists making faux pas (and was so nervous I was going to be one of them on accident). For example, one broadcast journalist from a local St. Louis station started talking in the middle of Obama's speech because his sound wasn't working. The national journalists looked at him in awe, and others were angry for his discourteousness. Just play it safe.
5) Talk to people. Since I had time to kill, I took the streets to find out what particular supporters and protesters of the event were thinking. If you just go about doing your job with blinders on, your story or photographs will reflect that because you haven't actually interacted or learned about the people you are using to represent a group. If you make small talk with them, try and relate to their problems with health care or their excitement about seeing the president, then they will be much more comfortable when you stick around photographing them for five minutes or ask a lot of questions.
Although it was a long day (including travel, we were gone for 12 hours covering this event), it was well worth it. I gained a lot of experience about political coverage and, of course, felt pretty cool in the process. I encourage anyone who gets this opportunity to do so at least once!
To see more pictures and hear some sounds for the day, check out the slideshow Wes and I put together for The Maneater.