A day in the life: The hustle, the hunt.

Burlington Vermont Skate Park

The newsroom gets busy…or it slows down.  Way down.  Slow days are never good because it means an inevitable scramble and an uncertain schedule.  Fresh off a long holiday weekend I walked into a very quiet newsroom yesterday.  A slim budget and no photo requests meant some improvisation was in order.  My photo editor, Ryan Mercer, sent me out on a wildart hunt.  After driving my little car through the flooded roads of the Intervale in search of hard-working farmers I got a call about a blasting happening in Charlotte and that a possible volcano was involved.  What?  This was a tip from a local business owner but nonetheless I swung by the newsroom, grabbed the video kit and headed down Rt. 7 in search of this blasting project.  The blast was a disappointment.  It was small and under control – two elements that don’t yield fantastic photos…or video.  Off I went back to Burlington in search of more wildart.  We still had a hole on A1…and B1 center.  I think some people outside of the newspaper world would be amazed at how quickly a newsroom can pull together a paper each and every day.  The process is kind of unbelievable.  People I photograph are amazed that the photo will appear in tomorrow’s paper or maybe only minutes later on our website.  I silently laugh inside when I eavesdrop on business lunches where people stress over a week-long deadline.  A week…such luxury.

A few hurried phone calls in between cell phone dead zones (Oh, Vermont) re-routed me to Shelburne Beach where flooding had been reported.  Story: Flooding leaves Lake Champlain beaches off limits. This was the beach I had been going to since I was a baby.  One of my favorite baby pictures was taken on this beach but now, unfortunately no beach is left and the water level has taken over the stairs and the lifeguard station.  It’s a mess, but I much prefer to remember it this way:

Shelburne Beach

Ok, so the beach flooding photo was shot and now slated for A1 center.  I wasn’t in love with the photo and knew that I still needed to track down some compelling or beautiful wildart.  I have the hardest time with the hunt.  You’re cruising or walking just looking for a moment and of course, moments are everywhere and they usually happen when I’m driving (unable to shoot photos) or in an instant and my eyes are still (as frustrating as it is) unable to take photos.  My fellow Freep shooter, Glenn Russell, once joked that you can drive everywhere and yet always end up at the Burlington Waterfront to find your wildart.  I decided to instead start at the Waterfront and I’m glad I did.  It was hot and sunny, a weather pattern we hadn’t seen in weeks, and the Burlington Skate Park was in use.  Perfect.  Skateboarders can yield great photos and they love, absolutely love, their picture being taken.  So much so, in fact, that they often suggest where to stand and may give you a heads up that they’re about to do a Nollie Back Lip on the grind bar you’re standing next to (which is exactly what the guy in the above photo was doing when I snapped that).  Skateboarders carry some nice gear too, much nicer video kits than I’m  slinging back at the Free Press.  After getting geeky over gear they skate around a bit more constantly filming every trick, jump, or fall.  Always laughing, even when their sides are scraped open on the hot concrete because I’ve also never seen a skateboarder require a t-shirt.  Seems to be a trend.

Burlington Waterfront Skate Park

This is what you see moments before a skateboarder loses control and slams into your face.

Once I got the skateboarder photo I headed back to the newsroom to begin my edits.  My photo editor saw the skate park shot, loved it and promoted it to A1 center bringing my Shelburne Beach photo to anchor on B.  Nice.  This was at 1pm yesterday and I haven’t seen the paper yet today and everything can change in an instant so I’m curious to see if it still made the A1 center.  As it is, on the way out from my shift yesterday a major accident shut down Rt. 7 and in an separate incident a pedestrian was struck and injured by a car.  We can never truly plan or get too ahead of ourselves.  Everything just happens.


Burlington City Hall skate boarders

In an another example of a wildart photo hunt, I shot this standalone a few weeks back when we had another hole to fill.  This time I found my moment just steps away from the Free Press newsroom.  I can usually count on UVM students to provide an entertaining moment.  Stumbled upon these guys using the steps of Burlington City Hall as a slide on one of the first truly nice spring days.  They were giddy, the city was giddy.  Finally some sun!


Father and son fishing on Mallard Drive in Colchester.

This photo was shot on assignment.  I had a written photo request and a story idea that I needed to translate into a picture.  Reporter Matt Sutkoski and I hopped into my car to chase down a census story and he picked Colchester to tell it.  We decided to randomly pick a neighborhood and walk door-to-door, poking into backyards, or stopping cars on the street to ask people about their neighborhood and the changes they’ve seen.  We had done this in Winooski with great success and figured we might have the same luck in suburbia.  We found young parents with young kids visiting with grandparents as well as elderly homeowners that moved in when the neighborhood was young.  We found a real mix, but it wasn’t until our curiosity sent us down a small wooded trail that we discovered what we needed.  Matt had an idea that the lake was down the trail and it was a nice day, we wanted to see how the flood levels were and what views it had to offer.  At the end of the trail we met Marcus and his son, Marcus (but not a junior, he made that clear).  Marcus was teaching his son how to fish, something he had done as a child in the very same spot.  Marcus chronicled the changes he’d seen in the small suburban neighborhood and the boyhood tales he remembered while spending summers by the lake.  It wasn’t the same now but he wanted his son to have a small piece of what he once knew.  Marcus was easy to talk to, only stopping his excited speech to help is son load a worm or answer to a tug on his pant leg.  He was happy to meet us and we were happy to meet him.  This photo didn’t run as the lead shot, I’m not sure why, but it was my favorite.  Decisions and discussions are made in the wee hours long after my shift ends that I’m not a part of.  We photographers hope our favorite shots publish, but if not, at least mine end up here published in some sort of modest way.

Story: Face of Vermont families is changing, census says.


Aurora Farm in Charlotte Vermont

David Kenyon of Aurora Farm in Charlotte walks through his hard red winter wheat field after U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy announced two dozen value-added agricultural projects and the creation of a new risk capital fund for value-added agricultural and green economy businesses in Vermont on Monday May 23, 2011.  Full story: Sen. Leahy announces Vermont farm funding.

Press conferences can be brutal.  Bad lighting, suits and podiums make for stiff portraits and dry moments.  But, important information is being delivered, stories are being told and we report on them.  In terms of photography, however, they aren’t the most desirable situations.  I went into this story with reporter Matt Ryan when we got word that Sen. Patrick Leahy was making an announcement regarding agriculture and value-added products in Vermont.  Good news, important stuff but when I got a call that this was slated for a A1 center I knew I had to hustle.   I took the necessary podium photos, the crowd of supporters clapping, the exchanges between Leahy and the farmers but I knew at the end I wanted something else.  A parting photo with the barn as a backdrop?  Workers in the grain fields?  I managed to steal a moment with farmer David Kenyon and asked if I could step outside with him and his father for a casual portrait.  I knew I was probably at the bottom of their priority list as they were surrounded by powerful politicians, businessmen and opportunities for discussions that could boost their business.  Nope, they wanted a photo and were excited to have their moment on the front page of the Free Press.  Good news for me.  Not only did they take a walk with me around their fields they kindly powered up their tractor and took to the fields for a bit to showcase what sort of work is done there.  We talked farming and CSAs and hometowns and education.  The farmers were kind and patient.  I’ve always said I have a soft spot for Vermont farmers.  This day was no different.


UVM Naked Bike Ride 2011

And then my life completely flips.  I’m waking up from a much-needed nap at 10pm after working several hours during a split-shift in order for me to stay out late to shoot the semi-annual UVM Naked Bike Ride that starts promptly at midnight.   Hundreds of students strip and take to the street to celebrate the end of semester.  This is a tradition here at the University of Vermont and though it has evolved over the years into quite a policed and regulated event, it’s still crazy nonetheless.  Reporter Tim Johnson and I huddled behind a barricade in the pouring rain to observe, and photograph, the throngs of college students “expressing” themselves.  Shouting “GO USA!” and wearing a wide variety of body paints, flags, feather boas, thongs, knee-high socks, wigs and my personal favorite, a paper bag over the head, the students ran circles around us for nearly 40 minutes.  The stench of liquor on their breath as we tried to interview them was strong reminding us to pass on this interview as he or she will certainly not remember it in the morning.  With each burst of my flash, I felt completely pervy and creepy shooting photos of these kids.  “WHY ARE YOU TAKING PICTURES!?” some would yell.  I don’t know?  Oh, you’re being hilarious and I’m here for it.  The really interesting part of this assignment came, surprisingly enough, back in the newsroom.  I never thought I would have a discussion with my editors about body parts and whether a butt was acceptable for print in the paper or only online?  It was a serious discussion with only few snickers.  We decided to black bar the bits, but that butts were okay.  I didn’t hear a single reader complaint, not even an email, so the masses were ok?  They survived the outrageous display?  Applying all those little black bars onto zoomed in nude photos was not exactly what I expected from a typical Thursday afternoon shift.  Bleery-eyed from the cold night before I somehow managed to apply black bars to everyone in a strange hunt for the shocking bits.

Full photo gallery: 2011 UVM Naked Bike Ride

Full story and video: UVM students throng to Naked Bike Ride

What a week.


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