I wasn’t originally planning on shooting the Iowa City Climate Strike. I’ve shot environmental protests before and if you’ve shot one, you’ve kind of shot them all. And besides, with this being election season in Iowa, any protest is going to turn into another political rally of some sort. But when I heard that Greta Thunberg was coming, well, it kind of forced my hand—whatever my views on using a child with aspergers to push a political point, she’s a public figure of some notoriety and she was going to be speaking a mile away from me. So I grabbed my gear and headed out.
I am not a native Iowan. Nevertheless, I have a great appreciation for the Iowa State Fair and what it means for the people of this state. I’d assumed the Fair was nothing (“nothing”) but food and giant hog competitions but that was good enough for me, and so I visited it after my first year of law school. And while it WAS all of that, I also found out that there were other competitions—including photography.
And with that, my quest to get a Blue Ribbon at the Iowa State Fair was on.
I entered a slate of photos my second year in Iowa and while I had a couple of them get selected for showing, I didn’t pull in any ribbons. My third year of law school would be my last try (I didn’t want to enter if I wasn’t living in Iowa) and I was hoping something would stick.
I was planning to undergo routine surgery in December of ‘18 and so, for the recovery, our photo coach at The Daily Iowan, Danny Wilcox-Frazier, had given me some photographers to study while I recovered, one of whom was Todd Hido. Hido’s landscapes immediately drew me in, especially his use of flash to illuminate falling snow, a technique I’d never seen before. I decided that, as soon as I’d recovered and there was some snow in Iowa, I’d go out and try the technique myself.
I wouldn’t have to wait long—four weeks after surgery, I was back to normal and a blizzard dumped several inches of snow on Iowa City. I wandered around with a flash and a tripod and managed to get this:
I was certainly happy with it, and immediately thought it would be good Fair-bait. That turned out to be the case—I submitted it (along with three other photos) to the Fair and found out that I’d won an award for one of them. But the Fair didn’t tell you what had won what—to find out, you’d have to go to the Fair. And so, I trekked out to Des Moines (let’s be honest, I was going to go anyway) and made a beeline to the photography salon. At which point, I was greeted with this:
It’s no prize-winning hog, mind you, but it’ll have to do.
Strangely, while I’ve been in Iowa for (going on) four years, I haven’t shot nearly as much politics as I’d have thought when I started working as a photojournalist. Oh sure, I shot some mid-term stuff in 2018 and I’ve actually shot quite a bit of the 2020 Democratic field but it’s mostly been smaller candidates or bigger candidates at smaller venues—I hadn’t actually shot a good ol’ fashioned campaign rally. Until yesterday, that is. Bernie Sanders brought his talents to The University of Iowa and I got the call:
I had to do a double take when I saw this house in Oskaloosa, Iowa. I was driving back to Iowa City after being in Des Moines to take the Bar Exam and figured I’d take state highways and see some of rural Iowa. And I suppose I did.
I don’t have strong opinions on the Confederate Battle Flag issue, having lived in the north and south - I know that the flag has become about more than the Civil War and is as much of a symbol for people to push back against what they see as elitist norms from the coasts. Having said that, it’s always a little disconcerting to see it being flown in a state sent troops to fight on behalf of the Union. But the real irony to me (though maybe it shouldn’t be) is that Blue Lives Matter flag on the right. Still trying to figure out who’d fly a flag that’s a symbol of revolt against the US while flying a flag in support of probably the most ubiquitous arm of control of government. Irony abounds.
When my editor asked me if I wanted to shoot a B-17, my only response to her was “are you kidding me?” And with that, I got the opportunity to photograph EAA’s B-17G “Aluminium Overcast” during its visit to Cedar Rapids.
This actually wasn’t the first B-17 I’d been inside—about 20 years ago, I’d been able to see the Collins Foundation’s “909” which was just as cool. After seeing Aluminum Overcast, I feel like I’ve seen the two most significant flyable B-17s in the world.
And, as one of the staff photographers put it: “It’s not just that you got to photograph a B-17, it’s that you got to photograph a B-17G.”
Finally, someone who gets it.
Two firsts yesterday. Shot my first prep sports and shot my first assignment with my new Canon 1DX MK II. As for the camera, I’d shot one before while working at The Daily Iowan and thought about buying one for quite some time but had avoided doing so—due entirely to cost, of course. But now that I’m freelancing I was forced to realize that my 7D MK II just. wasn’t. good enough. And so I upgraded. And, based on a sample size of one, it was worth every penny. Sure, I still missed shots, but at least **I** was missing them and not my camera—and even then, I didn’t miss many.
As for the games, it was playoff soccer so the teams were good and the games were high scoring. But I still haven’t cracked the code of how cover a team that’s losing. Fortunately, my assignment was to cover both teams in each game (all of the teams come from the readership area of the paper) so I could focus more on the winning side but making a meaningful image of a team that’s just doing nothing continues to elude me.
Well, you can’t really call it ‘storm chasing’ when it comes right to you. So, it happens that we had a tornado rip through Iowa City yesterday. Doesn’t seem to have done too much damage - touched down to the southeast of the city and leveled a cattle barn, but that was about all I saw. Far more interesting were getting shots of the funnel cloud spikes as it passed by my apartment building.
Don’t think I’ll be taking up storm chasing any time soon but shooting this gave me a great appreciation for what those folks do. This was thrilling but even watching these (small?) spikes form, you could tell just how dangerous this all is.
As I begin to wrap up my time at the University of Iowa, one of my goals is to fill in the gaps in my sports portfolio by shooting the few remaining sports I haven’t shot yet. Fortunately, I’ve been able to shoot almost everything the University competes in, with one notable exception—gymnastics. Well, that hole got finally got filled after I lucked into a women’s gymnastics assignment.
As for the sport, what to say? It’s great—high action but in discrete moments, easily allowing you to reposition and set up new compositions. And you know where the competitors are going to be—no need to go chasing any action. Nothing is going to beat Football or, of course, Field Hockey in “favorite sports to shoot” list, but this was a fun assignment—hopefully it wasn’t my last exposure to this sport.