Sunday, 16 December 2007

Walker's Story Update

The final installment of The Boy in the Moon has now been published in The Globe and Mail, and on theglobeandmail.com .

I couldn't be more happy with the decision by The Globe and Mail to dedicate so much space to this story.

December 1, 2007

December 8, 2007

December 15, 2007

Our web designers have also created a link to the six multimedia chapters that have accompanied Ian Brown's amazing piece of writing.

Saturday, 1 December 2007

Walker's Story

It has been an exhausting couple of months working closely with award-winning Globe and Mail writer Ian Brown, the extremely talented Assistant Photo Editor Jayson Taylor, and the super-creative web guru Chris Manza on a touching and honest story about Ian's 11-year old son Walker who was born with an extremely rare genetic disorder. Designer David Woodside, who was patient, thoughtful, and always willing to consider my thoughts designed the 7-page layout for The Globe and Mail, and David Pratt engineered the unbelievably effective A1 treatment. These guys have been great to work with! My thanks to them and many, many others have worked hard to present this story in the newspaper as well as online. Their unprecedented level of dedication, and cooperation at every level must be appreciated. Thanks to my boss, Deputy Managing Editor Photography, Moe Doiron for being the sensible quarterback throughout this entire process!

Today's is the first installment of the story which will continue over the next two Saturdays. Follow the link below to experience the story as it is presented on globeandmail.com.

globeandmail.com: The Boy in the Moon

There is also now a link to the collection of six videos only.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Juggling with a new skill set

I knew that getting into multimedia presentations of my work was going to be a challenge, and this has certainly been the case.

Figuring out how to use a recorder and incorporate sound into a slideshow was a big enough challenge. I had barely gotten my feet wet with Soundslides, and then came video.

Every day there is something new to learn, and new challenges to overcome.It would be so wrong to say that still photography has become boring, or that I no longer have anything to learn. Or that still photography isn't incredibly strong on its own for that matter! The reason people continue to improve at what they do is to continually strive to improve their various skills, and to learn new ones. To adapt to a changing world.

But by accepting the challenges that multimedia presents, I have an entirely new set of skills to challenge myself. My hope is to take my style of shooting and learn to do similar with a different type of camera.

Admittedly, I have begun to work with video sooner than I expected I would. Perhaps too soon. The elements that make up great multimedia presentations are great visuals(video or still), exceptional sound(voice or ambient), and knowledgeable editing and producing. I knew getting into simple shows with sound and stills combined there would be challenges, and I soon learned that although there is great potential in these shows, the new audio component is what will make, or break them.

AS things progressed at a torrid pace, I felt that the best way to combine the shooting of good images with the collection of good sound, was to begin to learn how to effectively use a HD video camera.

In a few weeks my first real foray into video will be presented on theglobeandmail.com

I'm sure there will be many things about this effort that myself and others will question in the end, but there will be no doubt that I will have learned a ton by time the last piece of this story is published.

I mentioned above that my biggest motivation for shooting video was how it can facilitate the gathering of good sound simultaneously. My largest error during the shooting for this latest piece of work was about forty-five minutes of screwed up sound. And it just had to happen during the most important interview of the entire project. Luckily it was an interview I was able to do again. Had it happened with any other subjects in the story I would not have been able to fix my horrendous mistake.

Here is the issue. Headphones. All I can suggest is that you invest in a good set of earbuds, or headphones....and you wear them. I knew this, and I had my headphones with me. I even had them plugged into the camera. I even went one step further and monitored the interview for the first few minutes. Then, unwisely, I removed them, assuming everything would be hunky-dory. Bad mistake. During the interview something changed, and where originally I had clean sound, there was now an unmistakable noise popping up throughout the interview, and always during the most important moments it seemed. We tried editing out, or around these problems, but the task proved to be unbelievably difficult and time-consuming. There was no other choice but to repeat the interview.

So, having learned a valuable lesson, I tucked my tail between my legs, put on my most apologetic face, and went asking for more of a person's valuable time, and emotional commitment for that matter.

Thanks to the good grace and patience of the interviewee, everything came together, finally, without a hitch. I wore my headphones for the entire interview, and you should too.

We're all going to make mistakes as we explore new ways of telling our stories. It is inevitable, especially when we're tripling the types of media we're gathering. Then take into account the extensive techniques involved in the post-production process and the plethora of possibilities that come with them. Screw-ups are unavoidable, but as long as we continue to learn from our errors, or others, and hopefully never repeat them, the manner in which we will be able to present our stories will be spectacular.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Breaking the rules - my own rules!

I only recently wrote a column for the new NPAC site about multimedia and what it should mean to Canadian photojournalists. The original column can be found here.

[NPAC stands for News Photographers Association of Canada and is the result of the Canadian News Photographers Associations - and Eastern and a Western - combining to form what will hopefully be a stronger, more unified organization.]

In the column I mentioned that through my limited experience with sound, and video to date, the thing that has been most obvious to me is that it is very difficult to shoot both stills and video at the same assignment. I was firm in my belief that if and when I decided to shoot a story on HD Video I would dive in whole hog, and shoot only video. One camera only. That was my intention.

I maintain that mixing the two, stills and video, can be difficult, and perhaps even counterproductive, but yet on my most recent assignment, a large project for The Globe and Mail, I've already broken my own rule.

The project I'm working on at this time, we're actually at the editing stage, will be quite extensive, with plenty of stills, audio, and yes, video. I can't speak of the story except to say that it should be published in the next few weeks(late November or early December).

Since the project is an important one for The Globe and Mail, I initially elected to shoot it only in stills, and to collect some audio. Management was okay with my decision, but I gradually learned that there were some who hoped I might come back with some video for the production as well. After only a short time shooting, and planning for a road trip for the story, it became evident that I might have enough time with some of the subjects to shoot some video. I figured I'd give more video a try if, and only if I was happy with the stills I was getting for the story. At least if I had a camera along I could do some interviews, and control the audio for voice-overs for slideshows, similar to what I had done for the Black Tickle story. The understanding was that we would use video only if I was happy with the visuals, and if I didn't feel comfortable, I wouldn't continue to shoot video. If I got some good footage that would be a bonus, and it might be a good learning experience. The grins from my editors weren't hidden very well as I headed out the door to rent a HD video camera for the trip I had planned.

Two weeks later, after many hours of shooting, my work was compressed into several hundreds of still images, about three hours of miscellaneous audio, and about six hours of HD Video. I stuck to my original plan, and shot video only for my interviews, and only after I was happy with the still images I was getting. I found that shooting video was beginning to really interest me, and I was getting into it far more than I wanted to admit to myself. By the time I finished my last shoot for this assignment last week, I was shooting about 75% of the time on HDV, and very few still images with my MkIIs. What was happening to me?

I have to say that I don't think I am anywhere near ready to switch entirely to HDV - yet.

My level of comfort with the HDV camera has been getting better, but I think that I chose to continue to shoot stills because I know that medium, and I am confident of what my results were going to be. However, as I continue to use the HDV camera I know that it too will become simply a tool in my hands. I will adjust over time to the diferently shaped frame, and the unusual ergonomics of shooting with a video camera. I will also learn how to best make use of the technology to shoot frames that can be used well later as still images, and continue get good quality video and sound for multimedia presentations.

While editing this latest story it has become very obvious to me that my taste still tends toward using my still images as much as I can. But the use of stills in combination with good video and sound can be very powerful, and there is an abundance of techniques that can be employed to enhance a story. The possibilities are very exciting, and I can see myself taking the opportunity again very soon to shoot more video.

This industry is changing, and many photographers will choose to change with it. Managers will have to realize that job descriptions will change as well, as will responsibilities. Work flow is changing just as it did with digital photography. Creating good multimedia stories does not mean a cheap way to add content to websites. If anything, to be done properly, people will have to be trained, and given more time to shoot, as well as edit and produce stories. If the photographers are not doing this work themselves, then production staffs will have to be increased.

There are definitely many challenges ahead for all of us as we begin to embrace what the latest in technology has to offer us.

I've already broken one of my own rules, and tried to shoot stills and video on the same story. I think I've gotten away with it this time, but I still wouldn't recommend it. I've broken my own first rule of creating multimedia, but knowing the way I have worked for the past two decades, my guess is that I will break several more rules yet with a video camera in my hand, instead of a still camera.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

The unspoken contract

This past weekend I teamed up with Globe and Mail ace designer Cinders MacLeod to speak at the World Press Photo 2006 Winning Images exhibit in Toronto.

The speakers series for this exhibit tends to be a rather casual affair, with some in attendance planning their visit to view the fantastic images so they can take in a speaker or two as well.

As with every contest held anywhere in the world, there will always be disagreements with the judges' results, but there is no denying the quality of the winning images, and the efforts made by World Press Photo to have the winning images available for viewing around the world. Thanks to the efforts of the Toronto organizer Lesley Sparks the exhibit has come to Toronto for the past several years.

I appreciated Lesley's invitation to speak, but to say I felt somewhat intimidated speaking in front of some of the worlds best images from last year would be an understatement. But Cinders and I were asked to bring the topic of photojournalism to a more local level and speak about how images make it into our newspapers, or in many cases, do not make it - and of course, some of the reasons why.

As I did that day I will do here, and that is to take the opportunity to explain my feelings about the investment photojournalists make into the images they produce, and the unspoken contract or obligation that many of us feel toward the people whose lives touch us.

Cinders and I spoke of course about the disappointment that everyone feels when good images don't make it to the printed page, or to an organization's website. But I expanded the idea somewhat with a story about a recent conversation I had with an editor at The Globe and Mail.

After an intense week of working on a single multi-media project, pouring through images, and listening to hours of audio, fellow east-coaster, and a keen photo editor, Jayson Taylor looked at me and simply said, with emotion, "I really feel like I know these people."

His comment stopped me cold, and I took the opportunity to share this with him.

Beyond the investment of time and expense, the sacrifices, the risks, and more, that photojournalists endure daily to shed light on every sort of story imaginable, there is also an emotional investment that largely goes unnoticed. Bearing witness, and not just watching, but immersing oneself into stories day to day, can be difficult for anybody, and may even take a toll over the years. But implicit with this is the relationship that develops between journalists and the people whose lives we enter into. This relationship may be forged over long periods of time, or may simply last as long as a single moment of eye contact.

When we work; when we are doing our jobs amid the joy or chaos of other peoples' lives, there is an unspoken trust and understanding that roots itself in the minds of all concerned. As journalists we have an obligation to report in an honest, accurate, and compassionate way, and in the eyes of the people we photograph there is a need to trust that we will do right by them. That we will somehow tell their tale and if it does nothing else, at least it will be an accurate account of this moment in their lives. This is never discussed. Never debated. But as a human being, this is what we owe one another.

So when all of the images have been made and the editing begins some very hard decisions have to be made. Whether it is a business portrait, or a heart-wrenching story, it is always difficult to see your images miss the cut. Editors are used to photographers being upset when this happens, but our disappointment isn't just about our images not getting into print. It isn't just about our egos.

In our minds there is a sense that by failing to get an image the paper, somehow we have let someone down. We are the ones who shake people's hands, demand the ridiculous, smell the stench, and sometimes cry the tears. For the people who give us their time, the ones who might take the extra step to help us make an interesting image, the people who stare up at you from their own suffering, or perhaps the ones whose eyes will never see again, we feel an obligation to tell their story, and to somehow live up to our end of that unspoken contract by getting their story, and their images published.

When this does not happen many of us feel that somehow that we have let someone down.

I know I do.

Sunday, 12 August 2007


As a photojournalist I have been fortunate to have been given opportunities to travel throughout the globe, and to meet some very interesting, and brave people along the way.

I am not the greatest at keeping up relationships with people I meet abroad. This is a skill I wish I were better at. Perhaps one day I'll improve myself in this area, but generally, I always lose touch with friends, colleagues, locals - people I have dined with, drank with, huddled in fear with, laughed with, have been helped by, or who I may have been able to help myself. I have always said that the reason I love my job is because of the people we meet while doing it. It seems that depending on the people we encounter in our journeys it can be the best thing about our work, or sometimes the worst.

Working for a newspaper, we rarely get the opportunity to immerse ourselves in a story overseas. We fly in, do our work, and get out again - hopefully without incident, and with everyone's health intact. It is never easy to witness terrible living conditions, peoples' suffering, fear in every face you see, and the struggle to stay alive amidst disease, or conflict. Like many of my colleagues, I come home to a beautiful suburban home - we even have the picket fence out front - and my beautiful wife, and two amazing children. Life goes on. But always there are special moments when I allow myself, or as is the case today, am forced to think about the people whose lives have intersected with mine if only for a very brief time.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Yesterday the world learned that two journalists - both Canadian - had been the latest victims of the decades-long conflict in Somalia's war-torn capital, Mogadishu.

Mahad Ahmed Elmi, a popular radio talk-show host, was gunned down outside of his office at around 7 a.m.

Later in the day, while returning from his friend Elmi's funeral, where he had spoken with sadness and anger, the founder and co-owner of HornAfrik – Ali Iman Sharmarke – died when his four-wheel drive hit an explosive device in the road.

"It demonstrates the conditions that Somali reporters are working under. The perpetrators want to silence our voices in order to commit their crimes."- Sharmarke

The Reuters story is here.

For eight years Sharmarke reported from the worlds most war-torn city. Like so many Somalis he fled to Canada with his family in 1991, but although he was immensely proud of his adopted country, he returned to his homeland in 1999, and with two friends established Somalia's first independent radio station.

In 2002 the trio were honored by Canadian Journalists For Free Expression.

When I traveled to Mogadishu last fall with reporter Michelle Shephard, for The Toronto Star, Mr. Sharmarke helped to arrange many of the trip's details. Michelle had met him earlier in Toronto, and she says it was because of him that we began looking seriously at doing the trip.

During our short stay in Mogadishu, we met with Mr. Sharmarke on four ocassions. In a shaded area of the HorneAfrik compound, we sat on pillows, and were offered fruit juice to drink, although our hosts were fasting during Ramadan at the time. In that relatively cool, comfortable oasis our conversation revolved around politics, journalism, and even cats. He seemed very pleased to host fellow Canadian journalists who were interested in Somalia's story, and willing to take risks to be there. I made a few images while we spoke, sadly in case something ever happened to any of these brave men. On the way out of the compound, we were shown where a grenade had exploded after being thrown over the compound wall only days earlier. They were generous to wait until after our short break was over. Perhaps our sanctuary from the searing heat, and the potential violence on the streets wouldn't have been so comfortable had we known of the grenade sooner.

Later in the evening we met with Mr. Sharmarke again, and this time his demeanor was completely different. Bluntly he told us that following their coverage of a women's protest of the Islamists' takeover of the port city of Kismayo, in the south, those loyal to the Islamists had closed their station there. The man looked exhausted.

For eight years Mr. Sharmarke had somehow survived the conflict between countless warlords, and most recently between the Islamists and the fragile Ethiopian-backed interim government. This ended yesterday, and as yet nobody has claimed responsibility for his death.

Inside the HorneAfrik office in Mogadishu, there are many inspirational paintings and posters on the wall. One of these is especially representative of the beliefs of Mr. Sharmarke and his brave colleagues. It reads, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

The world has lost two of its journalists, and I can only say that it was an honor to have spent even a short time in the company of one of them.

Saturday, 14 July 2007

Contests, Standards, and Multi-media

This is copied from a post I made on the ECNPA BBS.

I wrote this to address some discussion about contests for multi-media works, as well as the standard of multi-media work currently being done.

First of all I agree that we should have a POY for the MM works being generated, but as far as the points system for the Quarterly MM Contest, I have no issue.

I don't think that ANY clip contest necessarily addresses rewarding a photographer for a single BEST work, but rather is recognition of a collection of work throughout the year, and a demonstration of a consistently high level of performance.

The annual POYs are there to give recognition for SINGLE great photographs, or, multi-media pieces in the near future.

This will, I am sure, be the case with the Quarterly MM Contest. The winner will hopefully have produced a number of quality works during the year, and will have shown a level of consistency. Like in the monthly clips, the judges should be encouraged to award points ONLY when the entries warrant them. If the shows aren't good. Don't give points.

The best works from the year should then stand out during the MM POY.

Our contests are great for getting some recognition, building your reputation, etc. but nobody should be hanging their hats on any one competition. The right way to approach contests, if you enter at all, is to look forward to those judges comments, to get some sense of how you are doing in relation to your peers. Use them to have a fun in-house competitions if you like, if that's what it takes to motivate you.

But in the end, if and when you win, take the pat on the back, the handshake, the cheque of your lucky enough to get one, ....smile, and go make more excellent images.

One final thing about multi-media on the web. Generally I've found that Canadian photographers a pretty high standard of work. Historically, and this doesn't include our dear "wire" friends, our images have only been seen in the pages of our own papers. But now, with everybody jumping onto the web, there is not only a fantastic opportunity to show your work to a global audience, but there is the very frightening prospect of showing some of your worst work to the rest of the world.

I'm as guilty as the next person as far as needing to improve on the quality of the slideshows I'm putting out for consumption, but we all have to be conscious of what we are doing by allowing the standard of our work to decrease as we work out the kinks of multi-media.

Remember the old saying. You're only as good as your last photo. So keep 'em strong, and better yet, convince your managers and editors that quality will still be better than quantity in the long run.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Producing "Recovering with grace"

I recently completed a story on children at Toronto's Bloorview Kids Rehab hospital who were recovering from acquired brain injuries.

The subsequent audio slideshows, in six chapters, is called "Recovering with grace."

The project was shot over a period of about a month. I would say that in all, I spent only about twelve days at the hospital, hanging out with the kids and their families. The amount of freedom and trust I was given at Bloorview was phenomenal! Thank you Louise! and Peter! Of course, the first couple of days I shot very little, and some of the final visits were to get some last missing images, or some audio that I hadn't gotten earlier. But the staff, families, and especially the kids were an absolute joy to be around. When you first walk into a hospital that is filled with children who have disabilities it can be very depressing. But after spending some time at Bloorview, I was quickly inspired by the courage, and the determination of everybody around me. It is not a sad place, but somewhere with a promise of hope to everybody who spends time there.

Thanks to Moe Doiron, I was able to commit the time that was needed to pull this story together in a relatively short time. Thank you! Thank you!

The audio slideshows were put together by Jayson Taylor and myself. He's highly motivated and a hard worker - always eager to learn. It was a great experience working with him! Chris Manza, one of our web gurus, designed the web interface, and worked closely with Joe Weiss all during the production week, to debug Soundslides Plus. As Joe says, Soundslides Plus is "ridiculously easy storytelling" but as we found, for what we wanted to do with it, there was some tweaking to be done. However, those two guys hammered away all week, and got it working smoothly. Chris deserves a ton of credit for his efforts. Everybody was super pleased with the presentation of the story on the web. I didn't even know Chris before this started, and I basically just asked one day, "Can we do something like....?" to which he replied, "Sure. Let's do it!"

We produced the six separate soundslides shows over a four day period. I have to say that the hardest aspect of this new medium is learning how to collect audio. This includes how to get clean sound, how to properly conduct an interview, when to shoot, or not, etc. It's pretty much like a new photographer shooting too much stuff to get one good image. I collected way too much audio, much of it poor, and this made the editing process that much more difficult. Like anything, this skill should improve over time, and the efficiency will improve. I'm hoping that the production time on the next one will be halved.

Right now I'm using an Olympus voice recorder for my audio, with a clip-on mic, or a small fuzzy mic. It's not the best thing for the job, but again, as we do this more, I think we'll progress to some higher quality equipment. In any case, make sure you get your mic away from the recorder. It will make a huge difference in your quality. I'm hoping to be able to use the Edirol R-09 in the future. I've heard some good things about this particular model.

We rolled the stories out over the five day period for two reasons. I knew that one slideshow would be way too long to hold the readers' attention. Still, they could perhaps be shorter individually, but again, it's a learning process. As individual shows, or chapters, I hope they were small enough to be tolerated. Also, as we all know, space in the newspaper is always at a premium, so the easiest way to give a bit of a personal touch to each story was to spread them out. The editors were again great at the Globe, and gave it just enough space to work. I certainly can't complain about the Monday edition and I was very pleased with the job the designer did - all week. Thanks Cinders, and Roger too!

I had to apologize at one point during all of this, because we kind of turned the tables on the writers and didn't bring them onboard until nearly the end. It wasn't planned that way, but that's how it ended up. As it was Hayley Mick was only given a week to play catch-up with me and she did a fabulous job! I've spent my entire career harping about getting photographers involved sooner, and here I go and do just the opposite myself!

Looking back on this, I know there are several areas that can and should be changed next time round. Like I said, it's a learning process.

But as a photographer, I have to say that the entire process of pitching this story, shooting it, editing it, working with editors, the designer, the web gurus, etc. and seeing it finally published in the paper, and on the web, was extremely professional, and satisfying.

As with all of the stories I work on, I hope first and foremost, that I was able to tell a story that is true to the people who allowed me into their lives. We can all best repay their trust, and belief in what we do, with accurate, sensitive story telling.

My work, and the production of it can always improve, but as long as I've been able to tell a story that is important to tell, then perhaps I'm on the right track.

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Don't Shoot the Messenger

I just finished reading another article by David Leeson of the Dallas Morning News on Sportshooter.com .

Unfortunately, it seems that David finds himself defending his views on HDV. It seems that although his work, with stills, and HDV, has been quite successful, and groundbreaking, some people resent his "push" into this new medium.

I have to say, that although I haven't yet picked up a video camera (for work at least), I know that I soon will. I actually find myself somewhat excited by the idea. although I hate to think of the day when I will no longer carry my EOS.

What has happened to prompt David to write this letter I do not know, but I do know that he is a pioneer in an industry that needs pioneers. He has always been successful in our industry, regardless of how he has gathered his images, and I for one, am, and will continue to look to his experience as I delve into this new medium.

The bottom line is that too many photographers, or their organizations are diving into video, and audio slideshows for that matter, without enough research, training, and/or the desire to maintain a high standard. Just look at some of the Soundslides productions we've all been experimenting with of late. How many are filled with images that really merit such a presentation?

We all need to strive to maintain the highest standard we possibly can, no matter which medium we use to collect, and or display our images. David Leeson, agree with him or not, is only helping in this regard.

I'll continue to do what has always worked for me. I'll try to learn from those around me, and I'll try to adapt what I learn to my own environment, and my own assignments. I'll take what I believe in, what works for me, and what will help make my message stronger. Some information I may discard, but not without first considering it. In the end, hopefully, I will be a better visual journalist for it, with a wider range of skills, and a broader audience. I will continue to make still images, but I will also produce "moving" images, and dynamic sound, that should continue to be effective, and hopefully "affective" regardless of the medium they are published in.

If any one wishes to resist progress toward HDV, good for you. That is your choice, but what does it say, when a leader in our industry feels that he needs to defend the fact that he is sharing information that we may all benefit from?

Take it or leave it folks, but don't shoot the messenger.

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Shoot It When You See It

I'm sure many of you out there can relate to this. I was reminded today of some of the images that I have NOT taken in my career.

Oh there are many I have not taken, and many I will hopefully yet take, but what I am referring to are the ones I have seen, but for whatever reason, have fail to stop and explore when first I had the opportunity.

This came to mind today when a request came to the photographers for an image of construction cranes in the city. Doh! There is an image of cranes in Toronto that I have been looking to make for some time now, but the light has just never seemed right. I wanted the image to be what was in my mind, so I held off making the frames. Well today another photographer went off to do the assignment, and I shouted a brief description of the location where I thought a photo might work. What he ended up doing I won't know until tomorrow, but it got me thinking....

Again, on my drive home, I headed up onto the Gardner Expressway from Jarvis Street. I don't know hoe many times I've headed up that same way, with the CN tower splitting the ramp just perfectly. Not a fantastic image, but a good one....and one that is no longer possible because of a new condominium. Another image I will never have, but perhaps should have.

Hopefully I haven't bypassed too many really good images. "Bird Lady," was one of those cases where I did stop, and it was well worth it.

This was another lesson I have learned through the years from some veterans of the business. During my early days at The Star, we would all lay out our "enterprise" images, as 8x10s, or 11x14s if we really wanted to sell it, on a table near the photo editors' desks. I know that on several occasions I would see a print of something I had seen earlier that day, or earlier in the week. It would usually be on the way to something else, and I would put it in my memory, or even into a small notepad I keep ideas in. But not Boris! He would stop more times than not for these little gems, and in so doing, captured more than his share of winners, and taught at least one young photographer a good lesson.

Shoot it when you see it.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

"Occassional" .....and OSX to XP.....

When I named this Blog, I knew I wouldn't be able to update it on a regular basis, so I thought including "Occassional" in the name would be appropriate. Well that was an understatement!

My apologies to any readers, if there are any, who have checked back out of interest, or curiosity, and have not found any updates. I'm hoping that as I fully adjust to the changes in my life - as a result of my move to The Globe and Mail, I'll have a bit more time and energy to write more.

The learning curve for me at The Globe and Mail, has not been steep at all. I'm getting to know more of the editors, and writers, and am adjusting to the system, and how to make the best of it. Boris Spremo taught me years ago, that you have to understand the paper you work for to best make use the space available for stories and single images. I had that down to a science at the Star, and I'm making progress at The Globe and Mail. So far I'm extremely happy with the level of cooperation, the enthusiasm for strong images, and the willingness to allow the photography department to work on stories. All things I'd hoped I would find in my new role, and am being reassured of daily.

I have to admit, that even as a twenty-year veteran of this business, I still found myself thinking differently on my earlier assignments. I fully knew this was not the way to go, and was quickly able to return to my usual approach to making images.

What has been a trial for me, has been the switch from Mac to PC. I knew when I accepted the job offer that we may be heading in that direction, and as with everything new to me I've tried to approach the change optimistically. I still have the Mac that I was originally given, but I've locked it away to force myself to become PC-literate. Twice already I've reverted back to the Mac, while "adjustments" were made to my PC, but I've decided that the only way I'll become proficient on the new machine is to use it. So far so good, and this week has been a good one - technologically speaking, although my work-flow has been slowed somewhat. That is improving with time as well.

It will take some time to fully adjust to the look of the PC, and especially the "quirks" of the filing system and folders. I soooooooo want to install something like
FlyakiteOSX to at least give my PC the Mac appearance, but I know that just will not be allowed. I have to face facts....

I know John Lehmann has been using a PC for years, as have many of our colleagues with the wire services. They seem to have no issues with using PCs so I simply have to get my head around the idea, and push forward. I NEED to get my head around the idea and push forward, because there is no doubt that when the rest of the staffers in Toronto begin making the switch, they will have many, many questions during their first weeks.

The bottom line, as always, is that no matter what type of machine we use to edit, caption, enhance and transmit our images, we first need to concentrate on making strong images. If we're not gathering the effective story-telling images in the first place, it really doesn't matter what other tools we use to get them to the office - as long as we can, and in a timely manner.

For that matter, the same goes for multi-media, video, and slideshows. Everybody is racing to produce all of the above. It doesn't matter how we communicate with our visuals, or what technology we use, but what is in danger of getting lost, is that the images themselves have to remain strong. More on this later.

And not too much later, I promise.

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Week One. A good start at the Globe!

You would think that after working as a photojournalist in Toronto for more than 17 years, going out on assignment would be old hat. Well, as I learned this week, this wasn't exactly the case.

My first day at the Globe was Monday. Once I finished the required paperwork and HR briefings, the rest of the day was spent getting to know my way around the newsroom, and more importantly, beginning to meet the many new men and women I'd be working with in the future. I've been joking that it took me 17 years to get to know "most" of the people at One Yonge Street - The Star - and now I have to start over! It shouldn't be that bad, however, because with some of the recent "trading" of talent between the two major dailies, I already know quite a few of the reporters and editors in the newsroom. Everybody has been very welcoming, and it has been very a very positive experience. I've felt great all week! My fellow staffers, and even some of the regular freelancers at the Globe were great in welcoming me. One photographer - KVP - even returned from the cafeteria with a large smirk, and a tray full of carrot cake for "Pete's first day!" How'd he know I love carrot cake?

We had a small glitch getting my gear, so that was delayed until Tuesday. After taking March break off with my family, and then sitting by while the other photographers were producing images, I was really itching to get started. Amidst a "shopping trip" and all the "niggly" bits that I had to get done, I went looking for a feature picture, finally, late on Tuesday. It was the last few hours of winter, and the eve of spring. The image I came up with was pretty graphic, and unbelievably tongue-in-cheek, but I desperately felt the need to make a picture.

I was chuckling to myself when I saw this on the sidewalk, and even the security guards - three of them - who came outside to discourage my "photography" left me alone when I explained what I was doing. We all had a good chuckle at it.

Needless to say, I didn't submit my first picture at the Globe to the archive, because I really didn't want it to be my first published image in Canada's National Newspaper. That image would wait until the following day, when two Wednesday assignments led to two published photographs on Thursday. One was a pre-budget assignment of Finance Minister Greg Sorbara, and the other an ROB shoot of Toronto Mayor David Miller. For whatever reason, the feelings I had at my first assignment were very different. I think I was actually nervous! But that soon changed when I had to beginning making pictures, and I'm sure all will be normal from here on in.

It was nice, but weird, bumping into a Star colleague at my first assignment, and I believe Rick has images of me doing my thing for the competition. If not doing my thing, then perhaps just getting my bald bean in his way!

On Wednesday evening I was supposed to attend the Star's going-away party for CJ who has also decided to leave there and join the growing staff at the Globe. I ended up getting there late, and only staying a short time, but I was happy to make it at all.

Late in the afternoon an out of town assignment came up that a couple of us jokingly volunteered for. I certainly had no thoughts of traveling any time soon, and certainly not during my first week! Eventually the assignment became a go, and I was asked if I could travel "next week." Nice of them to ask so nicely, I thought, and as usual Kathleen was terrific about making things work at home, and encouraging me to take the assignment. As is often the case in our industry, next week became tomorrow, and tomorrow became "can you leave tonight?" Well. Yes. Of course. One editor in particular was very excited to get me out the door. (You know who you are!) And I quipped, "The last time I saw that look on his face I ended up in Mogadishu!"

Getting me out the door, at the last minute, and not exactly fully kitted-out for the road took some doing from a number of folks, but with a few late departures from the office and some seriously good tech help from one home, I was on my way. It's amazing how one gets used to a certain work-flow, and adjusting to a new one will still take a few more days to "refine," but we got me to the point where I could get the job done, and the guys in the office could work with what I provided.

So the remainder of my week was spent doing a ton of traveling, and a small amount of shooting, for what is, I believe a really good story, published in Saturday's Globe and Mail. It was a good call by the team on Front Street, and I'm happy it worked out the way it did.

I'll speak more about this trip in my next post.

So. Week One at the Globe and Mail is in the books. So far I like the environment. I like the general attitude. And I like very much the co-operation amongst co-workers, and the product that's being produced. It has been a very promising beginning, and I'm looking forward to many more weeks, months, and years of the same.

Tuesday, 13 March 2007

This time of change....

It's interesting that during this unbelievable time of transition (and emotion) for me, I woke up this past Saturday, feeling absolutely great about everything in my life. What a way to start a day!

The previous Thursday night my co-workers in the photo department at the Star held a going-away party for me. It was great to see everybody there, including the many reporter-friends, editors and imaging friends who came out to pass along their best wishes. Thanks also to some of the other Toronto-area photographers who came out.

After the emotional roller-coaster of the previous week, I told myself I wouldn't get upset. There is sadness in leaving, but I have great opportunities ahead at the Globe and Mail. However, as expected, the beers, and the tears were flowing, and I think that everybody there who knows me well, would have been surprised if either were absent.

I've tried to make this change in my life wisely, and with grace. I have not wanted to leave behind any animosity, or harsh feelings. Anything remotely resembling these would be a betrayal of the great friends, excellent co-workers, super opportunities, and wonderful success that I have had at The Star these many years. This is a move of opportunity, and change - both of which will serve me, and my family well.

Fast forward now to Saturday afternoon - I'm feeling awesome, and speeding toward Belleville with two great friends. We're on our way to the 20th Anniversary Gala of the Photojournalism Program at Loyalist College. Twenty years already. It's hard to imagine.

The evening was planned and executed in fine style by the students at the college. It was a night I would not have missed for the world! I would have liked to have seen more of my original classmates, but I hope that those who I did see were as happy to see me, as I them!

In addition to the student awards presented that evening, (congratulations to all, and good luck!), the program's founder, Dr. John Peterson, received an award of appreciation and thanks that he has been long due, There are many of us who owe him much for his vision and determination over twenty years ago. As well, other long-serving members of the staff and advisory committee were also recognized, during an official program that saw humour, gafs, serious reflection, and some funny photo-ops.

Thanks to my friend and colleague, Steve Russell, it was decided that this year it would be fitting to present the President's Cup for the ECNPA's Photographer of the Year during this reunion. I have not won this award since 1994, when, as everybody loves to say, I had more hair! Many Loyalist grads and other talented photographers have taken this cup home over the years, but it has eluded me for a long time. Michael Lea, long-time clip chairman, and talented Whig photographer/reporter made a great presentation, and it was a pleasure to receive the cup from him in front of that gathering. Thanks again. I cannot think of a more suitable place to receive such an honour, especially for me at this time, than at the school, and with the people, who were so influential in my career at the very beginning.

So what a time this has been! A very tough decision. A sad good-bye. A joyful reunion. And all the while constantly reminded of the good fortune I have had over many years of being surrounded by knowledgable mentors, great friends, and generous colleagues.

Kathleen and my children have been strong through all of this. Patience and guiding words have been there from the start, and their support is unwavering. This March Break week off together will give us an opportunity to reinforce to the kids that this career change for me will not change their lives dramatically. That they are still secure in every way, shape and form. Kathleen remains determined to overcome her own challenges, and will continue to be a skilled, and valued member of the library staff at One Yonge Street. It will be strange not working in the same building.

Next Monday I start my new job. I can't wait! Like everything in life there will be challenges, but I expect to meet them with patience and the same determination that has brought me to this point already. In all the years I have preached about bringing one's skills to the table, contributing in a positive manner, and participating in the entire news-gathering process, there has been no time where this has been more important than it will be during the coming months and years.

Wednesday, 28 February 2007

Mammoth Career Decision

Yesterday was one of the hardest days I've had in many, many years!

In a matter of a few short minutes I accepted a job offer from the Globe and Mail Newspaper, and handed in my resignation to the Toronto Star. In a snap, the decision I had been losing sleep over had become a reality!

My emotions were all over the map. I was terrified, but very excited at the same time. But despite everything I was very confident that the long thought-out decision I had made was the right one for me, and my family at this time.

I've been at The Toronto Star for just under 17 years! I have made many dear friends and colleagues, and I am a better person for the considerations that people have shown me througout. I will miss them all, but the Globe isn't too far away, and I know that the bonds I have made will continue.

There are things I want, and need to say to my colleagues in the extremely talented photo department at The Star, and to my reporter friends that I have worked so closely with in every situation imaginable. But I think these are best said in person. They should all know that I cherish them all immensely, and I hope they will someday understand my choice, and wish me luck. I can only hope for them that they all continue to have success in their careers and personal lives.

The next two weeks will be very strange and difficult indeed as I complete my time at One Yonge. As always I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and already I have been on the edge of losing it several times. Saying good-bye will be difficult indeed.

On March 19th I will work my first shift at the Globe and Mail, and that is very exciting. Now that my decision is done, I am looking forward to working with a great new goup of photographers, editors, and writers. I'm sure that the friendships I have made already will grow, and new ones will be forged through new experiences. I'm looking forward to new challenges and opportunities to participate in some great journalism. I am confident that this next stage of my career will be as fullfilling and successful as the last 17 have been.

Monday, 19 February 2007

Hamilton Snowfall - Test Post

It looks like the weather in southern Ontario is on the verge of warming up again. After waiting, it seems for a long time for winter to arrive, we finally got a dumping of snow that folks in Hamilton will not soon forget.

Last Tuesday the snow started falling here - lake effect snow in Hamilton, coming off Lake Ontario - which doesn't freeze over in winter. By the afternoon on Tuesday I had already shovelled my driveway twice, and according to weather forecasters, the winter storm sysytem hadn't yet reached us!

By Wednesday morning we were in full winter storm mode, and before the storm would be over, forecasters would be reporting a total of 75cm of new snow in the Hamilton area.

Like many of my neighbors, I had to dig out my vehicle before being able to start work. Both of the cars in my drive were door-handle deep in snow, and nearly covered with the drifts. For three hours I shovelled, but took a break every hour or so to warm up, and to send some storm pictures (via FTP) to my office. My neighbor was surprised to learn that an image of her shovelling was on the front of thestar.com throughout most of the day, but she didn't mind.