I Photographed My First New Orleans Saints Game 40 Years Ago

Friday night will be the 40th anniversary of photographing my first New Orleans Saints football game. Here are some words about my first one:

New Orleans Saints kicker Russell Erxleben (14) and holder/backup quarterback Ed Burns (14) celebrate their last second field goal that beat the Houston Oilers, 10-7. ©Photo by Chuck Cook

The summer of 1979 was after my freshman year at The University of Southern Mississippi where a few months before, I changed my major from art to photojournalism. I had been a yearbook photographer in high school and at USM, but for some stupid reason I thought I wanted to be a commercial artist. Life sometimes corrects a bad decision. 

That summer I took a job at the Slidell (La.) Sentry-News where I was relegated to processing film for the full-time photographer and shooting American Legion baseball games at night. I was shooting baseball direct-flash with a Canon AE-1 and a huge Honeywell strobe. It sucked, but it didn’t matter: I was a sports photographer. The summer was like this most days, making very little money and getting few opportunities to make good photos, but on the last week on the job, that changed. 

I found out from the sports editor, Kevin Cheri, that they had a season credential to New Orleans Saints games that no one was going to use. I eagerly scooped it up and got ready for the game.  

Game day was Friday, August 24, four days before my 19thbirthday. I had the AE-1 and a “power winder” that would let the camera shoot about two frames per second. The only lens I had was a 50 mm, so I left early for the game and rented a 200 mm, f/4 lens from a local camera store. I made it to the Louisiana Superdome where I was frozen in awe of what and where was happing. Out on the field were the Saints players I only admired from my television like Archie Manning, Tony Galbreath and Wes Chandler. They were playing the dang Houston Oilers with Earl Campbell and coached by the legend, Bum Phillips.   

I don’t remember much from the game, but it came down to a game-winning field goal attempt by the Saints rookie, first-round draft pick, Russell Erxleben. I was on the Saints sidelines, lined up a little behind the kicker when Erxleben kicked the ball from the hold of backup quarterback Ed Burns. The kick was good, time ran out and the Saints won, 10-7 (so typical). 

©Jerry Lodriguez

I didn’t soup my film until Monday and found a decent image that I thought I might have had: Erxleben and Burns, arms up, celebrating the winning kick. The only problem was one that haunts me to this day: Ref Butt. Alas, I didn’t move far enough to my right to eliminate the referee from the picture. I still thought it good frame, considering it was my first NFL game. The idea was confirmed when I saw Jerry Lodriguez’ photo of the same moment, without the referee. His experience told him the right spot to be for the kick and his picture won the NFL Hall of Fame photo contest that year. Jerry was a wonderful mentor and one of the best sports photographers ever, anywhere – period. 

I’d have to wait four years for my next Saints game in August of 1983 while at my new, full-time job with The Times-Picayune. I made a frame of Saints wide receiver Jeff Groth about to make a catch with a Jets defensive back stretched out, diving to make a play. The photo ended up winning a national third place in the NPPA monthly clip contest. 

New Orleans Saints wide receiver and New York Jets defensive back Bobby Jackson vie for a pass, Friday, Aug. 26, 1983. ©Photo by Chuck Cook

I’ve photographed too many Saints games to remember. I do remember that at times, especially during the mid 1980s, our picture editor had to practically beg photographers to go to a game because they knew the Saints were awful and they were playing another awful team (Tampa Bay). They eventually started winning and we started traveling to road games, which was cool. I may be the only photographer who have photographed them on three continents. One last thought as I get ready for Friday night’s game: Thank God for auto-focus and indoor stadiums.

Prayers and Praise for Boston Photojournalists

A screen grad of a photojournalist pulling back a barricade after the Boston Marathon bombing.

A screen grab of a photojournalist pulling back a barricade after the Boston Marathon bombing.

Yesterday, I think that I saw all the images of the Boston Marathon bombing by Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki and by several Associated Press photographers. They were striking, to say the least. Then I watched the Boston Globe video of the first explosion, and you can see Tlumacki in action, along with several other photojournalists, doing their job as professionally as they can in such circumstances.

Then this morning, while drinking my first cup of coffee watching the morning news, I saw something that I missed yesterday. Seeing some video of the mayhem just after the first explosion near the finish line, I saw a photojournalist reaching out his right hand to pull back some of the scaffolding that kept spectators from the race course, that was not keeping them from receiving aid (see photo above). He was wearing blue jeans and a dark jacket, one cameras around his neck and two on his left shoulder, which freed his right hand for pulling back the barricade. You couldn’t see whether or not he was wearing an official media-issued credential bib, it may have been covered my his jacket. I have no idea who he is, maybe you do.

For someone like myself, who covered hundreds of fires, wrecks, plane crashes and floods, it’s easy to understand how a photojournalist can get caught up in the moment and think only of the pictures. We are trained that telling the story, sharing it with the world, will do the most good for all mankind. It’s also easy to understand how a photojournalist can stop and help, knowing that an act of compassion could save a life. The National Press Photographers Association’s Humanitarian Award is given to honor extraordinary examples of heroic action by photojournalists. Nearly 50 photojournalists or groups have been honored with the award since 1985.

I also remember, from some years ago, a story in New Photographer magazine about a newspaper photographer who was officially reprimanded by an editor for helping a firefighter pull fire hose toward a burning house that he was there to photograph. What a shame, I thought, that an editor could dictate the depth of our compassion. Who hasn’t pulled hose at a fire or carried an oxygen tank for a paramedic.

My first exposure to mass trauma was in 1982, as a 21-year-old intern at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans. On the afternoon of July 9, a Pan Am jet with 145 people on board crashed into a neighborhood near the New Orleans airport killing all on board and eight more people on the ground. Nearly all the photographers on staff, more than 15 of us at the time, spent some time at the crash site. Access to the scene in those days was incredible, especially compared to today’s standard. I recall a policeman telling me as I walked through the subdivision where houses had been wiped from their slabs, “Stay on the street and watch that you don’t step on body parts.”

The next morning, I was walking around the crash site and accidentally stepped in an ant hill. I threw my gear down and commenced to slapping ant from my shoes and legs. When I looked up, another photographer was taking pictures of me. He turned out to be a young Stan Grossfeld, a staffer with the Boston Globe. He was already a rock star in the photojournalism world and later would win two Pulitzer prizes for photography. He’s covered human suffering in times of war and famine all over the world.

After that plane crash tragedy, we Times-Picayune photographers talked among ourselves about what we saw and photographed. We drank and made jokes. As the days past, the story and images faded away in our minds, replaced by others. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the personal nature of the tragedy had a much deeper effect on some of our photographers. Some lost everything they owned. All  had hardships, but minimal loss. Others carried on like any other day at the plant. One thing I learned after Katrina is that trauma effects people differently, and it even effects experienced photojournalists.

The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University says that 86-100% of journalists will witness trauma in their careers. They go on to say that some journalists exposed traumatic events appear vulnerable to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric symptoms.

So I say to the Boston photojournalists and all you photojournalists effected by trauma – find someone to talk too. Grossfeld is still in the Globe newsroom. The Dart Center is a click away. Get a cup of coffee with a trusted friend. Tlumacki said in an interview yesterday with Time Lightbox, “I was so shook up about it — I was speechless when I was there [on scene]. My eyes were swelling up behind my camera. We use a camera as a defense but I was shaken when I got back, just scanning the pictures.”

There is no shame in having a soft heart, John Tlumacki. Prayers and praise to you and the other photojournalists in Boston.

Of Catfish…

38th annual World Catfish Festival, April 6, 2013, at Belzoni, Miss.

I’ve kicked off my personal project on the culture of catfish that will become part of my master’s degree at the University of Southern Mississippi. This past weekend, I photographed the 38th Annual World Catfish Festival in Belzoni, Miss., about and hour and a half northeast of Jackson. It’s about time that I started this project that I’ve talked about so long.

My photographs will be like my fish fry recipe: The way I like it. You may not like what I see or say, but it will be truth as I saw it. This project will be an honest portrayal of the food, economy, recreation and history of catfish in the South. And, it will be from my perspective.

I’ll soon be starting a new blog, all about catfish, or at least about the culture around catfish. I plan to journey to catfish festivals near and far; see the netting, angling and noodling of catfish and convey the importance of this ugly creature to Southern culture.

Here are a few of my photographs from Saturday in Belzoni.

Photo of the Year Causes Debate, and That’s Always Good

paul-hansen

The photograph above by Swedish Dagens Nyheter photographer Paul Hansen has been selected as the World Press Photo of the Year 2012.

A great debate has flared in the world of photojournalism about the World Press Photo of the Year. The photograph, above, was taken by Swedish Dagens Nyheter photographer Paul Hansen. It’s a most, powerful image showing a funeral procession in Gaza City, with men carrying the bodies of two children and the body of their father trailing just behind them.

Hansen's photo as it was published in his newspaper on November 21, 2012

Hansen’s photo as it was published in his newspaper on November 21, 2012

Santiago Lyon, vice president and director of photography for The Associated Press,was chairman of the jury, and said the winning photo worked powerfully on many levels.

“I’ve always maintained that a successful photograph should reach you on at least one of three planes,” he said during a telephone interview with the New York Times Friday morning. “Those planes would be your head, your heart and your stomach, and I think this picture works on all three. So when we were looking at it in those final stages, we found it to be very powerful on all three levels, and very layered and very complex, but at the same time very simple and very direct.”

The (mostly online) debate is about how much post-processing was done on the photograph and whether or not it is acceptable in the world of photojournalism ethics.

Lyon said the jury carefully examines the winning images for post processing. He said they decided Hansen’s photo was “within the acceptable industry parameters.” He added: “Everybody has different standards about these sorts of things, but as a group we felt that it was O.K.”

You can see two different examples of the images, next to each other, on the photographer’s Flickr page. The top image is the one submitted to the World Press Photo contest and the bottom image is the one published in his newspaper on November 21, 2012. To me, the tonal quality of the lower image looks like a jpeg from one of my cameras, with a slight amount of post processing in Photoshop. The top image has softer highlights and full tone range in the shadow areas. This image reminds me of the technique of a high dynamic range image made by using a RAW image. Anyone can do this, as long as they shoot on RAW. I feel it is subtle, and in no way changes the content or context of the image.

Remember, we went from using a 4×5 negative in the 1940s to a 2¼ inch one in the 50s to a 35mm in the 70s. Each time we lost part of the tonal range of the film, unless we tried to be Ansel Adams and made photojournalism images using his zone system (which, by the way, was impossible with 35mm film). A high dynamic range photo has more detail in the highlights and shadows and can be acceptable in photojournalism as long as it is not over-done. The zone system accounted for 11 tonal zones, but our eyes see even more. Our eyes see into the shadow and highlight areas, much like Hansen’s contest image, which I have no ethical objection too.

Debates often bring clarity to subject matter and opens minds to different ways of thinking. What’s your opinion of this photograph?

How to Market Yourself With Instagram

Screen shot 2013-02-20 at 11.01.58 AM

My sons posing as a tree while standing on a fresh stump at the University of Southern Mississippi following an EF-4 tornado. (From my Instagram account: @c_cook_photo)

Almost all of us professional photojournalists have an Instagram account, and some of us actually use it. But how and why we use it has always been a contrast between fun and work. Most of us, just like the rest of the world, use Instagram to share photos of our family, pets and breakfast. Some of us use Instagram to share our work photos, or at least the out-takes and behind-the-scenes shots that don’t seem appropriate to publish.

There is another way to use Instagram: Market yourself.

That’s right. You can use Instagram to market your work and it can pay dividends (and mortgage payments) down the road.

Here are some suggestions on how to get started marketing your professional photography on Instagram:

Follow others photographers and comment on their photographs. Use the search function within Instagram to find other photographers whose work you like. Then go to their profile and see whom they follow. You will be caught in a snowball effect and the number of photographers you follow will grow. You can always un-follow them later if you like. Instagram is a social media community, so be social. Comment on their photographs that strike your fancy, begin a dialogue.

Interact with your own followers. Some people write an essay or steal a poem to accompany a photo they upload to Instagram. I think that by asking a question, you will get more comments on your photos. Any time you get a comment, you should respond in some way. Once again, social media is social.

Shamelessly self-promote. Share your best work, and then make sure that the followers know that you are a professional photographer for hire. Your profile should contain your email and website so that potential clients can find you and hire you. Photo editors and art directors will find you if your photos have impact.

Be active. Post a good photo every day if you can. Go into your archives if you like, but be an active Instagram user. You can also link your Instagram to your Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and Tumblr accounts. These are all free platforms that do not take a computer programmer to master. You never know which one will get you discovered. Get involved all the way.

Any more, please make suggestions.

Great Graphic: The Tech Takeover of Professional Photojournalism

This citizen journalism photo taken with a cell phone by Stefanie Gordon aboard a passenger flight from New York to Palm Beach, Fla. shows the space shuttle Endeavor as it streaks toward orbit shortly after liftoff Monday May 16, 2011. Gordon says she had just awakened from a nap on the flight when the pilot announced the shuttle might come into view.

This citizen journalism photo taken with a cell phone by Stefanie Gordon aboard a passenger flight from New York to Palm Beach, Fla. shows the space shuttle Endeavor as it streaks toward orbit shortly after liftoff Monday May 16, 2011.

On Monday morning, May 16, 2011, Stephanie Gordon of Hoboken, N.J., was napping on her flight to Florida when the voice of the pilot awakened her that the space shuttle may be seen from the window of the plane. Gordon, grabbed her cell phone and took several photos and some video of the shuttle Endevor breaking through the clouds, heading into outer space. Once on the ground, she tweeted the photo.

Hours later, her photo had been seen by hundreds of thousands of people through twitter and the Associated Press paid her and disseminated the photo around the world.

The graphic below makes reference to the photo and the power of social media. Did you know that the iPhone (3, 4, 4s, and 5) are the most popular cameras being used by people who upload photos to Flickr? What you should pay attention to is this quote: “The modern media consumer seems to demand that less attention be paid to the craft. A great photograph is still a great photograph, but a good photograph immediately dispersed through Twitter wins the day.” This is from Cord Jefferson of the blog, Good Technology.

As a photojournalist, this is not news. Almost all of us know about sharing photos on twitter and Instagram, the problem is who is going to pay us for this? A good photograph dispersed through twitter pays you exactly nothing. Stephanie Gordan was reportedly paid $500 by the AP for her shuttle photo. We all have to learn how to use social to monetize our work, market ourselves and stay ahead of the next guy. Giving your photos away on social media is not the way to making a living.

120216PeoplesTechTakeover

Graphic by: Frugaldad.com

My Students, My Future

Lea and Kristin Thornton walk through the remains of Ace Hardware of Petal on Monday after a tornado destroyed the property on Sunday afternoon.

Lea and Kristin Thornton walk through the remains of Ace Hardware of Petal on Monday after a tornado destroyed the property on Sunday afternoon. (Photo by Kelly Price)

As I was driving west on Lincoln Road Sunday afternoon, minutes after a tornado roared through Hattiesburg, my cell phone rang. It was a call from one of my photojournalism students, Jana Edwards, who told me that she was near the University of Southern Mississippi campus making pictures of the destruction. I told her to meet me at the student newspaper office as soon as I could get there.

I was already stringing for the Associated Press, and had a few images before total darkness set in. I was headed to my office on foot when a call from a second student came in. This time it was Kelly Price, the senior yearbook editor, calling. She too had photos around and on campus of the destruction.

newjana

The ABC News website featuring USM Photojournalism student Jana Edwards’ photo of tornado damage near the campus.

Kelly took her pictures to the local newspaper, The Hattiesburg American, since she is an intern there. The newspaper and its website have published many of her photos. She has also been posting photos on her blog. Jana met me at The Student Printz office where she watched as I sent three of my images to the AP, then sent four of hers. A couple of her photos got lots of play online at news websites like ABC News, New York Daily News, and USA Today.

I commend both of these young photojournalists who had the instincts to grab a camera and run out of their doors into the evening and make pictures. They didn’t wait until someone ordered them out and they didn’t stay in their apartments watching TV coverage. They stepped boldly out and became professional photojournalists covering big-time spot news. Good job.

I fairly sure that I had other students out in the streets of Hattiesburg. I’ll find out when classes resume next week. I love shooting, but I also love teaching. The greatest reward as a teacher is seeing being able to see lectures, conversations and mentoring manifest into real results. You have all made me proud.

The power of Beyonce and Kanye

Beyonce performs during the half time show at Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans. (Photo by Chuck Cook)

This past week, it was reported that Getty Images twice removed images from their sales site that were deemed unfit by entertainment industry stars or their handlers.

Here is the chronology:

Sunday, Feb. 3: Beyonce performs at the Super Bowl XLVII halftime show.

Monday, Feb. 4: It’s reported on multiple entertainment industry websites that Kanye West asks Getty Images to remove photos from their website of him performing at the 12-12-12 benefit concert in NYC. He chose to perform that night wearing a skirt.

Tuesday, Feb. 5: Beyonce’s publicist writes a letter to the celebrity news website Buzzfeed asking them to remove unflattering photos of her performing at the Super Bowl halftime show. Instead, Buzzfeed prints the letter and more unflattering photos of Beyonce. All the photos were credited to Getty Images.

Thursday, Feb. 6: Getty Images removes at least five of the images from its website.

Beyonce walks out of the Super Dome playing field after her half time performance at Super Bowl XLVII Feb 3, 2013, in New Orleans. Photo shot at 1/15 sec. with a 600mm lens. (Photo by Chuck Cook)

Now, from a pure photojournalism aspect, Getty had no obligation to remove any of these photos. They were taken during the course of the Super Bowl and no photographer or agency had to sign a contract giving any prior or post consent dealing with restrictions on photos taken at the event. They were fair, un-manipulated, and factually portrayed the performance.

To my knowledge, it has not been reported that any other picture agency or photographer has been asked to remove their unflattering photos of Beyonce. The Associated Press, Reuters, USA Today Sports Images, and others all have photos of Beyonce’s halftime performance on their websites for sale. Some, as you would image, are identical to the ones Getty removed.

So what was the motivation of Getty to remove the pictures? My guess is that if you look at it from a purely business standpoint it was the right move. Getty has won or paid for the right to be the official or house photo agency at many New York and Hollywood award shows, parties and entertainment industry events (not to mention sports leagues and Olympic games). They’ve earned this access by working with the entertainment industry, not against them. The access and reputation that they have achieved is both profitable to them and to the industry that they cover.  It was good PR for Getty, the entertainer’s publicists and the entertainer.

They didn’t take down the Kanye West photos until about 10 weeks after the event and the Beyonce images were for sale and for subscribers to download for several days.  Good PR is hard to purchase, but I think Getty saw a chance at some good corporate PR at the cost of future sales. Past sales are already in the bank.

From a pure photojournalism perspective, it seems unconscionable to have photos censored, for any reason or by any party. As long as they were legally obtained and don’t portray something that didn’t take place, they were fair to publish. The Getty Images Corporation operates in a realm few people can imagine, especially me.

Working the Hattiesburg Tornado, the Old and New

Hattiesburg MS tornado
Charlie Ramp salvages guns from his damage home in Hattiesburg, Miss., Monday, February 11, 2013. A tornado damaged the area Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Chuck Cook)

Sunday afternoon, I was sitting at this here same computer writing a blog entry about some Super Bowl nonsense, when the second tornado warning of the day came over the television. Switching to the local news. I saw the radar image and was concerned. They then switched to their live cam from a car dealership in West Hattiesburg and there it was. Tornado on the ground. I shut the computer down, packed it up and told the family that I would return later (we live about 5 miles south of the west-east path of the storm).

I grabbed the only camera I had at home with the only lens. A Nikon D7000 with a 28-70, f2.8 would have to do. You see, I shot a basketball game Saturday afternoon and decided to leave my other gear in my office at the University of Southern Mississippi. That’s the new me, a bit less worried about having a camera with me at all times. I have a cell phone camera like everyone else, but never considered using it. I made several photos Sunday evening, using the camera pop-up flash for fill and made it to my office to file some photos to the Associated Press. One of my photojournalism students, Jana Edwards, called me and had photos also. I also sent her photos to the AP, where they ran in many online news sites. Way to go Jana.

I spent all day yesterday shooting tornado aftermath for the AP. I checked in with Robert Rhoden, my old boss at The Times-Picayune, because it felt natural, even though I haven’t worked there for three years. It felt invigorating to be back shooting and competing with the other photojournalists, both local (Ryan Moore, Bryant Hawkins and Matt Bush) and out-of-towners (James Bates, Sean Gardner, Rogelio Solis, John Fitzhugh). For those who don’t know it, photojournalism is a competition. Score is kept by counting eyeballs on photos, especially during spot-news situations. It sounds devilish, but that’s one thing that drives us. If you’re not a competitive person, don’t become a photojournalist who covers news. Deadlines and technology have changed, but the ego-stroking of sharing your experiences though photographs never gets old. Weening myself from it has proved to be futile.

Social media (twitter, Facebook, Instagram and blogs) fuel the dissemination of images today. More eyeballs and more stroking. One day, I will get more involved, if I deem it necessary for my own ego.

Special thanks and blessings to all the tornado victims that I met the last two days. God bless the Pierce brothers, Charlie Ramp, Joe Riley, Heather Taylor and the lady at the Ward’s building who I didn’t photograph Sunday evening because I knew she wouldn’t like to be photographed the way she was dressed. I never had anyone tell me that they didn’t want their picture taken, even though I was a stranger invading their space at such a difficult time. Thank you all. It has not always been that way for me in the past. Mississippi has special people, no doubt.

Here are some of my photos, and remember to keep the victims in your prayers.

Family friend Susan Hrostowski comforts brothers Michael and Colin Pierce at what is left of their parents home in Hattiesburg, Miss., Monday, February 11, 2013, after a tornado damaged the house Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Chuck Cook)

Family friend Susan Hrostowski comforts brothers Michael and Colin Pierce at what is left of their parents home in Hattiesburg, Miss., Monday, February 11, 2013, after a tornado damaged the house Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Chuck Cook)

Joe Riley takes a photo off the wall of his niece and nephew of his damaged home in Hattiesburg, Miss., Monday, February 11, 2013. A tornado damaged the area Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Chuck Cook)

Joe Riley takes a photo off the wall of his niece and nephew of his damaged home in Hattiesburg, Miss., Monday, February 11, 2013. A tornado damaged the area Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Chuck Cook)

Colon Pierce, in green, hand his brother, Shannon, a photo they salvaged from their parents home in Hattiesburg, Miss., Monday, February 11, 2013. A tornado damaged the area Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Chuck Cook)

Colon Pierce, in green, hand his brother, Shannon, a photo they salvaged from their parents home in Hattiesburg, Miss., Monday, February 11, 2013. A tornado damaged the area Sunday afternoon. (AP Photo/Chuck Cook)

This is one of the photos I shot with my pop-up flash. I tell my students that they are not worth using, but when it’s all that you have, you have to use it.

An overturned car lies in front of the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg, Miss., after a possible tornado Sunday, February 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Chuck Cook)

An overturned car lies in front of the University of Southern Mississippi campus in Hattiesburg, Miss., after a possible tornado Sunday, February 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Chuck Cook)

Not to belittle the tragedy that it was, but did they have to throw away all that Blue Bell?

A grocery store worker throws Blue Bell ice cream into a dumpster after electricity at the store was cut off due to the tornado.

A grocery store worker throws Blue Bell ice cream into a dumpster after electricity at the store was cut off due to the tornado.