Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Pittsburgh G20 Summit...My story. Part Two

So Thursday finally arrived and it was showtime! I woke earlier than normal, downed a banana and some OJ and started my drive into downtown. Traffic was extremely light and it was apparent very quickly that most of the people who worked in the city had stayed home to work from their laptops, mow their lawns or just take some time off. I arrived at the Mellon Arena and parked after trying to give a very surly parking lot attendant a twenty dollar bill at 7AM. I never get why they should be mad a me when I give them legal currency...I DIDN'T set the parking rates!

Security checkpoint was interesting. We had to pass through a metal detector after emptying our pockets. Unlike the airport, I was able to leave my watch and shoes on. My equipment bags were checked by TSA, Border Patrol, and Secret Service people and a bored German Shepherd. I must say, even though there were many people and camera bags to sift through they were very professional, treated the equipment with kid gloves and were gentle handling all my thousand dollar tools. I wish that crew worked at every airport. After checkpoint we loaded into a motorcoach complete with Secret Service agent riding shotgun to assure there would be no funny stuff. I made a comment that the agent's Revo sunglasses were the same ones that I had. Of course, I wasn't wearing mine since it was still DARK outside...The agent grunted something without cracking a smile. So much for any conversation...she was clearly on the case.

We rode quietly into downtown and viewed the empty streets, high steel barricades, National Guard on every corner, and more black SUVS with tinted glass than I could count. I felt like I was on a movie set of some sci-fi flick, but this was the real deal.

Upon entering the Convention Center I started looking around for interesting angles and interesting things happening. The outside of the Center was shrouded in gray soup clouds and fog. No beautiful morning sun light was going to take place, much to my disappointment. I set up camp on the first floor media room. It was an ugly room that had been converted to a media center with tables, internet connection, large screen monitors to watch CNN (I'm more of a Fox news person but I didn't think anyone was about to change channels for me), and a small lunch counter. Also along one wall was a riser for TV crews to do shots of their reporters with the anticipated 1500 media spaces on the tables filled in the background. I sat next to some writers from Canada and they were fun to speak to and I shared some Pittsburgh hospitality guiding them where I thought they would enjoy dinner and drinks that evening. Right behind me, KDKA's political reporter, Jon Delano was holding court and stayed busy gathering info and doing interviews. Eventually Jon would even get to ask President Obama a question during the final briefing. I thought it was great that the Prez would call on a local reporter along with his trusty White House Press Staff.

The remainder of Thursday was spent mostly photographing media who was photographing and interviewing media. Most reporters as well as photographers were quite bored, for there just wasn't much going on and the entourages from around the world had yet to arrive. I did get some strong photos of the Center with people in the foreground, shots out the beautiful windows, and many media in action photos on the balcony where all the networks had set up to do live shots. Most of their cameras were pointed towards the "Golden Lady" bridges and PNC Park. However, I noted on my Twitter page, that some European crew had pointed their camera towards the ugly rusted brown and black rail road bridge that runs from the Amtrak station across the Allegheny. I wanted to say something to them, but fearing an international incident...I kept my mouth shut.
My client, an international architectural firm was mostly interested in seeing their building in use with lots of people and photos that showed media technology, so I had to incorporate the building in my shots whenever I could. Though I did leave the Convention Center for a bit in the afternoon to get an obligatory protester photo. The Tibetans were angry at China in a peaceful march on Liberty Avenue, so I shot that for about 10 minutes and quickly got bored of all the screaming and drama. Apparently, nobody told all the protesters that the China delegation was still sitting in their 747 sipping tea, or whatever it is that they drink. One thing for sure was that no delegate member ever saw a single protester for two days. The worst part about going outside was that meant me walking back to the Mellon Arena and going through security again and taking another bus ride back to the Convention Center to regain access. But by then, the sun had broke through the clouds and it was nice just to get some fresh air.

It was fun talking to a few photographers that I knew. Ran into Post Gazette shooters, Steve Mellon and Bob Donaldson, former assistant Steve Dietz, and makeup artist, Patty Bell who is ALWAYS working wherever there is something cool going on. Patty was working for the Eurovision crew and looked as bored as everyone else. We spent time swapping family stories and social media ideas. We both are seeing payoffs from the heavy social media time we've been putting in and it was interesting to compare ideas. Also spoke at length to Tom Buell from Global Pittsburgh, a fellow Twitter Tweep, avid photographer, and Ben Avon resident. I also got to corner County Executive Dan Onorato and pestered him asking why the county hasn't purchased a few hundred copies of my, Pittsburgh: A Photographic Portrait book. He said I should call his secretary...Thanks, but been there, done that...

This is a photo of Treasury Secretary, Timothy Geithner. I wasn't listening to him as I shot, but I'm guessing he's explaining that all our tax dollars are being spent with the utmost care and that investment house bailouts with no government oversight is good for the United States...

Part 3 to follow...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pittsburgh G20 Summit...My story.

With much fanfare, anticipation AND trepidation, the G20 is now over. My personal quest to cover and photograph the G20 Pittsburgh Summit was an interesting one and fraught with frustrations, excitement, anticipation, and many personal experiences. Now that it's over my story can be told. It probably isn't the most interesting to journalists who cover events on a regular basis, but for me it's a story of having a plan, having it unravel, and then come together just like I had hoped it would from the beginning. It's a story of myself digging to find an assignment opportunity and a lesson of how the photography business has evolved to one of making your own destiny instead of waiting around for something to happen. Of course, as always, some luck is a huge part of the story.

When the White House announced that Pittsburgh would be hosting the G20 Economic Summit four months, I immediately started to try to figure out how this historic event could be my economic stimulus in what has been an extremely slow year for commercial assignments due to a horrible economy and changes brought about by the new web 2.0 business models. Since I am NOT a photojournalist, the first thing I needed to do was to find out how I could get credentials for the Summit. I knew that having credentials would be the key to landing an assignment. Most freelancers tend to wait to the last minute to start asking around and then applying. I knew that this wouldn't be possible due to security measures, and general government bureaucracy. There would be NO gate crashing this event, unless you were prepared to be shot.

Social media was a huge help for me. I spent much time blogging about the G20 and also reading other blogs and websites where I could pick up as much information as possible. I attended a couple of open meetings for the public where we were invited to submit ideas to the city and county governments on what the citizens could do to make a better impression on the world media. By doing this I got on an official email list and learned how to apply for credentials, deadline, etc.
Through officials channels I learned that my credentials would be approved. Though I didn't actually HAVE an assignment or
press connection to list when they asked for what organization I belonged to, I did list my professional affiliation with ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers). After all, I DO BELONG to this organization and it has "Media" in the name and I do have a laminated card with my mug shot on it. So this was the extent of my "media" connection. I probably could have called up one of my business magazines that I shoot for once in awhile and asked if I could use their name, but I really hate involving anyone that doesn't need to be involved in my business since I know how busy photo editors are.

After hearing I was approved I started firing off emails and promos to various national business magazines, Pittsburgh travel and visitor organizations, corporations doing international business, and anyone else I could think of that might need or KNOW someone who might need event photo coverage. I was asked to put together a photo estimate for the European Union, but that fell apart when they decided to fly a photographer from Europe to cover the Summit. I made contact with a few people who were from the company that designed the staging and lighting for the Summit, and was encouraged to stay in close touch. Then I found out that they had an in-house shooter who would be taking care of their needs. Unfortunately, it appeared I was speaking with the wrong people. My chase for a client was hitting a wall and time was running out. Then of course, the LUCK factor comes in.

My former assistant, Alex Denmarsh who is now an architectural photographer was contacted by one of his clients, an architect firm that helped designed many features of the LEED certified, Convention Center. By this time, Alex was in no position to take on the assignment because he did not have a credential. He then recommend me and I secured the contract to shoot on the Friday before the following Thursday and Friday Summit. Credentials were to be picked up on Monday according to an email from the State Dept.

I arrived early Monday morning to pick up my badge. No badge. Lots of excuses, no eye contact, and bureaucratic speak. I was told to come back the following day at 2 PM and my badge would be ready. The request was more like "maybe, possibly, it might happen, if you're lucky..." Not what you want to hear when you see your assignment fee gradually being pulled out of your pocket like just about everything else that the government likes to take from us. I showed up the following day at 9AM and they said they wouldn't have the badge and wouldn't know when they would be getting it. "But what about when you said for me to show up at 2PM?" I asked. Again...lots of excuses and lots of double speak as why I should come back another day.
"But...I have a client...and they are getting nervous about their assignment..." Gee...too bad..."Who's next please?" Now I'm starting to think who I might have pissed off so badly sometime in my life that somehow the Secret Service got word of it and thought I was some kind of security risk. I knew I didn't have an arrest record, but I have had a couple of "spirited conversations" with private security guards (not naming any names...but their company rhymes with Pee Pee Gee)

At this point I could only hope I still had an assignment. Fortunately on Wednesday, after an email sent to some black hole department with no human name attached pleading my case, I showed up around 4 PM and with little fanfare and no apologies or reason, my laminated yellow badge complete with my ugly face was handed to me. I felt like the "fasten seat belts" light had just gone off when I'm sitting in a middle seat in coach and I need to use the bathroom NOW...

Part two to follow....this is getting long in tooth...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A few more photos from last week's sessions

I've been quite busy working on logistics and trying to figure out what it is going to take to photograph the Pittsburgh Summit in a couple of weeks. Credentials, VIP contacts, State Department, vendors supplying the G20, etc. It has been a lot of work with unfortunately, no payoff insight...YET.... I'm confident that as the G20 gets closer the phone will start ringing for my event services. It has been fun meeting with various people who are in charge of the summit.
I did have some time last week to get a few photo sessions in. Here are some pictures from them..

Make it a great day!