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...

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