Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The charming rise of Salvatore Romello and his life partner, Elena del Heno

(BELOW: One of the few known photographs of Salvatore Romello. Salvatore is seen accompanied by three young women entering the prestigious Club Tigre in early 2007.)
Salvatore Romello materialized from nothing.

Little is known about Romello's early life. He first appeared on the international stage in the early part of the century.

He was immediately recognized as one who made political revolution his profession, but no one professed any knowledge of him before his involvement in La Revolucion Segunda de Cuba, the second revolution of Cuba.

He had no history; it was as if he had been born into the world a fully formed, fully capable machine of change.

His first attempts at revolution were met with wild success when he led La Revolucion Segunda with his accomplice, Elena del Heno.

Del Heno's past is as murky as Salvatore's, and next to nothing is known about the inception of their relationship. She, older than he by perhaps a year, forms his other half. At times, they appear co-dependent. At others, each seems strangely able to be independent from the other.

What is known is that their acquaintance existed before the beginnings of the La Revolucion Segunda, and they carry out their roles purposefully.

Romello and del Heno received word of Fidel Castro's imminent retirement several weeks before the dictator was planning on making his announcement and quickly sprung into action. Shortly afterward, they arrived on the island paradise of Cuba, the nucleus of revolution.

In a sudden move on Feb. 18, 2008, Castro announced that he would be stepping down from the office of president and commander-in-chief.

Equally as shocking was the way that Fidel and Raul were deposed shortly thereafter. Salvatore and del Heno, the ever-charming pair of revolutionaries, gained the good favor of the Castros and were frequent guests in the presidential palaces up until the time that the dictators were deposed.

Both Romello and del Heno exuded a disarming charm and charisma. Deceived, the Castros were lured into trust, which resulted in their deaths at the hands of Salvatore and Elena. The demise of the Castros signaled the beginning of the power shift in Cuba as well as the genesis of Romello and del Heno's violent but entrancing conquest.

Inexplicably, the Cuban youth rallied behind Salvatore and del Heno to overthrow the government and assume control of the powerful military machine that the younger Castro had created.

However, the shift that occurred did not please the country most interested in the future of Cuba: The United States.

The duo did not leave Cuba with an established democracy. After eradicating Castro's regime, they turned over control to the Cuban youth. Puzzlingly, it worked. Cuba thrived, free from intervention by established world powers.

They remained in Cuba for a short time while planning out how to proceed. Immensely wealthy from their activity on the island, they decided to turn their attention toward executing their next strike: Vatican City.

Monday, February 18, 2008

The judges

(Mugshots taken from

And now, a description of le judges (that's French for the judges).

Ruth Fremson, the NYT representative who won a Pulitzer prize for her coverage of the Clinton impeachment, was kind enough to give my friend and me critiques on our portfolios. She spent 40 minutes with the two of us talking about how we can become better image-makers.

She was fairly kind with her criticism, and we probably could have benefited from someone who was a little more of hard-ass, but unfortunately we didn't have time.

Key take away: Don't be afraid of your subject. Establish a relationship and then work the situation. Ruth was a big fan of closeness and intimacy.

Brad Mangin, of was the hard-ass we should have been looking for. He was more straightforward than the women; didn't want any of the emotional, namby-pamby, tear-jerker photos.

Some memorable quotes from Brad:

"It has to be goddamn good. It better be Bigfoot on fire wearing red shoes." And of course, referring to the rigor of selection, "At this point, we have to be bastards."

Brad's not a sentimental fellow.

Wen Huang represented the Bejing branch of the Xinhua News Agency, one of China's top news organizations.

She definitely has a very different style. Toward the end of the second day, tensions seemed to be increasing between the rest of the judges and her. Aided by occasional, well-placed barbs from Brad, Wen was on a short leash by the end of the very long second day.

Wen took the opposite approach of Ruth. She didn't really seem to favor simplicity and liked to see distance between the photographer and the subjects. There doesn't seem to be much intimacy in her culture.

Jeannie Adams-Smith was the fourth judge. She is an associate professor of photojournalism at Western Kentucky University, and kept mostly to herself. She weighed in occasionally on especially interesting photographs, but didn't stand out much in the way of an obvious inclination toward one form or another. She seemed able to see most debates from both sides. However, she apparently was a devoted mother, so it made sense that she did lean a bit toward more emotional images.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


We arrived at the Missouri School of Journalism about 10 a.m. in the middle of the third round of voting for the Sports Action category.

We sequestered ourselves in the dark cavern that is Tucker Forum in Gannett Hall and watched images flicker across the screen until about eight p.m.

Each judge is armed with a remote control that transmits an "in the next round" or an "out of the next round" vote to a box, which resounds with a loud click when the votes are in. The student managing the box cries out relentlessly click after click:

"Out. Out. Out. Out. Out. Out. Out."

"In." (You suddenly perk up and concentrate on the screen.)

"Out. Out. Out."

We saw some amazing images this first day. The categories were Sports Action, Sports Feature and Sports Story.

By far, the biggest learning came in the composition of a picture story. The thing that makes a good picture story is diversity. Use different lenses! Never use the same shot twice. Go for different shots. Get tight. Get wide. Use leading lines. Use thirds. And, equally as important, your editing must be consistent and seamless.

Ruth Fremson, photojournalist for the New York Times, explained it perfectly: Each photo in the story should be like a paragraph in a news story. You have your lead, your nut graf, your kicker, etc., and each of the photo/grafs should fill the role of telling an important aspect of the story as a whole.

And we saw some incredible picture stories. Check it.

Sitting in a chair for 10 hours is hard work. You're constantly trying to find a comfortable position. You cross your legs. You uncross. You prop your feet on the low wall in front of you. Pretty soon, the wood cutting into your ankles becomes your focus, so you take your legs down to resume circulation. You pull your knees to your chest. You slouch in your chair and stretch your legs. Back aching. Stomach growling. Eyes tired. Needing to fart.

Soul inspired.

It's so worth the minor discomfort. It's worth the six hour drive. It's worth having your parents upset that you skipped class.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

'White suburbia'

And so the people-meeting experiment continues.

Yesterday, after a long night of deadline writing and editing copy and photos, I got out of my first class to go over to the local golf course to get some pictures for a last-minute story we ran about the comeback of the University golf team after a 35-year hiatus.

So, bright and early, after the firm encouragement of my editor, I got up off the office floor, hopped in the car and headed to the course.

Predictably, partly because of the cold and partly because of the time of day, the place was hardly bustling with golfing connoisseurs.

There were two fellows there: the clubhouse attendant and one of the regulars. They were sprawled out in two low-lying chairs, watching the baseball hearings for steroid usage drag on.

I walked in, introduced myself and told them why I was there. We chatted a bit, and then I walked outside for a minute to see if there were any picture opportunities.

Finding little, I walked back inside and kept talking with the guys, had a look around and made the big leap of taking photos during the conversation. It was awkward, but a good feeling.

Meet Brandon, the clubhouse worker from Farmington who is working on a business degree at the local community college. He transferred there from the nearby state school because he didn’t like the size of the core classes, but he hopes to go back to the bigger university for some of his upper level classes.

This is Bob. He runs the restaurant end of things and hopes that the club’s partnership with the University will increase the activity at the course. He also thinks that the MLB should skip steroid hearings and go straight to drug testing.

Too bad the photos are crap. I need to work on composition and editing.

Next: step away from white suburbia (if that’s what golf in this town is) and go find some compelling stories.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The ballad of Gene

Who knew that the University quadrangle was the best place to score beer?

The following is the strange but true account of a fellow student--we'll call him "Gene." The first time I saw Gene was in the cafeteria. He was sitting alone, talking to himself, apparently pissed as hell over some tricky reading he was facing in a text book. I thought it odd, but paid little attention beyond that.

My next and most recent interaction with Gene was when I found him standing on the balcony of our dorm, looking out over the quad and proclaiming rather vociferously, "Oh man! What I wouldn't give for a Newcastle!"

My friend Chris and I had just walked up and, luckily for Gene, we are the kind of fellows who are willing to help a brother out.

Gene doesn't have a car with him, so we offered him a ride. We hopped in the car, and in keeping with my recent vow, I struck up a conversation with him.

Gene ended up at our school because he was looking for an associate's degree in construction management.

One of the things that triggers conversation for Gene is San Diego, his hometown.

Mistakenly, I told him that the newspaper staff would be traveling to San Diego (apparently we're actually going to San Francisco) and asked him about sites I should visit.

"Oh man, you've gotta go to Pacific Beach. It's, like, the best beach, man."

He went on to describe the setting: trendy shop after shop and sexy, scantily clad women everywhere.

He told me a story about how he once went to some cliffs where people often hang glide and hiked down to a hidden bench. There, he said he encountered a gorgeous woman who was using a mirror to become better acquainted with herself.

Apparently, San Diego is a wondrous place.

Gene has a funky style. It's an intriguing cross between formal and punk wear. The other day he showed up to dinner wearing a bandanna (which is usually accompanied by a colorful hard hat), a suit coat over a t-shirt, slacks and skater shoes.

So, I'm doing well on the interaction part, but I should have tried for a photo. Next time.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Crazy-ass Arkans-ass

A little run down of the past week:

Last Tuesday: gorgeous weather--probably mid 60s. By that evening, however, the weather had turned fierce.

Wednesday: light drizzle.

Thursday: Mother Nature surprised us with several inches of snow. Over the weekend, it stayed cool out, but that quickly changed.

Monday: The weather turned beautiful again and proved to be perfect for some football and slacklining (see left).

Tuesday: The weather proves fickle and sends tornadoes that kill several across the state.

Wednesday morning: A frosty snow covers the ground.

Weather, who do you think you are, anyway?!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The hypnotist

Well the ball got rolling quickly.

Tonight, I spent about half an hour talking to this guy about hypnotism. Before tonight, we had never spoken, but I had read in the paper last year that he practiced hypnotism, so I asked him how it was going.

Come to find out, the school administration has prohibited him from doing it on campus because they feel it is a skill that is too dangerous. Whether or not he is responsible with it or not, I don't know. I only talked to him for a brief amount of time, but he certainly sounds like he uses good judgment.

My first question about it unleashed a veritable spray of information--apparently hypnotism is what really gets him going.

He said that hypnotism gets a bad rap because of the way it is often portrayed, especially by conservatives. In reality, we are accidentally hypnotized several times a day whether it is in the form of daydreaming, road hypnotism, or something else.

The cool thing is that it related beautifully to the conundrum I expressed previously about motivation. He said that hypno-therapy is usually very successful and that it can help people free themselves of addictions like smoking. I asked if it could help people be motivated and not procrastinate, and apparently it can.

Talk about coming full circle in one day.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

How you'd have a happy life

I've been wrestling with the frustration of not being able to bring myself to do the things I claim to love. Obviously, this is something that humans have struggled with always.

The apostle Paul addresses in Romans 7, and it is the topic of a book I'm about to purchase called "The War of Art" by Stephen Pressfield.

Pressfield hypothesizes that we are caught in a constant fight against ourselves to produce artistic expression; "in other words act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity."

Why this is the case, I have no idea. But, I plan on reading the book to find out. Whatever the reason, it's pissing the hell out of me.

Edit: While I was in the sauna/shower (which is one of my prime thinking spots), I was thinking about what it would take to get the intimate photographic pictures that really move people. After a while, I figured that it's probably the depth of your relationship with your subject, which means that you've got to have highly developed people skills.

In the past, one of my top strengths has been winning people over. But, I seem to have stopped making a conscious effort to meet people. So, how can I continue to develop this skill?

I've never been much for observing Lent, but today is Ash Wednesday, and it got me kind of curious about what a long-term fast would look like. So, I've decided to fast from avoiding conversation. (Although, because I'm a wuss and I also don't want to do the Lent thing, I've decided to make my experiment 30 days in length instead of 40). Expect a follow-up on March 7.

I think that almost everyone has an interesting story to tell. It just might need some help being unpacked. In keeping with the whole productivity theme, I'm going to work on this aspect of my craft. I'm going to seek out conversation and keep track of the people I meet. I'm going to find out what people have to say.

You smile, mention something that you like or
How you'd have a happy life if you did the things you like

-- "Dark of the Matin
e" by Franz Ferdinand

Monday, February 4, 2008

'Their whole lives depend on this'

Caption: Prospective students take their seats for their scholarship interview with a committee that included members of the administration and faculty as well as students.

Took this photo for the last issue of the newspaper. I had to cover the high school students who were interviewing for prestigious scholarships at the University. The range of expressions/reactions that these students are showing reminded me a lot of what I felt when I was in those seats a couple of years ago. Awkwardness, focus, concentration, etc.


Even Officer Grundy, the unfortunate distributor of my first ticket, couldn't put a damper on my weekend.

On Friday, I took a trip up north to get a feel for my living situation over the summer. It was fantastic.

After meeting several of the guys I'm going to be living with, I'm pretty sure my decision is the right one. All of them were very personable, easy to talk to, fun to hang out with and seemingly genuinely interested.

The house itself has got...character. I couldn't tell if it was a really big house that was poorly designed and small on the inside, or if it was a smaller house that just a bunch of stuff jam-packed in there. Due to the various add-ons over the years, I'd say it's probably a little bit of everything.

Either way, with 10 guys living there it's going to be a good time.