Thursday, November 19, 2009

Multiple Flash (i.e. complete pain)

Here's the select from the multiple flash assignment for Advanced Techniques. By far one of the most frustrating experiences I've had during a shoot for reasons I won't revisit right now. But, all in all I was satisfied with the picture I ended up getting.

CAPTION: Jake Gandlmayr settles into his rhythm as his band, "Envy the Cookbook," performed at the Rock the Wrench competition in Jesse Wrench Auditorium on Nov. 17. Despite the fact that the band formed two months ago and only practiced once prior to the battle of the bands, the group went on to win first place and a $500 gift certificate to a music store.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Multimedia Goodness

Here's my multimedia selection for Advanced Techniques.

The Sandwich Generation by Ed Kashi and Julie Winokur

The project in its original form can be found at, along with other incredible productions.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Color Correction

The latest from Advanced Techniques. This assignment = total confusion. It basically involved putting an orange or green gel over the flash depending on whether the light is tungsten or florescent. That's all. Sigh.

CAPTION: (Nov. 2, 2009) Katie McAllister applies a pesto spread to a piece of bread that will eventually be part of a bruschetta dish, one of the more popular offerings at the Underground Café. The Underground, previously the Artisan, has been struggling since the name change, so Katie and her brother have stepped in full-time to help their mother, who owns the coffee shop.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Painting with light: Hide and seek

Here's the latest submission for my Advanced Techniques class. The assignment was "Painting With Light." The concept we eventually came up with that this ghost was playing the children's game hide-and-go-seek with herself.

The dance went a little something like this: "Click." I started with the camera zoomed at about 35mm on the figure in the center. Meg strobed the creepy girl (Caitlyn) in the bushes at the beginning of the exposure, then I covered the lens and zoomed out the lens to 24mm as she moved to the right side of the frame. I uncovered the lens, and Andrew started painting the tower, using a spotlight with an orange gel. Meg strobed Caitlyn again about half-way through the exposure, and I used a flash light to paint the foliage around the tower. "Unclick."

We kept getting delayed by rain, and the whole project took two different nights of going out to the park to shoot. Monday night, we thought we got something usable, but once we looked at it on the computer, we realized that there were too many problems with it to submit. We went out again on Wednesday night, and eventually our concept morphed into the below image. This picture took about 15 takes, each time tweaking little elements to get it just right.

You definitely can't get this kind of thing without great team members.

Here are a couple of outtakes from different concepts we tried.

This one didn't work for a number of reasons. There are all sorts of rogue light spots that showed up to the right of Meg. Jake's shoulder is a little too ghosted, but I'm not ghosted enough in my perch in the tree. Some of the bushes are a little too hot, as are Meg and Jake's faces, and the strobe created profile shadows against the silo in the back. Good thing we decided to re-shoot.

The original idea was sort of a modern twist fairy tales. I think it was a good idea, and Jake was definitely a great sport with the fangs, but the scene was lit unremarkably.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Advanced Techniques: Single Flash

Here are two selects and one outtake from my single flash assignment from Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism. Struggled quite a bit with this assignment, trying to figure out proper exposures while using the flash. I’m not very comfortable with my ability to control the settings or the intensity on the flash-end of the camera, which left me trying to figure things out by trial and error on the camera-side of things according to the histogram.

I thought this one had some potential. I like the way the flash cast a huge shadow of the dancing student on the side of the building, but unfortunately there were too many other problems with it (low exposure, busy composition, etc.) to use it as a select.

CAPTION: (Oct. 21, 2009) A student dances outside Schurz Hall. Residence Life organized a barbecue and a dance party to celebrate MU's Homecoming Week.

COMMENT: (Oct. 21, 2009) Austin Huff, 23, blows out the candles on his birthday cake, which read, "Happy Birthday Regis!" Huff, a member of MU's student comedy troupe Comedy Wars, rewarded the crowd with his famous, dead-on Regis Philbin impression.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

War in Peace Park

I was driving by Peace Park on Saturday when I noticed, ironically, a full-on melee between men and women dressed in medieval-style armor. They were going to town on each other with weapons made out of Rattan, a bamboo-like material used for furniture. But unlike bamboo, Rattan is solid, and it packs a punch. These lords and ladies were real bruisers.

Turns out the gathering was part of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a medieval reenactment group founded back in the 1960s. It's an international organization, and the United States is split up into kingdoms – most of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and part of Arkansas make up the kingdom of Calontir. In fact, Columbia has its own group, the Shire of Standing Stones.

Turns out my fencing coach was even there. Makes me excited to get back into the sport. Here are 12 images from the brawl.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

How I fought the law...and lost

At least now I can check "represent myself in court" off my list. This morning I had to appear before the honorable Robert Aulgur, one of Columbia's three municipal judges, in regard to the time I broke the law back in September.

Ooh, this should be juicy: What did I do? I'm riding my Schwinn on campus, and I run a stop sign. That's when I hear the puny "tweet, tweet" of the police whistle. I brake, prop my bike against a parking meter and watch as Officer Roberts, a short, skinny, self-important-looking man, ceremoniously dismounts his own mountain bike.

He's telling me that what I just did was dangerous, and that in the last bicycle accident he responded to, they had to scrape the girl of the road, so I'd better watch out or I might end up like her. He says he's going to have to write me a ticket, can he please see my license, and I consider the possible repercussions of telling him I don't have one – "Gee, officer, I didn't realize you had to have a driver's license to ride a bike..." – but I think better of it and hand it over.

Oct. 15, court day, rolls around. I check in with the bailiff, a jolly-seeming fellow not preoccupied by legalese. The back of his blue officer's uniform presses into his neck, creating rolls that spill over his collar. His mustache says, "I'm in a position of authority, (but I'm a nice guy)."

I sit in the courtroom for about an hour, listening to a very enlightening Court 101 talk from the judge, and the sentences of the other law-breakers that come before me – mostly noise complaints and two very unfortunate young ladies who can never set foot in the mall again. This isn't the first time the late placement of my name in the alphabet has made me wait.

My turn. No, I don't need to consult with a lawyer; yes, your Honor, I'm guilty. Then he gives me the opportunity to talk about the case. I tell the judge that while I was standing with Roberts, I watched cyclist after cyclist blow through the very same stop sign (my former roommate actually ended up getting a ticket of his own exactly 10 minutes after mine). When I'm stopped on my bike at a stop sign, drivers will regularly wave me on even if they have the right of way. All of this indicates to me that there's a widespread ignorance of cycling laws, and that the solution is not fines and fees, but education. I ask to be placed under supervision to complete a bicycle safety class through PedNet.

The judge tells me he'd rather use his supervisory resources in places that mattered, such as DWI incidents. "Besides, I don't think you need an educational course to teach you how to stop at a stop sign," he says, dryly. "Forty-seven dollars at the violations window. Thank you."

I want to say, "Of course now I know that biking through stop signs is illegal, But what about other issues, like when is it appropriate to ride on sidewalks? Or what are the rules regarding lights and riding at night?" Simply fining people isn't a solution.

It may seem like a simple ruling, but I think there's something wrong. Each defendant who came before the bench with a motorized vehicle violation was given the opportunity to take a driver's improvement course, but when I suggested that I take biker's ed class, I was flatly denied. I understand the logic of not wasting resources, but along with all the good PedNet and GetAbout Columbia are doing, I'd like to see city government taking a more serious approach to safe bicycle commuting as an important alternative to driving.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Metal & Glass

(Oct. 11, 2009) An empty wine glass shatters. Conceptually, this photo could be used as the advertising foundation for a number of different products, from glassware to wine or fine liquor. It’s simple, and it’s classic. Example: "Absolut Vodka. We blow the competition out of the water."

I’m a big proponent of simplicity, and I think that idea worked with this picture. I can see how some colored liquid inside the glass as it shattered might have been a nice addition, but my technical skills prohibited me from nabbing a non-simulated picture of the glass actually breaking. I shot at f/16 and 1/250s with an ISO of 100. I had a 200mm lens on the camera, which after the 1.6x crop made it closer to 360 and compressed the image nicely. I like the way the reflection of the stem looks like it’s bending. I just realized, after printing my critique, that my white balance was set to Auto. Womp, womp.

A giant thanks to my partner, August Kryger, for all his help. Check out his half of the assignment, metal.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Maggie Steber for National Geographic

Now I can cross being photographed by National Geographic off my list. Maggie Steber took pictures of me early this morning while I was sleep-guarding the equipment room at MPW. She's working on a project for National Geographic about sleep, so that was fun. Maybe I'll make it in the magazine. Heh. Thursday's already off to a great start.

Maggie and her editing partner, John Isaac, are heading Team B at MPW, and I actually got the chance to interview them for a little blurb in Wednesday's Rangefinder. Seriously, I've never met a nicer pair of journalists. They care so much about the success of the students under their tutelage, and they believe so genuinely in the mission of the workshop. John especially exudes passion about photojournalism; he quoted "The Little Prince" (“The essentials in life are not visible to the eye; only with the heart one can see clearly"). Then he gave me his card and told me to look him up if I'm ever in New York (which might actually be during Spring Break – NYC '010!)

But they're firm, too – not afraid to bust their students' chops if they're not performing at their potential. I guess that's why they're such good editors.

Wednesday's Rangefinder is now available.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Classmate portrait

Here's the portrait I shot of Lilli Kelly, my partner for the classmate assignment in Advanced Techniques. We had some fun while getting comfortable with the studio, and hearing her talk about her grandmothers' cooking made my mouth water.

I picked this picture because Lilli's a very earnest individual. She seems very confident in who she is, and she is wholeheartedly involved in the assignment at hand...very passionate about photography (a quality than can be seen in the way she's attacking MPW. Ask her to show you her airplane picture some time; it's great). She's modest, but at the same time she has professional experience in photography and journalism, and she probably knows something you don't. Hence the Mona Lisa smile.

Broken teeth and Friday Night Fights

This workshop is getting better and better. Yesterday my Rangefinder duties required me to go to Lam's Garden Chinese Restaurant in Crystal City to sample the food and write an article about it. Not only was their honey chicken exceptional, but I also met this interesting 18-year-old kid there named John McWherter. He's been working at Lam's for the last three weeks after getting fired from Walmart for filming himself breaking a Sobe bottle over his head while in uniform. He was on his way out the door with a buddy who was heading to buy a pregnancy test.

They also mentioned to me that they have fights on Fridays, a la "Fight Club." So I got their numbers and am hoping for good pictures come Friday.

We put out one of our best Rangefinder editions yet tonight. We got a lot of positive feedback, and I'm really glad we made the decision to kind of turn tradition on its ear and redesign the publication to a broadsheet format instead of the stuffy newsletter layout of the last several years. I feel like it's a more interactive read, plus it's a fun throwback to the dying newspaper industry. Heh. To check out Tuesday's Rangefinder, click the front page in the upper right.

Tonight's presentations were pretty phenomenal. The amount of talent, passion and hard work that these photographers (and faculty) are putting into this week is boggling, and it makes me jealous of their skills and accomplishments. I only hope that one day my writing will move people as much as MPW's photography is impacting me. It's certainly a big honor to be here, and I can't say enough good things about this project and what it's doing for storytelling in the Midwest. I wish there was one of these for writers.

CAPTION: John McWherter shows off the tooth he broke while trying to separate a piece of pipe with his teeth.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

61st Missouri Photo Workshop

I'm in Festus, Mo. all this week working on the crew of the 61st Missouri Photo Workshop. With my partner, Ivy, I'm writing and editing MPW's newsletter, "The Rangefinder." We're already off to an incredible start; I followed around a photographer named Mustafah Abdulaziz on Monday and just watched him start conversations with people. It was impressive.

CAPTION: Mustafah Abdulaziz pitches his story ideas to National Geographic's Dennis Dimick, left, and George Olson, right.

We were driving around Crystal City in search of a story when we spotted a guy sitting outside his house, so we decided to stop and talk. Pretty soon, we find out that both he and his wife have cancer, and five minutes after we met him, he'd already told Mustafah he was ready to die.

Mustafah knows how to talk to people, and he’s smooth as silk. In two and a half hours, he and I drove around the Twin Cities and talked to a pawnshop owner, an ultra conservative conspiracy theorist, a postman and the ailing couple. Each time, he piggybacked off a single opener to launch an extended conversation.

When Don (the sick man) asked why he was so interested in Crystal City, Mustafah showed some pictures on his iPhone to give him an idea. Shortly afterward, Don and his wife, Bertha, were talking to him about their health conditions.

“If you can find one reason why you need to talk to that person, then the rest of it is being quick on your feet,” Mustafah told me. “You just need a shred of a reason and then sell them on it.”

At one point, that reason to talk was to bum a light off a shirtless teenager, even though Mustafah had a lighter in his pocket. That spark led to a phone number and an invitation to be shown a “good time” later in the evening.

Mustafah’s pack of American Spirit cigarettes – 100 percent tobacco – has opened plenty of doors for him. “They’re the healthiest things you can kill yourself with,” he joked.

But being quick on your feet won’t automatically get a story idea approved. During his first story pitch, Mustafah was told to go flesh out his ideas and learn more about his potential subjects. Half the battle is locating a compelling situation, but it’s not so easy to find one that is visually captivating, said Dennis Dimick and George Olson, the faculty editors of Mustafah’s Team C.

Instead of trying to find a completely new story, Mustafah was planning to flesh out the two ideas he suggested. But like others who were sent from the story pitch to find more information, he doesn’t have a lot of time to satisfy his editors.

“I want to see where they’re going to point me,” he said. “I’m willing to go on their journey, but at the end of the week I hope I’ve reached the point where I’m happy with why I went on that journey.”

To read the other stories from Monday or check out the Rangefinder's design, click the front page.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Light use in a portrait

Assignment: Pick a portrait that uses light to effectively convey the photographer's message. Post it to your blog.

This photo won an award of excellence at the 65th Pictures of the Year International contest. It is used for educational purposes.

Alex Boerner Scripps Treasure Coast Newspaper
"CENTENARIAN" 101-year-old Marian Wardell-Qualey sits up in the hospital bed inside of her home in Hobe Sound, FL. An artist and former art teacher, Wardell-Qualey now suffers from many ailments, including macular degeneration, which, combined with her otherwise deteriorating state of health, has forced her to give up painting the portraits of flowers and nudes that hang on her own walls.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Copy test and meter calibration

Here's the first assignment from my Advanced Techniques in Photojournalism class. For this assignment, we learned how to copy other images the old school way – by taking pictures of them (just in case there should be a worldwide scanner failure). We also played with white balance settings...specifically tungsten and daylight. Booyeah.

The Final Countdown by Amit Lennon | The Sunday Times Magazine, May 24, 2009.
f/16 @ 1/8 s | ISO 400

Dr. Cornel West by Max Vadukul | Rolling Stone, May 28, 2009.
f/16 @ 1/8 s | ISO 400

A neighbor's carpark is illuminated by different light sources in Columbia on Sept. 9, 2009.
f/2.8 @ 1/20 s | ISO 1600

An usher surveys the crowd at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City during the Royals' game against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday, Sept. 7, 2009. The Royals ended their losing streak against the Angeles by defeating them 6-3.
f/11 @ 1/180 s | ISO 100

In the future I'll be posting work from that class on this blog. (And at the same time trying to get caught up with Argentina business...uhnn.) Cheers.

Monday, August 31, 2009


I realize I've been woefully lax in posting pictures and accounts from Argentina. Now that I'm back, things have taken off at a break-neck pace. I didn't think the wanderlust would kick in quite so quickly, but I just watched Into the Wild last night and started to think of new adventures to take.

Of course, as Alexander Supertramp writes in the movie, "Happiness only real when shared."

While I try and get my affairs in order and around to posting more extensively, here's a taste of the Buenos Aires Subte just imagine hot, greasy air blowing through dark tunnels as you try and navigate through the crush of people traveling to different parts of the city, and you're there. This is what's playing on the televisions suspended from the ceiling.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Promoting the tour

Emiliano Canal, owner of Eternal Sunday record label, came to talk my journalism class yesterday, and he had a couple of interesting new insights.

First, the major purpose of his record label is to sign local Argentine artists singing in English with the intent of selling them primarily in foreign markets. So far, this isn't an approach that's well known or practiced on a large scale in South America, mainly because the Latin American music industry is so gigantic. However, it has been done rather successfully elsewhere (I'm thinking specifically of Scandinavian markets and artists like Jens Lekman or Sondre Lerche...I had just never realized that their production of music in English was a deliberate movement.)

In order to do this, he has to promote them heavily in local Argentine media...because why should foreign markets be interested if Eternal Sunday's artists aren't even that popular in their own country? It's kind of an interesting game Canal has to play in order to achieve the real goal of selling them elsewhere.

Secondly, Canal has some interesting things to say about the ubiquitousness of music available for digital download. Eternal Sunday got started by offering its music digitally, and Canal said that downloading has completely changed the industry.

"Ten or 20 years ago, the tour was to promote the album," he said. "Today, it's quite the contrary: We make the album to sell the tour."

He said that typically the artist makes about $1 per album sold, compared to 20 or 30 times that for each ticket sold during a tour. Fifteen years ago, it was also a lot more difficult to make an album, and only major lables could afford studio costs. Now you can do it much more cheaply on your own (just like any other method of media production).

So while illegal downloading still creates a substantial problem for smaller record labels, the widespread dispersal of digital music may actually help bands by drumming up interest and making people more likely to become part of the fan base and see them on tour. That's not to say that pirating is all fine and dandy, but it's a perspective I hadn't really thought about before.

Here's a music video from one Eternal Sunday's up-and-comers, The Kavanaghs.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Giovanni | Recoleta, Buenos Aires - 2009

Snapped this photo while working for Terra on a project I pitched on street fashion, a la Sartorialist. This guy was awesome.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Emiliano | Córdoba, Argentina - 2009

Finding ourselves with some extra travel time, we decided to get out of Buenos Aires and head for Argentina's interior. After a 10(ish)-hour bus ride, we eventually wound up in Córdoba, where we met all sorts of interesting people and formed a mult-national army of jubliance. But more on that later.

For now, here's a photo of Emiliano, a high school student who asked us if we'd let him take our pictures outside the Iglesia Catedral for an art project he was doing.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gotan Project: Una musica brutal

Just discovered Gotan Project, a multicultural trio of musicians (an Argentine, a Frenchman and a Swiss) based in Paris. Probably best known for their first album, La Revancha del Tango, their interpretation of tango music captures – for me at least – a part of what it feels like to walk the streets of Buenos Aires.

Really, all of the tracks are sensational, but the song I can't stop listening to: "Una musica brutal"

Here it is, dubbed over a clip from "Take the Lead" with Antonio Banderas.

Descubrimos vos y yo
en el triste carnaval
una musica brutal
melodias de dolor

Despertamos vos y yo
y en el lento divagar
una musica brutal
encendio nuestra pasion

Dame tu calor,
bebete mi amor

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

On the stairs

I passed the accordion player today while I was galloping up the stairs in the Subte in an attempt to do some damage control on my tardiness to class. He looked pretty serene in the midst of the bustle.

Monday, July 20, 2009

La reserva ecológica

From the ecological reserve in Puerto Madero, Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

We've all become accordion men

The elderly man totters onto the subway lugging a suitcase and an old accordion that looks like it might have seen service in Evita's day. He plops the flimsy luggage down, sits on it and unceremoniously begins to play. He eeks out wheezy, rushed versions of well known classical pieces, his knees opening and closing to accommodate the Slinky-like movements of the floppy instrument.

"Quien quiere; quien puede," he says, requesting donations rather unobtrusively for a street performer. ("Whoever wants; whoever can.")

The long wisps of his comb-over begin to come loose as his head lolls over accordion, his grimy fingers mechanically manipulating the blackened keys. After a few hasty numbers, he rises.

"Disculpen las molestias. Muy amable." ("Pardon the bother. Very kind.") And with that, he passes the hat and makes his way to the next car after receiving only a few scant donations.

It struck me that these days journalists are a little like these subway performers, catering to a semi-captive audience, practicing our skills for free (on the Internet) and hoping that someone will kick some money our way. And the audience enjoys it. It enriches the travel experience, but money's tight right now. You're good and all, but sorry.

When we get up and go, they'll miss us for a little while, but they'll get along. And besides, there will always be some of us entering the subway car, offering something for nothing, because perhaps our art – our writing and interviewing – is less for them and more to satisfy our own needs and feelings of responsibility.

Yet I'll add this bit, almost like a coda, which I read in the comments of a column about humanity in journalism:

"We do it to help people, to share information, to give people knowledge. To break people’s hearts and open them again, open them up to new things, new ideas." -- Amy Segreti

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Subte kids

Child labor. It's a tough thing to capture. But that's what Periodismo Social wanted this week. I'm not exactly sure how to explain all the jitters and hangups that accompany an assignment like this, but the tension was especially palpable on this one. I guess it's something I've been feeling a lot lately. When I'm back home, I'm in control, able to calculate risk. Here, I'm back on my heels, forced to take a more reactionary, observational approach. And that's not always conducive to creating the necessary avenues to a good photo.

But, there I was nonetheless, so I sank into the greasy underground to spend some time on the Subte (short for subterraneo) in timid hopes of making some pictures of the kids that sell sticker books and other small baubles. They wend their way through between those standing to place their products in the laps of those sitting. Once they've distributed to the whole car, they work their way back, recovering their merchandise and collecting a few pesos from those that decided to buy. For most, it's something to be ignored.

One of the oddest things about the squadron of children, teenagers and disabled adults pacing the aisles of the cars is that there seems to be a sort of class hierarchy, even within that form of work. Some are shabby, dirt under their fingernails, wiping runny noses. Others are actually well dressed – clean jumpers; crisp, dark jeans; name-brand trainers.

Two children stood out in particular. I noticed an older man with a guitar on his back holding a little boy's hand as they made their way to a different station. They were carrying on, greeting the other vendors they met on their way through station and having a good time. I wonder if they were related. The boy was dragging a stool with him, and there was a spring in his step that contradicted the difficult circumstances implied by his faded clothes and grimy skin. Everything seemed fun and happy as he bounced along, even rakish, until he passed an overflowing trashcan, reached up and grabbed a discarded juicebox. He put the straw to his lips, sucking the few drops that remained. Then he tossed it to the ground, stomped it flat, and they continued on their way.

The other was a quiet little girl, sitting unobtrusively on the seat the end of one of the cars. She had a stack of sticker books and bobby pins with her – more than she could carry by herself, – ready for individual sale. Her jeans had glittery butterfly patterns on them, and her Chucks had neon mismatched laces. She had highlights in her hair. Yet she was by herself. Her clothing was nice, so why was she alone on the subway, trying to scrounge a few pesos here and there from pitying customers?

I wish I knew more about the intricate culture of subway vending.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

American abroad

Yesterday was my third Independence Day spent outside the United States (and my fourth spent rather unconventionally), and I have to say that being abroad really makes you appreciate home. This year, I celebrated with American military marches, free hot dogs, free beer, and a bar-full of fellow countrymen.

A short list of things I love about America this year:

  • Fast cars and freedom
  • Free water and refills in restaurants
  • The U.S. Field Artillery March (as it did in France, this came in especially handy for celebrating)
  • Kitsch American-flag attire
  • Fantastic television (can anyone say Mad Men and Band of Brothers? The list goes on.)
  • Poop-free sidewalks
  • Shouting, "The Yanks are coming! The Yanks are coming!"

Seriously, though, freedom is precious. The freedom to think, say and act according to your beliefs is the greatest success of the American experiment. Sure, it's not perfect, and we certainly make plenty of mistakes, but America is a great country. Happy birthday, baby.

Also, I thought this was an interesting blog by Nicholas Kristof.

And to all my fellow Americans who also are abroad, this is my gift to you:

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The mysterious politics of Argentina

This illuminating commentary is from my friend Brian Kantt, an instructor at B.A. Plus language school in Buenos Aires:
"I'd just like to point out two facts you may find useful to know, which are kind of funny and tragic at the same time.

"When Néstor Kirchner ran for president against Carlos Menem in 2003, he didn't actually beat him. There was a second election ("ballotage") because none of the candidates had got the minimum of 45 percent to win the first election (as required by the Argentine law). The ballotage was between Kirchner and Menem, since they were the two candidates who had got more votes on the first round. A few days before the election, Menem analyzed the polls and realized he had no chance to win – not because people actually liked Kirchner as much as because they hated Menem so much – so he withdrew from the election to "save his honor" and not have to face a defeat. This automatically made Kirchner president, with less than 20 percent of the country's population having voted for him. (I remember many people didn't even actually know who he was before this).

"The other thing is that in this past Sunday's elections, Kirchner didn't actually want to get a seat as a Representative. (This would of course be "too little" for someone with such a big ego). What he and Buenos Aires governor Daniel Scioli did, is what we call "candidatura testimonial." This means that they run for Representatives at the top of the list, only to get people to vote for them (making use of their image), but when they get elected, they resign and pass the seat to the next person on the list. They said they'd do that from the beginning, even before the election. So, without meaning to sound disrespectful, you can imagine what the people who vote for them's brains are like.

"Weird facts, right? Welcome to Argentinean politics."

Power shift

For those of you who are checking in via Google Reader, drop by the actual blog to see the election-day slide show above. Thanks.

On Sunday, Argentina had legislative elections – half the seats in the Chamber of Deputies and a third of the seats in the Senate. Despite being midterm elections, this was a pretty big deal because there was an important shift in power. Until yesterday, Argentina was operating under a situation similar to what's going on in the United States. The majority in the legislature was the same party as the president, just like we have a Democrat majority in Congress and a Democrat in the White House.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner is a Peronist, which was the same the party started by Argentina's sweetheart Evita and her husband Juan Perón. Before Cristina (who is, coincidentally, the country's first elected female president) became president in 2007, her husband, Néstor Kirchner, served in the office for a term after disgraced ex-President Carlos Menem withdrew from the run-off race in 2003.

But on Sunday, Argentines made it clear they want to take a different path than the one they've been on for the last nine years. Néstor Kirchner lost the race for a Senate seat in the province of Buenos Aires, and for the first time in recent memory, power will have to be shared between the executive and legislative branches.

Not only does this mean a difference in the political atmosphere of the country, but it also means the beginning of a possible departure away from Peronist politics, as Néstor Kirchner is currently the president of the party.

One of my friends, Cierra Obioha, wanted to go out and cover the election like the motivated reporter she is, so she asked me to tag along and produce the pictures while she did the interviews. Our project should be up soon. I'll post a link when it is.

In the meantime, here's a fun story. After getting pictures of the Casa Rosada and the Palacio del Congreso, I was walking toward the Subte station so I could go home after reporting all day. I was walking by the Hotel Bauen when I noticed a hive of activity outside. I figured it was probably where a candidate was going to give their post-election victory or defeat speech, and kept walking.

But then I decided to go back and find out who exactly it was, just in case it was Kirchner (because that would have been sweet). I asked a photographer, who was smoking outside, what was going on. It turned out I was right, but it wasn't Kirchner's hotel. Instead, the hotel was the victory bunker of Pino Solanas, an Argentine film director who was running on the Proyecto Sur ticket. I told the photographer that I was a studying journalism, and trying to make small talk, joked that I should have tried to get a press pass.

"Well, you should go in and ask for one," he said, point with his cigarette toward the inside the hotel.

So I walked inside, asked where the press table was, and waited to talk to one of the organizers. I explained that I was studying journalism and interning in Buenos Aires for the summer, and I asked if there was any way I could get press credentials. She asked me where I was interning.

"We've already got someone here from Terra," she said. "But, what's your name?"

And then she filled out a press pass for me and turned me loose on the hotel. Success.

Recommended reading:
Argentina's legislative election: Double or quits | The Economist

Friday, June 26, 2009

Workers taking charge: The fábricas recuperadas movement in Argentina

In my class "Challenges faced by the media in Argentina," we just turned in our first essay. We were given a variety of topics: Media outlets in Argentina, the national debt, etc. I chose to write mine on a pretty fascinating documentary we watched about worker-controlled factories in Argentina.

To watch the The Take (2004) in English, click here.

Not the most scintillating read, I know, but here’s the essay I wrote (with links!), if anyone’s interested:


Desperation can make people take crazy, unpredictable forms of action. Losing your job in the middle of a national economic crisis and consequently not being able to provide food and financial security for your wife and young children is an undeniably desperate situation.

But it was in this situation that Freddy Espinoza, an Argentine factory worker, found himself. So, he and the other 29 former employees of Forja, an auto-parts factory in Buenos Aires, decided to do something drastic. They kept working anyway, filling orders and meeting the needs of the company’s existing clients while the owners of the factory were frantically scrambling to save their own personal assets.

And they actually found initial success. It was all part of a growing socioeconomic movement that was first implemented in Argentina in 2001 by workers for such companies as Zanon Ceramics (now called FaSinPat) and Brukman Textile Factory, who refused to continue working under the authority of the factory’s owners since they hadn’t been paid in over two weeks.

Work life and home life began to overlap for the workers at Forja. They started eating, sleeping, cooking and spending their free time in the factory. They just wanted to take care of themselves and their families with a steady income. Unfortunately for them, it wasn’t as simple as making a declaration of ownership. Espinoza and his companions quickly found that they needed to win the legal right to continue operating their factory and enjoying its profits. In order to do this, they had to convince a battalion of law enforcement, politicians and judges that they were the ones who deserved to control the factory. These public officials seemed to teeter-totter on the fulcrum of unpredictability, able to either make or break the workers’ movement depending on a whim.

As if the capriciousness of the courts and elected officials wasn’t enough of a hurdle, the fábricas recuperadas ("recovered factories") movement also had to weather the storm of the upcoming presidential elections. Only a few months earlier, Argentina’s presidents during the crisis—the country went through five of them in two weeks!—had been the targets of massive disapproval. Argentines shouted “¡Que se vayan todos!” (“They all must go!”) But suddenly the very people who were unceremoniously booted out of leadership were back, vying for the country’s highest executive position. Inconceivably, the candidate leading the polling predictions was Carlos Menem, the maestro of the economic collapse. He had been president already twice before, and he had been disgracefully forced into exile after the end of his second term. The ringleader was back, and it looked as though he might win. If that happened, the desperate effort of the Forja workers would be sunk, as Menem would have almost certainly restored control of the factories to the owners.

Sometimes, though, desperate actions pay off. In a terrifically lucky break for Espinoza, his coworkers and the rest of the fábricas recuperadas movement, Menem pulled out of the race, and legislation was approved allowing occupied factories to continue operating under worker control.

For an American viewer of The Take (2004), the documentary that tells Espinoza´s story, the concept of worker-controlled factories has the potential to be abrasive. The socialist fábricas recuperadas movement is definitely not new to Argentina or South America, and its most recent manifestation has ties to a similar movement in Venezuela. Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, supports the movements, and he isn’t exactly the recipient of positive press coverage in the United States, so it may be understandable why an American viewer might be a little skeptical about the idea.

Regardless of any artificial connotations that may exist today, socialism at its heart is “a political and economic theory of social organization that advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange, should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole” (New Oxford American Dictionary). Right now in the U.S., “socialism” is a something of a dirty word, hurled around by conservatives who accuse the country from departing from its roots of privatization and capitalism by electing Barack Obama as president.

However, maybe it’s time for Americans to take a break from denunciation and spend more time observing the attempts of other countries to find a profitable path in today’s economic turbulence. It is undeniable that this movement of worker-occupied factories has played an extremely important role in revolutionizing Argentina’s political and economic thinking. The struggle of Argentina’s heretofore well-to-do middle class to hoist itself out of the mire of the country’s 2001 economic collapse has meant that people are willing to experiment with new economic ideas after the failure of their previous system, which closely mirrored the methods of the United States and the rest of the “Western” world.

Instead, the workers at Forja, Brukman and other employee-controlled enterprises are trying a different kind of approach. Though each factory comes up with its own set of rules for self-governance, many take the same tack that Forja settled upon: One worker, one vote and one standard salary for everyone. Whatever the majority decides is what the factory does, and an individual worker must become accustomed to winning, losing, and carrying on anyway. It’s a strange mix of socialistic democracy on the small scale, and it appears to be working beautifully, at least so far.

The workers’ slogan of “Occupy, Resist and Produce” is a clear example of how Argentina is reinventing itself to become more viable in a world economy. What will be interesting to see is how the most recent global crisis will affect the country’s still nascent fábricas recuperadas movement. If it can survive this second wave of worldwide economic deterioration, it may demand more serious, open-minded scrutiny from its detractors who were too quick to condemn its inception. At the very least, Argentina ought to be respected for its “try-anything” mentality. As we have seen consistently throughout history (for example: the signing of the Magna Carta, or the revolution in Cuba, or now the struggle for democracy in Iran) desperation causes countries and individuals to examine other options and launch new experiments, many of which are often met with success—though that’s a word that admittedly means different things for different people.

Based on what’s happened so far, the fábricas recuperadas movement can neither be condemned as socialistic evil nor hailed as a solution to the world’s economic problems. For now, it seems that the rest of the world must sit back and watch the experiment.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Gender roles in a machismo culture

For the last few weeks, I´ve been taking photos for Artemisa Noticias, an organization that dedicates itself to news and activism regarding gender issues in Argentina.

Artemisa recently released a documentary called "La Mujer Mediatizada" about how women are portrayed in Argentine media. (It can be seen in its entirety here, but you´ll need to understand Spanish.) Its major findings were that the death of a woman is not given the same media coverage as the death of a man, and that crimes committed by women are often written off as "crimes of passion." Additionally, despite the fact that the number of women pursuing a journalism education is higher than the number of men, this is not reflected in the amount of women who hold leadership positions in journalistic workplaces. (It may be of interest to note that the two editors I´m working for and the two teachers I´m studying under are all women, but that´s is just been my limited experience.)

There is no denying, however, that Argentina has a very heavy machismo culture--which is to say that life here can be very male-chauvanistic. So for that reason, it´s interesting to see a group of women (even if it is a localized one) fighting hard to propel their movement.

It´s been educating, even if a little disorienting at times--like the event I covered last night at La Casa del Encuentro, which was housed in the colorful upstairs of a rickety old building. It felt a lot like a clubhouse for women only, maybe because of the strongly-worded feminist literature tacked on the walls and the fact that both of its bathrooms were adorned with the female symbol.

In any event, the photo assignments have been challenging because the three events I´ve covered have featured people sitting around and talking. And the lighting has been extremely sketchy, which results in grainy images. But Artemisa wants pictures of the women presenting the material, so I guess they´re getting what they want.

Cierra Obioha, a recent graduate of Mizzou´s broadcasting sequence, has also been coming to Artemisa´s events. You can find her commentary here.

Monday, June 22, 2009

There's Spanish, and then there's Castellano

It´s one thing to speak Spanish in the context of an hour-long class a few times a week. It´s another to live in another language. It´s been said before, and I´ll repeat: The best (and perhaps the only) way to become fluent is to live immerse yourself in another language. And that means getting as far away from other languages as possible.

Once you´re cut off from what´s familiar, you reach a whole new level of communication. You can´t ask your teacher, "Como se dice 'county?' " You have to talk your way around it until what you mean becomes clear. And sometimes you just have settle for a shrug and a confused look.

And in Buenos Aires, it´s not quite the Spanish I learned in high school and college. The plethora of Italian, Spanish, German and other immigrants coalesced to create a weird manifestation of a language that is distinctly different from all other Spanish-speaking countries. From quirky pronunciation (the "ll" sound is more of a "zh" here) to slang words (it wouldn´t be uncommon in some places to hear the Lunfardo "morfar" instead of "comer"), it´s almost like its own language. And they call it Castellano.

The accent is incredible. It borrows some of its sounds from the Portuguese of Brazil, and for anyone who's seen "City of God," it's a treat to hear. And it's distinct; once you start speaking Castellano, it's clear to any Spanish-speaker that you learned in Argentina.

It´s difficult, but it´s rewarding I suppose. I haven´t noticed a night-and-day improvement in my speaking abilities since I got here. On the contrary, I often get frustrated because (obviously) I can´t express myself in Castellano as well I can in English. And despite the fact that people tell me I speak well, I´m noticing more mistakes than ever...a lot of them with things like gender agreement. But maybe the fact that I´m noticing is the improvement.

I´m lucky to have housemates that like to talk. There have been many nights so far where we´ve sat around with Vanesa, Liliana and Marcela making empanadas or tomando mate and talking about everything from politics to weekend vacation destinations to futbol (and the time everyone in Argentina shed tears and buried their faces in their soon-to-be-soaked pillows when they a lost game to the U.S.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Father's Day

There's a shortage of fathers in the world, and there are even fewer good ones. That's why it blows my mind that I've got one of them. Unfortunately, fathers rarely get the credit they deserve. But this, Father's Day, is the weak attempt of us children to acknowledge all that they've done for us.

But maybe it's a good thing – experiencing such un-repayable service and sacrifice – because it teaches us what's required to be good fathers. I know that I'm exceptionally blessed to have my dad, who has given so much sweat, money, time, and counsel (and I'm sure he's experience much consternation) to provide me with all the opportunities he could. While it's important to express my gratitude often and sincerely, perhaps the only true way to repay what he's invested is by passing it on.

A good man is hard to find. I love you, Dad. Thanks for everything.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Google Maps

I'm obviously late on the scene, but Google Maps' "My Maps" feature is incredible. I've been playing with it continuously since I got here, creating customized placemarks to keep track of everything from restaurants to museums to Subte stations. The map I've designed for my Buenos Aires 2009 stay is designed to be a collection of places where I spend a lot of time or sites that I'm interested in visiting.

Beyond helping me realize how incredible modern cartography is, my first foray into personal map-making has helped me navigate and get to know the city much better than I would have if I had just looked at a hard copy. I think that if I approached Columbia or my hometown in the same way, I'd learn a lot more about the city...and maybe even have a keener eye for out-of-the-way dives that have so far gone unnoticed.

One of neatest aspects (for me) is that I can share the map with family and friends to give them a better picture of my environment, and I can even use it to make recommendations to those who might be planning to travel in the same area.

And the best part is that it's a living creation, always growing as I visit and hear about new places. If you're interested in taking a closer look at where I've been and where I'm going, ask me for a link.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Watch out, Buenos Aires!

I've been here for just over two weeks so far, getting comfortable with the area, learning the lay of the land. Buenos Aires is certainly an intriguing city. It's hard to know who is porteño (the term for BsAs residents, "people of the port") and who isn't because the city is such a melting pot. Everyone's from somewhere else, it seems. Before I got here, I heard it called the Paris of South America. I don't know if I would necessarily say that, but it's definitely got character.

We live in Palermo Soho, a middle class neigbhorhood. Not the richest, but certainly a far cry from blue-collar, sometimes ghetto-ish La Boca. It's an old house, and it's deceptively spacious for its modest grey stone exterior. We share the house with Liliana, the owner; Marcela, a student; Vanesa, a pediatrician; and until this previous Monday, Cliff, the host of Wild Outdoor Adventures.

And now, a walk-through. To read brief snippets explaining the layout, click the "captions" option in the lower right-hand corner.

One of the first things I noticed upon getting settled in was that Facebook had turned into Spanish. But the upside of that is that now I know how to say words like "tagged" or "wall-to-wall." Valuable information to know. The other most glaring difference about porteño culture is the schedule. It is laaaate. I read in Lonely Planet that it's best not to show up for nighttime activities before 2 to 3 a.m., but it took a couple of 1 a.m. walks by restaurants and seeing them full of people – even the more elderly citizens – to realize that LP's advice was no joke. Things really don't get off the ground here until the wee morning hours, which has meant that most of my interaction with the city has been under cover of darkness.

For the first couple of weeks, we were in language classes four hours a day preparing ourselves to be thrust without fanfare into the workplace. Our introduction to Argentinan journalism comes this week as we start our internships and jump into classes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Eating disorders

"Eating disorders among gay men occur at a rate over 15 percent."

Check out this incredible project by Phoebe Sexton, a graduate photo-j student here at the University of Missouri. It's an intimate look inside the life and struggle of Joshua, a 27-year-old gay man who deals with anorexia and bulimia. If you want to see some wonderful photographs accompanied by moving audio, this is definitely worth your time.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Peter from Bolivar, Mo.

This is Peter Davidson. He's a Baptist minister from Bolivar, Mo. who's lived in Columbia for the last two years. He has a lung condition that's carried by poultry and saps his stamina when he can't get out of the house in the winter.

Come summer, though, he gets out and about and tries to build up his endurance. He'll start out with the goal of getting to a particular place – that day it was the library. He shuffles along slowly, leaning on his cane and wheeling his oxygen canister behind him.

He was taking a break when I met him. I was working on my final photo project for Fundamentals about the proposed widening of West Broadway. Peter wants the road to be widened, mainly because he's afraid he's going to get hit by a car one day. The college students that startle him by slowing their cars to yell and honk their horns at him don't help either.

His business card is the most poignant, though. Swathed in the warm orange leaves of a fall afternoon, it says "consolation, comfort and counseling." When you turn it over, you see the simple words, "You are loved."

But who's consoling and comforting him? He lives in an apartment...said he doesn't have any family in the area. Who's there for him? And moreover, what should our responsibility to him as upstanding members of society look like?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The man who's running for president of Sudan

It started exactly 40 days ago, and now it's done. On my final city desk shift at the Missourian, one of the ACEs came in and asked asked who wanted check out a story about a rumor about an MU professor who was planning to resign so he could run for president of Sudan.

Everyone laughed and rolled their eyes. I asked for it. We twittered about it to see if anyone knew anything, but nothing turned up.

So I called him. "Hi, Dr. Ibrahim. This might be completely off the wall, but I heard a rumor that you're planning to run for president of Sudan. Is there anything to that?"

What he said shocked me into realizing that this was for real. "Well, I cannot really talk about it at this time," he chuckled. "Give me about three days."

He had to work out some contractual issues before he felt comfortable talking about it, but three days stretched into a "couple more days," which kept stretching until it was more than a week later and I still didn't have anything.

This was one of the first times I've felt real pressure to get the scoop, so I didn't really want for him to get released from his contract and then make an announcement about his plans before I could write the story.

So we made a deal. He agreed to do an interview with me as long as I waited until he got his red tape all ironed out. Well, the days stretched into weeks again, so I finally got him to let me run it anyway with the disclaimer that he has not yet been officially let go from his duties.

The story is on the front page today, and it's hefty. And gratifying. And I had a lot of help, especially from the long-suffering Katherine Reed. Also, for more about the political climate in Sudan, check out a separate interview I did with Douglas Johnson, the author of The Root Causes of Sudan's Civil Wars.

(Both of these photos were posed and used for my environmental portrait project in Fundamentals of Photojournalism, but I decided to wait until the story broke to publish them.)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Sports action and feature

Here are the sports photos that I turned in for my photo-j class today. Figured I'd post the latest anyway, even when they ain't so hot.


And the feature:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Simpler times, or "Why you should be glad"

"When you ran out of money, you'd just go, 'Well, I can't do any more things now.' "

Monday, April 13, 2009

New life

"When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue— you sell him a whole new life."
— Christopher Morley
(Found out about this via Kristie.)

And I'd argue that it holds true not just with books, but with any written word – especially newspapers and magazines – which is why people should gladly continue to finance the craft of the wordsmith. Literacy is a beautiful thing, and it is more beautiful still when commanded skillfully.

Words bring gifts that are priceless, and the pittance that is required for their production is so small that it's almost like getting the whole world for a penny.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Little Miss Dutchess

Found this photo from 2007's spring break, and I don't think I've ever posted it on here. It's a nice reminder of a different time.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Here's the description for the "Pictorial" assignment in my Fundamentals of Photojournalism class: "Make a photograph in which the nature of the subject or the mood of the scene is enhanced by color. Exploit warm or cool colors, complementary colors, advancing colors or kaleidoscope colors to reinforce the ideas expressed in the photograph."

After much ambivalence, here's what I decided to use for the assignment. Still not really sure what a good pictorial photograph would look like.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Food, Inc.

After seeing Food, Inc. at the True/False Film Festival, I got interested in being more intentional about the source and preparation of the food I eat. In the future, I plan to further explore how to practically apply conscientious eating.

The following is a reprint of a film review I wrote as part of a recurring food section that runs in a community newsletter my partner and I produce on the Neighborhoods Beat at the Missourian.

It wasn't hard to find a thought-provoking documentary at Columbia's True/False Film Festival at the beginning of March.

One of the most compelling of these was a film called "Food, Inc." Directed by Robert Kenner, it weaves the intricate account of the mass-production of our foodstuffs from field to fork and makes some weighty claims about the ethical and nutritional legitimacy of the United States' food industry.

It reveals the way food is produced today. It displays vegetables that were harvested half a world away and were chemically ripened to give the illusion of freshness. It shows sprawling Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, crowded patches of dirt that house livestock that have been genetically engineered and strategically fed to grow bigger and faster than normal. Many of its scenes – though graphic – provide important information about the way animals are harvested and processed today.

Sure, there are benefits. There are no seasons anymore, and produce is specially created not to spoil. Everything is available all the time, and preparation of many items has become nearly instant. But there are hidden consequences to these so-called advantages, the documentary suggests. With an over-saturation of preservatives, pesticides and genetic modification, there are higher rates of food-related diabetes, child obesity and increased outbreaks of E. coli bacteria that the CDC says affect around 73,000 people per year.

The film states that behind it all are several mega-corporations that maintain tight control of food production and dispersal, and these companies place a higher importance on profit and speed than on health, ethics or the environment.

According to Kenner and his battalion of sources, all of these factors contribute to a food industry that is out of sync with the way that healthy consumption is supposed to function.

So, what to do? The first step is education. A puny film review like this only scratches the surface of such an essential subject, so voracious viewing and reading about the issue are key. In the coming weeks, we'll highlight some practical steps that can be taken to use the supermarket scanner as a voting booth and achieve healthy and ethical eating.

For more about "Food, Inc." or to find out how to get involved, check out the film's site at

Suggested reading:

"Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal" - Eric Schlosser
"The Omnivore's Dilemma" - Michael Pollan
"Farmer in Chief" - Michael Pollan's open letter to then president-elect Obama
"The Pleasures of Eating" – an essay on responsible eating by the farmer-poet Wendell Berry

Suggested viewing:

"What's wrong with what we eat" - an excellent TED talk by New York Times food writer Mark Bittman