Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A cold case never goes cold for a family

Proof that newspapers still do what they were created to do, if this helps the Valtierra family ease the pain and find answers it'll all be worth it.

Three years after her youngest son was found dead in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Rachel Valtierra still has nightmares. She wonders how her son, Angel Anthony Valtierra, a 20-year-old with an impish smile, died. She wishes she could read his autopsy report. At least then, she says, she would stop imagining what may have happened. Investigators have never released how Angel was killed, all they have told her is that he was a homicide victim.
Read the story, hear the voices.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"Not just a number" interview

A quasi-update on an earlier post I made about the Not Just a Number series now appearing on the Oakland Tribune... as I do from time to time, I headed over to Ryan Sholin's blog to check out what nuggets of reflection he's got in store for me to ponder when lo and behold I see he's scored an interview with Sean Connelley and Katy Newton, the authors behind "Not just a Number".

It's a good read, and given how exceptional the piece is, I figured there's a few of you out there that might be interested as well.

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Cuban Streets and Latin Beats

When Mediastorm launched a little over a year ago one of the centerpieces was "1976" a project that fused the beats of DJ RJD2 with a street photography aesthetic and an amazing flair for style and visuals.

It's more music video than journalism, but it's just to good to ignore. I recently came across it again and thought why not share.

Back then, pretty much every photographer I talked to was talking about 1976, if you haven't seen it, do it now!

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

It's Tricky!!!

Not everything has to be serious, here's a fun video that showcases the power of editing and sound and pays homage to one of my favs.

The video is deceptively simple, but there's a lot of thought going on behind the edits, musical cues, variations in signage and acting, yes acting.

Plus some of those cards are clever in the way early hip-hop was in it's sound samples... like when Public Enemy would use a police siren or LLCoolJ would use an alarm clock.

Lastly, I'd like to share one of my favorite tributes to the band and the late Jam Master Jay. It's a special one piece cartoonist Keith Knight created for LA Weekly.


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Monday, March 19, 2007

The Obama campaign goes pop culture

In a (not so) odd (if you really think about it) nod to Americana, Obama goes for the techie vote with this clever (plagiarized?) champaign ad.

I can't imagine what Apple would say, I guess it's nice that she's paying homage to Apple by wearing an iPod... but wow.

If this takes off, and I have a feeling it just may given it's "you gotta see this" vibe, it may the first political viral video to actually reach an audience. It's going to be an interesting political year ahead.

A bit of nostalgia laden political spitfire targeted right to a specialized voting audience, you cheeky bastard Obama.

(And yes I realize that by posting this I'm going to become another cog in the machine the mainstream media will cite when they say "bloggers (yuk! I hate that term!) are talking about it." As if somehow we give it merit... but I'm starting to talk (rant?) about a whole other topic and I better stop myself.)

The real way how three months salery is made to last forever

I just saw "Blood Diamond" last night, a great film by the way.

It's Edward Zwick return to the elegant simplicity of "Glory" and departure from the boisterous frivolity of "The Last Samurai." I'd always hoped Zwick would recapture his talent, a mature director with a steady hand and a pure understanding of the fundamentals, he really is the closest thing we have to John Frankenheimer and that may seem old fashioned, but then watching a sunset is also old fashioned.

The cast is mostly superb (mostly because Jennifer Connelly is always struggling to keep up) and I can see why Djimon Hounsou deserved his Oscar nomination, but that's enough from the old film critic Shaminder, this is a blog about photojournalism after all.

While watching the film I was reminded of a photo essay I saw a few months ago.

Kadir Van Lohuizen's essay shot in high contrast to capture the raw light of those affected follows the journey of conflict diamonds, a connotatively spun way of saying diamonds that are bore out of the corpses of a native population.

And while it may not be the flashy multimedia presentations we're become accustomed to, it still has merit and is worth the trip. There's also two other versions of the story on his website, but since it's a flash production, I cannot direct link to it, but take a look and you'll see it, trust me, it's worth the effort.

From the earth to the hand.

While the western world is making three months last forever, the diamond originating countries are learning to live forever without an arm or a leg, or a mother or a sister, or land or home. It's ridiculous that we put so much value on a natural stone and turn a blind eye to the lives that rock changed.

Nas was right, "The stone's equality, but they homes are poverty/And the whole world ignores the robbery/Bought my girl pretty rocks when she's mad at me"

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A long overdue "yippie!"

With all the commotion in my life the past few months, I virtually forgot all about this post I've had in mind for a while.

Things within the photojournalism department at San Jose State University are happening, the community is buzzing, the new crop of students are involved, and many of my colleges are getting out there and getting it done.

I'm interning at the Santa Cruz Sentinel as I've mentioned when it was pertinent to the topic, but I'm not the only one diving into the deep end of the professional world.

Hanna Thrasher and Jordan McKone are motoring around as interns at Scoot Magazine, the number one magazine about scooter culture in the world.

Diana Diroy is an intern at the Oakland Tribune and is producing some fine work. (*This just in, Diana's photographs have found their way into the Mercury News for a page 1B news article on a SJSU student trip to Louisiana and the student organization that is trying to rebuild the region. The story is online, but her pictures are only in the paper, good thing I subscribe.)

Ashley Bess is interning with the city of San Jose and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. library, the biggest and freshed library west of the Mississippi.

Lawrence will be trading the left coast for the right* this summer for an internship at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Daniel Sato will be taking a hike to the St. Cloud Times in Minnesota.

And our photojournalism department head, Dr. Michael Cheers just found out that he'll be spending his summer as one of this years crop of Faculty Fellow at National Geographic in Washington D.C. (Booya!)

I just wanted to take a moment to recognize these people and wish them all the best of luck.

*The west coast is always the right coast however.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Oakland Tribune puts a face on homicide

In 5 yrs. 557 families. A record high 148 lives in 2006.

Homicide and Oakland, in the Bay Area you can't have a conversation about one without someone bringing the topic to the other, but maybe that's a conversation worth having.

About a week ago the Oakland Tribune took another bold step into expanded storytelling and took something we all thought we knew about and informed us we don't know anything.

Not Just a Number
is an interactive narrative ongoing social documentary that puts a face of the homicide stats often quoted in news articles, on TV airwaves and gangsta rap.

Sean Connelley and Katy Newton created the piece for the Trib and they're far from done.

I've been waiting for this project to go live for a few weeks now (I've know of it for about a month now) and have spent the last week exploring it like a child.

The Oakland Tribune gets it right on almost every front and brings the bigger issue to the forefront, and promises to keep doing it as it expands on the presentation with new installments.

What's really interesting is the way it invites the community to tell the story and become part of the narrative process: through blogs, interactive maps, guest books, community generated content and more, it truly becomes an experiment in community journalism that takes advantage of the new media landscape to weave it into a whole new form of journalism.

Living in the Bay Area, I've always read the stories about homicide rates escalating in Oakland and have been warned by many locals not to venture to certain spots at certain intervals of the big arms of the clock on the Tribune's facade.

It does exactly what good journalism is supposed to do, it gives you the need to know and brings public awareness to a public issue that needs attention.

Friday, March 16, 2007

ducks and ethics

I ran into an ethical dilemma while on assignment at the Santa Cruz Sentinel today (and by today I mean when I wrote this, I have a bad habit on making everything a draft because I want to rewrite stuff), and it was a most fowl dilemma indeed.

(Thunder clap!)

Sorry I couldn't resist.

Anyhow, I was given an assignment for a story on the ducks-- and to a lesser extent the geese (which makes me wonder if Santa Cruz is a anti-goose town... but that's a topic for another blog)-- at Schwan Lake in Santa Cruz and the violation of laws that prohibit the feeding of said ducks.

So I arrived and right off the bat I decided that showing someone feeding the ducks would not be fair since it singles out this one person as committing a crime, so I decided to do compose my shots in a manner that would include a human element without actually identifying anyone.

But it turns out I over thought the situation because there was not a single person in sight. Back to the drawing board.

I changed my focus to making a visually appealing image from a nature angle, and I asked myself, "how would National Geographic do it?"

I decided to slowly approach the duck with a wide angle in hopes of having them approach me. I reasoned that these animals had become accustomed to being feed and therefore would come towards any human that treaded lightly in their direction.

I was wrong, they slowly waddled away, I'm convinced one of them gave me the duck equivalent of the middle finger when he turned his back to me, shock his tail feathers and kicked up the dirt behind me in my direction as he eyed me over his avian shoulder. Back to the drawing board.

I switched up lenses and walked around the lake for a while, hoping to compose a compelling picture that conveyed the story in a single shot, but the ducks were startled by my presence and kept swimming... er, floating?... away.

I was stumped, how was I going to get a picture of the ducks for the front page story that I'd be proud to have my name under in print?

I had already taken a few shots by this time as safeties and decided to try something.

I began to toss tiny pebbles and twings in the lake and near me to trick the ducks into thinking I was laying out a buffet. They approached and caught on quick and swam, floated or waddled away, but I snapped a few frames as they came toward me.

I was satisfied and decided to book it to my next assignment.

At the moment all I was thinking of was my deadlines and the stories I still needed to cover, but a few hours later as I sat down to edit my takes a thought that had been nagging me since I foraged the ground for the first pebble at the lake surfaced.

Was scattering the fake food, the bait, the lure if you prefer, ethical? Was it ethical for me to manipulate the behavior of the ducks to get the image I needed?

With people it's obvious. We would never ask a bride to shove cake in the face of her new husband a second time for the camera, or move a folding chair from the middle to the right third because it helps the composition, or ask a crying toddler to look up after he dropped his ice cream beacuse the green grass makes a better background, but what about with animals?

Do we extend the same ethical limits to animals that we place on humans? Or is their a loophole that excuses animals since they are no more aware of the camera than they are of us?

On the one hand, their behavior is already affected by my presence, on the other hand, tossing fake food is pre-mediated outright consciouses manipulation of reality.

Where do we draw the line?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but in the end I decided to go with the pictures I took before the "fishing" expedition. When it comes to matters like these, I feel I have to be able to answer to myself, and even though the ducks behaved differently since I was around, I see that as something that I can't help, but actively tossing pebbles (side note: I keep wanting to say rocks, but I get the feeling some people will think by rocks I mean giant boulders aimed at poor innocent ducks... pebbles just has a nicer connotation.) is something I can help.

That said, I still really not sure what the right answer is.

What do you think?

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New faces, old faces, many laughes and a sunset on the beach

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of hanging out with some of the new students in the PJ program at San Jose State University during our NPPA chapter sponsored Spring Shootout in Capitola.

In between lessons of technique, I had a great time getting to know some of the new faces I keep seeing and finding out more about the thoughts floating around behind those faces.

Here's a bite-sized snack-sized taste of the day's events (extended cut to come).

Many of the students doubled up and turned the shoot into an opportunity to do some multimedia projects. One such project was Daniel Sato's exploration (and Mark II N envy inducement production) of movement and lyrical storytelling.

And if you'd like to see some of the projects, the students will be presenting them soon to their classes and then posting them to the SJSU NPPA website.

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24 on|24 off :a documentary

"24 on|24 off" is a documentary where I shadowed the firefighters of the C-shift of Engine 2 in San Jose, Ca. My intention was to show the "family" side of life in the firehouse and rather than documenting the fires, which I saw as cliché, I wanted to go deeper into who these people were and how they live in this place that is both home and work.

This multimedia piece was created in the days before soundslides (remember, soundslides only blew up a year ago) and I culled it together using Adobe Premier and Audition, where I took the firefighter’s story and set it to a musical piece I edited together. My aim was to explore the full canvas of presentation and envelop the viewer in my piece. It also allowed me to change the pacing of the story and expand on the images to give a richer sense for who these men who live in this house for 24 hours at a time are.

They do more than fight fires; they have lives, personalities and develop friendships we seldom see.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

The hills are cold with the sound of slush

As my friend Daniel Esch said last week, "Dude we're in beer country."

When I woke up this (Wednesday, thanks blogger spambots... well actually Feb. 28 now, thanks life) morning I expected to see some snow on Mt. Hamilton and the hills behind my house, it wasn't that unusual for up to an inch of snowfall on the peaks at least a few times each winter, but this time the snowfall was more more spread out and much thicker.

I have never seen the snow cover this far down the hill before and reports stated it was an astoniching four inches. If I'd had more time, I would of taken a drive up the hillside and gotten some better shots and thrown a snowball or two at anyone willing and able to engage in some frosty warfare, but I had to be an adult and go to work in Santa Cruz.

Of course if it snowed in San Jose, it also snowed in Santa Cruz. And just as I suspected, Ryan had already had his "let's do online talk," but then that's what happens when you combine Ryan with snowfall.

Over at the Sentinel Shmuel Thaler was able to wake up early and capture the snow basking in the morning light, and produced a slideshow of what snow pictures should look like.

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A bit of overkill no?

Isn't this overkill? I guess if you shoot RAW or have one of those cameras that can shoot video to a CF card it makes sense... but something about this scares me. I don't know if I want all that space at risk of a frailer.

I really don't have much more to say about the topic, pretty short post... might be my shortest ever.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

The story every journalist covers

So it took nearly two months but it finally happened, I finally got that story that everyone has to cover... gas prices.

It's basically the same story that everyone's shot a million times, in fact I shared a laugh last night with a friend who covered the same story a week prior at her paper.

The challange is to put your own spin on it and make it fresh.

Here's my take.

If those prices seem high, that's nothing. In just one day, the price at my usual spot went to $3.01 this morning at 8am... and was at $3.15 at 8pm as I drove home. And it's not even summer yet. Looks like we can't say, "It'll never go over $3" anymore, anyone want to venture a gamble on $4?

Now here is where I was going to post a pic of a gas prices picture I really think hits the mark, but I can't find it, mostly beacuse it was taken almost three years ago and google has way too many gas prices pictures to find this particular one. But I guess I can describe it and why I liked it.

It's a pretty simple picture and what the photographer did was snap the price board through a window covered in water droplets from the rain and they've selectivly focused on the reflections in the droplets. It's a pretty simple picture, but it's stayed with me over the years becuase it took the ordinary and made it extordinary. Took the hum drum assignment and make it something visually striking. That's what I think we should all strive for on every assignment, if you can't please yourself, it's not good enough. Gee, I only wish I could show this image now. I've probably made it sound like the greatest gas prices picture ever, and for me, it ranks up there pretty high.

Lastly, gas prices keep going up and we have to keep paying... but here's something to help put it all in a lighter light.

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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Writing for the silver screen (by osmosis)

This year I got to take part in something I've been wanting to for a long time. It's another one of those things that I've always wanted to do but never knew when the plan would come to fruition.

But it's funny how the last couple months things that I've always wanted to do have been coming my way. (Lorne Michaels if you're reading this, come'on!)

If you open this program for the Cinequest Film Festival, you'll find stuff written by me inside... and no it's not like last years where I ran around town with a Sharpie... (just kidding boss!)

I tell myself I'm not a writer and that I only want to focus on honing my photographic skills. The way I reason it, if I split my focus between two disciplines, neither one will improve, but if I pick one and pour myself into it, then I'll excel. But then I get the opportunity to do things I just can't say no to.

Last summer I was brought aboard Cinequest, a top 10 rated film festival right out of San Jose, as an intern. My task, to fall back into my film critic role from bygone years and help write the program for this years festival.

I spent the last several months watching films late into the night, jotting down notes incessantly and then condensing my assesments into digestible nuggets for the program guide. Which was first published in the San Jose Metro in January and began appearing last week in it's glossy covered standalone version, and it's in full color for the first time!

Cinequest 2007 runs from Feb 28 - March 11, pick up a program and let me know if I was right or wrong.

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Four generations of the Revolution multimedia

Wednesday was a big day for the local Daughters of the American Revolution, a patriotic women’s society limited to lineal descendants of soldiers of the Revolutionary War. The organization added six women to its ranks.

But Wednesday was even more important for 92-year-old Rosemary Arthur of Santa Cruz, who watched as five family members and three generations were among those taking the DAR pledge.

“It’s one of the biggest days of my life,” Arthur said.

Click on the picture for a multimedia presentation and keep an eye out for yours truly (truly) for a cameo apperance that results in a niffty edit that hints at the NYC film school education of my chum and editor.

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Is that a good thing?

Let me first preface this post by saying that I don't like Carson Daly, he ranks right up there between Dane Cook and a kick to the groin from behind for me. Why do I say this? Because I am forced to admit that I was watcing his late night show after Conan ended tonight.

So Craig Ferguson ends and I flip over to NBC since Carson has the Silversun Pickups on and I'm still up doing homework, and what do I see in the monoluage.
San Jose State has angered students by banning beer pong at its college football games. This move is not only expected to hurt game attendance, but more importantly, it ruins thier shot at winning a national championship in beer pong.

Nice, not the most clever of jokes but SJSU gets a mention on national TV. No doubt because of Carson's affinity for the region since he spent his early career here... maybe he's not all bad... hmm... yeah, I'll say he's better than Dane Cook.

Honest, I don't actually watch it, I just happen to have it on since I have all this homework. What? What do you mean I should watch Aqua Teen? I don't have cable... thanks for rubbing it in... jerk...

Ok, stop looking at me like that. Come'on!

my first (second... well third) front page...

... but the first that I've seen in the newsstand.

I passed by this kiosk on Pacific Avenue just after sunset as the rain was pouring and I was on my way back to the office dreched by the sudden downpour in nothing but a thin turtle neck sweater (don't tell my mom, she worries).

Two features I shot during the sudden downpour that day.

When I saw it, I was stopped in my tracks. I had seen the paper sitting here and there on benches and desks and it was just another assignment, another job done, but there's something about seeing your first front page from a major daily newspaper staring back at you from it's steal cage of informational canon.

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Talk about subtle...

So Blogger thought my blog was a spam blog and I haven't been able to post until today.

Ouch... my pride.