Looking back on the Journal Star

Well I think it’s about time I put up another blog post since my departure from my internship at the Journal Star. I thought about putting together a slideshow of some of my favorites from my eight months in Peoria, but since internships are a training ground I figured I’d post images that were significant learning moments during my time. If you want to view solely my favorite images you can look through all my previous posts.

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With Valentine’s Day approaching in Peoria I was trying to search for a feature story the paper could cover so we wouldn’t have to have to take pictures at the local zoo or civic center. After searching around, I came upon a group that does singing telegrams called the Pride of Peoria Quartet. While this alone wouldn’t be A1 story material necessarily, I figured capturing the surprised faces of singing telegram receivers would be much better than whatever backup event we had planned. While making their rounds of telegrams one of the members mentioned the group also visits the grave of a former barbershop quartet signers wife every Valentine’s Day to sing. “Woah,” I thought now that’s where the story is. I later learned for the past 10 years, the group has come to Hirstein Cemetery in Morton, Illinois to pay tribute to the signer Don Elward’s wife Vicki, who passed away in 2002 of Lou Gehrig’s disease. “It’s a testimony for the love he had for her,” Mike Cosner, one of the members of the Pride of Peoria Quartet, said.

When Valentine’s Day came the images in my head didn’t quite come together like I had hoped (Don was distracted being interviewed by our reporter in her car when the quartet showed up to sing so, so consequently he wasn’t in sight to be photographed while the group was singing at the grave.) Overall though, I was happy with the way the Journal Star was able to give a worthwhile story to readers on Valentine’s Day outside of the cheesy, romantic stuff we’d expect. Finding this story opened up my eyes to finding the real stories within the ones we have in our head. I wanted to photograph singing telegrams and with a little casual conversation I was able to become involved in a touching moment in someone’s life seldom seen by others. As a result our photo blog post received this comment:

“God bless you for this wonderful ministry. As former director of the Big Chicken Chorus, I had the privilege of going with some of our Singing Valentine quartets, but never anything like this. What a blessing you are to Mr. Edward.”

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Covering the record-setting floods this spring in the central Illinois area was unlike anything I’ve had to photograph before. As the Journal Star’s photo intern the experience was important for me to have had. While only most of my coverage was more general news there were a spot news moments when some residents had to evacuate their towns. It was a new experience for me either way. Most of the time I was only told which town I was heading to that particular day. It was all up to me to get there and figure out what is going on, who’s helping who and areas with the most damage or threat of. I think I was up to the challenge, as in most circumstances I just wanted to keep talking to people and just relating to them on a humane level not so much as a journalist barging in. While it was relatively easy in most cases to see sandbagging or people moving items outside their homes, I felt it was important for me to be able to go inside their homes too. The above image happened to be from one of those days in a town called Spring Bay, where waters were rising and residents where trying to save what they could from their homes in preparation of their houses being inundated. There were over 30 people at least at this home where I learned an older relative lived alone and so here whole family was helping her save her possessions. It was a quite a sight to see and I was humbled they let me into their home. So while the flooding most of the times was gradual and residents weren’t necessarily in a panic to get out, I think what I took away from the flood coverage was just how important it is to be able to be genuine and sincere when covering people in unfortunate situations.

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I added this photo not because I feel like it is that important of an image so much as it was an image that made try something different (especially with the monotonous moments snow coverage brings). It was only really a dusting of snow that day so I knew I wasn’t going to get images of people shoveling or clearing their cars. I figured I’d catch the 9-5 crowd as they leave work downtown. My editor suggested popping a flash. I took his advice I gotta say I was pretty happy with the results. So, I think the lesson here is take your editors advice wisely and at least make attempts at fresh ways to view daily assignments you feel like you’ve shot a million times.

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Covering flooding was one new thing for me during my time in Peoria and so was covering the funeral of a former Fire Chief. I still feel weird when I have to take pictures of people grieving and this time was no different. Again like covering the floods I understood the importance of being genuine and sincere. I was very careful with my words and I always said I was sorry for their loss. While it seems like such as simple thing to do, I feel like it goes a long way. However, I was still very nervous and had a lot of anxiety. I wanted to get a meaningful picture from the funeral and at the same time each time I pressed the shutter I felt like I was invading their space. I kept thinking ‘How would one of the other photographer’s document this funeral? What are moral/ethical boundaries here? I say these things because in all honesty I did get told by a family member to stop taking photos. Relatives were in line hugging the widow and I was trying to get an angle with the casket and the hugging. I was nervous and kept thinking there was a better shot and so I’m sure I crossed that emotional boundary and a family member came up to me and told me “OK, that’s enough.” I felt so bad and backed away toward the other side of the room. Looking back on it now I should have known, ‘OK this is a high-emotional situation, whatever picture I’m looking for I need to have better patience to wait, get it right after a few takes and be done with it.’ That’s how I should have done it. But this was new for me. That family member eventually walked up to me later and told me she was sorry, but I remember just being honest to her and telling her she was not out of line and I thanked her for actually telling me. I still find myself in these situations of people dealing with loss and it never gets any easier for me. I remember one other assignment in Peoria where someone told me to stop taking pictures — a vigil for a homicide victim. When this happened again it’s like I question myself: ‘What service am I actually doing by sticking my camera in the faces of grieving family members? What civic duty am I upholding?’ I still feel weird when taking pictures at these assignments but I keep remembering these assignment will always be emotionally hard. It’s assignments like these where I think just being a fly on the wall makes you seem less humane and with a purpose of only profiting off the suffering of others. And so it’s times like these where being a person first and a photojournalist second can be better for yourself and those your photographing.

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The these images are pretty straight forward into why I included them. The wouldn’t have been captured had I not stuck around after a postponed sports game. I was covering a fast-pitch softball tournament and before any of the action could start lighting and rain caused all the games to be postponed until the next day. All of this within 20 minutes of the first game I was set to photograph. Seeing as how I knew there would be no sports action shots for print I figured the news of the day would be the weather. So I stuck around for maybe an hour or two (before they officially postponed the tournament) capturing what teams are doing in the meantime of waiting around. Most of the times players go back to their cars they came in (everyone is ordered off the softball field premises when lighting delays a game) so I figured I’d go around to cars in the rain and try to find players. For the most part I stuck with teams we would have covered for the day and so I got some shots of a team playing on a playground after finding out that the tournament was on the verge of being postponed. So I think the lesson learned here is postponement/cancellation can become the news. Plus you’re bound to find some off beat sports features, for sure.

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While I was in Peoria I had the opportunity to photograph way more sports than I had ever previously. During my eight months there I shot basketball, hockey, baseball, softball, track & field, swimming, bowling and football. I didn’t have much experience shooting sports prior to my internship in Peoria (one MU football game, a couple MU basketball games, and some MU softball). During the spring I shot mostly basketball and could tell my sports photos were definitely rusty. As the months went by though I began to understand how to follow action and at least look/anticipate for the peak moments. Becoming more comfortable with shooting action gave me more opportunities to photograph more feature moments from games, which I find much more fulfilling to me as a photographer (at least until I’m able to bang out great peak action sports photos). This leads me to the pictures above, which are from the IHSA Girls Track & Field championships, held in Charleston, Ill. The venue was nearly three hours away from Peoria and the events were scheduled for around 8 hours that day. While I only needed to photographed certain events to capture athletes of our interest, I spent the rest of my time capturing whatever feature photos I could. 8 hours is way more time than I would ever get in any other sporting event most of the time but I think it taught me how to discover new angles and different ways of seeing sporting events. Now when I shoot sports I’m always trying to see this way.

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When working for great moments in a candid situation you hear a lot about patience and waiting/anticipating for a moment to happen. Sometimes you have all the time in the world to wait, sometimes you’ve got deadline looming, or you’re either bored with a situation and feel like leaving. I wouldn’t have gotten an image on May afternoon had I not stuck around for the moment in the top picture above. After driving back from an assignment on a Monday I got a call from one of my editors telling me that family and friends of a person who had been missing since Friday night were gathering near the scene of where the day before a car had driven into the Illinois River (submerged in the water still). The family believed the driver of the person in the submerged vehicle was their missing relative. When I arrived at the scene I first began by asking the reporter who was there before me where the immediate family members of the missing person were. It was a pretty tense seen and the mother of the missing person made it clear she did not want her name/picture taken. You can see from the pictures below most people were standing around the marked area where the vehicle drove over the curb into the river. Most were speculating as to why/how the vehicle even made it into the river. I took photos near here speaking with family and friends and gave my condolences. Not many people wanted to give their names out and emotions weren’t too high but I decided to stick around after the reporter left, having what he needed for his story. I stayed near the woman in the purple jacket named Beverly Brown who was a cousin of the missing person. She was fairly calm throughout my time there and didn’t seem to mind when I talked with her. As family/friends began to leave the scene I didn’t feel like I had an image worthy of the loss they were feeling. I would say I was at the scene for at least 30 minutes before friends arrived, hugging Brown and talking her through the emotional environment. As you can see in the fifth image below, it was just Brown, her three friends and myself there. At that point Brown seemed at ease with my presence as I could tell from the picture I got there after. As she was telling her friends what she thought had happened at the scene that night the vehicle drove into the river I could tell her tone and body language became more frustrated with the whole situation. Before I knew it she began to tear up and her friends came in to comfort her. The moment didn’t last too long or become anymore emotional but I felt like my patience had paid off. Dealing with deadline and having to come back with a image in a timely manner is one thing that I still don’t feel quite comfortable with sometimes. If I had to go to this scene capture a good picture quickly and leave I would feel bad for the family I was photographing. Even if I don’t see these individuals again I feel creating any sort of connection is greatly important before gaining their trust for me to invade their personal space to photograph such an emotionally charged scene. And so I feel in some ways I got the moment I wanted because I took the time to interact with them as a person more so than a photographer.

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One of the best reasons why Peoria is a great place to intern is because you are working just as hard and at the same capacity as the staffers. If it’s a slow day it’s good to know how to scout and come back with a standalone. I don’t know how many times I had to enterprise the day of but I eventually got the swing of doing it often and had fun with it. I enjoyed it a lot because it gave me the chance to immerse myself in the everyday lives of Peoria’s residents. I included this image because it was just a simple standalone situation that I thought ended up looking pretty cool. I was driving through a neighborhood looking for something to catch my eye when I saw a large group of kids jumping on a trampoline into a kiddie pool in a front yard, plus they were all doing aerial maneuvers. Well, there is no way I couldn’t have stopped to take some photos. At first the kids were just too damn excited to have the opportunity to have their picture taken and so I had to take some time to get them back into a candid routine, but after that it was flip after flip after flip. Basically I just wanted to set myself up with a clean background and clean light. When I found my spot I just burst away letting the layers fly in front of me. You can see below the sequence of images I took to get to the select image above. While this many kids jumping at the same time you’re bound to get a lot of unusable images the thing to take note of is to keeping shooting and you’ll get that one shot you’re looking for.

Picture 48

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I included this last image from a monster truck show because I thought it was a good example about looking for telling moments outside of the main attraction of an event. I also included it because it took a lot of keeping myself aware of my surroundings while photographing the event to capture the image. Almost all of the spectators were on one side of the track space (as the other side was overgrown with vegetation) so I was able to walk up and down the side to get all my images. In the process I was trying to look out of interesting features in addition to the action of the monster trucks soaring through the air. I found kids playing with toy monster trucks in the dirt and even got photos of a family in the back of a monster truck during a public joyride at intermission, but felt like I didn’t have a moment. That was until I stayed around a father and his daughter on his shoulder watching the event. At first I was looking to create an image layered with the daughter and her flag in the foreground and the monster truck flying through the air in the background. Then, I noticed the father threw up horns with his fingers in the air and his daughter followed suite at almost the same time. I burst away and got a few frames I liked. In the sequence below I liked seeing the daughter look back at her father in the seventh frame but I felt the better moment is when both have their arms at the peak moment and both horned hands in the air. It’s these kind of moments you feel good about working for.

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