A second career

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/ 8. ISO: 200)

A cardboard cut out of NBA center Shaquille O’Neal is used as part of a stop sign at the San Joaquin County Hazardous facility in south Stockton. Shaq should be comforted to know that after his pro basketball career is over that he can find employment with the county.

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Happier times ahead?

“Ain’t got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don’t worry, be happy.
The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don’t worry, be happy.” -Don’t worry, be happyBobby McFerrin

(Camera:Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/9. ISO: 200)

I saw these words, “Be Happy,” written in caution tape on a chain link fence on Davis and Thornton Roads in Stockton. Is it a sign of cautious optimism or ironic cynicism?

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To the beat of a different drum

“Ever since I was a tiny boy
I don’t want no candy
I don’t need no toy

I took a stick and an old coffee can

I bang on that thing ’til I got

Blisters on my hand…” Bang the Drum All Day- Todd Rundgren

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/60th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)

Everything was in place for the percussionists during the first
rehearsal of the Manteca Unified School District’s Honor Band in the
Lathrop High School band room. There were kettle drums, snare drums and
a big bass drum. Cymbals and tambourines were at the ready. Also on
hand were glockenspiels and xylophones. There was even a gong. I don’t
know what it was used for, but the most unusual piece was a 18-inch
section of iron railroad track. I wonder if I looked around a little
harder, would I have found a kitchen sink as well?

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“In every artist there is a touch of audacity without which no talent is conceivable” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There are times when there are things that are so beyond my sensibilities, that I’m not sure what to make of them.

The annual Apollo Night talent show is an American Idol-style show that has become an institution in Stockton. Named after the famed Apollo Theater amateur nights in Harlem, New York, it was founded and organized by local impresario Tony Washington in 1998.

I shot one of this year’s dress rehearsal at the Stockton Civic Memorial Auditorium. Most of the performers were dancers/dance groups. There were hip hop groups, Mexican folklorio dancers, even an eight-year-old boy who did a wicked Michael Jackson-inspired routine. Then a group who called themselves Empiricon came on and changed the pace. They were a punk rock band clad in dog collars and studded leather wristbands. Lead singer Dale Adorno assured the organizers and staff, as well as the other contestants that they weren’t scary, despite the fact that his denim vest had a patch that read: ” Doom Crew”.

It must take some special kind courage to perform music that very few people will understand, especially in a talent contest. Guitarist Cody Walker and bassist Rob Green (the group’s drummer was absent that day) began the song with what seemed to my ears to be a loud constant drone. Then Adorno started “singing”. I’m sure part it was the Civic auditorium’s acoustics, but it sounded to me like he was barking, undecipherable to all but Lassie.

At one point Adorno called for the audience to participate (in more audibly legible tones) in sort of a call and response. He told them to raise a fist in the air and shout “I will not deny” when he gave them their cue. The band continued the song and Adorno barked out something and raised his fist towards the audience. Everyone at the organizers/sound table, including Tony Washington, responded in kind. One of the organizers suggested that perhaps they should have a screen with the lyrics and a bouncing ball, ala Mitch Miller (how’s that for dating myself).

After the song was over, I discovered I wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand the lyrics. Washington asked Adorno what were the words he was singing. Adorno assured everyone that there were no profanities in the song and he would supply written lyrics.

Maybe I’m just getting old, but I prefer something like Miles Davis or Dave Brubeck. I can appreciate the popular appeal of Hip Hop and the cultural traditions of the ballet folklorico. I can even understand the energy and excitement that punk rock brings. I’m guessing that Empiricon has the punk rock chops to do well, but I don’t think I can tell a good punk band from a bad one. Like I said, you have to be brave to put yourself out there, not sure if anyone is going to understand what you’re trying to do or say. I’m just glad I’m not one of the Apollo Night judges.

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Putting things into perspective

There’s a photo technique called forced perspective. No, it’s not making a red state turn into a blue state, or vice versa, at the point of a gun. It’s the use of a wide angle lens’ natural distortion to create a photographic illusion of sorts. You’ve probably seen the most familiar example when tourists holding their hands in the air at just the right angle to make it look like they’re holding up the leaning tower of Pisa, which is actually far in the background of the picture.

Another application is to put what you want to prominent in the photo close to the lens. That will make it look disproportionately large in comparison to what’s in the rest of the photo. If done right, the viewer’s mind can usually reconcile the distortion and make sense of the photo.

Wally Lane with the Napa Wooden Box Company, right, explains his company’s products, custom wooden boxes for wine bottles, at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium at the Sacramento Convention Center in downtown Sacramento. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: 17-55mm @ 17mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

When I covered the annual Unified Grape and Wine Symposium at the Sacramento Convention Center and I got a shot of the Napa Wooden Box Company’s booth. I positioned myself to photograph a set of wine bottles in the foreground. But they were only slightly exaggerated in size because they were 18-liter bottles. That’s about 4.1 gallons each. This picture employs forced perspective, just not as much as you might think.

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Spill the wine

Wine has an image of being sexy and romantic. One envisions candlelit dinners next to a crackling fireplace and fancy bottle of wine. I recently covered the Unified Grape and Wine Symposium at the Sacramento Convention Center in downtown Sacramento and it seemed anything but sexy. Informative? Certainly. Practical? Sure. Sexy? Not so much. The event focused on the mechanics and business of wine, not its image.

According to the symposium’s website it’s “the largest wine & grape industry conference and trade show of its kind in North America.” It touts “more than 11,500 industry professionals attending and 650 booths. You could look at everything from farm equipment to computer software. There were companies that made bottles, barrels, and corks. There were businesses that manufactured machinery that washed the bottles and others that filled them.

Jean Pierre Van Ruyskenveld with Entav-inra, left, pour some wine for Daniel Baron of Oakville, CA, to taste at the Unified Wine and Grape Symposium at the Sacramento Convention Center in downtown Sacramento. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 17-55mm @ 17mm. 1/100th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 800)

You’d think at an event like this, a glass of wine would be an easy thing to find. After scouring the convention center floor I found only two booths that served any wine at all. I’m not a wine drinker, so it wasn’t a big deal to me. But it seemed a bit strange to me that such an industry event would feature so little of the product that is the end result of said industry’s efforts.

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Zamboni snow

Before each Thunder hockey game and between periods, Stockton Arena operations manager Larry Benoit drives a zamboni in ever tightening circles on the rink. The big yellow machine shaves off a thin layer of ice and then lays down new water to create a smooth surface. When it’s done its job and just before it leaves the ice, the zamboni leaves a small pile of shavings at the edge of the rink. The ice crew shovels and squeegees off the residue to melt down a drain. The ice is as fine as any snow cone I’ve ever had. In these hard economic times, perhaps the arena can market it as zamboni shaved ice snow cones. Ok, maybe not.

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By the numbers

When photographing sports I tend to continue shooting after the peak action is over. Identifying the players is almost as important as the shot itself. I have gotten plenty of great shots, but because I can’t see the numbers on the uniforms, I’ve had to pass them up. A few extra frames helps to ensure that I can ID the players when I get back to the office.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm@ 200mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

During a Delta College women’s basketball game at Blanchard Gym in Stockton, I got a shot of Delta and Santa Rosa College players fighting for the ball. In the first shot, it looks like the Mustangs’ number one is vying for the ball with a Santa Rosa player whose jersey number is obscured. A look at the roster shows that there isn’t a number one.

(Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm@ 200mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

The next frame clearly shows the Santa Rosa number to be 31, Lauren Rudy, and reveals the Delta number to be actually 21, Lauran Johnson.

In the old days of film, I would worry about on wasting frames on shooting the numbers. You shoot a lot of frames when covering most sports anyway and the last thing I wanted was to run out of film. I would try to shoot the players’ numbers only after I thought I had the shots I needed. With digital cameras I don’t have that concern. I can now view the monitor and see if I have the shot and the numbers. If not, then all I have to do is just delete the rejects.

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“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” – Albert Einstein

2009 has heralded a new era of hope. For me, the first month always brings a fresh outlook and great expectations for the rest of the year. Things are going well so far (well, other than crashing on my bike). Here are 10 of my favorites from January that haven’t been posted previously.



Rod Place of Stockton, fires a hand-pump paintball gun during a running battle with his wife and family at Swensen Park in Stockton. The guns, which also double as super soaker-type squirt guns, were a family Christmas present. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 400)



A person uses an umbrella to protect themselves from the rain as they walk up to the entrance to the county courthouse in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/4. ISO: 400)



Student Michael Sandhu runs with an armful of leaves while making a pile of them during recess at Don Riggio School in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/500th sec. @ f/5.6. ISO: 400)



A large flock of cormorants take off from the deep water channel near Louis Park in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 300mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/11. ISO: 200)

Delta College’s Natalie Montes goes to the hoop against Santa Rosa College’s Charlene Popoff, left, Palagi Atoe and Jeanette DeWitt during a women’s basketball game at Delta’s Blanchard Gym in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 70mm. Exposure: 1/320th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)



University of the Pacific music student George Pascoe claps out a rhythm with his hands to answer a question in a Musical Jeopardy event at the Faye Spanos Concert Hall on the University of the Pacific campus in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 82mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 1600)

The Thunder’s Adam Huxley fights for the puck with Phoenix Roadrunners’ Matt Burke during an ECHL hockey game at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 75mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5.6 w/ Elinchrome strobes. ISO: 200)



UC Santa Barbara’s Chris Devine is fouled by University of the Pacific’s Anthony Brown during a men’s basketball game at UOP’s Spanos Center in Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 75mm. Exposure: 1/400th sec. @ f/2.8. ISO: 2000)



Chelsea King, 17-year-old East Union High flute player, practices during the first rehearsal of the Manteca Unified School District High School Honor Band at Lathrop High School in Lathrop. 65 of the district’s best high school musicians rehearsed in preparation for a Feb. 7 concert. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 200mm. Exposure: 1/125th sec. @ f/3.2. ISO: 400)



Stockton Cougars’ Pedro Lupercio fights for the ball with Wenatchee Fire’s Alex Megson during a PASL indoor soccer game at the Stockton Arena in downtown Stockton. (Camera: Nikon D300. Lens: Nikkor 70-200mm @ 150mm. Exposure: 1/250th sec. @ f/5 w/ Elinchrome strobes. ISO: 200)

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More cowbell!

“I got a fever; and the only prescription is more cowbell.” Christopher Walken as Bruce Dickinson (yes, THE Bruce Dickinson)

Nick Griffen performed with verve and intensity as he played with the Pacific pep band during the men’s basketball game on Saturday. His instrument: a cowbell. There were two others who also played the cowbell as well as the tambourine (they rotated the percussive instruments among themselves). Although not quite up to the Will Ferrell performance in the now-famous Saturday Night Live cowbell skit, Griffen grooved and pounded out a beat to the music with a bit more flair than the others. It goes to show that sometimes it’s not what you play, but how you play it.

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    Clifford Oto

    Clifford Oto, an award-winning photographer, has been with The Record since 1984. Through the changes from black and white to digital photography, he’s kept his focus on covering the events, people and life of San Joaquin county. This blog deals ... Read Full
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