Real pictures

Photographs can be created as art. And as art they represent the creative vision of the artist, from beautiful landscapes to more avant garde flights of fancy. They can show an exisiting scene or be created out of whole cloth. News photographs are held to a different standard. They strive to present events how they happen as they happened. Setting up or manipulating a news picture in any way is strictly forbidden.

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Tuesday, I shot the annual California Public Safety Medal of Valor ceremony. The state’s highest honor was given by Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger to 10 law enforcement officers from around the state who performed heroic acts in their duties. Lodi Police detective Eric Bradley was one of the recipients. In 2009 Bradley shot and killed murder defendant David Paradiso who attacked Judge Cinda Fox in her courtroom with a hand-made shank.

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Fox was on hand for the ceremony, sitting in the front row of the governor’s press conference room. Before Bradley was awarded the medal she was introduced. Fox stood, placed her hand over her heart and then turned to acknowledge Bradley. When Gov. Schwartzenegger placed the medal around Bradley’s neck, the people in the room, about 100 strong, gave him a rousing standing ovation. At the same time Fox and gave Bradley a heartfelt hug. Unfortunately, I and the rest of the members of the news media who were confined to a 1-ft-tall press riser at the back of the room missed the shot. The tall Bradley had to bend down to hug much shorter Fox and they were obscured by the people standing between us and them. I cursed under my breath for having missed it, but was partially consoled knowing that no one else got the shot either.

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As the event ended I could see I was missing more potential shots so I decided to make my way towards the front of the room. As the crowd stood to leave, I snaked my way through the crush of people. I finally reached Bradley and Fox who were chatting to the Governor. Looking behind me I saw a single file line of the other photographers/vidoegraphers who were following lead. Then an overzealous staff member ordered us back to the riser for some unexplained reason. At the same time Bradley and Fox hugged again. I quickly fired off several frames and then the moment was gone. Since I was at the head of the line, I knew that no one else had gotten the picture. It was a shot from Bradleys’ back, the only angle I could get, so you don’t see his face, only Fox’s, but I didn’t have any room or time to get another photo. I turned around and headed to the back of the room with everyone else.

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After several more minutes the room began to clear and were allowed to move about freely. A reporter from a local TV station who shall go unnamed spoke to Bradley and Fox. He said that he saw the first hug, but his videographer’s shot was blocked (as was everyone else’s) by the standing ovation. Then he asked it they could re-inact the hug just for them. Bradley and Fox agreed and they prepared to do it again. The videographer got into position and the reporter gave the go ahead. The only thing missing was him saying “Action!” to start them off. This no criticism of Bradley and Fox who were just accommodating the reporter. The issue isn’t about getting a shot of them together. It’s about staging the moment and passing it off as the real thing.

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It may seem like no big deal. After all they did hug and in all likelihood would do so again on their own. So what’s wrong with a little re-creation? But, especially in this day of digital photography and Photoshop, the veracity of our images needs to be beyond question. People need to have confidence that what they’re seeing really happened. Real events have to be presented accurately so that our readers can trust us.

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Remembering September

September’s end is supposed to herald in fall. Although it looks like summer isn’t ready to relinquish its scalding grasp quite yet, cooler temperatures will eventually prevail, and the hot weather will soon be just a memory. Here are 10 favorite photos from September.

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9/3/10:

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9/18/10:

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9/19/10:

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9/21/10:

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9/22/10:

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Room of requirement

In J.K. Rowling’s wildly popular Harry Potter series of books the room of requirement is a chamber that magically presents itself to those in need at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It changes with the needs of the user. For example, in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it becomes a room for students to train against dark magic, sort of an enchanted martial arts dojo. In another iteration it becomes the “room where all things are hidden,” piled high with items stolen or prohibited — then secreted away and forgotten over time — by hundreds of years of Hogwarts students.

Stuffed in warehouse 618 at the Port of Stockton’s Rough and Ready Island were thousands of items to be sold at the annual Junior League rummage sale. The warehouse was a receiving and sorting area for furniture, clothing, toys and many other items. I was sent there to get a portrait of some of the organizers in advance of the sale. To me the place was so packed it looked like room of requirement’s secret hiding place.

To get a shot of the organizers and all the stuff in the room, I needed to get some height, but I didn’t bring anything like a ladder to stand on. I walked toward the interior of the pile of stuff not really finding anything until I turned around, and there before me was a white folding step stool. Did I pass by it and just not notice it, or did it magically appear as soon as I thought of it? But there it was. Not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I opened it up and stepped up and took my shot.

Room of requirement or not, the warehouse provided what I needed, no magic wand or arcane incantations necessary.

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Livin’ large

My very first car was a 1965 Chevrolet Impala SS. I bought it in 1976 for $500 (it was a fixer-upper), and it was huge. The back seat could hold a good portion of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and the trunk was nearly the size of the Hollywood Bowl. But since then, I’ve become a small car guy. Small cars tend to be more efficient and nimble than their larger counterparts. Give me a compact sedan or minivan over a full size model or a big SUV any day. But although it’s been a long time since I rode in a truly large car — and perhaps it’s just fond memories of my first car — but there’s still something about their appeal.

My brother-in-law Mike Meredith is a former forester and is used to driving big 4×4 pickups through the woods. They are big and utilitarian, but no one would describe them as fun. A few years ago, he bought a toy for himself: a bright red 1975 Cadillac Eldorado convertible. From the expanse of the metal of its hood to the large bench seats, the Eldo is the definition of Detroit Steel and the epitome of a really big car.

It’s one of those cars that if you see it coming in your rear view mirror, you immediately get out of the way. When you’re done driving it, you simply hose off the Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics that accumulate on its vast chrome grille.

Despite having a large engine, it’s not a performance car. Its huge 500-cubic-inch V8′s output is only about 190 horsepower and has to move more than 5,000 pounds worth of car (by comparison, a 2010 Honda Accord sedan weighs about 3,500 lbs and its 212 cubic-inch V6 develops 271 ponies). With a turning radius just this side of the Queen Mary, handling isn’t the Caddy’s forte either. No, what the Cadillac does best is cruise. With a flick of a switch, its electric folding top lowers easily, and the Eldo is ready to smoothly burble down the street. It’s made for what Bruce Springsteen sings in his song “Pink Cadillac”: “…Oozing down the streets, waving to the girls, feeling out of sight…”

On a recent vacation, we took a trip to see Mike and my sister-in-law, Barbara, in Medford, Ore. It was a mini family reunion as all four of their adult daughters would be visiting, as well. One morning while we were there, Mike needed to go to a local hardware store for some cabinetry items. He pulled the long red caddy out of the garage, hosed off the dust, and beckoned us to tag along.

The Caddy can comfortably fit six (just one less than my Honda minivan). With Mike behind the wheel, my 12-year son Christopher and I sat next to him on the front bench seat. My 15-year-old daughter, Claire, and her cousins, Lisa and Laura Meredith, slid onto the back seat.

Gently cruising with the top down through the agricultural outskirts of Medford, we made our way to the store.  The backdraft (wind in a convertible doesn’t come from the front but rather it is deflected up and over the windshield and curls around and blows from behind) blew everyone’s hair around, but we didn’t mind, the temperatures were in the mid-80s, and the sun shone down on our smiling faces. B.B. King played his hot guitar licks on the car’s cassette tape deck. We looked at all the other vehicles on the street with their fixed hard tops and felt a slight smug of superiority. There is nothing better, we believed, than riding with the top down.

Much like an aircraft carrier steaming into port, we pulled into the parking lot of the Black Bird hardware store in Medford. We got what we needed to get and made the slow journey home. Mike said that he only takes the Caddy out on special occasions and only uses about a tank of gasoline year. Lucky for us that was the day he considered going to the store a “special occasion.”

Addendum:

While the ’75 Eldorado’s motor makes only 190 horsepower, at about 2,000 rpm the big V8 produces gobs torque (360 lb.-ft.), which is the down low pulling power of an engine. So while the Caddy isn’t going to compete in a high-revving Formula 1 race, it has the ability to move it’s ample 5,000 pounds off the line at a decent pace. Thanks to Steve Spatola of Stockton for the clarification.

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Go, Speed Racer, go!

One of the last groups in the Stagg High homecoming parade was the school’s dance team. Members performed dance routines as they marched along the parade route. The girl closest to me looked a little familiar, then it dawned on me I saw her several minutes earlier near the head of the parade. It was homecoming queen candidate Meilani Quilenderino. She had changed out of her gown and into a purple shirt and black shorts (though she still had on her tiara). She and king nominee Peter Sriboonreung had been riding in a Chevrolet Corvette, leading the rest of the royal court.

The Stagg Homecoming parade route ran only eight blocks down Pacific Avenue along the Miracle Mile from Harding Way to Adams Street. Still, I wondered how Quilenderino was able to finish the parade, change out of her gown, put on her dance costume and join her group so quickly.

With more than 400 horsepower and capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in about 4 seconds with racetrack handling the ‘Vette was the performance car of the group. Now I didn’t see the Corvette head back to the tail end of the parade, so I can’t say how fast it went, but I’m guessing having a fast car made Quilenderino’s quick change a little easier.

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Convertibles

As you might know, I’m a big convertible fan. I had a 1991 Mazda Miata, and it was the most fun car I’ve ever owned. Even though it had go-kart like handling, just by putting the top down you could have just as good a time at slower speeds.

Most homecoming parades feature the king and queen candidates being driven around in converibles for everyone to see, and Stagg’s homecoming was no different.

Nominees Nancy Ortigoza and Gared Hassel rode in a black 1981 Italian-built Alfa Romeo Spider. An earlier model was made famous as Dustin Hoffman’s ride in 1967′s “The Graduate.” In my eyes, the Alfa was the prettiest car of the group. Styled by the Italian car design firm Pininfarina, it has smooth, graceful lines and perfect proportions. It’s widely regarded as a classic and lasted for nearly 30 years with only minor styling and mechanical changes — until 1995 when the Alfa stopped exporting cars to the US.

A 1991 BMW 3-series convertible carried nominees Erica Trevino and De Vante Harris. The Beemer is the epitome of German engineering and precision. It made about 168 horsepower from its inline 6-cylinder engine, which combined with taut handling and tidy size helped it to typify BMW’s tagline of the “ultimate driving machine.”

Arguably the most collectable car of the group carried nominees Chelsea Collura and Frank Arburua, a 1960 Porsche Roadster. Also known as the 356, it’s powered by a flat or “boxer” four-cylinder air-cooled engine mounted behind the rear axle. Its rounded contours and classic lines still serve as inspiration for today’s Porsche models.

The advent of AMC’s TV series Mad Men has made 1960s style hip again, and using that criteria, the coolest car of the group, a 1961 Lincoln Continental convertible, ferried Jessica Hererra and Jeremy Dela Cruz. Not a performance vehicle like some of the other cars, the Lincoln was an ultimate cruiser. From its long, wide proportions and “suicide” (reverse-opening) rear doors, the Conti is the embodiment of 60s cool.

Meilani Quilenderino and Peter Sriboonreung rode in a late model or C6 (6th generation) Chevrolet Corvette. Not a true convertible, it’s what’s called a targa top. The center section of the car’s roof lifts out, giving the occupants a partial open car experience. It made it more difficult for the passengers to fit in the two seater. In the other cars, the nominees were able to sit in the back on the tonneau, or cover, for the folded convertible top. But the ‘Vette’s rear roof portion made it impossible for the couple to sit, so they stood precariously, Sriboonreung on the seat and Quilenderino, standing on the taller center console, had to get a little help from him to hold steady.

For the parade, all the cars only moved at walking speeds, but for an open car, that’s all you need to have fun.

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Black and white

In the episode of the original Star Trek series titled “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” the starship Enterprise takes aboard a political refugee from the far flung planet of Cheron. The refugee, Lokai, is half black and half white, split exactly down the middle of his face. Shortly thereafter another Cheronite, police commissioner Bele, beams aboard the ship. Bele, also black and white, in pursuit of Lokai.

When Captian Kirk and Mr. Spock ask Bele why the is chasing Lokai, Bele implies that criminal tendencies are inherent to Lokai’s “race” and says “it is obvious to the most simpleminded that Lokai is of an inferior breed.”
“The obvious visual evidence, Commissioner,” Spock states, “is that he is of the same “breed’ as yourself.”
“Are you blind, Commander Spock? Well, look at me. Look at me!” retorts Bele
“You’re black on one side and white on the other,” Kirk notes.
“I am black on the right side,” Bele points out.
“I fail to see the significant difference…” Spock says.
“Lokai is white on the right side. All of his people are white on the right side.” Bele says

Bele commandeers the ship to return Lokai back to Cheron to stand trial. When they arrive they find that through hate and violence, all the planet’s inhabitants have annihilated each other. Lokai and Bele are the only two surviving members of their world. The two, with nothing left but hate for each other, beam down to the surface of Cheron, the last warriors in their world’s final conflict.

At the Stagg Homecoming Parade, Stagg High students Jeanne Miller, 15, and Marissa Ramirez, 15, painted their faces their school colors of brown and yellow. The paint was split right  down the middle of their faces just as  Bele and Lokai were. They even had their colors reversed just like those characters, with Miller’s right side being brown and Ramirez’s being yellow. But unlike the two Cheronians, their opposite colors didn’t divide them, but instead it united them. A good sign for the hope and future of our own planet.

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Numbers game

Why is six afraid of seven? Because seven eight nine. Get it? Seven eight (ate) nine. It’s the punch line to the old children’s joke, a groaner, I know.

2010 has had its share of unique number sequences, the palindromic January 11 (01/11/10), the sequential August 9 (8/9/10) and the upcoming repetitive October 10 (10/10/10). Some people put stock in unusual numbers, even scheduling auspicious events, such as weddings or buying lottery tickets on such dates.

We assign characteristics to some numbers. Thirteen is considered unlucky, and triple sixes are supposed to be the sign of the devil. In Chinese culture the number eight is the sign of good fortune. In western culture the number seven is lucky (A few years ago while parking the company car into the Record’s back lot at the end of the day, the odometer rolled over to 77,777 miles – a seemingly supreme lucky number – but, alas, I did not win the lotto that day). Recently I had a numerological oddity of my own.

I shot the official 2010-11 prep football season opening week game between Manteca High and Galt High at Guss Schmeidt Stadium in Manteca a few weeks ago. In editing my photos, one of the shots was of a Manteca running back being sandwiched by two Galt defenders, nothing unusual there. To the left was Galt’s No. 3, Eric Keller. Manteca’s Josh Nkwocha who wore jersey No. 4 was in the middle being tackled. And to the right was Galt’s Haran Piggee, who wore jersey No. 5. Three, four and five, in that order. In my 26 years at The Record, it’s something that’s never happened to me before. In the past I’ve gotten two players with jersey numbers in consecutive order, even opposing players with the same number, but never three in a row.

I’m no mathematician but I’m guessing that the odds of getting players with sequential numbers in the same photo are astronomical. One in a hundred thousand? One in a million? More? It’s my guess they are almost incalculable.

The numbers on football jerseys can range from 00 to 99, though not every number may be represented. Not only must the frequency of numbers be taken into account, but how many players there are on each team. Some players only play offense, others defense, while some play both. And getting the players with the right numbers in the right order can be well-nigh impossible.

I had gotten only one other shot that featured Piggee and three others that Keller was in. Nkwocha was only in the shot that had all three of them together.

When the football game was over Manteca posted an impressive number of its own: 51 to Galt’s 22. I don’t know if it was their lucky number, but it’s the one that meant the most in the end.

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Venus rising

As the sun went down in the Galt vs. Manteca season-opener varsity football game at Manteca’s Guss Schmiedt Field, a bright star rose in the west.

The gleaming point of light gained altitude in the darkening sky and rose over the stands. I shot the Manteca High band as they played their pep songs. A Jupiter brand sousaphone was among the instruments on the top row. But bright star wasn’t a star or even jupiter. It was Venus, the closet plant to the Earth.

After the sun and moon, Venus is the brightest celestial object in the sky. Because it’s closer to the sun than the Earth is, Venus appears in the sky just after sunset or before sunrise, which is why it’s known as either the evening or morning star.

In the photograph, Venus appears as a flat disk much larger than the point of light it was because it was thrown out of focus by the narrow depth of field of my exposure. It looked more like a small moon than a star. Manteca defeated the Galt in convincing fashion. Whether it was a planet, moon or other celestial body, Venus must have been Manteca’s lucky star.

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Generation food

Sacramento Buddhist Church minister Rinban Bob Oshita once said that when the first generation of immigrants come to this country they bring along their culture and customs, their language, clothing and food. When the second generation comes of age, the traditional clothing makes way for more modern attire. With the third generation the language skills are lost. By the time the fourth generation rolls around, all that is left of the culture is food. Oshita was mainly speaking about the Japanese-American community, but what he said can apply to almost any immigrant group.

Last weekend I covered the annual Greek Festival at St. Basil’s Greek Orthodox Church in Stockton. I have covered the event in the past, and it’s always well attended. I made the mistake of going when they opened at lunchtime. I hadn’t eaten, so the aromas of the various foods were intoxicating. I would get past one booth only to be met by another mouth-watering dish. But since I was “on the clock,” I had a job to do. And that job was to take pictures, not to eat.

There was the sweet pastry baklava, Macaronada Greek pasta and stuffed grape leaves. There were beef, lamb and chicken gyros, the pita bread wrap sandwiches, the line for which was almost Disneyland-esque. Rudy and Judy Mason of Tracy said that every year they make sure to get to the festival early to avoid the crowds so they don’t have to wait to get their food.

After about an hour or so, I had another assignment to go to and unfortunately I couldn’t stay for some of the cultural events such as the Greek dancing and the tour of the church, but I did manage to get a couple of dishes to go. A chicken kabaob and some loukoumades, dumplings drizzled in honey. As I drove, I tasted one of the bite-sized pastries and the doughnut-y texture felt wonderful in my mouth, as did the subtle sweetness of the honey. The loukoumades did not survive the trip back to the office. The chicken was moist and tangy from the olive oil it was cooked in.

The Greek Festival is a cross-generational event. There was the older generation who spoke mostly in Greek or with pronounced accents, and younger people without even Greek surnames. But what they had in common was the food — and, oh, what food it was.

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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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