Who’s who?

Although I photograph a lot of sports, I don’t follow the teams that closely. Often I’ll shoot a game and not know who’s favored to win. Recently I shot a match of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I volleyball playoffs at Lincoln High and I knew exactly who would win even before the contest started – the Trojans. It was between the Trojans of Lincoln and Oak Ridge High of El Droado Hills whose mascots are also the Trojans.

There are a number of teams in the Sac-Joaquin section with the same school symbol. Manteca and Amador share the Buffaloes, Chavez and Antelope both are the Titans, the Bulldogs are the namesakes of Tracy and Vacaville. And these are but a few examples. The Tokay Tigers share their name with four other schools (There are even two schools with the same school name – our own Franklin in Stockton and Franklin of Elk Grove and Lincoln of Stockton and Lincoln of Lincoln in Placer county).

It’s a wonder that the meeting of two teams with the same mascot doesn’t happen more often, but not every team in the section is in the same division, and not everyone is at the same level of play, so playoff matchups of teams with the same name is a fairly rare occurrence.

The match was a close back-and-forth battle with outstanding performances on both sides. The outcome could have gone either way and after five hard-fought sets the Trojans prevailed. Unfortunately for Lincoln, it was the Trojans of Oak Ridge.

Although I didn’t cover it, a few days later Lincoln Trojans met Oak Ridge Trojans again, but this time in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I football playoffs. By halftime Lincoln, a perennial section powerhouse, had built a 10-point lead over the El Dorado Hills team. The game was cut short by a power outage and would have to be continued the next day.

I was sent out to Lincoln the following day, and optimism was in the air for Lincoln when the game restarted. It felt like the beginning of a whole new game with Lincoln being spotted 10 points. It was a whole new game, but just not in Lincoln’s favor. Oak Ridge played strong and consistently and whittled down Lincoln’s lead. Near the end of the fourth quarter not only did they catch up, but they went ahead, 35-31. With only 3:41 left in the game and with Oak Ridge in possession of the ball, it didn’t look good for Lincoln.

The Lincoln defense held and forced Oak Ridge to punt. On the final drive Lincoln quarterback JoJo Bones scored with 14.2 seconds remaining.  Lincoln had won the game 37-35, avenging their volleyball sisters. Like the volleyball match it was predestined that the Trojans would prevail, but it was to the relief to all in the stands who were holding their breaths that it was the Trojans from Stockton.

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The beauty of decay and the discarded

Seattle-based photographic artist Chris Jordan’s project “Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption” consists of pictures he made of piles of things that people have used and discarded. They’re of things that people don’t think of as inspiration of subjects of art: discard cell phones, tossed cigarette butts, junked cars and more.

I know he’s also trying to make a social statement but beauty can be found in things that may not inherently be considered beautiful. The trick is to look past our own preconceived notions and biases about what is beautiful and seek out the artistic possibilities of things most people may think of as unsightly.

Used egg shells are normally thrown away. Most people probably wouldn’t give them a second thought, but under the right light, an extreme close up of the broken pieces can look like a mosaic of different shades and tones of white.

Prisons aren’t usually considered an inspiration for art. Built in 1854, San Quentin is California’s oldest prison, and it looks it. Its high concrete walls are weathered by more than 150 years of sun, rain and sea air. But it’s just that faded and aged look that gives the prison’s ramparts a distinct texture and make them worth taking a look through an artist’s perspective.

We often give what’s under foot very little thought. What we step on or over is rarely worth of our attention. At most, all a crumbling sidewalk would generally prompt would be a call to the city for repairs. But combined with the long shadows of a late afternoon sun, the cracks in a concrete pathway can be turned into an artistic scene.

Patio furniture tends to get a lot of abuse. Exposed to the elements for extended periods of time, even plastic resin chairs can fade and turn brittle, and metal ones can rust. A few months ago I had a portrait to take at the subject’s home in Lodi. I arrived early and she wasn’t there yet, so I waited in the small front courtyard. A metal patio set displayed the orange-brown stains of oxidation and gave the chairs a picturesque pattern and texture.

Unless a car in a parking stall is something like a Ferrari or Lamborghini, it probably won’t garner much attention by most who walk by. And the ground beneath those cars would be thought of even less. Oil and gas can leak in varying amounts, staining the pavement below. Since oil and water repel each other, a rainy day can provide an interesting scene. Fallen rain drops bead up and separate, making miniature Minnesotan aerial views (Minnesota is known as the land of 10,000 lakes). A thin oily film floating on the surface of each droplet causes a rainbow of reflected color. Not so good for the environment, yet at the same time a haunting beauty of its own.

In the days of film (and well before Photoshop) my old photo instructor, the late Andy DeLucia, used to say that he wished there were some sort of filter one could place over the lens that would render phone and power lines invisible. There are many times that the lines get in the way of an otherwise bucolic scene. Like an ill-placed billboard, they can ruin the beauty of a landscape. Yet set against the right backdrop and under the right light, a web of power lines can become a powerful part of the composition.

The scenes of decay and the discarded can be as attractive as more conventionally aesthetic subjects. It just takes an adjustment in perception to see their beauty.

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As easy as falling off a log

Because everything is new to them, kids are amused by the simplest things. I remember when my son was bout 4 or 5. He got the concept of a joke but didn’t know how to tell one. He saw people telling short little stories and other people laughing at them. The idea of a set up and then a punchline was beyond him. He would say: “Knock, knock” to which we would give the standard reply of “who’s there?” Then he would say “Peanuts!” and laugh hysterically.

I recently shot Jeffery Randsford picking up his daughter, Catia, from St. Basil’s Preschool in Stockton. She was on the preschool’s playground playing with friend Summer Soung on a small plastic Little Tikes seesaw in the shape of an alligator. We stood and watched them play for a bit until Summer fell off accidentally onto the soft grass. The teeter totter was only about a foot off the ground so she didn’t get hurt, and both she and Catia began laughing. Summer got back on and then they both made a game of falling off and laughing.

It made me think about the things we lose when we grow up. As we get older we tend to lose sight of the simpler things. Work, car payments and mortgages tend to weigh us down intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. Instead of of tripping and  laughing, we become embarrassed, at most giving only a nervous titter. Sometimes it takes us seeing things through a child’s eyes to help us appreciate the simplicity and wonder of our lives.

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November in review

“And the days dwindle down To a precious few, September, November – And these few precious days I’d spend with you, These golden days I’d spend with you” – Maxwell Anderson

The penultimate month of 2010 has come and gone and produced some great pictures. Here are some of my favorites from November.















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On holiday

I’m taking a few days off for the holiday. I’ll be back on December 1. Happy Thanksgiving!

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Just another Friday night

It was supposed to be a normal Friday night of high school football. Nearly every one expected St. Mary’s Rams (9-1) to crush their opponents under foot like a discarded cigarette in the opening round of the Sac-Joaquin Secion playoffs. Not that we knew what Los Banos Tigers (6-4), the victims du jour, were like, but rather St. Mary’s is always a dominant force in the section. I thought I’d get some quick and easy shots of St. Mary’s steamrolling over Los Banos, and I’d be out of there before the half was over with more than enough pictures.

After receiving the opening kickoff, Los Banos was stopped by the Rams’ defense, as expected. Then a strange thing happened. St. Mary’s got down into Tiger territory and was stopped by a surprisingly tough defense. I was expecting to get shots of St. Mary’s ballcarriers running nearly unopposed, but they were often tackled even before they came into the camera’s view.

Then a stranger thing happened: Los Banos scored first. Who were these guys? I thought. St. Mary’s came back and scored as well, but by halftime the Tigers had outscored the Rams 20-17. A close game, but I doubt if anyone would have thought that the Rams would be trailing at this point.

Because it was a playoff game, it started about 1/2 hour earlier than normal (there was no JV game preceeding it), so I decided to use the extra time to stick around and shoot the cheerleader halftime show. Afterward I headed to my car and, just as I was putting my equipment in the trunk, all the lights went out and darkness fell like a guillotine.  Screams and gasps of shock and surprise cried out from the crowd as a power outage enveloped the school and surrounding area.

Although it seemed longer, the electricity was probably only out for less than a minute. Some of the lights, the pressbox, snack bar, etc,  came back on, but the stadium lights remained out. As I got shots of the darkened Sanguinetti Stadium, people stood around unsure of what would happen next. Someone said that the power outage also hit the Lincoln/Oak Ridge game several miles away. After about 20 minutes or so the lights struggled to come back on, but it was time for me to head back to the office.

The street lights and traffic signals were on as I drove south on El Dorado Street in Stockton. I had to pull over for a fire engine with its lights and siren screaming traveling northbound. I figured that their appearance and the blackout couldn’t be a coincidence. A second and third engine roared past, and I called back to the office. I was told that an electrical transformer was burning on Hammer Lane and Lower Sacramento Road in north Stockton. I turned the car around and headed in the other direction.

In my head I envisioned a garbage can-sized cylinder burning atop a wooden pole, but when I arrived the scene was different from my imagination. The transformer within the a large fenced off PG&E substation was about the size of a car stood on its end. Bright orange flames burned amid the wires, coils and insulators of the substation.

The police had closed off about a 1/4-mile section of Hammer Lane in both east- and west-bound directions. Several fire engines’ red flashing lights illuminated the night. The power was restored to the area; businesses and homes had their lights on. But that meant that there was probably still power energizing the substation. Firefighters stood by unable to fight the blaze. Mixing water with electricity would definately be a bad and dangerous thing.

I was there for about half an hour when the power was cut, plunging the area into darkness once again with only the emergency vehicles providing the illumination. The firefighters were then able to enter the substation. I was pushing up against deadline and I had to leave. Unlike the initial outage, the lights remained off. From where I parked near the Toys R Us across Hammer Lane from the fire the quickest escape route was east on Hammer and then south on El Dorado Street.

It was eerie driving through the darkened streets. Although people were driving with extra care, intersections in which traffic signals were out were white-knucle affairs. I passed by St Mary’s, and like the surrounding area, the lights there were out once again. The darkness continued until I reached March Lane where the lit street made a dividing line between chaos and civilization.  I made it back to the office safe and sound and delivered pictures not only to Sports but Page One as well.

Power was restored to most homes and businesses by the next day. The St Mary’s game was rescheduled for Saturday afternoon (as was the Lincoln game). The Rams pulled it together and overcame their deficit to win 34-20, and everything seemed back to normal after the highly unusual Friday night before.

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Long live the new Grape Bowl

Recently the newly renovated Grape Bowl had an open house of to show off the new football field to the community in Lodi. The improvements include new access ramps to the field, all-weather artificial turf and new energy-efficient lights. It’s the last part that interests me. For years the old depression-era Grape Bowl in Lodi has been the bane of nearly every photographer to shoot there. It was one of the most poorly lit stadiums around. There were only a couple in the county that were as bad or worse.

The old lights, which looked like they were installed not long after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, had an anemic output, and what’s worse: they were spotty. There were patches of the field that had usable light and others that were, at best, marginal. One had to hope that the best action happened in the good spots.

Lodi city spokesman Jeff Hood told me that the lights were supposed to be 2-1/2 times brighter than the old ones (not a mean feat, since the old ones were so poor), but I had to check them out for myself. Daylight was waning at 5 p.m, the time of the open house, and the new Grape Bowl lights were warmed up and on. As the sunlight faded away and darkness crept over the bowl, the stadium lights became more and more dominant.

Indeed, the field was bright. There was plenty of light and, even better, it covered the field evenly. The new fixtures are placed atop the towers for the old ones, which number three per side, while most, if not all, of the newer stadiums have their lights on only four poles. The result is that the three towers on each side, built behind the bleachers, are spread over a wider section of the stadium thus widening the area of light. The advantage of this is that the field’s end zones look to be better lit than some of those other facilities.

Much of the renovated stadium looks to the the same. The old aluminum bleachers haven’t changed, nor has the press box. But as far as the lights go, the old Grape Bowl is dead. Long live the new Grape Bowl.

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Practice, practice, practice

Although there are some cerebral aspects to it, football is a rough and tough sport. Players crash into each other with savage velocity. Injuries great and small are a part of the game.

A few weeks ago, I shot a varsity football practice at Chavez High School. It was a pleasant afternoon, the kind that tends to make the mind wander. A few light clouds hovered in the sky, the cross country team practiced on the campus at the same time as the football team.

It was a typical football practice. Agility and skill drills working their way up to harder hits and scrimmaging. About halfway through the practice, amid the grunts and groans of the players and the impact of their hits, I heard a faint sound. It was almost a whisper, soft music on the breeze. I looked around for it’s source and found it atop the bleachers across the field.

The cross country team had finished its workout and runner Jesus Miranda, 15, stood on the top step playing his violin. Miranda, also in the school’s band practiced his music after he finished his training. Miranda played a bit timidly and only bits and pieces made to where I was but it still drew my attention to it. I fired off a few frames from where I was but I needed to get closer.

During a break in the action I made my way across the field and got some tighter shots. Miranda’s playing was at the beginners lever but was a soothing counterpoint to the action on the field.

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In the flesh

In today’s digital age, it’s easier than ever to output a photograph where ever you want. Not just limited to a photographic print, you can put pictures on T-shirts, coffee mugs, birthday cakes, just about anything. All these things (save for the cake) could be done with film, but from the transfer of images to the actual printing, now it’s much easier.

My friend Charr Crail, a photographer and artist based in the Sacramento area, is one of the most talented people I know. She’s also no stranger to having her pictures printed on an item. Last year one of her pictures was featured on a series of handbags made by ICON Shoes, a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in art-inspired accessories.

Recently Charr saw her one of her photos displayed in an unexpected way and place. Incredible tattoo artist Kelly Rogers tattooed a photograph that she shot in 2006 of the alternative rock band Coheed and Cambria’s front man on his girlfriend’s body.  It’s a picture of the band’s lead singer, Claudio Sanchez, with guitar in hand, a wild look on his face and his flame-like hair flying in the air. Rogers’ rendering is very true to Charr’s original picture. The detail is incredible. He told Charr the job took five hours and that he had a lot of fun creating it.

Not exactly something made easier by the digital age, but certainly something unusual, and definitely something very cool.

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Putting it into (rain) gear

Waterproof covers are made for cameras to help protect them from the rain. They can run in cost from around $50 up to $200. Kind of pricey for normally dry Central California, but considering the cost of digital cameras these days, some sort of protection is desirable, but it can also be done on the cheap.

I recently shot a football game at Calaveras High School in San Andreas against Amador. It wasn’t raining in Stockton but, on the 41-mile drive up to San Andreas, it rained off and on, though nothing too heavy. I had a rain coat and hat to keep myself dry. The professional grade cameras that we use at the Record are built to withstand a little inclement weather, but I thought I should get a little rain insurance for my camera — just in case of a downpour.

I stopped at the Mar-Val supermarket in Valley Springs to pick up a few items. I bought some large 33-gallon garbage bags (a box of seven), a bag of rubber bands and a Kit Kat (I was feeling a little peckish). The whole thing, including the chocolate bar, cost a little more than $5.00. The short detour only lasted a few minutes and I was back on the road again.

I arrived early at the school. I grabbed one of the garbage bags and stuffed it into my jacket pocket and wrapped one of the rubber bands around my wrist. (I had already eaten the Kit Kat on the drive up.) The fourth quarter of the junior varsity game had just started. A very light drizzle was wafting down out of the sky like tiny snowflakes.  The rainfall was so light the drops could barely be felt, nothing heavy enough to do harm to the camera. Maybe I might dodge a meteorological bullet and stay dry.

There was a 25-minute gap between games for the varsity to warm up. The rain increased a bit but was still within tolerable levels. Then just a few minutes before the start of the game, the skies opened up. It wasn’t a torrent, but it was enough for the spectators to break out their umbrellas and for those who didn’t bring one to get a soaking.  My hat and jacket kept me dry enough, but my camera and lens were in need of some protection.

As Eddie Rabbitt’s “I Love A Rainy Night” played over the stadium’s PA system, I pulled out the garbage bag and covered my camera, which had a 300mm lens mounted on it with a monopod for stability. A passerby joked that I wasn’t going to get many shots with the camera covered like it was. I then tore a small hole in the bag and stretched it to encompass the large salad plate-sized front element of the lens. I could have been fine like it was, but then I wrapped the rubber band around the end of the lens to make sure the bag was secured to it.

The rain continued throughout the first quarter, finally tapering off  in the second. The plastic bag kept he camera and lens mostly dry. A lens hood – normally used to shade the lens from direct sunlight – would have helped keep rain drops off the front glass, but this particular lens didn’t have one. I just used the handy terrycloth towel I keep with me to occasionally wipe it off.

The expensive rain covers not only protect the camera, but can also keep photographer’s hands dry and warm as well. If one spends a lot of time shooting in inclement weather, then they may well be worth the cost. But if you need some quick and cheap rain gear, then a trip to the supermarket is all you need.

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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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