I was southbound on I-5 when I saw this billboard just past Roth Road. It read: “Where are you going? Heaven or Hell.” Neither, I thought. I’m headed to Lathrop.

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June review

From the midway to the horse races, the annual San Joaquin County Fair dominated the month in pictures. June also saw the tail end of graduations and the start of triple-digit temperatures. Here are 10 favorites from the month.
















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Lorikeet love and lust

I shot the popular Lorikeet exhibit at the Micke grove Zoo the other day. It’s the second year for the enclosure that features a hands-on experience with the colorful tropical birds. People get to feed the fine feathered friends little cups of nectar and have them perch on their hands and arms. It’s a fun time for kids and families.

I shot this pair of birds affectionately nuzzling each other, but in the background another pair seemed to be ready to, ahem, go beyond a cute cuddle. I had already gotten some close-up shots of them and wanted to get a wide-angle one to give the picture a sense of place. But with every shot I took they were edging from a PG rating to dangerously close to an R. Then, with birds’ attention spans being what they are, they flew off, and I was able to get a more family-oriented shot.

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Marching band

“Seventy-six trombones caught the morning sun
With a hundred and ten cornets right behind
There were more than a thousand reeds
Springing up like weeds
There were horns of ev’ry shape and kind.”
Seventy-Six Trombones – Meredith Wilson

The Lincoln High School marching band performed daily at the San Joaquin County Fair. Dressed in casual attire of T-shirts (with the band name printed on them) and jeans, the marched throughout the fairgrounds playing snappy tunes like the Sam and Dave song “Soul Man.”

A smaller contingent than their normal band, they still had trumpets, trombones and drums. And of course there were saxophones, flutes and clarinets.

Also in the band was an electric piano and bass guitar and the poor guys who had to schlepp them around the fair along with a wagon carrying a generator.

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With help from a little friend

Some photographers get a lot of help from assistants, volunteer or paid. Newspaper photographers tend to be one-man-bands. We’re usually shooter, lighting expert, food stylist, pack mule and more, all rolled into one. Though we occasionally help each other out on tougher shoots, self-sufficiency tends to be our credo.

At this year’s San Joaquin County Fair I needed a little help to get a shot, and I got it in the form of a 7-year-old girl.

I wanted to shoot an overall of the fair, and I decided that getting a shot from the top of the midway’s ferris wheel would do it. I waited in line for my turn at a seat on the wheel. When it came for me to board I explained to the ride’s operator what I wanted to do. He told me that there needed to be two riders per small gondola. I looked behind me and there were only pairs of people in line. Having no other options I moved on and resigned myself to getting shots of the ride from the ground.

After several rotations the wheel came to a stop to let passengers off and new ones on. After several stops a lone little girl climbed up the stairs to get on the ride. The operator told her what he told me: two riders at a time. She started back down the stairs, partly disappointed, and partly relieved, as the pair behind her passed her up and sat in the seat intended for her.

I then yelled out: “I’ll go with her!” The operator looked at me, and I said “I can go with her.” I turned toward the girl and asked her “is it OK if I go with you?” She gave a quick little smile and nodded and we got on the next open seat.

It was 7-year-old Alondra Toro’s very first time on a ferris wheel. Her parents were busy with her little brother on another ride. Finally we got to the top and she pointed out her family, who were now on the ground below us. She had hoped that her brother wouldn’t see her on the ride because he’d be jealous of her.

Brothers Carlos Lopez, 11, left, and Ivan Lopez, 7, of Stockton, sat in the seat behind us, and I got shots of them getting a bird’s-eye view of the fair. Alondra didn’t mind the rocking of the seat as I turned to take pictures. Next to me she was having a great time marveling at the other fair rides and the tiny people below us.

Once the ride was over and we were back on the ground I introduced myself to her father, explained to him what I was doing and hoped that it was OK with him. He said that he felt more at ease to see that there was an adult in the seat next to her making sure she was safe on the ride. I thanked them both, and we went on our separate ways at the fair.

There’s a term that police and fire departments use called “mutual aid.” It’s when agencies help out other departments in different jurisdictions. With a little mutual aid of our own, I got my photos, and Alondra got the fun ride that she wanted.

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Video for the masses

At the couple of concerts I shot during the latest San Joaquin County fair there was a new phenomenon that I hadn’t seen in years past. In previous years, fans were allowed to approach the stage, grab a few pictures and then go back to their seats. The more popular the performers, the more people would come up, but it was usually all very orderly.

With the advent of video capabilities in everything from DSLRs, to point and shoots to cell phones, the photographing of the bands and singers has become more problematic. This year fans came up to the front of the stage to get shots of Lupillo Rivera, held up their devices, but rather than getting their shots and leaving, they stayed there. They held them up to take video.

The area that’s usually kept open for public safety purposes became crowded, so much so that I, or anyone else, had difficulty moving through. It took some time before security was able to clear the area and just as much effort to keep it that way.

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Bump city

The very first concert I ever attended was Tower of Power at the Cal Expo race track. I was a freshman in high school, about 14, and the band was at the height of it’s popularity. I was in the high school band and played trumpet (badly) and French horn (even worse) and I was attracted to bands with horn sections (Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears included).

I guess things have come full circle for me because the latest concert I’ve been to was played by Tower of Power as well, at this year’s San Joaquin County Fair in Stockton.  It’s just that this time I was there as a photographer, not a fan. That’s not to say I’m no longer a fan, but through the years, personal funds can get redirected to things other than buying recordings, and often one can lose touch with the music of one’s youth. The Oakland band’s concert at the fair bought it all back to me.

At times it seemed Tower of Power had a revolving-door policy at the lead singer position. They had three different singers in their first three albums and several more throughout the years.The first album featured Rufus Miller’s funky, gritty voice, and Lenny Williams, who was on the third through fifth albums (my favorites), had a higher, soulful and more refined style. Current singer Larry Braggs could be the band’s best yet. His strong voice seems to split the difference between Miller and Williams and he’s got a wonderful and charming stage presence.

Speaking of vocals, a crowd pleaser was when tenor saxophone player and founding member Emilio Castillo took a turn at singing lead with “You’ve got to Funkafize” which got the crowd moving and grooving.

But the singing was never the main reason for the band. The raison d’etre for Tower of Power has always been the horns. The horns have never been an afterthought or an instrumental background “doo-wop,” but rather a separate voice of their own. Even though there have been some personnel changes over the years, they were as tight as ever. With Tom E. Politzer on lead tenor saxophone,  Adolfo Acosta on trumpet, founding members Castillo, Stephen “Doc” Krupka on baritone sax, and Mic Gillette (who left the band for a while but now has returned), they played as if they were one person.

In shooting most concerts, photographers are typically only allowed to stay for first two or three songs. The Fair’s shows allow us to stay for as long as we like. At the Tower of Power show, I stayed for a full hour until, deadlines being what they are, I had to leave. Still, it was an hour of a band that I grew up with, and they showed why I loved them.

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Peeves and winners

Peeves and winners

There are a couple of photographic pet peeves that I have. One is having the date imprinted on the photo. There are camera settings that allow the camera to do it, and I understand people’s desire to know when the photo was taken, but to me it just looks tacky. In the digital era, the date, as well as other information, is embedded in the metadata of every shot, so having the date on the picture itself is unnecessary.

The other peeve is when the photographer chooses to sign his or her name on the image area of the picture. I know it’s the way artists sign their paintings, but in a photograph, to me it seems a bit chintzy and can ruin the overall look of a picture. In both cases, in my opinion it takes away from the integrity of the photograph.

In judging the Youth and Adult divisions of the San Joaquin County Fair’s photography show, I ran across both annoyances which immediately put those entries at a disadvantage. But having said that, The Best of Show in the Youth division, Brianne C. Hayn’s photo of a horse and rainbow, had the date imprinted on the bottom edge of the image (albeit mostly hidden by the matte it was mounted on).

Michael Ryan signed his name on the lower right corner of his Best of Show black and white print in the Adult Open division. A signature is fine by me, I just prefer seeing it on a border or a matte rather on the image area. But again, like Hayn’s picture, Ryan’s photo was so beautifully compelling that it transcended the minor defects.

So a photo can overcome the judge’s own biases. It just has to be a really, really good one.

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Mule train

The very first horse race at this year’s San Joaquin County Fair didn’t have any horses at all. It had mules. Built a bit more stoutly than your average thoroughbred, the mules aren’t quite as graceful as a horse, but they run with power and determination.

There was a several-minute delay at the start with one mule refusing to enter the starting gate. Bar JF Whatmule, ridden by jockey O.J. Maldonado, was being stubborn as a, well, as a mule. It reared up and backed away from the gate several times. He was finally pushed and pulled into the chute with the help of nearly all the handlers.

The short 350-yard race was fast and furious with the lead changing hands several times. Being stubborn must have its advantages because in the end Bar JF Whatmule came in first with Jessica Nelson 2nd and Dynotuned 3rd.

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Live and in living black and white

Not only did I judge this year’s Youth division of the San Joaquin County Fair’s Photography Show, but due to a last minute snag, photo show coordinator Mark Findlay asked me to judge the adult divisions as well. So instead of determining the merit of about 200 photos, I was charged with the fate of 600 more (for a total of 800).

Once again there were some great photos, and I had to make some tough decisions to pick the winners. The most-entered categories were the nature-themed color catagories. Landscapes, seascapes, birds, animals, flowers and close-ups (most of which were of flowers). Several dozen photos were entered in each. Interestingly, the categories with the fewest entries were the black and white ones.

In the old days photographers had to make a decision on what kind of film to use. Each type had its own characteristics, fast or slow, fine grain or coarse. It wasn’t hard to do, it just added a little more to the thought process. It’s even easier in the digital age. Most cameras have a b/w setting where you can shoot in black and white. You can also just shoot color as you would normally do and convert it into a greyscale on your computer using photo editing software.

I started in an era when most newspapers shot almost entirely in black and white. It was several years until we used color negative film. Seeing in black and white is a different story. You have to think in tonal values rather than in colors. Reds, blues and greens are all very different in color, but in black and white, they’re almost the same.

Although there are times when a photo can be all about color, there are other times when it can be a distraction. With color eliminated, one can concentrate on composition and texture, line and form.

In the Fair’s photo show, there were only one, two or three photos in some of the black and white categories, making them all winners by default. That’s not to say that there weren’t quality photos, Indeed, the Best of Show in both the Amateur and the more advanced Open divisions were both black and white.

Photo by Eric L. Duarte

Eric L. Duarte’s shot of the Stockton Rising statue near the Stockton Arena was the amateur division’s Best of Show. I’ve seen this statue before and from almost any angle, the background is at best cluttered.  Most people would have thought to shoot the sculpture in its entirety, but Duarte thought outside of the box: he got in close, shot from below and used the pattern of clouds above as a part of his composition. I think this photo would have been nice in color, but I like how in black and white everything comes together as a piece: clouds, sky, statue. The introduction of color might have separated those elements.

Photo by Michael Ryan

Michael Ryan’s trio of old abandoned bathtubs was my pick for the Open division’s Best of Show. There is a sense of discovery, yet there’s an aura of mystery to the picture. Where is this place and why are the bathtubs there? (It was actually found at the old Preston Castle in Ione.) The wonderful tonal range, composition, texture and lighting all contribute to that feeling. Were the picture in color it would have been rooted more in the real world and thus lose its enigmatic appeal.

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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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