Last night was a historic event for two reasons: 1) It was President Bush's last State of the Union, 2) the announcement of an endorsement by Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA) of Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) all but trumped the President's speech.
Here is a look at how the photographers covered the event (including me), as well as some insights into the work environment and challenges we all face.
After the jump is a transcript of the entire entry, including a correction on Tim Sloan's name - Sorry Tim!
We’re here at the Capitol in Washington DC covering the presidents historic last State of the Union address before a new administration comes in. lets go inside and see what’s going on with the different photographers covering the different angles of the State of the Union address. So when covering the state of the union there are various positions that a photographer will be assigned.
One of the primary positions is the head on position; in addition there is a left position and a right position on either side of the chamber. There are also corner positions and a rear position known as the reversal position. Now in addition one of the very unique positions that’s been added in oh the last 5 or 10 years is the floor pool position. Today’s pool position was covered by Tim Sloan from AFP. Tim was responsible for covering for all of the photographers with just one camera on the floor along with the President's photographer.
Covering the state of the union is not easy, its crowded and you really have to be on your game. You have to be able to make pictures in a really challenging environment. Lets now talk to a few folks shooting and editing today’s assignment, the presidents last state of the union address.
So David(www.DavidBurnett.com, or Contact Press Images) before we talk about your coverage of the state of the union tonight, tell me about the camera you have here.
This is a mentor reflex, which is a 4x5 reflex camera. Which means like a canon or Nikon its got a mirror inside of it, in this case a really big mirror. And the lens you focus here, I normally take the top off and look down into it and focus on the ground glass. The nice thing about it is that once you’ve got a frame that you like you can just shoot it. And it gives you a chance to shoot a little more mobile then with some large format cameras and the 4x5 negative definitely gives you a different look then what you get with digital.
Great, so how long have you used this camera? Is this the first state of the union that you’ve used it on? or have you done others with this?
This camera I’ve only had less then a year and I’ve only shot one job with it last march, I did a portrait, it was beautiful and I thought I would try and be gentle with it and take it out into the field, if you can really call this going out into the field. And its really interesting because you know, there are a lot of different ways to attack this thing, I mean I have been shooting a lot with speed graphics and they’re great for what they do but they’re a little slow, when you’re focusing on the ground glass they’re a little slow to load and be able to fire quickly and this one you can pretty much just see it then shoot it.
So were you mobile tonight or did you have a fixed position?
No I was in a fixed position tonight up at 4A3 I think, up in gallery 3, and that’s really how they do it I think, sprinkle us in amongst the real people. And you know it was good, this is about my 12th or 14th state of the union, I’m not sure exactly how many, but I did do one for Lyndon Johnson, I probably did one with Nixon but I don’t remember it, pretty sure I did Ford, and then everybody since then I’ve done at least one.
So in addition to that I see you’ve got a canon over your shoulder, were you shooting digitally to kind of augment that or just to get a different look and feel?
Well there are some things that you actually just want to try and get a shot, and that’s where the digital comes in really handy. You can actually have some insurance that you’ll get a picture. This is great when it works but the percentage of success is pretty low. So I shot 10 frames tonight, if I have 1 or 2 that are interesting, I’d consider that a big deal.
Great, so were you looking for an overall with that or were you wide or a tight thing for you? Yeah, it is a 210mm lens, which on a 4x5 is about the equivalent of a 60mm maybe a 65mm so you’re shooting an overall. But what I was trying to do was use slow shutter speeds, trying to get something with the motion of the congress when they would either applaud or stand up or sit down, to get a little movement in the picture. And you know, it’s a crapshoot; I won’t have any idea if any of this is any good until I look at the film tomorrow.
Well thanks very much David, I appreciate your time. Be careful with that camera.
Well you know this is why we have the non-digital age, to remember that sometimes its good to sweat. Amen David, thanks, I appreciate it.
So Liz (www.lizlynch.com), tell me what position you’re in tonight.
I’m in the corner position of the gallery on the senate side all the way in the back.
So Liz, what are you hoping to get tonight from your position?
Well we’re doing a photo spread, we do one every year on the state of the union, and I’m hoping to get a variety of shots, the president walking in, the various candidates that are there and everything else that’s going on.
And how long have you been covering the state of the union?
Probably for about 10 years.
And you’re goal tonight is to be making pictures that tell what story?
Well the story that s going on in the hall tonight, whatever that is, I mean it’s a presidential election year, so a lot of it I imagine will be the guests that are there, its always fun to see the democrats sitting and the republicans standing, and all that good stuff. So that’s pretty much the story I’ll be looking to tell.
Thanks very much Liz, I appreciate it.
So we’re talking to Jim Lo Scalzo about his coverage of the State of the Union. You’ve recently come out with a book called “Evidence of My Existence”, can you tell me a little bit about how the book is doing and how it feels now being a published author.
Oh you know, the books doing great, selling well, I’m glad to get it out there and have people read my story.
I mean I think it’s a remarkable story, I bought it and I’ve had a chance to read it. And it’s moving along with the Youtube video that you put out kind of preempting that. I’m going to encourage people to go check that out. We’ve put it on the blog already, I’m going to go ahead and do that some more for you. So tell me what position were you in tonight covering the state of the union?
I was front to the right, it was nice, it was kind of center and you could frame everything pretty well.
It doesn’t really matter whether you are a canon or Nikon shooter, were you primarily looking for wides or tights or what was your objective?
This is the first time I’ve left all the gimmicks at home for state of the union no squishy; you know the lens baby, no shift/tilt, no medium format. I just went with the long lens and primarily focused not on Bush but on Hilary, Barack, and Senator Kennedy.
Yeah, I noticed senator Kennedy and Barack were seated together which was a little out of protocol because Barack had come forward from his seat, he’s normally positioned a few further back from a seniority standpoint. But obviously the announcement with Senator Kennedy and Barack today is probably the reason why. So tell me what were you looking for?
What was the picture you were trying to get? If you had an image in your head, like a picture of some amazing, did you have anything in your head about it?
Oh sure there’s always a cerebral slideshow that I never achieve so I’m generally disappointed, I was trying to get any kind of interaction between Senator Clinton, Senator Kennedy, and Senator Obama and there really wasn’t very much. As well as President Bush and speaker Pelosi because there is a lot going on this week with the tax credit that they are trying to accomplish.
So how many state of the unions have you covered Jim? Is this your first or your fifth? Oh that’s a good question. I know its not your first so let me rephrase that.
Its defiantly not my first, I think its probably my 4th with President Bush, which is why I left all the gimmicks at home because I’ve tried them previously on him, and I figured we’d work for something different this year.
Well great, thanks very much for your time Jim, I appreciate it.
So we’re here with H. Darr Beiser from USA today, Darr, tell me what position are you in tonight?
I will be in the House Press Gallery overlooking the House Chamber, over the President's shoulder actually facing the Senators and Congressmen.
So you have what we would refer to in common parts as a reversal.
That’s right a reverse angle.
And how long have you been doing this?
I’ve done the reverse angle a couple times, maybe 3, I’ve done the front on a couple times, but probably 5 times over the 25 years I’ve been in Washington.
So what are you hoping to get tonight? What is the optimal picture for you?
The big thing about my position is the president entering the chamber and greeting all of the senators and congressmen and that’s probably the most important thing for me.
So that s your goal tonight is getting that kind of arrival/entrance shot.
Yeah and in this instance maybe even a departure is important too because its his last state of the union, Thanks very much Dar, I appreciate your time.
So we’re here with Dennis Brack. Dennis is a Black Star photographer also, I pale in comparison to Dennis but I want to get a few words of wisdom about what he was looking for tonight and how many state of the unions you’ve covered. So tell me, how many have you covered and what were you looking for?
Well, I’ve covered about 40 of them; tonight it just depends on the client. If I was working for time I’d be looking for something different, but tonight I was working for Bloomberg so I had to get a picture that meant something out to the wires. I got it out, I was in the back position because I wanted to get the reaction, I wanted to be on the floor all the time when the senators were there before the president came in, in hopes that Hillary and Obama would get together and they did to a certain extent. There will be a lot of talk in the papers tomorrow, did Obama turn away from Hilary, and that was probably the picture of the night that you’ll see in the papers. Of course the overall pictures of the President giving the speech, shaking hands with the speaker, the first lady, the other senators reacting or not reacting. So I got all those and transmitted it and I hope worked out. Thanks very much Dennis, I appreciate your time.
So we’re here with Matt Cavanaugh editing his EPA pictures. Matt, tell me what you were looking for in your edit tonight.
Well the first picture out is just a picture of Bush at the podium with Pelosi and Cheney behind him, then you get a couple out real quick and you look at them for, tonight the moment everyone was looking for was an interaction between Senator Clinton, Senator Kennedy, and Senator Obama because Senator Kennedy endorsed Senator Obama earlier today and that’s kind of a much bigger story in a way then the state of the union and it Bush’s final state of the union and its not that no one cares but its less of a story then the current presidential election. So we were looking for a picture of Kennedy and Obama and we did get a few which was of the 3 of them.
Great, so Matt, how many state of the unions have you worked? I’ve seen you side-by-side shooting state of the unions in the past, is this your first, second, third editing? Or what’s kind of your mix as far as shooting and editing are concerned?
It’s the first time I’ve edited and I’ve shot 3 of them up until now, last year I was in the center position and I kind of volunteered to edit this year because last year I got to do the primo spot so this year I was back here behind the scenes and its fun, you get to watch it on the monitor and listen, you’re kind of looking for different moments and hoping that they’re on that card you get back from the other photographers.
Thanks very much Matt, I appreciate your time.
So that about wraps it up, hopefully you’ve had a chance to garner some insights into the challenges that photographers face in covering the state of the union.
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