Hockey and politics? A strange combination.
As a Canadian growing up in a small rural town, street hockey was a big part of my youth. So when the White House announced an event billed as a street hockey game on the South Lawn of the White House as part of first lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative, a lot of great memories came flooding back. Stoppages in play for oncoming cars and playing under street lights until all hours of the night were a way of life.
We do a lot of remotes at the White House and with a ceremony being held for the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions Chicago Black Hawks in the shadow of one of the world’s most recognizable buildings, I was trying to come up with an interesting way to capture the event.
Leading up to the midterm elections in November, I worked on a project photographing scenes around the Presidency using an instant film camera called a Fuji Instax, similar to a Polaroid.
(Click here to view the selection in Full Focus.)
That was right on the heels of a President Obama 11 day, 4 country trip to Asia including stops in Mumbai and New Delhi, India.
Want to hear a secret?
“U.S. President Barack Obama will make an unannounced visit to Afghanistan but you cannot tell anyone.” Those seemed like simple enough guidelines, but it certainly wouldn’t end up that way.
It started with a call from Washington Editor in Charge Jim Bourg during my shift at the White House on Wednesday afternoon. “I never know how to start these kind of conversations…” he said. “You know when we have these trips where we really can’t talk about it?” I had a feeling I knew where this was headed. He kind of paused a bit trying to find the words to say it, without really saying it. But I stopped him and said, “I know where you are going with this and you don’t have to go any further.” Obama would make a surprise visit to Afghanistan. I was careful not to answer his questions out loud, so that anyone standing by wouldn’t figure out the questions or the subject matter, but we were on the same page. He just said it was tomorrow night. The trip would be about 30 hours there and back, with 25 of those hours in the air. I would finish my shift as usual and go to see him in the office to get more details.
White House photographer Jim Young has been using a Fuji Instax to produce images while on assignment covering President Obama. Over the past few months Jim has developed a collection of Polaroid-type images that illustrate what surrounds the presidency. View the series here.
It all started out with a phone call from Reuters News Pictures Washington Editor In Charge Jim Bourg on Thursday night informing me there was a secret Presidential trip leaving on Saturday to an undisclosed destination which Reuters would like me to travel with the president on. I was told that this was very secretive and that I was not to mention it to anyone and that no details were available yet. I had been with President Obama on his secret trip to Baghdad last year, so it was pretty easy to figure out that the destination this time might be Afghanistan, a trip which had been highly anticipated since Obama became president 15 months ago. I was to expect to be contacted directly by the White House for a meeting to discuss the details. But I was to “open” the White House as the first Reuters photographer arriving there on Friday morning at 7am, my scheduled shift, and to go about my day as planned acting as if everything was normal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
That afternoon I was called in to meet with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs in his office at 4pm, along with some of the other members of the 14 person media travel pool who would be going on the secret trip aboard Air Force One.
Sleep is overrated.On Wednesday, I was up at 5:30am so I could start my White House shift. U.S. President Barack Obama had 5 press events on his schedule for the day, so I ended up staying until 7pm. I had just sat down to dinner at 8.30pm, when I heard my cell phone ringing, it was Washington Editor-In-Charge Jim Bourg calling about breaking coverage for an Obama event but it was being kept very quiet. The President was planning to fly to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware and take part in the dignified transfer and return of 18 U.S. personnel who died Monday in Afghanistan, so I had to be back at the White House by 10pm. The event would be covered the White House travel pool, a very small group of photographers and reporters who always travel with the President, but what we would be allowed to cover was unclear..The pool left the White House at 10:45pm for a short drive to Fort McNair military base to board 2 U.S. Marines’ helicopters for the 40 minute flight to Dover. The president would depart separately from the South Lawn on Marine One and we would meet at the Air Base in Dover. The details of Obama’s trip would not be released until the official pool report is released in an email as he departs on the helicopter...We arrive a couple of minutes before Obama and we are told that we can only photograph the President’s arrival on Marine One, but is was unclear whether we were going to see any of the soldiers return. We were taken to a holding room and given a military briefing on how the event would take place. Even though 18 soldiers and DEA agents were returning to the U.S., the press would only cover the dignified transfer of U.S. Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin of Terre Haute, Indiana, as per family member’s wishes, and witnessed by Obama. Obama would be meeting with the family members and taking part in the return of the other 17 personnel over the next 3 hours. There is no press coverage..We waited on a bus for the signal that we could drive out onto the tarmac and at 3:50 am we head out to the C-17 military transport plane and it is very, very dark. The event takes about 10 minutes but the actual transfer from the plane to the truck is over in seconds. Obama walks off the tarmac and we are rushed back on our helicopter for the flight back to Washington.A very quiet and solemn event, but with all dignity and respect for a soldier who lost his life..I start filing while still on the tarmac and I manage to get 4-5 pix filed to our pictures desk in Singapore by the time we take off. We can still get an aircard signal on the flight back, but it fades in and out, and sometimes it’s very weak. We return back to Fort McNair and board our vans for the ride back to the White House. I finish up my filing at the press room and wrap up at 6am, 23 hrs after my day had started. The sky is starting to lighten and someone else will be comingto the White House within the hour to start the morning shift, so it’s time to go home and get some sleep..But a couple hours later, I can hear my daughter calling out to me downstairs. Time to get up for another day…