Madame Tussauds wax figures are one of those rare enigmas of an ancient art that has not only lasted but has flourished when, by all accounts, it has been surpassed by technology.
When we want to see what famous people look like all we have to do is sit down at a computer or TV and we can find out more than we ever really needed to know. We can find out what they look like, where they eat, who they are dating, who they are not dating, or even what they did last night.
When our photo staff began to plan for the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, it was difficult to know where coverage should begin. The first story that came to mind is how Ground Zero has changed. It has been remarkable to watch the buildings being constructed. Not only have we seen them rise above ground level, but slowly surpass the height of every other building in lower Manhattan. Colleagues of mine have done a wonderful job of documenting the evolution of the site and the reactions of those around it, but while that might be the most obvious story to tell, it was not the most profound change that I feel has taken place in New York since the attacks. For me, the most significant modification is that security has become omnipresent in the city.
Security has emerged as a fact of life here. When we fly we have to take off our shoes and throw away our water bottles. Every commercial building in New York has a security team and identification is required to get to work. The speakers in the subway system continually remind us that “if you see something, say something” and photographing a building that lies in full view of the public is considered a suspicious activity. While this all might seem like an Orwellian society in which “Big Brother” is constantly looking down upon us, it is necessary to remember that New York has been the target of two major successful attacks, one foiled attack, and unknown numbers of prevented attacks since the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
The Arctic Ocean in March is basically an ocean of ice. Almost the entire thing is covered from October to June in an icepack that only partially disappears in the summer and is still very solid in March.
Why would anyone in their right mind volunteer to spend a month to a month in a half in temperatures that usually don’t exceed -10 degrees Fahrenheit or -23 degrees Celsius? In the case of the roughly two dozen souls who work either for the British, Canadian and United States Navy or the Arctic Physics Laboratory Ice Station, it is because there is work to be done.
New York is consistently touted as a cold, aggressive, and hectic city with no personal connections possible. A populace of hyper-efficient and emotionally starved citizens, or at least that’s what I had heard before I moved here.
I arrived in New York almost 4 years ago and immediately found these preconceptions to be mostly untrue, with an exception of the hyper-efficiency. The city forces you to interact, albeit most often very briefly, with thousands of fellow New Yorkers on a daily basis – on the trains, sidewalks, buses, and bike paths that keep the city humming with activity year-round. I have used public transportation ever since arriving in New York to work as a staff photographer for Reuters. This most often means taking the infamous New York City subway.
This portrait session came about because our entertainment reporter, Christine Kearney, noticed that one of the several PR pitches that came across her desk was a small event where Justin Bieber was going to give the winner of a contest a bouquet of flowers. Normally this isn’t a story that we would be interested in because it doesn’t have anything to do with any “larger picture” type of story. However, because it was Bieber, Christine decided she would ask for a few minutes to interview him. One of the hardest things for us to do is gain access because a lot of musicians, actors, or television personalities have very specific images that they want to project so access can be incredibly tight. This restriction to access can make my job difficult because as a photographer I would love the opportunity to document what these public figures lives are like on a day to day basis. The next best thing for me to get is a little one on one time with whoever allows it. Luckily, the PR officer said yes to both the request for a private interview and a quick portrait session, as long as I was low key and quick.
It was a hot day and hauling a large rolling suitcase around with a single set of strobes, along with my backpack full of camera equipment, was enough to make sure that I was panting by the time Christine and I arrived at a small non-descript flower shop in Lower Manhattan. As we walked in I was surprised to see only about a dozen people inside, a couple of television cameras, and one other still photographer. At most events where a celebrity as popular as Justin Bieber is attending there are dozens of photographers and television cameras. I was heartened to see that it would be a much smaller crowd for this. The woman organizing the event told me I could set up my lights in the back while a television station interviewed Justin. Once that was finished Christine could interview him while I moved my lights to the front of the shop where Bieber had to remain seated. I have to admit, I wish all of my portrait shoots could take place in flower shops because it was a welcome break from the usual portrait venue of a hotel room. Not only was the air conditioning on high but it smelled nice and flowery. I think this put everyone at ease as I didn’t have any issues whatsoever setting up my lights, moving them to the front room through a small crowd, or shooting a quick portrait.
Sometimes you don’t realize how lucky you have been, though you always seem to realize immediately when you have been unlucky. I can safely admit that with a few exceptions (known only to me), I can truly feel that I have been lucky because of the sight I beheld Thursday night. April 22nd is a national holiday here in Iceland as it heralds the first official day of summer. Never mind that when I drove to the town of Vik it was a white-out blizzard or that the temperature never gets much above freezing during the day. The day was a special one for the whole country, and with clear skies I wanted to make sure I got a good parting photo of my volcano friend before I packed up my bags and headed back to New York.
I was staying in the same hotel as Ingolfur Juliusson (Ingo), the Reuters freelancer based here in Iceland, and Gunnar Bondal, a photographer for Dagens Næringsliv – the Norwegian Business Daily. We decided to head out to get a good vantage point and take some nighttime photos and to take advantage of the rare clear night. During this time of year it does not get dark until after 9pm and even then the sun doesn’t stop illuminating things until 10pm or so. This meant that even though we were in place by roughly 9pm there was a lot of light to take slow shutter speed photos of the lava and ash clouds.
Lightning streaks across the sky as lava flows from a volcano in Eyjafjallajokul April 17, 2010. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
I realize that this photograph is pretty much the attention grabber from all those that I have taken in Iceland on this trip so I figured I would write up a little about what it took to get the image. As soon as I got this assignment, a photograph of a volcano erupting with lightning inside of the ash plume was on my mind. I had seen one a couple of years ago from a volcano in South America so I knew it happened. When I was watching the ash during the first dusk I saw plenty of lightning so I knew I had a shot at making this picture.