Photographers' Blog

California skateboard dreams

By Mike Blake

Recording how we as a society advance and decline amid a changing world is pretty much what being a journalist is all about. The changes are mostly man made, sometimes nature, but humanity rolls along and each new generation brings with it change. Put a camera in your hand and record the events with images and you have a better idea of my job for the past 26 years as a staff photographer for Reuters.

That may be a strange introduction to a piece about a kid from Canada who follows his dream to be a professional skateboarder in California, but not really.

Skateboarding got started in the 60’s with clay wheels and surfers looking out at a flat ocean. But nothing really happened with skateboarding until polymer technology advanced and created urethane. Then along comes a guy named Frank Nasworthy and the skateboard wheel clicks in his head. From that point on technology has advanced, and along with it, skateboarding. To the point where you have a little story about Jordan Hoffart, who follows his dream.

Cement technology advances, architecture advances, communication technology advances and we arrive at a place where a guy creates his living with his skateboard much like a painter paints, or a writer writes. He creates his art on the things we drive and walk past every day, on the bench you sit on, on the stairs you walk down. He rides around our urban and suburban environments looking for places to skate, creating new tricks. He has a style, he wears a logo, pictures are taken and videos are made; information is posted with instagram, tweets are tweeted, facebook, youtube – the social network is fed and the art is displayed.

Jordan is a street skater. His job is to skate, his life is skating, his dream is happening in real time…… and you can watch.

Chaos descends on Occupy Oakland

By Stephen Lam

It all started like a normal day covering Occupy Oakland. But little did I know it was going to be one of the most intense protests I’ve ever covered.

I arrived at Oakland City Hall around 1pm and there was already a sizable crowd gathered in preparation for the march. I was a bit surprised to see people carrying shields, but I didn’t think much of it and proceeded to photograph the protest as I normally would.

The march began as the group announced that they were headed towards their sound truck which was supposedly pulled over by the police. Sensing a bit of tension, I instinctively went back to the car to grab my gas mask and helmet.

My day in a California prison

The first inkling I had that it wasn’t going to be an ordinary day at work was the dress code; no tight or revealing clothing, no blue jeans, no blue shirts, no orange clothing, no jewelry, no cell phones.

For the first time, I thought of the possible mental state of the people I was visiting, and how little some of them would have to lose.

I had been in a car crash (not serious) the day before. I wasn’t expecting anything bad to happen to me inside the prison. But imagined that if it did it would be much the same kind of sudden violence coming out of nowhere.

Surf therapy

Matthew Doyle grew up by the beach in Santa Monica, California, and with his slim physique and tattooed forearms, looks as if he’s been surfing his whole life.

But it took three tours of duty half a world away, many sleepless nights, and meeting a woman named Carly before the 26-year-old U.S. Army veteran braved the waves on a surfboard.

On a recent Saturday, I met Doyle and a group of 11 other young military veterans trying to overcome the horrors of war at Manhattan Beach, just south of Los Angeles, where occupational therapist Carly Rogers led them in a surf therapy class.

Beachside politics

U.S. Election Day has its recurring motifs: red, white and blue vote signs, corrugated plastic voting booths, ballot boxes, stars and stripes. Voting photos quickly become repetitive, even before the sun rises on the West Coast.

An election worker puts up signs as the sun rises at a polling station on Venice Beach in Los Angeles, California, November 2, 2010.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Quirky polling stations such as laundromats, beauty salons and churches are hard to find, buried among hundreds of voting places listed only by address.

Hoping to portray something uniquely Californian, I woke before dawn and headed to the lifeguard headquarters on Venice Beach. During Obama fever in 2008, a long line of waiting voters cast shadows on the wall outside.

Oaksterdam University in place to teach next generation of pot entrepreneurs

Reuters photographer Robert Galbraith spent some time at Oaksterdam University in Oakland,  California where they teach the next generation of medical marijuana entrepreneurs. The city of Oakland had just passed Measure F, which created a special tax category for medical weed dispensaries, the first in the nation. As state and local governments look for new revenue streams in the recession, medical marijuana is becoming an attractive stream for new tax revenue.

Listening to another news report that stated there are more medical marijuana dispensaries in Los Angeles than Starbucks coffee shops, I thought it would be a good time to look at Oaksterdam University, a “school” that teaches students the finer points of marijuana law and cultivation techniques. The school sits on a busy street corner in downtown Oakland, California with several of its business entities found throughout the neighborhood. There is a book store to sell students books and supplies, as well as hats, t-shirts and smoking paraphernalia; a glass blowing shop across the street; and a medical marijuana dispensary around the corner.

In the one-room school, students listen to lectures and grow marijuana for homework. Three type of students attend Oaksterdam — those with the intention of eventually working  in the medical marijuana industry; those wanting to grow for their personal use, and others interested in the politics of pot and those who want to make it legal. Most of the students in the evening class are middle-aged medical marijuana patients eager to learn the trade and how to grow their own medicine.

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