So as I was driving to Oil City for the opening press conference for the new CATA Venango County multimodal hub something odd happened to me. I felt nervous.
I've been doing this stuff for more than a couple decades and after the first dozen or so of these kind of events I haven't felt nervous at all. Maybe because I working only for myself now, I'm not part of a team, I can't rely on someone else to pick up the slack. I knew I'd see other members of the press there. They still have their job and I would be there trying to do what they are doing, get information and make a series of photos.
I began to wonder if I was still working at the paper still would my approach be different?
So I relaxed and went about my job. It's sorta like riding a bicycle. But then I remembered my dad getting on a bkie for the first time in decades and demolishing one of mom's flower beds. I always feel like I struggle at these events, they typically aren't very exciting, talking heads at podiums followed by controlled tours of empty rooms. But I have a photographer's ego so I want to take a moment that will win awards.
And there is always some moment that happens that if I'm ready for it, will encapsulate the event or at least key parts of the event. Being ready is the key, we see more photos than we capture. Always.
As i began working this event I had a background knowledge of how this came to be and what it was.
This is a $10 million building in Oil City constructed on a fairly expensive parking lot that was built only a few years ago. When it was constructed it was next to an unsafe and no longer used parking garage that has since been torn down. This new building got off to a rough PR start because it was decided that the new parking lot should be the site of this new building and where the parking garage was would become a new parking lot.
The big government haters had a field day, and still do. But the project went forward with a plan that everyone involved seemed to agree was the bast plan. All of this I knew, but wasn't sure if it mattered this day or not. The new multimodal hub is now completed sans some landscaping and finishing touches. The shiny new building was ready to be shown off.
The scheduled event Monday was a big deal for Venango County, that owns the building. It was a big deal for CATA, that will use the facility for maintenance and storage of the their fleet. It was a big deal for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that will also be able to use the facility and who has taken a lot of the heat for the parking lot issue.
This was a big enough of a deal that the deputy secretary for the state DOT made the trip from Harrisburg to tour the facility and speak to those in attendance. And it is a big deal for Oil City to have this development downtown where new things seem hard pressed to happen.
But there I was taking every speaker virtually the same way, in profile with the CATA logo in the background. Normally I would only use one of thos images in my report, but I photograph the key players to later determine which would be the best to use. In this case I felt CATA director Tim Geibel's picture probably best suited this background. I also photographed commissioner Sam Breene, Deputy Secretary Jennie Granger and PennDOT District 1 Executive Brian McNulty the same way. At that time I wasn't sure who would be the best fit for the story.
At one point I even decided I couldn't worry about being in the way and crawled up front. I had a photo I liked but a slipped mask from one of the speakers made me question the appropriateness of using that photo. If the mask was purposely down to make a stance or a point, then I wouldn't question using the photo, but that wasn't the case and no need to get someone in hot water because I was unethically trying to dig at authority.
No gotcha journalism from me unless you deserve to be got.
But what do the pictures say and what life is in them? This is a huge criteria for me--what life is in the photograph?
Good photojournalists take the mundane and find that little moment that encapsulates the life that makes up the story. And it is always there if you are willing to put in the time.
For me that meant, going on the tour and looking at the empty rooms. I wasn't excited about going on the press leg of the tour, but did and made a few frames, but it was at the end when the next tour of real folks happened by that I jumped in and got a little more excited. Some of those key players where there talking to business and civic leaders as well as the commissioners and Sen. Scott Hutchinson. I began documenting this with the facility in the background.
Geibel was gesturing as he spoke. I love animated speakers. I had a few I liked and one I thought I really liked until I looked at it later and realized his gesture could be misconstrued. I knew that would be out of contention if I were putting these into the newspaper. I only include it here to show how we think as we are communicating visually. Sometimes we have to overthink what we see and record in order to be fair. When I was younger I might not have had the same concern. In the end I felt Geibel at the podium would be the best image of him to use.
I had another where she was further away from the camera and that showed more of the garage with Granger speaking. I felt this would be a toos up if I were giving the photos to my editors back at the paper.
A lot of thought goes into covering events in our community whether they are closed to the public or big open festivals. Wanting to make compelling images, even when the subject is a new building and some politiciams and other officials who want a moment of time to boast, is a responsibility I think of a journalist. I really try to take that seriously.
From the event press release:
The project was funded through the Federal Transit Administration (80 percent), PennDOT Bureau of Public Transportation (19 percent), and Venango County (1 percent). The contract cost is $10 million.
The contractors on the facility are Hudson Construction, Inc. of Hermitage, PA; Renick Brothers Construction Co. of Slippery Rock, PA; Wm. T. Spaeder Co., Inc. of Erie, PA; and Westmoreland Electric Services, LLC of Tarrs, PA. Johnson Mirmiran and Thompson (JMT) and Michael Baker International provided design and construction management support, respectively.
A page of pictures of the project throughout the process are available online at www.penndot.gov/District1 by clicking on the Construction Projects/Roadway link under the Resources heading and choosing the Venango County tile then Multimodal Transit Facility Project.
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