Monday, February 16, 2009

A venerable comedian takes the stage...

The Jazz Band had played their songs, the pledge of allegiance had been pledged, and the prayer had been prayed.

"I present the American Studies Institute Distinguished Lecture Series speaker...," Dr. Jim Carr, the VP of my university, announced from the podium after reading a lengthy and rather impressive bio: presidential speechwriter, White House economist, actor, comedian, writer, producer...

The auditorium - entirely full and standing room only for the first time in a long while - already was getting to their feet as if it were a rock concert.

"...Ben Stein."

It was quite a cheer.

The hours leading up to the actual speech were the usual: grip-and-grin reception, lots of candids, dinner with the speaker.

While my boss took photos of the hand shake, I did the walk-around thing. Its the usual thing.

Mr. Yarnell was even there. ("Yarnell's" is a semi-mid-west-south ice cream company based nearby. Its pretty good icecream, really.)

Ben Stein was quite the personable man, too. More on that soon.

But he would talk and talk and talk to people. In fact, when the time came for dinner, the organizers started herding people away to take their seats. Mr. Stein waved them back in for more!

So, I didn't bother with the dinner. There's not THAT much to shoot. People eating.


I moved on to the auditorium an hour early to make sure I had a seat. It was starting to fill even an hour early. Let me just say, by speech time, it was completely filled...

...and dozens were out in the lobby watching the monitors.

Well, as I was saying, the university jazz band played their set off and on as the crowds entered.

I stood with Mr. Stein and his bodyguard in the wings as the band finished playing. He had some ferocious allergies. I was fighting a cold. We small-talked about our snot.

My sister later asked me why I didn't say something about, "Itchy, allergy eyes? Try clear eyes. Wow..."

(Click here if you need that explained.)

Other than our infirmities, I said that I was taking photos of the crowd because it was one of the largest crowds that had ever gathered for a speaker like this. At least, in the 3.5 years I'd been there...

"Well, I'm quite flattered," he peeked from behind the curtain for a second.

The crowd cheered a little and grew to a roar as he stepped out.

As soon as his bio started to be read by Dr. Carr, he took out his cell phone and began taking photos of the crowd.

One to the upper balcony... down front in the middle... to me.

He was a pretty cool guy.

He spoke of evolution and his movie "Expelled" and social dawinism and eugenics and the moral corruption of society leading to the downfall of empires.

There was quite a bit of Obama-bashing interjected in there (especially during the Q&A following) but he made his point clear and concise.

Most of the students there actually attended because they wanted to, not because they were forced to attend by their teachers.

The MC was one of them. Yep, she had to take notes as I took photos.

And the night finished off in the usual way with the speaker being presented an "Arkansas Traveler" award signed by Governor Beebe.

Considering Ben's wife's family is from Arkansas, the award is a little redundant, but... its just the usual thing.

The book signing followed. The MC sat strategically so she could hop up and get a signature or three before the line got a mile long and the books got sold-out.

But she got it. And she was quite excited.

So, that was Ben Stein...

Dry eyes, allergies, camera phone, tennis shoes and all...

Big shoot winding down this week. It really has been fun, but I can see now why photographers hire an assistant for big shoots!

Stay tuned for that.
-Noah D.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Recognizable faces to everyone...

I love my job.

I kinda wanted to name this post "Yet another moment brought to you by my absurd job..." but that kind sounded a bit more pretentious than I intended... and it wouldn't fit in the box.

So, I photographed a banquet with Governor Mike Huckabee.

Yeah, as far as presidents or one-time presidential hopefuls go, he was my first in a photographing sort of way.

Half of the 500 or so photos were beforehand where all the few hundred guests were mingling in the lobby of my college's American Heritage Center. Some of the high-rollers were invited to a private reception with Gov.Huckabee upstairs where my boss was shooting grip-and-grins.

The night was dedicated to fund raising for the elementary/high school that is attached to the college. The lobby was full of artwork done by the students and the high school choir sang for all attending.

What an amazing cross-section of "getting-into-it-ness"... top left is probably my favorite. Top right is like, "Nope. Not happening."

There were a quite a few cameras there tonight.

And I had a thought:
as many DSLR's in the world that there are these days, I'm afraid the quality difference between pro-shooters and everyone else is going to narrow. But there's something quite comforting in all of this media convergence that everyone is buzzing about these days. The best are always going to float to the top through all the rest of the mediocre crap out there.

They always have. They always will.

The difference used to be Leica M's and Nikon F's and Canon A's vs. all the little point and shoot Olympus and Fuji's out there that couldn't make images because of the poor quality of equipment. Now, the difference is not equipment quality (even tiny camera phone shots are making news) but the difference will be mere talent and access. Sure, the everyday digi-cam toter can luck out and happen to be somewhere at the right time - remember the photos from the Hudson River . But the average digi-cam toter will never have the access that a pro-shooter has.

Yeah, it may sound a bit condescending, but not everybody can be down on the sideline or on AirForceOne or walking ON the red carpet. Never fret my photo-journalism friends, when it comes to access, the best will be the only ones up close.

But anyways, on to dinner...

It was pretty good. Just the usual catered Aramark food; however, the desert was quite sexy. The program called it a Caramel Apple White Chocolate Trifle. All I know it was a big champagne glass of creamy goodness.

Huckabee was introduced with the usual pomp and circumstance afforded a former presidential runner and state governor.

But he spoke well and was quite personable. And it didn't seem like one of the "speaking tour" type speeches that often come to things like this. He was in his home state with people who had known him for years before he was ever a presidential hopeful.

Right before he left, he pledged $1000 to the school from his own pocket. But, he said they could only keep it if 20 others in the audience matched it.

They made $21,000 in less than a minute. It was quite absurd.

So, this was another moment brought to you by my completely absurd job. Who really cares who it was? I just love doing it.

Anyways. Another thing on Tuesday. Another speaker. And a commercial/studio shoot starts on Tuesday, too. Hmm...

You'll see. Stay tuned,
~Noah D.