Archive for June, 2008

On Letting Go

I was assigned to shoot a turtle release the other day. When I got to the Conservancy I realized that I was going to be the only photographer allowed on the boat out of the three that showed up. I think this is the first time my photos have gone out on the wire. Cool.

The turtle had a pretty interesting story. It was taken from Sanibel Island by a tourist when it was a hatchling. The tourist took it home to Minnesota, but soon realized that Minnesota is no place for a sea turtle, so they gave it ot the Minnesota Zoo where it lived for a year before coming back to Naples. It was there for three years before it was released on Wednesday.

This guy has taken care of the turtle since it arrived in Naples in 2005.


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Explosions In The Sky

Lightning is good pictures, if you can catch it.

A great photographer once told me never to chimp. “When you stop to look at the back of your camera, you’re missing moments that you could otherwise be shooting,” he said.

Well I’ll be damned if every time I hit the Display button, a bolt of light would shoot from the clouds. Lesson learned.

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Morning In The Moonlight

The moon is approximately one millionth as bright as the sun. If you wait long enough, you can correctly expose a picture under moonlight. Tonight was a full moon, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

8 min @ f/11, ISO 200

I only got off two exposures before some clouds rolled in and ruined my light. This was the first, and was actually a fluke since my cable release (which was a piece of paper taped over the shutter to hold it down) cut out what I thought was too soon. I had gone out the night before to practice and thought I had calculated that it would take about 30 min. at f/11, but apparently it takes much less than that.

The photo is alright, but it’s too Mac Desktop Background-y. The moon will be relatively full tomorrow night too, so I’ll go back out and try some different angles and lenses, weather permitting. I think I’ll stop it down a bit more too.

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Understnding In A Car Crash

Saturday night. Demolition Derby. I’m hooked.

Down here they aren’t called rednecks or hillbillies because there are no hills. Instead they’re called Florida crackers in reference to the cracking of cattle whips.

I’d much, much, much rather hang around with these folk than the people in the high-rises downtown. The kind folks at the derby were so kind and accepting it ave me new faith in this community.

It just also makes me excited for the rodeo in July.

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Failure is Relative

I had been on the job for three days. I had just come in from my third assignment when my editor approached me.

“You’ve done a photo story before, right?”

“Um, yeah, but not very well.”

“Oh, whatever. Come with me, we have a meeting to go to.”

The meeting was with Eric Strachan, the Daily News’ print managing editor, Jonathan Utz, the digital managing editor, a news editor, a reporter, a photo editor and an intern

Apparently I was going to shoot a photo story for Father’s Day


An hour outside of Naples is a small farm town called Immokalee. If Naples is where rich people go to retire, Immokalee is where immigrants go to work. The town is built around farming and, according to the CDP and Wikipedia, in the year 2000 “about 34.6% of families and 39.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 46.1% of those under age 18 and 26.9% of those age 65 or over.”

Our subject would be a Haitian man, Mathieu Beaucicot (Matthew Bow-see-ko), who immigrated to Immokalee in 1992, leaving behind four children and a pregnant wife. In 2006 he brought his entire family to America to live with him in his Habitat for Humanity house in Immokalee.

He left in 1992. His wife was pregnant. That means that child, the youngest, is now 16. Mathieu’s other children are 18, 20, 24 and 25. Naturally, my first concern was that with kids that old the moments would be scarce. Since the story was about fatherhood I knew parent/ child moments would be my only priority, and I don’t consider myself a decent moment photographer by any definition of the word, so this would be especially difficult.

“Just turn your nervous energy into excited energy,” one of the staff photographers told me after the meeting.

So I did.


Mathieu manages the grocery co-op at the Coalition for Immokalee Workers, an organization that works almost as a union to fight for the rights of the immigrant field workers. When Mathieu first arrived in America he worked in the fields, often times working 14 hours a day and making $200, $150 of which he sent back home to Haiti.

Although he is over 6-feet tall, his powerful frame isn’t at all reflected in his speech. His voice is small and quiet and his broken English carries a heavy French accent. My first obstacle was overcoming the language barrier. I met Mathieu for the first time at work and sat down with him to talk for a while. He told me about his life before coming to America, told me about how things changed when he got here, and talked about his family. After a half an hour or so of talking, I told him that I would be taking pictures of him at work today.

“I just want you to do whatever you would do normally,” I said.

“Oh, ok,” he replied. But he didn’t move from the couch where we were talking.

“Are you working here today,” I asked.

“Oh, yah.”

“Alright, well if you just want to work like you would normally, I’ll take pictures of that,” I said as clearly as I could.

“Oh, you want to go outside, or in here?”

“Well, want to take pictures of you while you work.”

“Ok, I’m working in the Coalition in the, em, store,” he replied, apparently not understanding my request.

“Alright, well if you want to start working then I’ll take pictures.”

“I start working the field, but I no do that anymore.”

After 20 or so minutes of telling him that I wanted him to act normal, I said, “pretend I’m not here” and he understood.

Tomatoes, the main crop grown around Immokalee, are picked primarily in November, so 80 percent of the residents move North for the summer to find work. Immokalee in the summer is nearly dead. As such, Mathieu spends his summer days selling the occasional phone card and soda, but spends more time on one of the Coalition’s computers than behind the counter.

I was a little worried when fewer than ten people stopped in the store during the six hours I was there, but then I remembered that pictures from work weren’t important. I hadn’t met the family yet, but I had high hopes.

I left Mathieu at the store around 4:00 to go to his house. The reporter was interviewing the kids and I thought I would introduce myself and let them get acquainted with me before just I showed up and started shooting. Three of Mathieu’s kids live with him currently. His two daughters, Vedette and Magdala, and his son, Pierre Richard. His other two children are currently in school, one in Northern Florida and the other in Alabama or Georgia.

The girls, who were home at the time, welcomed me with open arms, which is much what I expected after hanging around their father all day. We talked for a while and they told the reporter and I that the family would be going to church later that night. One of the things mentioned in the meeting a couple days ago was how church would be a moment-maker that would be good to go to. It would be a time when the whole family would be together. So when the girls mentioned church on Friday night I got excited because I would have two chances to shoot it.

Church was at 9 p.m. and I left the family at 5 to drive back to Naples so I could run what I shot past my editor. I was a little more worried than I needed to be and, in a quick runthrough, she said everything looked fine. I ran by my apartment, threw on some nicer clothes, and drive to Immokalee. I got there at 7:45, ready to leave at 8. When I arrived, the family was still getting ready. Mathieu greeted the reporter and I and sat down at the kitchen table. One by one the kids started coming out from their rooms to sit in the living room. I was poised and ready to shoot some nice moments.

I got a little worried when all the kids did was sit in the living room in silence. I didn’t know if they were just nervous because the reporter and I were there, but I was hoping the quiet would end soon. After another few minutes, Mathieu started opening letters on the kitchen table. Inside some of the envelopes were the kids’ report cards. I couldn’t have asked for a better break in the scene. Well, maybe.

I watched and waited, but the moment never came. The man never smiled, he barely looked at his kids, I was floored. I got a little worried, but church was coming up next, so I decided It was nothing to get worked up over.

We sat around for awhile longer, waiting for Mathieu’s wife to get home form her job at the packing plant. By 9 p.m. she wasn’t home, so we left without her. We got to church, and standing outside the front doors I could hear Haitian Creole blasting through the double doors. Earlier in the week Eric Strachan joked that he had gone to a Haitian service before, and after the first hour he had thought, “ok, this should be over soon.” Then, after the second hour he thought, “ok, this should be over soon.” Three hours is apparently the standard for Haitian church. This was good for me since it afforded me three hours to make a few good pictures. It was bad for me since it was three hours of church… in another language.

We walked in the door and the reporter and I sat down in the back row. She and I had walked in behind Mathieu, and when he turned around and saw us sitting in the back, he walked back and sat down beside us.

“Oh, no,” the reporter said. “You can sit with your family if you want.”

“Oh, ok,” he said, and moved back up to the row with his kids and sat down at the compete opposite end of the otherwise-empty pew. So there went every opportunity for nice moments. But none of that mattered, since Mathieu asked me not to shoot any since the pastor didn’t know we were coming. While the reporter had things to do and left an hour into the service, I stayed. I stayed because when you’re trying to tell someone’s story, and their trust in you is a vital part of them feeling comfortable with you, paying respect to things they hold dear is very important. It also would have given me a chance to watch the family and see how they interact, but that didn’t exactly happen.


I showed up at the Beaucicot residence at 7 a.m. on Sunday. I had been told that the family eats breakfast together sometimes, but today wasn’t one of those times like I had hoped. Instead, the family was sitting around the living room half asleep.

Mathieu was at the table reading the Bible.

Shortly thereafter, we left for church. Once there, the family split and went to their respective Sunday schools.

After Sunday school I sat myself at the the back of the church to wait for the regular service to begin. Before long, Mathieu sat down next to me. I told him, “You don’t have to sit with me, you can sit with your family.” Sometimes I wonder if I was acting unethically by saying that. I have no idea where he would normally sit during the service. Mathieu’s daughters were sitting a few pews from the front, his wife and son were sitting three pews behind them… Apparently sitting together as a family was not a concern to them, so there was no telling where he would normally place himself. For all I know he could have just sat four feet away from his daughters because he thought I asked him to.

Nonetheless, I began shooting as much as I could. From watching the Friday service, I knew that there would be little interaction. This congregation was more about personal faith than community interaction. Everyone had their own book, said their own prayers, and sang their own songs.

Church, which was supposed to be a good source of interaction, was falling through.

The lady in white and boy in maroon are Mathieu’s wife and son.

I hung around the family after church too, but the family did nothing but keep to themselves. I was growing more and more nervous every hour I spent with them.


I showed up in the office Monday with butterflies in my stomach. I knew I would have nothing decent to show my editor and I knew exactly how it looked: the intern went out on his first photo story and comes back with nothing, so he says “nothing was happening”. Typical.

The photo editor was light on criticism, but that’s how she is. Even if the pictures are less than optimal she’ll try to argue for them. The critique from the managing editor was more accurate, especially when he said what I turned in was “disappointing.” And to be honest, it was.

In the end we settled with a family portrait to replace the “moments” that never got shot.

I went back once more a couple days ago to shoot video of the family and spent two hours sitting in their living room watching basketball in complete silence. Complete. Silence. I filmed a little bit , but would stop occasionally because there is only so much you can shoot of nothing. When I would pause for longer then 15 minutes, Mathieu would ask, “You finish?”

“No, not yet,” I would say.

In the end, I probably learned a lot about communication with a subject. The language barrier was certainly an obstacle. I feel like if I had been able to better communicate with him as to what I wanted him to do and how I wanted him to act–normal– then I could have produced something better.

You can watch the video here, but it’s really not worth it.

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