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On Assignment

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“Oh you’re like Peter Parker!”

More often than not, when someone is quizzing me about my work they often compare me to Spiderman’s plainclothes character of a struggling photojournalist trying to get his photos in the city newspaper. Parker’s pleas were a bit off.

It’s hard to explain my job to people who chat me up in the elevator pointing out my gear. They must think I’m on some kind of photo vacation every day. For those curious, I’ll try to explain:

I was hired by one of my repeat clients to photograph 5 restaurants for a review that one of their food critics was writing. The critic came to Sin City looking for terrific eats that could be found off-the-Strip, and he found some real slices of amazing cuisine in our little big town.

I was given a list of restaurants and a blurb on each from the critic. The rest was up to me to deliver before my deadline of a week out.

The first days I had free, I spent researching restaurants; contacting public relations firms and restaurant owners; making phone calls; writing emails and driving by a few of the properties. I had to line up each shoot before coming in during a busy dinner hour armed with cameras. I ended up visiting restaurants two or three times because it was not easy to get food shots when the restaurant was busy. Empty restaurants make for stale photos. Furthermore, people eating do not like their photograph to be taken.

Also, I was told to shoot interiors, exteriors, ambiance, specific food dishes, and the head chef for each restaurant. Some restaurants had language barriers, and one had no signage at all on the building making it difficult to find. In total, some 1,500 images were shot and edited. 69 images were toned, thoroughly captioned and filed electronically a day before my deadline.

Peter Parker would poo his pants.

The workload is a reality, and I eat it up every day. Sure, some days are more fun than others, and food really is quite fun-even if I don’t get to eat it.

In addition to the generous two-page spread that ran in the New York Times as the section cover, a few of my personal favorite images were not selected. I’d like to share these outtakes. (Please refrain from licking your computer screen.)

A superhero I definitely am not, but I treasure my job as if I were one.

 

Mohawk Madness

Mohawk Madness

The infamous Las Vegas Strip is definitely a place where one can see a lot of characters. As of lately, hordes of literal characters ranging from children’s animation stars to Elvis Presley impersonators can be found entertaining the crowds asking for a tip in exchange for a photograph.

However, today while on assignment to photograph construction outside of Treasure Island, I did not encounter a single wandering icon on my stretch of my city’s most popular 4.2 miles, but I did stumble upon Chris.

Chirs Wallingford, who has Britney Spears’ new show advertised on his Mohawk, rides the escalator outside of Wynn hotel-casino. Willingford had a sample advertisement airbrushed into his Mohawk to promote his business, Mohawk4hire, where companies can hire advertising space on his hair.

In the short time that my walking path merged with Chris’, I saw him stop to take photographs three times and also witnessed many points, snickers, and gasps from passersby.

I’d have to say this colorful character is definitely onto something. Now if only I could get my hair to stand up quite that way, I could offer Chris my services to moonlight as a second walking billboard.

Swing, Swing, Swing

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Up, down
Wind in my hair
Nothing in the world
Is worth a care
 
Keep on swing, swing
Up and down
Sun on my skin
Never ever a frown
 
Until the sun is gone

This moment reminds me of a time in my life when I didn’t know worry. There were no budgets, pressing emails or impossible grown-up situations to solve. Up and down I go as I’m carried away with stress. If only I had a swing-set and a pink sparkly shirt.

To be a child is such a wonderful thing.

Caption: Faith Ripandelli, 8, swings at Wilbur and Theresa Faiss Park Monday, March 24, 2014, in Las Vegas. The park, which opened last year and is located near Wet’n’Wild Las Vegas water park, was recently named in honor of the husband and wife community volunteers.

Dear KathyDear Kathy

I met Kathy on a cold November night. I had an assignment to photograph the U.S. Air Force enlisted men and women from Nellis Air Force Base that were assisting with a weekly feeding of the homeless in a rather rough part of town. I arrived early, long before the event started due to wrong information and decided to get coffee and come back. I wasn’t too eager to return because not only was I tired and cranky, but I questioned my safety in the area. The sun had just gone down. I had a lot of camera gear.

Upon returning an hour and a half later, the ruined and desperate neighborhood took on a entire different life. People busied themselves with containers of steaming food and boxes of blankets. About 75 homeless and needy people stood in line waiting for the food serving to begin. Volunteers greeted each other as well as those waiting with hugs and smiles equally. The community blended together for another Monday night on G Street. Their operation was seamless, and I was the outsider.

After photographing military personnel, community volunteers, those in need and even taking a photograph with a friendly and outgoing homeless man (who also proposed to me and called me “blonde girl” as he chased after me), the reporter and I were urged by a volunteer to meet Kathy.

Kathy was sitting in her wheelchair under a streetlight off to the side of the food line. Her lean limbs were bundled and a medical mask was around her mouth. Fresh vomit lay on the ground next to her wheelchair where she had tried to eat and failed. The volunteer hugged Kathy and gave her some gentle pats. Kathy informed us that she had bone cancer and that her time on Earth was short, but that she was okay.

“My Lord has done me good,” She said.

Kathy told us to lean in close as she sang several sweet verses of a bible hymn that I did not know. She spoke ever so soft but with confidence and humility as she asked for our hands and started a prayer. I succumbed to the moment and fought back my emotions. I did not want Kathy to see my eyes watering. I looked over and noticed that the reporter was equally moved.

I left soon after my encounter with Kathy. I was deflated from the evening. There was nothing I could do for Kathy. I could not make her better or take her home with me. I could not pay for her medicines that she could not afford–yet I wanted to. I drove home, and my heart was sad.

I am not a doctor who heals children. I am not in the military fighting for my country. I do not have a momentous job. All I can hope to do is tell one person’s story through my photographs. And I know on that Monday evening, I did my job. I was there for Kathy, even if it was just for several moments on a busy and cold day when all I wanted to do was go home and crawl into bed. I was there to listen, and I’m here today to tell her story. I will forever have our moment together and this photo.

All of my best wishes to you, Kathy. Rest easy tonight.

Game. Set. Match.Game, match, point.

When I was in high school, I was terrified to try out for sports teams. I loved to play tennis and run cross-country, but I was afraid that I was not good enough or that I would be made fun of if I was to fall short of anything but the best. I really wish I had squashed my fears and given it a shot.

For the past ten years in Las Vegas, I have witnessed and documented outstanding athleticism covering high school sports and all of the school spirit that accompanies it. I see teenagers acting as adults. They push hard. They cheer for their teammates and competition, and they are there for each other when they fail.

Whether I’m covering high school sports or a professional boxing match on a stressful deadline or any sport in between, one thing always remains the same: True athleticism always prevails. Everything all comes down to one moment in time where an athlete is pushing to be their very best. Athletes strive to be the first, the fastest or to score the most. It is in that brief moment of time, when everything culminates and comes together, that something truly magical happens. For me it’s like getting The Shot, the one photograph where everything comes together perfectly and says it all. For just one fleeting moment, I get excited and I’ve won. I’ve sunk my serve. I’ve crossed the finish line. It’s making the cut and so much more.

Here are a few of my shots covering prep sports in the past week in Las Vegas.

Gimme More and More and More

I had an assignment date: Sept. 17. I had a time: 3 a.m. I had a place: (well kind of).

One of my regular clients, ABC/Disney, contacted me to shoot still photos alongside a video crew during a taping of one of their syndicated shows. Because of confidentiality reasons, I am never given any details until the day before the shoot. September 17 was no exception.

I was told to arrive at 3 a.m. and asked if I could rent a truck. We were to meet in a dry lakebed in the middle of the desert 25 miles south of Las Vegas. I was emailed a map titled, “Operation Songbird.”

What in the world was I photographing?

Eventually, I found out that I was going to be photographing a taping of Good Morning America. The name Britney Spears was mentioned.

So, you must imagine my surprise when I got to the staging area that morning and there were 2,000 people lit up like an alien invasion in the middle of dark desert nowhere under the biggest set lights that I have ever seen aside from photographing the President. As I walked up, I passed several crewmembers and then Britney. But I thought that it couldn’t be Britney just walking around by herself. That’s when I saw another… and another… I was in the middle of a Britney Spears apocalypse.

I quickly found out that Britney Spears was going to be making an appearance via helicopter before sunrise to speak with GMA’s Sam Champion and announce her new stint at Planet Hollywood.

The rest of the morning went as planned. I followed Sam around shooting his clips. I took general shots of the scene. I even went up on a construction lift to get an aerial view of a flip-card visual performed by the 2,000 fans and look-alikes. And when the actual Britney Spears arrived, I shot that as well.

All and all, Sept. 17 was just another day on the job…a rather fun and unique day, which I always welcome. I love to photograph anything that takes me out of my element, and especially if that takes me away from the norm.  So now every time I hear a Britney Spears song, which believe me is a frequent occurrence since this shoot, I smile and remember when the lookalikes, and a small film crew, gathered in the middle of nowhere before dawn in the name of Britney Spears.