The Rainbow Prom

Social change is constant and inevitable. Just yesterday the first current NBA player Jason Collins announced that he is gay. Yes, this is a big deal for society as a whole, but should hardly be a surprise. since Billy Crystal portrayed a gay character on the network TV show Soap in the 1970’s and  Public support for gay marriage is at an all time high. But it takes time for perceptions like this to sort themselves out within the masses. It wasn’t that long ago in our country’s history that women couldn’t vote and slavery was an accepted practice. Thankfully those prejudices were cast aside and we continue to move towards equality for everyone. There is still work to be done, but things are getting better.

Many years from now, hopefully we’ll look at the gay/gay marriage issue as a non-issue and just treat people like people, giving them the equal rights they deserve.

This brings me to a project I have been working on recently. Still in progress and not yet completed, it’s about acceptance. It’s about being comfortable with who you are and how you fit into society. In Stamford, CT where I live, one of the local high schools saw the need for some organized acceptance of the teen LGBT community and their supporters. The Rainbow Prom was created to give these kids an opportunity to be themselves and have a prom celebration that made them feel accepted.

I thought there was an opportunity to create a new body of work and help these kids out at the same time. After talking to the organizers of the event I got permission to photograph any of the kids that were interested standing in for a portrait.The images were given to the kids free to charge to share and personally use. Hopefully these images will present more like a people study than a bunch of prom photos, but here is some of the work. Let me know your thoughts and enjoy!

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Harvey Pollack’s T-Shirt

Photographing celebrities, athletes, politicians, heads of state and business executives will get you lots of oooh’s and aaah’s from your friends, family and clients, but it’s the undiscovered characters of the world that I’m drawn to. They are everywhere we look, yet somehow overlook these folks as we go about our day.

One of these chance encounters happened near the end of December while on assignment in Philadelphia. I was working with longtime client WWE and we had just completed setting up our backstage photo studio when an affable older gentleman walked by and boldly asked “can you guys give me a t-shirt”?

We get those requests all the time, but this guy was a little outside the demographic for a wrestling t-shirt, so I asked, “what do you need a wrestling t-shirt for?” Without missing a beat, this gentleman pulls his oversized gray sweater up from the waist, shows off a rock concert tour t-shirt underneath and says “I’m trying to set a world record for the most t-shirts worn on consecutive days”. He introduced himself as Harvey Pollack and he is a long-time statistician for the Philadelphia 76’ers basketball team.

We all laughed as he explained that he was donating all the once used t-shirts to a local charity, but that he was always on the lookout for more t-shirts for him to wear to set the record. As someone was digging through our cases I casually asked Harvey what number t-shirt he was up to. His response” three thousand, four hundred and fifty eight”. We all stopped dead in our tracks. We starting doing the math in our heads. Hmm 3458 divided by 365…this guy has been wearing a different t-shirt every day for nearly 10 years! All I could think was how funny, cool and interesting this was. Some people run races, some climb mountains, this guy wears t-shirts.

Harvey Pollack with his Bon Jovi t-shirt.

 

I knew I couldn’t let the opportunity to take a photo of him slip away so I asked Harvey to step onto our background for a portrait. He started to take his sweater off and I stopped him. I asked him, “Harvey, pull you sweater up just like you did when you showed me the shirt the first time.” He tugged at his sweater and smiled wide seemingly very proud of his t-shirt prowess. We all laughed once more as this senior senior citizen displayed a Bon Jovi concert t-shirt from a 2010 tour

I only shot 3 frames on him, knowing I had what I needed after the first or second shot. He walked off the background and continued the conversation explaining that he was 90 years-old, has worked in professional basketball PR for nearly 50 years and he has a claim to fame related to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game. Harvey explained he was the PR guy at the  historic 1962 Philadelphia Warriors game and when the game was over he know they needed a photo to mark the historic accomplishment. He explained that he quickly took a marker, wrote the number 100 on a piece of paper and asked Wilt if he would hold it for a photo for one of the photographers still there. Wilt happily obliged and the photo Harvey arranged still sits in the Basketball Hall of fame. Harvey joked that for a guy that writes professionally, the most famous thing he ever wrote was the numbers 1-0-0 on a simple piece of white paper.

It turns out the Harvey is a bit of a legend in Philadelphia and in basketball world too. Harvey could not been nicer and it just goes to show you that you never know what you are going to find out about someone when they ask you for a t-shirt .

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Connecticut Magazine: New Voters Spread

Kudos and kind thanks to our friends at Connecticut Magazine for finding a full 6 pages and some amazing design support for a spread in the print edition of the November 2012 issue.

The full layout is below, but you should really check out the print quality of the actual magazine. In an era where’s it’s tough to get even one full page in a print edition, I’m truly honored and delighted to see this project given such a great display.

Many thanks to Senior Designer Stacey Shea and Editor Charley Monagan for their help in getting this project in print. 

Heather McLaughlin - November 7, 2012 - 2:58 pm

This is a gorgeous 6 page spread, Rich. I love it.
Congratulations, I’m proud of you.

Sandy Connolly - May 4, 2013 - 8:57 am

Hi Rich! I love this project! Makes me feel good about being an American. Great images.

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It’s Election Season…so who’s voting?

There is a lot to NOT like about politics. The politicians, the process, the stalemate in our government, I could go on for a long while with this list.

Despite these issues, democracy and the right to vote for our elected officials in the United States is still very sought after.

Various media outlets are constantly parsing the voting public for statistics about who is going to vote for who.

I’m less interested in the numbers and more interested in the people. As a naturally curious photographer, I sought to create a people study of sorts. A visual collection of who the newest American voters are. Seems easy, right?

Anyone 18 before election day can vote, so finding a group of high school seniors was a good start. Most of them learn about the process in school and actually register to vote.

That leaves people who are new American citizens. Not so tough, I thought. I’ll just go to some US Naturalization ceremonies and  find my subjects there. Except that these typically happen in a US Federal Court House. Having spent some of my early photo years in the news and wire service photo world, I knew access to this was not going to be easy. Cameras (and lighting equipment) in a federal court house is a tall order, especially without a contact on the inside.

After about 30 phone calls to everyone from my Congressman to USCIS (US Customs and Immigration Services) I realized I needed to make my pitch in person. I trudged to federal court in Hartford, CT and made my pitch to a kind woman who looked at me like I was an alien. I’m sure she was wondering why she drew the short straw of listening to my pitch for a photo project.

All was not lost, I left Hartford with a phone number of a woman who was the facilities manager for all the federal court houses in Connecticut (there are 3, one each in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport). She was kind enough to tell me that on consecutive Friday’s once a month at each court house they have naturalization ceremonies….four time a day. I felt myself getting closer to at least getting rejected by the right person. I called the facilities manager and left her a rambling message about this photo project, knowing a call back was unlikely. She called back 15 minutes after my first message (success!) and told me I needed to get permission from the judge who presides over the ceremonies…. and she even offered to ask for me. I sent her an outline of the project and she was off to ask the judge in Bridgeport if I could have access.

I waited…and waited. Two weeks went by and nothing. I was sure the project was dead the water. I rang her up once more to see if she had any luck. She had just heard back from the judge that day and she said he “loved the idea.”  I was shocked and excited.

They told me I was welcome to come as for the next series of ceremonies, setup and “do whatever you need.”  Too good to be true, I thought. I was told they have 4 ceremonies on Friday at 9:30, 11:30, 1:30 and 3:30 with as many as 80 people per ceremony. Did I hear that right? How was I going to do this? How was I going to get people to stand for a portrait with that many people? Would anyone do this for me? How would I get basic info from the subjects like full name and an email address, much less ask them if they were going to vote in November.

I rolled into the Bridgeport Federal Courthouse with a cart of gear, my Summer intern, cameras and a lot of faith this was going to work out and not be a bust (or a mob scene.)  The first group rolled out and Audrey and I were ready. We had about 15 or 20 people stop by, some smiling, some confused, but all willing to stand for a portrait. We had waves of being super busy and waves of just waiting (“welcome to the world of photography”, I told Audrey. “it’s always like that”. ) We repeated the process for the rest of the day and had great success. People can be very gracious, even to a stranger with a camera and an idea. During the day we met the representative from the League of Women Voters, who was there signing up all the new citizens so they can vote in November. We even signed Audrey up, as she was out of school the day they had voter registration. All in all a huge success. We shot a few more days, including at a local high school where an art and photo teacher thought the project was a neat idea.

In the end, we photographed nearly 100 new voters and met some very nice people. The oldest was 83 (she was lovely) and the youngest turns 18 in late October, right before election day.

The flag, which I have been saving and looking for the right way to use, was found in a renovation at our 100 year-old house almost a decade ago. It’s been sitting in a drawer waiting for the right use.

The project has a potential publisher in a monthly magazine for their November issue, but I’ll hold of until mentioning the details until it’s a done deal. I’m just too superstitious.

Some of these folks look happy, some sad, some mad, some have very subtle thoughts behind their caring eyes. It’s a true cross section of America.

We never talked politics, just about voting, the mostly pure part of democracy. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed the journey to create them.

Which are your favorite images? Post a comment and let me know what you think.

You can see more New American Voters on my web site here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marlowe Bechmann - September 13, 2012 - 8:37 am

The pictures are such amazing portraits. The first woman in a Sari has such a knowing look, not quite straight on – smiling, understanding this world isn’t perfect but glad to be voting. The sisters are so similar but still unique in their own right,; the elderly woman in the purple suit is fascinating as it’s hard to tell what she is thinking; the full on broad smile of the man in the light suit is contagious; the demeanor and smile of the woman in the headress is so positive and connected; and the last girl in the braid looks positively annoyed with all the waiting on line and process.

Thank you for sharing!!!

Paul Desmarais - September 13, 2012 - 5:34 pm

Rich this is a terrific project and some really nice work. I love the back story and the execution is terrific. Congrats.

Cordia - November 28, 2012 - 11:36 am

Beautiful portraits Rich. Hope all is well.

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“This is why we hired you”

It’s no huge surprise that technology has made the experience of hiring photographers much different and much easier than it used to be.

Rare are the requests for a print portfolio (but I have a really nice one, if someone wants to see it. More on that on a near future post).

I got an email and call from someone in Florida recently looking to hire someone for the creation of an image library for a  college. They needed a mix of portraits, both in a studio environment and in natural environments and a bunch of intimate, documentary photography. She said she went to my web site, saw a “bunch” of images she liked and wanted to know if I was interested in bidding on the shoot. Seeing this was right up my alley (the portraits and documentary thing) I said, I would bid on the shoot.

Now this kind of thing happens frequently when you have a service based business with a web site that demonstrates your skills. The tech shift has been ongoing for years and with ipad portfolios and portfolio apps, it’s not going to stop.

So I sent a bid in for this shoot. And waited. And waited a little longer. This is common and the worst part of self employment. I’ve learned over the years not to wait for the phone to ring when it comes to these things. Sometimes they just vanish, sometimes they get delayed and sometimes you book the gig.

The email I got next was the best part:

“Great news Rich! We want to work with you for this project if you are still available. Again our dates are ……”

This is the best kind of email to get, but it got better:

“The reason why we selected you is because of the images below” and she attached 4 screen grabs from my web site. All i could this was, “This is the best info ever!” I wanted to see what she saw and what images appealed to her. The screen grabs she sent are posted below:

 

I I looked at the images and tried to understand what she saw. At first I was really perplexed. There was no real consistency to the “style” of the work that appealed to her. I looked harder and thought about the job and what she said. I understood the medical images as she told me they had a nursing school program at the university they were looking to heavily market. The rest of the images…not so much.

Then it occurred to me, she was looking for someone who could shoot an authentic portrait, but could also shoot documentary or story telling images. I really thought this was my sweet spot. It’s actually how I market myself. If only it all came together like this all the time or if the client (or perspective client) could give clarity to what they see. I know it’s a rare occurrence, but I’ll take it.

 

 

 

Tom Buchanan - August 24, 2012 - 7:53 pm

“…I got an email and call from someone in Florida recently looking to hire someone for the creation of an image library for a college…”

That quote exactly matches the images selected. To my mind, they were/are looking for an archive that tells the story of the college and will work in vastly different publications and uses. An archive should be clear enough in its direction that it tells a consistent story, but diverse enough to serve many designs and designers. I think I know where you learned to do that!

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