Friday, December 26, 2008

Funny, he doesn’t look like a photographer…

[Reprinted with permission from the NPPA's News Photographer Magazine.]
Somebody at the NPPA slipped up and gave me an award for photography: a second place in the TV News Feature photography category in the Best of Photojournalism contest in March.

Slipped up, because I'm not a photographer. I'm a reporter.

I could count on one hand (if I had six fingers on that hand) the number of stories I've shot in the past 20 years.

And I photographed my entry with a $250 point-and-shoot still camera.

WHEN I GOT my first TV job in Colorado Springs, CO, I didn't know television. Because I didn't own one. So I bought a 12-inch B&W pawn shop special.

And I learned how to be a TV reporter…from photographers.

They taught me how to edit. How to write to picture.

And occasionally at the end of a shoot, I’d ask to pick up the camera and try rolling off a few shots on my own. Just for kicks.

This proved helpful one Sunday morning when the weekend photographer, having celebrated a little too much the night before, failed to show up for work to cover the big story of the day, the Shriners parade. I grabbed abn RCA TK-76, "go" cable and ¾ inch deck and ran after a bunch of middle-aged men with little cars and funny hats.

I left the market with a crappy television and that sense of interconnectedness words and picture. I had the idea that a photographer should be a reporter with a light kit and that a reporter should have maybe not a photographer’s camera, but his eye. And that both should know how to fit all the pieces together.

That's why at my next television station I was surprised when I sat down in an edit bay and the photographers looked as if I’d just shot Bambi’s mother. It wasn’t a union shop, it was just something that reporters didn't do.

I didn’t dare even think about touching a camera.

But I continued to edit.

In my head.

And I continued to shoot.

Without ever rolling tape.

LATE IN 2007 half the photography staff at my present employer was across the state covering a mine disaster. What was a feature reporter to do?

I drove home and rounded up an ENG package: a Canon Powershot A-610 still camera (that shoots video) and a cheap digital audio recorder.

And I shot a story about cheap plastic cameras with a cheap digital camera.

I MacGyvered it.

For a time lapse shot, I used a cable release bracket fabricated from a Home Depot wood construction connector.

I created a filter holder with duct tape and a toilet paper tube.

My soft box was made of foam core.

And for a macro trucking shot I borrowed my two year old’s wooden blocks.

The result earned awards.

And gave me a good laugh.

I don't call myself a photographer.

I'm slow.

I couldn't follow focus to save Bambi's mother's life.

But understanding light helps me figure out where to conduct an interview.

Knowing how to sequence helps me craft a script.

Give a reporter a few pointers about shooting and editing and he might even win an NPPA photography award. With a cheap point-and-shoot camera.

Or he might just become a better reporter.

Rosen also won this year’s NPPA Best of Photography Special Award for Reporting and two television editing category awards.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

What's Wrong with Julius

A few years ago Alice Perreault was at the grocery store with her son Julius. The cashier looked at her son and looked at Perreault and asked, "What's wrong with him?"

She'd forgotten all about that question.

"...It all came back to me about that worry of that question," she said. "And there it was."

The question came up about her sister, Renee.

Renee was born with Down syndrome. Right after the delivery, before her mother had recovered from anesthesia, hospital staff asked her father if he wanted to sign papers and have the baby taken away. Because that's what was done at the time.

"I spent my whole life with Renee explaining to people why she looks the way she does," Perreault said.

Now her son wasn't a baby anymore. And there was the question again.

During delivery, Julius' umbilical cord was pinched. He went without oxygen for 22 minutes.

He went into a coma.

He went into a state of neurological agitation. He cried for six months.

Now he had quadriplegic cerebral palsy.

But the cashier wasn't asking what his diagnosis was.

She was asking what was wrong with him.

That, in part, was why Alice Perreault started Kindred Spirits. Perreault, an artist and educator wanted to bring art into her son's life. But she also wanted people to stop asking that question.

That's why Kindred Spirits is an art studio where kids with and without disabilities work side by side.

And then display the work out in the community.

Perreault runs the organization in addition to caring for her son and her sister.

She doesn't want pity.

She doesn't want people to say mothers like her are "blessed." (She mimes sticking her finger down her throat. "Ugghhh.")

And she wanted a cashier to know that nothing was "wrong" her son.

So when Julius was looking up at her, wondering how she was going to answer the question, she smiled back at him and then looked at the cashier and said, "Nothing. We're having a great day.'"

For more information about Kindred Spirits click here.

The Birthday Lady

7am. I’m sound asleep. The phone, inches from my ear, rings. I’m shocked into semi-consciousness. I lift the receiver to my ear.

“Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay. Oh, how we wish you a happy birthday.”

I remember. It’s the birthday lady.

Several years ago, I produced a story about Angie Adams of Logan, Utah. Back in the 30's her family moved to Tremonten to a farmhouse with a telephone. Their first. And she got the idea to use this exciting new technology to wish people well on their birthdays.

Six decades later she had compiled a long list of names, numbers and birth dates. That was the first order of business every day. At daybreak when phone rates were lower. She would place her birthday calls.

Her daughter, Irma Warburton said it was "her job."

"I don't know what I'd do without it, really I don't," Adams said. "It's just what I'm living for."

After the shoot, she, of course, asked me for my birth date and my telephone number. I couldn't deny the Birthday Lady.

For the next two or three years, she was the first well-wisher I'd hear early each birthday.

In 2000, Angie Adams died at the age of 89.

The next year I kinda missed the early birthday surprise.

I'm sure lots of other people did, too.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Hippo Meat, Anyone?

For years, KUTV artists have been the keepers of the tale of the hippo meat banquet. They have preserved it, in form of an old black binder filled with photographs and newspaper clippings stuffed in the back of a file cabinet...basically, by not throwing it out.

One December long, long ago (1962), when KUTV was part of a family-owned mini-media empire that included KALL radio, a story came over the wire at that radio station. Uganda wanted to bolster its economy with the export of hippopotamus meat. DJ Will Lucas told listeners that might make the perfect Christmas gift. And telegrammed Uganda's U.N. delegation.


The reply came three days later:


KALL invited the Ugandan Ambassador to attend a hippo meat banquet. And he accepted.

"It was Panicsville,” said former program director Bruce Miller, “because it was just a great funny story and this country was taking this thing rather seriously."

So a semi-formal affair was planned at the Hotel Utah. The Ambassador arrived and received a key to the city, a sit-down with the Governor, and hippo stroganoff, served over wild rice with a pineapple garnish.

The story was carried in newspapers across the nation.

And how did it taste?

"How can I put this politely,” replied Steve Hale, former Deseret News reporter. "I don't think the hippopotamus will ever be an endangered species."

Despite Will Lucas' best efforts, hippo meat did not catch on.

Lucky for the hippo.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

How I Could Tell I was at the Sundance Film Festival

1. A lawyer (not an actor playing a lawyer, but a real one), asked if I "picture and levels."

2. A documentary filmmaker (not a Hollywood movie star, a New York documentarian) had his own makeup artist.

He wore lip gloss for an interview about terrorism.

3. I paid 16 Dollars for three hours on Main Street. And felt as if I'd won the lottery.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mr. Jagger, Your Tea is Served

Boris Roberts has known people in pretty high places.

He drops names and titles like the King of Spain, the King of Greece, the Prince of Japan and Mick Jagger.

But they're not his friends.

Because Roberts is a master butler.

We interviewed Roberts, a distinguished-looking man with a gentile British accent and manner and bright red master butler jacket, because once a month
he hosts an afternoon tea and a talk on etiquette at the Grand America (click here for more information).

He explained he always maintains a professional distance with his clients. Even after his service has ended.

He related the story of a butler colleague who went to a function also attended by a previous employer, the late Princess Margaret.

She asked him to dance. Most unusual, Roberts said, but "you do as you're told."

The two started dancing and talking and the butler asked, "How is you're mother?"

She said, indignantly, "Do you mean the Queen?"

"He slipped," Roberts explained. He should have said "Her Majesty."

The dance abruptly ended.

A butler needs to exercise discretion and tact.

There was the time another butler friend and his employer went shopping at Nieman Marcus. The employer selected a turquoise shirt and a pair of pink pants.

The butler held his tongue.

And then employer asked, "What do you think?"

"Sir," the butler asked, "Would you like a frank and honest opinion?"

He said, yes.

Only then could the butler, tactfully, explain the error of his fashion ways.

What's a butler to do, Roberts asked hypothetically, if he's called to the master's bedroom and finds the man of the house and his mistress, both in the buff?

Simply address the man and look right past the woman, he said, as if she doesn't exist.

Has that ever happened to you, I asked.

A thoughtful pause and then a grin.

"Not exactly."

I didn't ask for details. That might've been impolite.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Dog Swim

Where There’s Smoke, There’s a Fire Tornado

"This is a little dangerous,” the computer scientist said as he prepared to fling a lit match into the large pan of gasoline.

Sometimes you just don't know what's going to happen when you get to the scene of a story.

A Canadian scientist proposed using a solar-powered vortex (think tornadoes, hurricanes and dust devils) as an alternative energy source. That caught the interest of an Intel engineer. So Tom Fletcher sold some of his Intel stock and built a 50-foot octagonal black tower on his wife’s cousin’s ranch in central Utah. And started trying to make vortices inside it.

And that got my attention (thanks to station computer whiz Alan Scott who read an article about it in The Economist.)

No doubt, the idea was fascinating. But the TV story, itself, could be rather dry. Lots of science and little visual interest.

Instead, the elements of the story included steam, fire and smoke. Lots of smoke. A 50-foot high whirlwind of smoke.

Inside a strange black silo, a computer scientist and a cattle rancher, an unlikely pair, tried to demonstrate principles of atmospheric physics with a large tank of propane, a few fireworks and gasoline.

All for the sake of science.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Christmas Shopping at the Dump

Lucky you if you're on James Gouldthorp's Christmas list. He'll be doing some of his gift the San Francisco dump.

Gouldthorpe, the subject of a Fresh Look on Life, is one of the chosen few who've served three-month stints in the Artist In Residence Program at SF Recycling & Disposal ("The Dump").

The program was started 17 years ago to inspire the San Francisco public to waste less and meet a goal of recycling three-fourths of its trash by 2010.

Four artists a year, selected by jury, get hard hats, orange vests, grocery carts and the privilege of sorting through the thousands of tons of garbage that pass through the transfer station. They take the trash to an on-site studio and turn it into art.

One of Gouldthorpe's colleagues sculpted a life-sized Hummer out of styrofoam.

A musician composed "Junkestra," an original symphony in three movements, scored for instruments made out of garbage.

Gouldthorpe found enough perfectly good building materials to construct, among other things, a human-sized bird house.

He's still working on a video piece of a Frenchman reading love letters found at the dump.

And last night in a Salt Lake City hotel room, he completed a series of more than 200 paintings based upon a catalogue of plans for Brady Bunch-era vacation homes, which he, of course, found at the dump.

That piece and another birdhouse are featured in "SF Recycled," an exhibit of artwork from the AIR program, at the Salt Lake Art Center. It runs October 20 through January 26.
"It gets amazing how much waste comes through the place and how much of it is useable," Gouldthorpe said.

He shows off an album of photos from the 1930's, pictures of crews installing telephone poles on Mount Shasta.

And a 1940 high school yearbook, in the back of which was an autographed photo of starlet Jean Harlow.

And then there were the snapshots of John Fitzgerald Kennedy campaigning for President.

And the rare collectible Batman comic book.

All items that someone threw out.

The day he took his then 9-year-old son to the dump, a box of comics and manga were dropped at their feet. The boy, he said, thought the dump was better than the toy store.

Artists who serve residencies don't make much money, but earn a lifetime pass to the dump.

And so, Gouldthorpe says, he will be going back the do his Christmas shopping.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Peter Rosen, Ace Weekly Shopper Reporter

I began my career in journalism at age 10 or 11 in the newspaper business.

No, I never delivered papers. But I helped write them.

As a stringer for a chain of weeklies in the sleepy northern NJ suburbs, I covered the sensational developments at evening planning, zoning and town councils meetings. With little graft and corruption (that I knew about) to root out, and with pay at 25 cents a column inch, this entailed waxing as poetic as I could about commercial rezoning.

A few years later, I spent a summer on staff. These were the kind of papers that still typeset classified ads in hot lead on a linotype machine, the Rube Goldberg contraption that had become a museum piece by the 70s. (One of our editors was 95 years old, was born about the same time as the Mergenthaler Linotype, and probably came with the machine.)

We wrote on manual typewriters on newsprint. And when we cut and pasted, we did just that with rubber cement.

Spellcheck was something H.G.Wells might've dreamt up. On Saturdays we proofed galleys and cut out errant punctuation, literally, with an Xacto knife.

There, I learned some valuable lessons.

When going to cover a garbage strike, always, always, put film in the camera before starting to snap photos.

My first day on the job, the paper's star reporter and his typewriter had just skipped town. My editor, sobbing with her head down on her desk, was having a nervous breakdown. And one of the two remaining reporters was complaining how, even with a full-time job and state welfare, she still couldn't make ends meet.

I should've read the signs.

But here I am.

A testament to the inescapable allure of the word and the story. Or, maybe, just to my inability to learn.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I Made Tammy Faye Cry

It wasn't very hard.

And it was one of the more memorable moments of the years spent covering the Sundance Film Festival.

The best interviews during the star-studded and over-merchandised event are often not with the beautiful people. But with the interesting people.

Fascinating folks accompany many of the documentaries and some of the narrative films. The Tuvan throat singer and his friend, the blind San Fransisco bluesman, the Baghdad lounge pianist, and the man whose parents were convicted and executed for spying for the Soviets.

And Tammy Faye.

As you might recall, Tammy and her then-husband Jim Bakker built a TV ministry empire. After a church secretary said she had an affair with Jim, Tammy went to Betty Ford and Jim went to prison and Tammy married Jim's best friend, who also went to prison.

And Tammy Faye (once Bakker, now Messner) recounted this soap opera in the hallway of a Park City condo complex.

The people who gave us "Inside Deep Throat," about the porn flick, produced a doc about Mrs. Messner and brought her along for publicity.

At the time, Sundance was headquartered at a condo/hotel where interview space was truly at a premium. So we interviewed her in the hall.

As guests carted their luggage to and fro, Tammy Faye got emotional.

I asked her about Heritage Park USA, the Bakker's Christian theme park, and tears began to flow.

Memories of PTL Club clips and SNL skits flashed before my eyes.

And a maid apprehensively pushed her cleaning cart past the camera.

Mrs. Messner turned out to be less the cartoon character with a penchant for over-emoting and over-the-top eyelashes, and more the personable and sincere woman...with big emotions and eyelashes.

She's since appeared on TV in The Surreal Life with Vanilla Ice and porn star Ron Jeremy. And she's been battling cancer. [She died in 2007, after this was posted.]

As years go by, I have a hard time recalling which actor or actress I interviewed about which movie. But I remember the promotional ice cream social hosted by Tammy Faye and drag queen RuPaul. I remember the impromptu wrestling match between Godzilla and a man in a bear suit outside the ice cream social.

And I remember the time I made Tammy Faye cry.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Andy Warhol Didn't Sleep Here: The Utah Hoax

Here's how actor Allen Midgette got his 15 minutes of fame. He sat down for a drink at 2 a.m. in a Park Avenue bar.

The way Midgette remembers it, Paul Morrissey, assistant to Andy Warhol, was there with the famous artist's leather coat and a question.

"Do you want to go to Rochester University tomorrow as Andy?"

"And I said, 'No, why would I?' Well he said, 'You'll get 600 dollars.' And I said, 'Fine. When do I leave?'"

Midgette's long, strange trip eventually took him to Utah, the pages of Time Magazine, and into a Fresh Look on Life.

You can listen to our MP3 interview with Midgette here....

Midgette's acting career began in Italy, where he appeared in the first films of a young Bernardo Bertolucci.

Back in New York, a rising Andy Warhol, who had seen Bertolucci's "Before the Revolution" a reported 35 times, asked him to be one of his avant-garde film "Superstars."

Midgette said 'No.'

Warhol was the man who painted Campbell Soup cans and Coke bottles. Who silk-screened Marilyn, Elvis and Elizabeth.

And became king of Pop Art.

But Allen Midgette wasn't impressed.

"At that point in my life, I'll be honest with you, I was taking a lot of LSD and I was more interested in what was going on in my brain than making a movie,"
Midgette says, speaking from his home in New York State.

But then, he says, he was fired from his job in the service sector for, he says, not serving Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis a drink.

"I said, 'I'm not your waiter but I can get him for you.'"

He was fired that night.

And then he needed the money.

And he told Warhol 'yes.'

Midgette appeared in a number of Warhol films, though doesn't recall his Factory days with great fondness.

He did have a good time, he says, shooting a film inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Wearing nothing but a loincloth he climbed atop a large ancient Egyptian sphinx. He says he happened to be high on LSD at the time.

"It was really nice."

Back to Midgette's 15 minutes.

The American Program Bureau asked Andy Warhol to do a cross-country college lecture tour. Warhol reluctantly agreed.

But Paul Morrissey says when he told Warhol it was time to go on the tour, the artist became very upset.

"'No, no, no.' He started to shake," Morrissey says. "I can't do it." Warhol's former assistant-slash-manager spoke to us from his New York City apartment.

"Andy couldn't be direct with people. He couldn't look them in the eye and speak with them," Midgette explains.

"I think he was afraid of college students being too smart for him."

Morrissey says the ruse was Midgette's idea.

"Allen said, 'Why don't I go in your place?'"

And Warhol said, according to Morrissey, "That's a great idea."

"Give me your leather jacket," Midgette suggested, he says. "If you give me your leather jacket, I'll look like you."

Morrissey says he wasn't sure it was going to work, but agreed because he didn't want to walk away from the hefty appearance fees.

So Midgette whitened his hair and face and adopted a Warhol persona, and, accompanied by Morrissey, went on tour. And most believed the forged artist was authentic.

In Rochester he went to a cocktail party with an artist who had met Andy Warhol.

"He gave me this painting of Andy that really looked like Andy."

No one seemed to know the difference.

Morrissey says after one college event a young man, someone who'd been to Andy Warhol's studio, "The Factory," a few times and had met Warhol, came up to him.

Student: Andy was great.

Morrissey: Oh really?

Student: Yeah.

Morrissey: Didn't you notice anything?

Student: What are you talking about?

Morrissey: That's not really Andy.

"He didn't realize it," Morrissey says. "He couldn't believe that it wouldn't be."

October 1967, Midgette stepped off a plane at the Salt Lake City Airport. A gust of wind turned the talcum powder he put on his head to whiten his hair into a big puff of white smoke.

The students who came to drive him to the University of Utah didn't ask about his hair, but the makeup on his face. So Midgette told him he had a skin problem.

Joe Bauman, a Deseret News staff writer who was then editorial assistant at the student Daily Utah Chronicle and a Warhol fan, brought along his Mamiya twin lens reflex.

Joe Bauman, 1967 by Martha Blank

"I guess they saw my camera and they (Paul Morrissey) said emphatically he was a very shy person. He could not have any photos taken."

Bauman snuck one anyway.

In his hotel room, Midgette says he took a bath, smoked a joint and read the Book of Mormon.

Courtesy Manuscripts Division, University of Utah Libraries

Forty-five minutes late, he walked into a packed Union Ballroom, showed a half-hour film and, instead of giving the advertised lecture, offered a question-and-answer period and a blasé' attitude.

Audience member: What was your film about?

Midgette: I couldn't really describe it.

What role did he play in the production of his films, someone asked.

Midgette: I start them, I think.

Midgette said during his visit a student asked him how he'd describe underground film

"Black and white and very cheap."

"He said almost nothing, if I recall. I mean he was not answering questions," Bauman says. "It was a total bomb."

1967 issue of the Daily Utah Chronicle featuring the photo by Joe Bauman

"...There was something fishy about the event," artist Denis Phillips says, "and we weren't quite sure what it was."

At a dinner with staff and students, professors began asking Midgette very pointed questions about 'his' art. The guest of honor abruptly got up and left.

Midgette impersonated Warhol on four campuses around the country, before taking his money and flying back to Italy to act in movies.

Meanwhile, reporters at the Chronicle were making phone calls.

An art student sent a letter to the student newspaper saying 'Warhol' was not who he said he was.

Reporters compared Joe Bauman's photo and a picture of Warhol in the Village Voice. They were not the same person.

After several calls, student reporter Kay Israel finally reached Paul Morrissey and he admitted the artist was a fake.

"Andy Warhol thought that his substitute would be better for public consumption," he told Israel. "Like a person that was younger and better looking and better spoken..."

In a statement to the paper, Warhol himself said he sent a double "because I don't really have much to say, he was better than I am..."

The story, by Israel and Angelyn (Nelson) Hutchinson, hit the front page of the student newspaper, and then went national.

By then, Midgette says, he was on a "psychedelic ranch" in Baja, Mexico.

Warhol, the real one, offered to come "back" to the University of Utah, but officials there decided one Warhol was enough.

After the artist died in 1987, Midgette impersonated Warhol again, on the streets of New York City.

"It blew some people's minds."

Now he's writing a book called, appropriately, "I Was Andy Warhol."

The escapade seemed to fit the Andy Warhol image. Just as The Factory silk-screened coke bottles and Marilyn Monroes, so, too, could it reproduce Andy Warhol.

"...Fits right in with his ideas and concepts of art," Denis Phillips says. "In reality, why would he have to be there? Does it really make any difference?"

But Morrissey and Midgette say people read too much into it.

Morrissey says Andy Warhol had (undiagnosed) Aspberger's syndrome and autism (Aspberger's syndrome is considered a form of autism or very similar to it.) and was incapable of making speaking appearances and, he says, incapable of concocting the hoax.

"He needed someone to do everything."

He says people who suggest this was a calculated artistic statement "invent something to go with the facts rather than look at the facts...They superimpose some dopey journalistic interpretation about a bunch of junk."

"But nobody wants to write about what he (Warhol) was like. They want to believe it was great art and everything was art and blowing his nose was art."

Morrissey chuckles.

"Is that hard to believe?

Joe Bauman and Angelyn Hutchinson, formerly of the Daily Utah Chronicle, now work for the Deseret News. Denis Phillips is a local artist and co-owner of the Phillips Gallery. Thanks to the Manuscripts Division, University of Utah Libraries for use of their archived photographs. Thanks to Joe Bauman for the use of his covert snapshot of the counterfeit Andy Warhol and for keeping his ticket to the event.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008