THE TURKEY SHOOT

It was cold damp autumn day, as I remember it, sitting in a cinder block bunker terrified I was going to loose my hand as I loaded black clay disks into the machine in front of me.  Seconds later I would hear a muffled voice shout, and the machine’s springs and mechanism would suddenly and violently let go flinging the disk out of the bunker followed by another muffled boom, boom. I would then quickly lean down take another disk from the box and gingerly place it in the machine. It was at this point my fear would take over, worried one of the distant voices would shout too soon and thus catch and propel my severed hand out of the bunker instead of the disk. Of course this never happened and once I got the rhythm, my fear slowly subsided, well sort of.

I think I was about 12 years old at the time and I was helping out at the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot at the local trap shooting club just outside Ancaster, Ontario. Each year the contest was held on the weekend before the holiday as a dozen or so members, including my dad, all vied to hit the most clay pigeons and go home with a freshly cleaned turkey donated by a local farmer. Though my dad and grandfather had versed me well in the handling of guns by that age I was still too young to take part so therefore drafted to load the machine.

That was a long time ago now, but something I thought about as I made my way to the Vancouver Gun Club in Richmond, British Columbia recently. This was the first of two visits to gun ranges I had organized as part of Reuters pictures series on guns. The Vancouver Gun Club dates back to 1924 and is nestled amongst farmland on 39 acres of open and wooded property. The outdoor range is shotgun only and offers trap, skeet and Olympic trap shooting. It also has sporting clays plus another type of shotgun sport shooting called Five Stand.  The club has an annual membership of about 400 but also offers day passes to non-members.

I was greeted at the club by a member of the executive, Brian Wong, who after giving me a quick tour of the facility mentioned that once I was done with taking pictures to come over to the trap shooting and give it a try myself.  Over the next four or five hours I wandered the grounds photographing some of the 50 or so people out that day. Men and women ranging in ages from mid-teens to their 70s combined with shotguns ranging in price from hundreds of dollars to tens of thousands of dollars, made for a varied day of photos. While taking pictures at one of the sporting clays stations one of the shooters suggested that if he hit the clay I should be able to get a picture of the hit, I guess you might say he challenged me to a shooting contest. Obviously I had to wait for the gun to fire before I fired and it took a few tries for me to follow the bright orange clays out with my lens. We soon were in sync and as he triggered his double barreled shotgun I triggered my 10fps camera and would hazard to say after about a dozen attempts my hit and miss rate was about the same as the shooters.

At the end of each of the two days I spent at the club I took up Brian’s offer to shoot a few clays myself. Though maybe it would be more accurate to say shoot “at” a few clays. I spent many a weekend as young lad shooting at moving and stationary targets with my dad but gave it up as my photojournalism career began in my late teens. I was therefore quite surprised to realize that shooting a shotgun and firing a camera at a moving target had many similarities. Suffice to say I hope the photos I got over the two days were better than the results I had with the shotgun after all these years.

All in all it was a marvelous time at the Vancouver Gun Club. In fact I plan acquire my gun license and return to the club in the coming months along with my son to pass forward the good times I had with my dad at the annual Thanksgiving Turkey Shoot.

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HIGH OCTANE AND A PRINCESS

Swatting away a swarm of pesky summertime mosquitoes, I walked down a quiet country road shaded by rows of elderly trees.  You could say, it was any ordinary rural road except for one thing. Parked amongst the trees was a collection of battle scared and brightly coloured stock cars. All tethered onto trailers and pulled behind pickup trucks, the collection of road warriors and their owners waited patiently for the gates to open for another Saturday night at Agassiz Speedway.

Built in 1970 the speedway is a quarter mile oval track nestled into the side of Agassiz Mountain about 90 minutes drive east of Vancouver, British Columbia. Owned and operated by the non-profit Kent Raceway Society the track hosts about 12 races a season beginning in April and running through to late October.

I have always enjoyed car racing. I spent, though a few said mis-spent, some of my formative teenage youth on darkened summer highways north of Toronto in the late 1960s, riding in muscle cars and drag racing until either the wee hours of the morning or the cops chased us away.  Though I witnessed a horrendous accident one night while racing I still look back on those times with fond memories.

Once the gates open for competitors at 3 o’clock sharp, the empty grass and graveled infield pits filled up and sprang to life as everybody got to wok preparing their cars for the evenings races.  The air is soon filled with the sound of high torque power ratchets and revving engines followed soon after by the first warm ups on the track. There was so much activity going on that at first I didn’t know where to turn my attention or camera. I quickly realized that photographically I was just spinning my wheels (excuse the pun) so during a break I crossed to the outside of the track and spent about an hour just observing. The sunlight at that time of day was horrible as it always is so it was not time wasted. I have always felt any feature shooting between 11:00am and 4:00pm on any cloudless sunny day in summer is a waste of film or in today’s terms a waste of pixals.

Just after dusk with qualifying over, now began the racing. I had been warned ahead of time, by the track photographer, that though there were plenty of lights around the course,

they were not very bright and I soon found out how true that was. The old photo term “available darkness” certainly held true. Without a doubt if it were not for today’s digital cameras and their high tolerance to low light there is little chance I could have done any decent pictures at all. Any attempt to shoot this story even on high ISO film 15 or so years ago would have been futile. An interesting sidebar story, was many of the overhead lights had been donated, to the speedway, by the police. Seems the lights had been used by those running illegal indoor marijuana grow-ops and had been confiscated after the operations had been busted or raided by the police.

There was the odd story within the story. One I found was the O’Reilly family.  The father, John, had raced at the track for many years and now carrying on the tradition was his 14-year-old daughter Chelsey.  Driving the same 1968 Chevy Chevelle her dad had used Chelsey bravely took to the track racing against drivers twice her age and experience. Race nights were a complete family affair for Team O’Reilly. Che

lsey’s two sisters Chrystal and Veronica were the pit crew, her dad the mechanic and mother Margaret moral support. This was Chelsey’s rookie year as a driver since the minimum age to race at the track is 14, though she had practiced on the track a year earlier when only 13. Chelsey’s chances of winning a race were slim but her goal was not to come in last during qualifying or races, which she successfully completed.  No small feat for a driver who cannot legally drive in British Columbia for another couple of years.

Though I was not surprised to find a 14 year old racing one thing that did give me pause was the appearance of a princess walking amongst fumes and noise of the pit area. Dressed in a long gown and wearing a tiara the young woman looked way out of place surrounded by grease monkeys and grizzled drivers. Turns out she had been asked to hand out the trophies on that night to the winners of each race. Wanting to impress the young lady had searched e-bay to find the used gown she wore.

Though there is nothing like the thrill of standing in the pits of a Formula One or Indy Car races as I have dozens of times over my photo career my experiences at Agassiz Speedway were by far the best. There is something about car racing at its grass roots level. No multi-million dollar cars and egos just down to earth folks who love to race.

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A Close Encounter of the Equine Kind

“Hey bud, don’t blink or you’ll miss it” the guy behind the counter said after I answered his query as to where I was headed.  I had stopped to grab a coffee along highway 97 about five hours drive north into the mountains from Vancouver. My destination was the town of Falkland, named after a career British soldier, Colonel Falkland GE Warren who had settled in the area in 1892. The reason for my visit was to photograph an annual event very popular with those living in the area, namely the 94th

Annual Falkland Stampede. One of the oldest rodeos in Canada the stampede began as a community picnic in March of 1919 to celebrate the end of the First World War months earlier. Each year as the event grew area residents gathered to enjoy local cowboys riding broncos and in 1969 the little stampede was sanctioned as a professional rodeo.

I first became aware of the Stampede while covering forest fires in 2003 just north of area. I had seen a very weathered sign by a roadside and thought it might be worth looking into as a photo essay. It took nine years before opportunity and not forgetting, till after it was over, to finally attend.

As the coffee jockey had said Falkland was a very small place nestled between two valleys. With about 10 shops and homes on the main street it wasn’t hard to find the stampede grounds. The old wooden stands with signs of recent repairs surrounded the smalldirt ring lined by white metal fencing and animal staging chutes at each end.  For a photographer finding places like this causes one to quietly say…Yesssss! As some will say, well small rodeos like this are nothing new many have been photographed before and as I like to joke back, “That’s very true my friend, but not by me.”

For many photographers covering any event these days can be an exercise in futility when it comes to taking photographs. So many organizers are so uptight about ‘their message’ or ‘controlling photographers’ many times by days end I ask myself if its even worth it anymore. Not so at the Falkland Stampede, everything was the exact opposite and very laid back. Obviously I had to demonstrate through letters and e-mails I was there legitimately to photograph the event but after that was established from then on I was on my own. I could go basically where I wanted as long as I didn’t enter the ring during competition which I assured them was not something I would do willingly. As a result of this quiet country attitude I decided not to scurry around sticking my lens in the faces of competitors or spectators. I spent the three days trying as best I could no to be noticed,

thus on several occasions able to take pictures as if I wasn’t even there. Of course this meant I might miss a nice photo or two, which happened on at least one occasions. In that particular case I saw a nice moment of a cowboy preparing for the bull riding spending a quiet moment to himself mentally preparing. It was a photo I would like to have had but it meant sprinting about 10-metres and most likely disturbing his private moment.  Though I slowly walked towards him in hopes he would remain till I got there, it was not to be. I thought afterwards maybe I should have rushed it and some will agree saying you “you blew it Clark”. Then again this ain’t the big city chasing spot news down the street either, there will plenty more where that came from and so there were

After spending the first day photographing cowboys preparing and generally behind the scenes I decided to spend day two shooting the action inside the ring. This was when I experienced my ‘Close Encounter of the Equine Kind’.  While up against the fence during the saddle bronc competition I was hoping to get a nice low wide-angle image if any of the horses came my way.  About halfway through the competition a very aggressive horse inappropriately called ‘Tender Foot’ quickly threw his rider and came bucking in my direction. Seizing the moment I quickly tilted my camera up and instinctively reached out about a foot under the fence firing away. What I had failed to notice in the action was an outrider was galloping full tilt up the fence line on my right to catch up to the bronco and bring it under control. How the outrider horse missed by hands and camera I will never know. Though my fingers and camera survived the close call unscathed my face and mouth did get a generous portion of flying dirt as payment for my inattention.

Overall my three days at the 94 edition of the Falkland Stampede were the best assignment I have had in many months. It was a nice exercise to observe and photograph instead of reacting as many of us are forced to do in the day to day news photography world. Remember though if you ever decide to visit and photograph the Falkland Stampede yourself, “don’t blink you may miss it”….

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Tales of Pixels Gone By……

The other day while several photographer colleagues and I were having dinner the topic came up about photographs and the story behind them. The conversation got me to thinking that on several occasions since I started my website I have had e-mails asking about the story behind photos I had taken. I even had a fellow ask what my exposure had been on an image from the 1980s…..yikes!!! damned if I can remember. My aging “cranial hardrive” deleted that EXIF info long ago.

I therefore thought I might start posting the stories behind some of the photos on my site. Though I can’t think of any that come with any great tales of Indiana Jones type adventure, some do have interesting anecdotes or funny moments. In the coming days I will look over the images and pick out some that might be of interest and post them. I know I don’t write much in my blog to keep any of you interested but there maybe some of you out there who do look in once in awhile and if there are any images you would like me to embellish upon (wink, wink) just let me know via the e-mail at the bottom of my profile or “About” area. Even if you saw a photo somewhere else on another website or published please feel free to ask. Obviously not all images have a worthy story behind the moment and of course as I mentioned earlier that “cranial hardrive” of mine may have deleted or copied over that memory folder by now but will give the drive a good hard reboot if necessary.

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From Fort Apache to Ghost Towns

Well its another long overdue update time, though I don’t have much to offer which is one of reasons I haven’t updated. Things have sortta quiet for me lately here in Fort Apache, as I call Vancouver. Well maybe I shouldn’t say quiet really, its been kinda busy but nothing in the way of nice photos. Its all been kinda routine stuff. Nothin but Meat and Potatoes images as we say.

I have changed my “On Assignment” sending the Canucks run for the Stanley Cup collection into antiquity and replaced with a small gathering of images from the Men’s World Curling Championships in Regina several months ago. Though many think curling is boring, as I have said before, if you know the game and are patient it can make some very good images in my opinion. Its not a game of action but a game of reaction. Unfortunately many photogs, who cover little curling, or not, automatically run for the ole cliche curling photos, easy to do and instant gratification. Whats worse, in my mind, is many newspapers and galleries on websites that constantly soak up these cliches like bread in gravy and just encourage photogs to do more. I am disappointed to say this has forced me on occasion to do the same just to be competitive…uggggh. To be fair I guess many of the “photo pickers” have no idea what curling is all about and are easily sucked in year after year by the ever repetitive artsy eye candy images such as snaps looking down from the rafters. Many good curling photos seem to go way over the heads of the “pickers”. Then again I have been covering curling for 30 years and could very well have become a curling photo snob….. wink, wink.

I spent several days earlier this month working on a feature on Ghost Towns in the British Columbia interior. It was three or four days well spent going up and down sometimes forgotten dirt roads in the back country of the Kootney Mountains. It was a rough start though. Photographing still life is not always easy for this photojournalist whose subjects are usually moving in some form or another. I have always tried to have people in my feature images either to give things scale or pertinence. Obviously in this case any humans would have defeated the whole point of the topic and I needn’t have worried anyways, I never saw a soul except for the odd car going by on nearby roads. It took a few hours to get in tune with this fact but once on the same page I really enjoyed wandering around my subjects looking for the “sweet spot” angle or in some cases just sitting on a tree stump and watching as the light changed, hopefully for the better. One afternoon I spent three hours just observing as the light on and around my subject changed sometimes for the better, then not, then better again. Later it occurred to me that if it hadn’t been for the fact I am now a Digital Jedi and able to view the results instantly either as a quick scan on the back of the camera or download into my handy dandy laptop I might not have been so patient. I know I have a well trained eye for good and bad light but on one occasion I made a photo with very nice light and was satisfied with what I had seen through the viewfinder. Upon closer inspection on the back camera screen maybe 30 or 40 minutes later I had pangs of second thoughts and decided to hike back to that spot and discovered the light had improved and re-shot the scene again. Something I would have never done back in the films days. Unfortunately I could only spend three days or so working on it and would have preferred a week maybe even a bit more, but that’s old story I have said to myself uncountable times over the years. I have included a couple three images from the feature in my “Recent Work” folder.

That’s it for now. I hope to really begin updating more often but if you ain’t got the goods better not too.

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Standby…..I am Updating…..Maybe

Well again I have been slow in my updates of the website. I have gotten hundreds if not thousands of angry e-mails complaining about this fact. Its been a rather busy for me these last couple months with NHL hockey playoffs, federal election and assorted other assignments in between. I have found over the last 10 years I have been posted to Vancouver for Reuters when it comes to news or sports assignments of any kind its feast or famine around these here parts. I find I am either so busy there aren’t enough hours in the day or its so quiet for days or weeks on end its almost spooky. Of course another reason is why do today what you can do tomorrow.

One thing I have enjoyed for the last couple months is the use of a complete kit of Nikons. The very kind folks at Nikon Canada sent 2- D3S bodies and five lenses consisting of a 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8, 300mm f/2.8 and a 200-400mm f/4 to try out and I must say I very impressed. I am an old time Nikon user from way back. I bought my first Nikon in 1970 and continued to use them for the next 25 years. In 1995 Reuters switched all its staff to Canons which I have used since.

When I first received the cameras, though I was keen to use them I was somewhat apprehensive since I hadn’t used one in 15 years and many things are different such as focus and general operation of the camera. I decided I would pick and choose which assignments I used the gear. The first time I used the Nikons was on small easy assignment for obvious reasons. I did have some difficult moments trying to remember where certain things were on the camera such as setting aperture and shutter speed, not to mention zooming out when I should have zoomed in, but generally I liked using them. Funny thing is as a result of that day and the first use they have been on my shoulders ever since. I have had to use my Canon gear a couple times during that time for specific reasons but other than that its been full steam ahead for the Nikons.

Now some my ask for some technical specs of why I like these cameras but unfortunately I am not a technical fellow really. Like the race car driver once said “I have no idea how it works I just drive it” and I am the same way with digital cameras. I really like the ergonomics of the camera. The placing of buttons and general operation works well for me. One thing I don’t like is the button on the back used for scrolling through images and menus, I find it a touch awkward but that may be as result of many years using the wheel on the back of the Canons. Though files sizes are smaller (12-mp) than the equivalent Canons, I have found this to be no particular issue and the full frame is a big, big plus for me.  The cameras are very, very nice in high ISO. I have shot many assignments anywhere from 1600 to 3200 ISO and the file quality is excellent. I have never been a big fan of using flash my whole career and only use one when all other options ran out, namely light. With the capabilities of high ISO in the Nikons my need to use a flash has shrunk to zero, so far. Nikon sent a very nice flash with the kit and I haven’t used it yet…sorry folks!! The lenses are excellent too. All five of them are very sharp and I have used them all at some point so far with no complaints.  I must commend the 200-400mm though. It is fantastic for shooting sports and though only an f/4 lens I have not had any issues referring back to my comments on the high ISO. Overall I recommend the equipment I was given without a doubt. I am coming up on three months with the gear and sadly will have to give them back probably sometime soon of course that’s if the Nikon folks can find me…wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

As for my update this time round I have replaced few images in Recent Work. I haven’t added anything to Leica Werk. The weather around here has been so rainy and I refrain from using my M8, not sure how water proofed it is. My On Assignment is a collection of hockey pictures I have done since the start of the Vancouver Canucks’ NHL playoffs began and their run for the Stanley Cup this year. With two rounds left I will add any worthy images I like as the team wins or losses.

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Photo:  One of the first photos I took with a Nikon D3S and 24-70mm lens

Where in the Hell Have I Been….!!!

Yes folks, its been many months since I last stepped into the ole website. Once I get all the cobwebs and accumulated dust off will begin updating. Once the site was rebuilt and up and running back in November things began to get busy for me and just never got the chance or took the time to sit down and update as I like to do. Some of it was procrastination with the motto ” Why do today, what you can do tomorrow”. Of course tomorrow turned into next week which turned into next month and now here we are in March. I think I can be slightly forgiven since most of my spare time was working on an upcoming exhibition I am having in about a week. I have spent many hours slumped over my computer processing images in readiness. I plan to have about 80 prints on the wall in the PhotoHaus Gallery. The opening is Friday March 18th beginning around 6pm. If your in the area and have nothing better to do come on in. The gallery is at 14 West 7th Ave at Ontario street.

Wish I could say my rather busy times last few months were doing something interesting. Alas not, mostly covering routine stuff with little travel. I did go to India last fall for the Commonwealth Games. This was very enjoyable yet frustrating couple of weeks. I had hoped to blog about it at the time but that’s when my website lost control and went off the internet highway crashing into a cyber-gully following an attack to the server it was on.

I have updated the site with the work I have done over the last few months. Its predominantly sports which is about all I have done lately. I to add in the next few days a new area called “Leica Werk”. I decided to create a gallery just for the images I shoot on my Leica M8 or in the past on my film Leicas. My “On Assignment” is a series of images I did about six years ago in Mozambique. They are images surrounding Aids and the affect it has had on a couple of villages in the north of the country. They were part of larger series I did along with my Photosensitive colleagues for an exhibition at the World Aids Conference (www.photosensitive.com).

I hope to get back into a pattern of updating regularly and maybe doing more blogs. I was very disappointed I lost all my previous blogs but that’s cyber-life. As the old saying goes cyber-shit happens. I have since learned the lesson to backup everything thanks to a darn good Robert Dall scolding. I learned very early on once I started using a laptop about 15 or so years ago to back everything up but never applied that rule it to my website.

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Returned, Restored, Reloaded….

This time last month I had just arrived in New Delhi, India for a two week stay. I was in the city to cover the XIX Commonwealth Games and thought that I might blog about the trip. I haven’t done this often, in fact had only done it once before. Usually when I am on assignments like this I really don’t have time to sit down and write anything. In most cases once these assignments start one works 12-18 hour days and then crawl into bed for few hours then back up and at it. I decided I would wait a couple days to see how things would go before committing myself to a daily chronicle. On the upside the Commonwealth Games are more laid back than lets say the Olympics, less sports to worry about and less countries to make sure we had coverage on, so I figured I might be able to bang out a few words each night.

Sure enough after the first couple of days it looked like I would be able to find time to write something each day and boy did I have things to write, but that’s another story that I will do later. So on about Day-3 I sat down one evening with the intentions I would begin…..Ohhh man was I wrong!!!.

Settling myself onto a very nice communal balcony-patio on the 15th floor of my hotel overlooking nighttime New Delhi I booted up the laptop and went to my website. “This Page Does Not Exist” came the prompt. Uhhhhh??? I had experienced couple problems with loading some of my favourite sites couple days earlier so thought this was another time. So waited a bit re-launched the browser, “This Page Does Not Exist”. Uhhh ohhhh!!!! After several more tries and couple re-boots just in case, there was still no sign of my website. Thinking it might be just a minor problem I sent an e-mail to a couple of people asking them to check from their end. Since it was the middle of the night in Canada I had to wait about 12-hours till the answers came back confirming my fears, it was gone!……….”I was dead in the water”

I then sent an e-mail to my provider asking what was going on. Didn’t get answer for about three days but when I did the news was bad, very bad.  Seems they had been maliciously attacked by hackers and like a Tornando sweeping across a prairie plain everything in its path was gone. Assuming they had everything backed up I asked when things might be back to normal. Their answer was “no” we didn’t have anything backed up but if you send us your backup we can have you up and running very quickly. Well I don’t have my website backed up, that’s what I thought I paid you guys to have. They charged more than others and I figured that’s extra protection……. yea, yea I know it was dumb thinking. Now if that makes me look dumb then what does that make the provider who had no backup either……dumber???.

Though I had no backup per say, all the images I had on my site, past,  present and future I did have stored on my hard drives (see, I am not that dumb after all) so that eased the loss somewhat but I never did save any of my blogs so they are all gone into antiquity and lost in the sands of time, as it were.

Once I was back from my trip I sat down with Robert Dall, who had originally built my site and after a couple weeks he has it back up, as you can see, and all back to normal. I decided to drop one of the categories, namely the “Past Work” and now have just the three. At this point I have restored the images as it was before my cyber-armageddon, or as best I can remember and will add some new stuff in the coming days and weeks. I still plan to write a blog on my two weeks in Delhi and some of my images from The Commonwealth Games. These past couple three weeks I have fallen behind in organizing and preparing images I will want to use and getting back into the swing of updating monthly.

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