Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Last Assignment in 2009

I shot my last assignment of the year earlier today. I will spend New Year’s Eve working the on the photo desk (which is better than spending it photographing a bunch of drunks). 

I was assigned to photograph Mackenzie Saunders getting physical therapy at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix. The preteen was hospitalized on Dec. 19. What landed her in the hospital has to be the worst nightmare of every parent of teenager or student athlete

She was playing a youth soccer game in Ahwatukee, a suburb of Phoenix, and took a hit from one of her opponents. It was a hard, but legal, hit and Mackenzie went to the ground. She got back up, shook herself off and kept playing. Everything seemed fine. A few hours after game she complained to her folks that her legs hurt and they took her to a hospital. 

The first hospital couldn’t find anything specific but suggested they visit a second hospital. The second hospital determined that something was wrong but not what exactly what it was and suggested a third hospital. With the pain increasing and paralysis setting in, Mackenzie and her parents headed to the third hospital, where they determined she had damaged her spine. By this time she was paralyzed from the waist down. 

They recommended she go to St. Joe’s, which has one of the best physical therapy departments in the state. And that’s where she is today and will be until at least mid-January. 

Mackenzie’s long term prognosis for a full recovery is excellent. But in the short term she has to learn how to walk again. And her soccer playing days are over, at least for the next year and a half. 

A lot of people in these circumstances, youngsters or oldsters, would set the table and throw a pity party for themselves. What impressed me most about Mackenzie is that not only is there no pity party, she’s approaching this as a grand adventure. 

Before her physical therapy today, she went out for breakfast with some of the nurses. They put her in the wheelchair and they all set off for a walk to a neighborhood cafe a couple of blocks from the hospital. During an interview with a reporter, she was constantly sending text messages to her teammates and school friends. During therapy she was giving orders to her father - telling him how to play the game. There was no sign of pity or even a second of despair. It was more like, “let’s get this done and have fun doing it.” 

The photos; Top Mackenzie and her physical therapist, 2nd: Mackenzie stretches during therapy, 3rd: Mackenzie greets a therapy dog in the halls of the hospital, 4th: Mackenzie's father helps her back to bed from her wheelchair after therapy.     

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Dancing for the Virgin

A Matachine dancer participates in a procession to honor the Virgin of Guadalupe during a service in Phoenix Saturday morning. Catholic churches, especially ones with a lot of Latino parishioners, celebrate Dec 12 as the Virgin of Guadalupe day.

The Virgin first appeared to Juan Diego, a Mexican Indian, on Dec 9, 1531, on a hillside near what is now Mexico City. A giant basilica stands on the site where Juan Diego first saw the Virgin and she is revered the “Queen of Mexico” and “Empress of the Americas.”

The most basic symbol of the dance is good vs. evil, with good prevailing. The legendary Aztec ruler Montezuma and la Malinche represent good, the bull who represents mischief, and Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés, represents Satan or evil.

Los matachines denotes a traditional religious dance and the dancers, musicians, and elders who participate in it. Its roots go back to a type of widespread medieval sword dance called a morisca. Originally, the dances acted out the battle between Christianity and paganism. The Spanish brought the ritual with them to the New World, where over time it incorporated Mexican, Indian, and American religious and social symbols. Like so many facets of Mexican Catholicism, the matachines blend Spanish Catholicism with pre Columbian beliefs. 
Observance of the holy day has spread throughout the US with Mexican immigrants who have brought their religion and culture with them. 

There are more photos from today’s celebration in my PhotoShelter archive and available from ZUMA Press

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Garbage Lives Forever

In the US we don’t give much thought to where our stuff goes when we’re done with it. We just throw it away. Some people recycle, putting glass, cardboard, plastics etc into the little blue recycling bins before taking them out to the curb never to be seen again. But even then we don’t think about where it goes further down the garbage stream.

I’ve photographed a lot of recycling operations in my career. Some were formal, like the relatively new Phoenix recycling center (top photo), but most were informal. In every case, whether it’s a formal industrial recycling center like the one in Phoenix or an informal scavenging in a landfill, the work is physically demanding, dirty, smelly and dangerous.

In Phoenix, workers strap in and wear the latest protective gear in an industrial setting. (Photo 1)

In Tapachula, Mexico, near the Guatemalan border, people compete with vultures for the freshest food while mafia like Dons determine who can work in the landfill and what prices are paid for recycled trash. (Photos 2, 3, and 4)

In Mexico City, there’s a vast landfill south of the airport where people live on and off of the garbage, sorting and hauling it out to be sold. (Photos 5 & 6)

But perhaps the most dangerous place to work in a dump is in Mae Sot, Thailand, where undocumented immigrants from Burma, many fleeing political persecution at home, sort through the garbage in oppressive heat. They live, with their children, in thatched lean to’s and sorting has its own set of risks. Live ammunition from the wars in Burma frequently find their into the dump. The week before I was there, a hand grenade went off injuring three workers. (Photos 7, 8, and 9)

In the Phoenix many of the workers are immigrants (documented and undocumented) from  Latin America. That pattern holds in the developing world, where garbage pickers are the poorest of the poor, the very bottom of the social ladder and frequently immigrants from even poorer countries. In Tapachula, they’re from Guatemala. In Mae Sot, they’re from Burma (Myanmar).

I have more photos of recycling in my PhotoShelter archive.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Now It's Obama's War

On Tuesday night President Barack Obama told us what his plan was for Afghanistan. Commit somewhere around 30,000 more troops now and start a phased withdrawal in 2011. Predictably, the plan pleased almost no one. The left argues, rightly, that every dollar spent in Afghanistan is a dollar not available for health care reform, infrastructure development or economic recovery in this country and feels betrayed by the President’s gin up of the war, the screaming meemies on the right accuse him of not being aggressive enough and “dithering.” 

I’m not sure he had much choice. He inherited a war that was almost criminally mismanaged by the Bush-Cheney administration. Any opening the world had to make Afghanistan a better place in 2002-2003 is slammed shut now. It slammed shut when Bush-Cheney invaded Iraq. 

I lived in Pakistan in the late 1970’s. Wandering a bazaar in Karachi one day I picked up a tattered copy of “18 Years in the Khyber” a memoir originally published in 1900 by Robert Warburton, a British officer stationed in Afghanistan. It opens with an attack by young radical Islamic students called the “Talib” on a British cantonment (camp) and the death of a British officer. In 1853. Those Talibs who attacked the British in 1853 are the forefathers of the Taliban we’re battling now. (The book’s back in print and available at Amazon.)

The British, then the mightiest empire in the world that controlled all of India, were evicted from Afghanistan in 1842, 1880, and 1921.  

And then there were the Russians. The Soviets were evicted in 1989 after nine years of battle. Afghan tribesmen initially armed with Lee-Enfield rifles from World War I defeated the mightiest (and meanest) army in the world. (Although by the end the Mujahideen - now Taliban - had a lot of support from the US.)

Obama’s a smart guy. He is aware of the Afghan’s ability to chew up and spit out foreign empires. He should also know what Vietnam did to the Johnson presidency. Civil rights, the Great Society and his domestic reforms all fell victim to the Vietnam War.  

So the question is “what choice did Obama have?” There were no good ones, just a series of less bad ones. 

About 100 people gathered on a street corner in the Biltmore section of Phoenix last night to protest President Obama’s decision. 

There are more photos from the protest and vigil in my PhotoShelter archive and available from ZUMA Press

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

A Bright Shining Hope

Sarah Palin, the bright light of the conservative movement, brought her traveling road show to Tempe this morning pitching her book, “Going Rogue.” It was more like a campaign stop than a book signing but well over 1,000 people showed up to get her autograph in the book. 

The rules were simple, people could take pictures of Palin, but not pictures with her. And she would sign books but not personalize the autograph.

There’s no denying that Palin has become force to be reckoned with in American politics. Her fans are rabid and she’s shown that she can impact races well beyond Alaska. 

I don’t get her appeal. Her resumé is pretty thin. Mayor of Wasilla, AK, (population 10,256 in 2008) and Governor of Alaska. And she quit that job in the middle of her first term. But her appeal endures.

It’s the little things you notice at an event like this. In my case it was the music.

The ELO song “Evil Woman” was on the radio as I pulled into the Costco parking lot. I almost always listen to NPR, so when I switched to commercial radio and Evil Woman was on I took it as a sign of something. I’m not sure what though. 

And as Palin walked into Costco, the Kid Rock song “All Summer Long” was playing for the waiting crowd. A song about smokin’ dope, premarital sex and an homage to “Sweet Home Alabama.” (Most famous line: “Well I hope Neil Young will remember; A Southern Man don’t need him around anyhow.”) Perfect. 

Monday, November 30, 2009

Tough Night for a Tough Sheriff

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio faced a tough crowd and had a tough night Monday. “America’s Toughest Sheriff” sat down with three faculty members (and former journalists) at the Walter Cronkite School of Mass Communication and Journalism at Arizona State University for what ASU officials called a “Meet the Press” type interview. While the former journalists grilled the Sheriff, protestors (both for and against the Sheriff) outside shouted at each other. The anti-Sheriff protestors were able to make themselves heard inside the building.

Arpaio was his usual self. He refused to answer some questions (citing pending litigation) and bobbed and weaved like a seasoned pugilist on others. It was vintage Sheriff Joe. He didn’t answer questions he didn’t want to and blamed the media for the problems his department is facing.

About 45 minutes into the one hour program, things turned nasty when a group of ASU students started singing (Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” of all things), effectively drowning out the evasive Sheriff. People who wanted to hear the Sheriff started shouting at the impromptu a capella choir and tempers flared. The program ended early as the Sheriff was escorted from the stage.

The Sheriff’s opponents treated this like a victory. But really the only winner was the Sheriff. He managed to walk away from some hard questions without answering them and emerged from the evening as the victim, a card he will no doubt play in future media appearances.  

The photos from top: Sheriff Arpaio makes a point during the interview, a pro-Sheriff protestor shouts at an anti-Sheriff protestors outside while, inside, an anti-Sheriff protestor celebrates his early departure. 

There are more photos available from ZUMA Press and in my PhotoShelter archive.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday

"Black Friday” is supposed to be the official start of the US shopping season that leads up to Christmas. Two of the widely held myths around Black Friday are that it’s the day that retailers start to make a profit and that it’s the busiest shopping day of the year. 

Neither is true. In terms of dollars spent, the Saturday before Christmas is busier. And no business can survive if it loses money for 11 months a year. Although the strength of the retail season is very dependent on the holiday shopping season and a bad Christmas season can doom a retailer that’s already on the edge. 

Black Friday has achieved quasi holiday status in the US. Many people already have  off the day after Thanksgiving. Most businesses run on a skeleton crew. The day has become one that celebrates the power of conspicuous consumption. I’m not sure celebrating conspicuous consumption is good thing. It’s largely what got us into this mess. People bought homes they couldn’t afford with credit they didn’t merit. Then they accessarized the new home with furniture, big screen TVs and new cars. All bought on credit. The next thing you know the bubble burst and we’re in the worst recession we’ve been in since the “Great Depression” of the 1930’s. 

But no matter how bad our economy is, there are places it’s far worst. To put our consumption into perspective, about 7,000 people died of hunger and complications related to hunger during the 7 hours I was photographing and editing my photos of Americans buying toys.  

The photos from top: A man waits for his wife in a Victoria’s Secret store in Mesa. People stream into a Target store in Tempe. Women read a Black Friday sales flier in Tempe and a man watches the action in a Toys R Us in Mesa. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Senator McCain Talks About Health Care

Sen John McCain had a town hall meeting about health care at North Phoenix Baptist Church this evening. Most of the 200 or so attendees were medical professionals from Phoenix area practices and most supported McCain and his take on health care reform.

The Senator called the Democrats’ proposal, HR 3962, a jobs killer that would lead to rationed health care. It’s the same argument Sen. Mitch McConnell used on the weekend talks shows. If I didn’t know better, I would suspect the McCain, McConnell et al of colluding on their “talking points.” Certainly they’re capable of independent thought? Aren’t they?

The Republicans keep telling people that the US has the best health care in the world and that the Democratic proposals will lead to “health care rationing.” But the GOP spokespersons leave out a couple of caveats:
  1. We have the best health care in the world for the people who can afford it. While the richest people in the developing world, in South Africa, India, Thailand or Mexico, come to the US for their health care, working and upper middle class people in the US go to those countries for life saving health care because they can’t afford it here, and
  2. We already have health care rationing here. That’s what happens when the insurance companies deny life saving coverage to their customers. And then delay the appeals process so long their customers die.
There are certainly reasons to be concerned about the Democratic health care proposal. It’s really expensive and doesn’t cover all of the people who need coverage. But I think it’s better than the Republican plan. The Republicans want to leave health care to the market and insurance companies to fix.

Leaving it to the market is how we got into this mess.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Diwali, The Indian Festival of Lights

Diwali is the Hindu Festival of Lights (it’s also a very funny episode of “The Office” penned by Indian-American Mindy Kaling).

The Indian community in Phoenix marks Diwali by sponsoring a festival of all things Indian. There’s traditional Indian dance, some Bollywood dancing, lots of great food, a parade presenting the diversity of India, and Indian games, like cricket (which I don’t understand) and chess (which I sort of understand but don’t play well).

Monday, November 16, 2009

Not Your Average Joe

Joe Biden, VPOTUS (Vice President of the US) was in Phoenix this morning. He spoke at a fund raiser for Gabby Giffords and Ann Kirkpatrick, a couple of Arizona’s Democratic congress women, and then hit the airport to talk about the economic stimulus package.

I’ve photographed a lot of political leaders. In the US it usually means showing up hours before the actual event, bringing a very long lens and then a lot of hurry up and wait. (It’s different in the developing world. In Mexico, I photographed then President Vicente Fox walking through my hotel lobby chatting with his friends. In Nicaragua, I walked up to and photographed Presidents Daniel Ortega and Hugo Chavez hanging out before a luncheon.)

But Biden’s event was remarkably relaxed. It’s the difference between being VPOTUS and POTUS. We walked into the room about 30 minutes before Biden and were able to use pretty short lenses. It was a lot more relaxed than any of the POTUS events I’ve covered. For his part, Biden didn’t disappoint. He was expressive and used his hands to punctuate his points. All in all, for what it was, a good morning.

Friday, October 30, 2009


A herd of Zombies (I’m not really sure what you call a group of the undead) invaded Phoenix tonight for the city’s first Zombie Walk. About 200 people participated in the mile and a half shuffle, which ended, oddly enough, in a bar.

They wandered through downtown mingling with shoppers, people on their way to theatre events and sports venues, attacking random “victims” gnawing on their extremities and trying to consume their brains.

Some passersby didn’t quite know what to make of the undead, but most took it in the spirit with which it was intended.

There are more photos from the Zombie Walk in my PhotoShelter archive and atZUMA Press.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

With having a gun in a place where liquor is consumed and judgement is impaired?

The Republican controlled legislature thinks it’s a fine idea and they passed a bill allowing the state’s 5,800 residents who have permits to carry concealed weapons to bring their concealed handguns into bars and businesses serving alcohol. And the Republican governor signed it. (In the meantime the state still doesn’t have a balanced budget and is nearly bankrupt.)

On Tuesday, Sept 30, it became legal to pack heat in Arizona bars. Supporters of the bill say it will make bars a safer place because if someone tries to stickup the bar the law abiding, pistol packing, patron can haul out his piece and “cap” the bad guys. Opponents of the bill counter that mixing booze and bullets is a bad idea. The catch for the pistol packing patrons is that they aren’t allowed to drink while they’re “packing.” Sort of a designated shooter law.

Bar owners, bar tenders and folks in the hospitality industry were opposed to the bill. They lobbied against it but lost. The compromise struck was that bar owners can post an 8.5 X 11 sign prohibiting guns in their bars. This sign is posted at the entrance of Mexican restaurant in Tempe. The skull is a Halloween decoration, not a misbehaving patron.

This is an example of why I carry a camera, in my case a Canon G10, everywhere I go. I made this photo on a day off walking past the bar. I made a couple of quick frames with the G10 and kept walking.