Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy ALEC

A Phoenix police officer pepper sprays a group of protesters at the Occupy ALEC protest this morning in Phoenix. 

The Occupy Phoenix protesters brought their battle for social justice uptown this morning when they tried to Occupy the ALEC conference at the Westin Kierland Resort in north Phoenix. ALEC is the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative think tank that supports private prisons, wants to do away with the EPA, and helped write SB 1070, (Arizona's tough anti-immigration law). ALEC claims tax exempt status but some progressive organizations think ALEC is a lobbying organization and should have its tax status changed to reflect that. 

This morning about 300 people picketed the ALEC event. Most of the protesters were peaceful and respectful to law enforcement but a relatively small group tried to blockade the resort. Police responded by pepper spraying the crowd several times and arresting a handful of people. There were also a few scuffles between police and protesters but no one was seriously hurt. 

There are more photos of the ALEC protest in my archive and available from ZUMA Press

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cowboy Up!

A bull rider head butts the bull he was thrown from at the Grand Canyon Professional Rodeo Association (GCPRA) finals at Rawhide in Chandler, AZ, Saturday. The cowboy lost the head butting contest and was taken to local hospital. 

I really like photographing rodeo. It's a chance to see a part of America that's disappearing as people leave small towns and rural areas. It's a connection to the ranching heritage that helped settle the west.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association (PRCA) rodeos get all the attention, and they are excellent rodeos, but I prefer the smaller rodeos, which there are plenty of in Arizona. Access to the cowboys and action behind the chutes is much better at small rodeos, and that's a big deal for photographers.

This weekend the Grand Canyon Professional Rodeo Association held their finals at Rawhide. The finals are the culmination of the year's rodeo, when the GCPRA names its champions. The rodeo was a lot of fun, up to the bull riding when the cowboy in the picture had a wreck in the process of getting bucked off his bull. After the head butting, the bull came back at the cowboy, who was unconscious on the ground, and rammed him into the posts in the chute area. The cowboy ended up requiring facial surgery, was hospitalized overnight and discharged from the hospital today.

Injuries happen pretty frequently in rodeo. It's a tough sport, whether it's the rough stock events like bronc and bull riding or steer wrestling, when cowboys throw themselves off of a galloping horse and onto a galloping steer and wrestling it to the ground. "Playing through the pain" is a just another day at work for rodeo cowboys - hence the phrase "Cowboy Up."

There are more rodeo photos, including photos from the GCPRA Finals, in my archive and available from ZUMA Press.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Let the Shopping Commence!

Shoppers wait in line to pay for their "Black Friday" purchases at the Target Store in Paradise Valley. 

On Thursday Americans ate themselves silly celebrating Thanksgiving. Turkey, stuffing, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie the whole holiday feast. Before the meal many watched the Thanksgiving parades and after the meal it was football. And as soon as the football ended, many got into their cars and drove to the malls and big box stores for the annual tradition of Black Friday.

Black Friday is a peculiarly American tradition. It's the unofficial start of the Christmas shopping season and supposedly the busiest shopping day of the year. But in truth, holiday shopping starts right after Halloween and the busiest shopping day of the year is usually the Saturday before Christmas Eve. Still excitement's in the air on Black Friday. Mall Santas are in abundance. The decorations are up and it's usually one of the first really cold days of the year, which in Phoenix means temperatures in the upper 40's.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My iPhone and the Phoenix Recession

I've started taking daily walks around my neighborhood, anywhere from four to eight miles depending on my schedule at work. I don't take my cameras with me on the walk but I do have my iPhone 4 with me where ever I go, so I've started using it to document my neighborhood. 

Driving the city streets at 40 miles an hour you don't realize how distressed the city is. When you get out of the car and start walking though, you see the signs of the so called "Great Recession" everywhere. In the closed businesses on every block. Abandoned buildings, and, in the shadow, abandoned people. The ones who have fallen through the cracks of the social safety net and are now living on the street. 

What's particularly distressing about this is that our neighborhood is not a bad one. By Phoenix standards it's doing pretty well. We have a good selection of family owned restaurants, office towers, retail (including an always packed Apple Store just three miles from our house) and a couple of grocery stores nearby. But the recession is everywhere.

Head out to Avondale or Queen Creek, the communities that 12 years ago were farm fields and eight years ago were booming suburbs and you can see the economic malaise up close. Blocks of abandoned homes. Others in foreclosure. These are the communities most devastated by the recession. Farmers sold their land in the good times. Developers started building during the boom, and people of limited means bought with no down payment, adjustable mortgages or subprime loans. Then the house of cards collapsed and the Phoenix economy along with it. 

Jon Talton, a Phoenix native and former business columnist at the Arizona Republic, had been predicting the collapse for years. His column roiled against what he called the "real estate industrial complex" that controls the Phoenix area economy. He wasn't popular with developers or the real estate industry but he was right. He now calls Phoenix "Detroit in the desert" because Phoenix is a one industry town. The industry is home construction and just as Detroit collapsed with the auto industry, he claims Phoenix will collapse with the collapse of our unsustainable real estate industry. I thought Talton was the best business columnist at the Republic. I wish he was still writing at the paper. 

There are more photos of the recession and Phoenix in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Meet the Mayor

Greg Stanton, and his wife Nicole France Stanton, celebrate Stanton's victory in the Phoenix mayoral election.

Tuesday was election day and Phoenix elected a new mayor. Greg Stanton, a former Phoenix city councilman and former Deputy Attorney General, handily beat Wes Gullett, a former lobbyist with a long history as a Republican political operative.  

In Mesa, long serving Senate President Russell Pearce was recalled, losing to Jerry Lewis, also a conservative Republican. Pearce was the author of SB 1070, one of the toughest anti-illegal immigration laws in the country, and other anti-immigration efforts. He sponsored numerous bills to loosen Arizona's minimal gun control laws and tax cutting legislation. He was a darling of the Tea Party and one of the most conservative people in a very conservative state senate. Lewis' campaign was built around one simple issue: he wasn't Russell Pearce. He is in step with Pearce on many issues, but this race revolved around personality and Lewis was the winner.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Greatest Generation

One of the great things about being a photojournalist is the people we get to meet. Yesterday I was assigned to photograph the only living African-American veteran of Pearl Harbor. Nelson Mitchell (above) is 91. He joined the Navy in 1940 and served through the war. Mr. Mitchell was born in a small town in east Texas in 1920. I can't begin to imagine the changes he's witnessed first hand. After the war, he moved to the Phoenix area to join his family, which had moved here during the war. 

Last week, I was assigned to photograph five vets of all ages for a Veterans' Day story in the Gilbert section of the Arizona Republic. One of the vets was Peter Curtin (below) a US Marine veteran of World War II. I photographed him at the American Legion Post in downtown Gilbert. 

Both men represent the last of America's "Greatest Generation." More than 1,000 of America's World War II veterans are dying every day (according to the Associated Press). The death rate will go down as the number of vets decreases. The youngest WW2 combat veteran is now about 84 (assuming 18 years old and in combat in 1945). The greatest generation could be gone by 2031.