Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Drone Wars

Medea Benjamin (left) and other members of Code Pink walk to Gov Brewer's office Tuesday. 

Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of Code Pink and Global Exchange, was in Phoenix today promoting her new book, Drone Warfare Killing by Remote Control. She met with some members of the media before going to Governor Jan Brewer's office to deliver a letter asking the Governor to rethink her plan to turn Arizona into a testing site for drones. Benjamin cited civilian deaths in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the extra judicial killing of US citizens in Yemen, possible constitutional issues related to the 4th amendment and the expense of drones as reasons to keep Arizona's skies drone free. 

Arizona is already being used as a drone test site. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) flies drones over the southern border looking for undocumented border crossers and drug smugglers. 

Their use has been controversial and fraught with problems. They've crashed and they require one hour of maintenance for every hour of flight time, making them very expensive. 

Then there are the constitutional issues. US CBP drones were used in North Dakota when a farmer lost six cows. Local law enforcement asked CBP to use its eye in the sky to scope out a family on the ground. The drone's use led to the arrest of a North Dakota farmer and his family on weapons charges. It was one of the first known uses of drones in domestic law enforcement unrelated to terrorism. The American Civil Liberties Union has spoken out against the use of drones for domestic law enforcement.

There are also unintended consequences to drone use. The International Herald Tribune (the global edition of the New York Times) has an excellent opinion piece on the impact of long distance, remote controlled murder

I photographed the drones' first use in southern Arizona several years ago and the press conference today. Those photos are in my archive

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Capitol Sunrise

The old Arizona Capitol building on a recent morning. 

I was walking up to the Capitol complex to photograph an immigration vigil last week. It was right at sunrise and the Capitol complex, which faces due east, was lit up in the most spectacular way with a deep blue, almost surreal, cloudy post storm sky behind it. I made a couple of frames, the light changed and the scene was gone. 

It's a part of the ephemeral nature of photography that nothing stays as it is for very long. I've been to our state capitol hundreds of times in my 13 years in Phoenix. Usually in the middle of the day, when the light is pretty ugly. Sometimes early in the day, even at sunrise, but it was never lit up like this. 

There are more photos of the State Capitol (but nothing like this) in my archive.

Friday, July 20, 2012

And That Ain't No Bull

A bullrider bucks out a mechanical bull east of Oak Springs on the Navajo Nation. 

I stopped at a bull riding class in Oak Springs, about 15 miles south of Window Rock, last weekend after the I photographed the camp meeting.

The Navajo Nation is the largest Indian Reservation in the United States. It stretches across a huge chunk of northern New Mexico, northern Arizona and southern Utah. Cattle ranching is big part of the economy. Where there's cattle, there's cowboys and where there's cowboys, there's bull riders.  Cowboying and rodeo isn't just a notion on the Navajo Nation, it's a way of life. 

Students learn the basics of bull riding on a mechanical bull, in this case set up in a picturesque spot in the desert, then graduate to riding "rank" steers and a bull in a small rodeo arena. 

They had one bull a cowboy would ride. And then another cowboy would ride. And then another cowboy would. All afternoon long. I'm not sure who was more tired at the end of the day - the cowboys or the bull.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Lawsuits Begin

A woman prays during a march around the US Federal Courthouse in Phoenix Thursday, the first day of a civil trial against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio on charges that his department routinely uses racial profiling to target Latinos. 

Sheriff Joe Arpaio's legal problems are coming to a head. Today marked the first day of testimony in the federal class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU and MALDEF against the Sheriff and MCSO alleging that he and his deputies use racial profiling in the pursuit of undocumented immigrants. 

Cameras are not allowed in federal court, so all the "action" takes places on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse. This morning there was about 40 human rights activists opposed to the Sheriff's tactics and 2 people who support the Sheriff holding vigils and protests. 

The trial is expected to take about two weeks and should end in early August. Next on the docket, after this civil trial, is the Department of Justice's lawsuit against Arpaio. The DoJ also alleges that the MCSO engages in widespread racial profiling. 

All of this is unfolding in the midst of the 2012 election season. Arpaio is running for reelection. Despite his legal problems, he still holds a lead in public opinion polls and a commanding lead in fund raising, though most of his money comes from out of state

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Pixel Whisperer

Another in a series of blog entries about technology and my move to Bangkok.
My Lightroom window during an edit of photos from my recent trip to the Navajo Nation. The blue boxes are the label I've assigned for my archive

One of the questions that comes up with a lot of regularity is how do I edit and keep track of the pictures I make. This is an especially good question when I'm on the road and working with a laptop. 

Hello Lightroom. Adobe's DAM, raw processing and photo editing application. Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is the Swiss Army Knife my photography toolkit couldn't live without (Adobe calls it Photoshop Lightroom, but I just call it Lightroom). 

Lightroom allows me to use the same workflow on the road that I use at home - the only difference is that my MacBook Pro has a 13 inch screen while my iMac has a 27 inch screen. 

Here's how photos go from the camera to the computer to the client. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Another Day in Birther Central

Sheriff Joe Arpaio stands at the podium next to an enlarged copy of the President's long form birth certificate.  

Arizona has become birther central. I'm not really sure how it happened, maybe it's the state's sharp turn to the right. Maybe it's the strength of the Tea Party, maybe it's the heat. 

During the 2011 legislative session, the Republicans passed a law that would have required the President to show his birth certificate before registering to run in Arizona. The Governor, a Tea Party favorite, vetoed it, a move that surprised many people and angered the extreme right.

The GOP tried to bring the bill up again this year, but calmer heads prevailed and it never came to a floor vote.

But a few Tea Partiers in Surprise (which is both a city and state of mind in that part of the valley) remain unconvinced of the President's birth place so they called the Sheriff to say they had been defrauded and the Sheriff, always quick to solve a crime (unless it involves child sex abuse) put his "posse"and a volunteer investigator on the case. They determined (after a trip to Hawaii that cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars) that the President's birth certificate is a fraud.

The Sheriff released the Posse's findings during a wild press conference Tuesday afternoon. First he said only mainstream media would be admitted - a clear effort to keep Phoenix' alternative newspaper the New Times out - then he said he would answer questions but not questions related to cost of the investigation, the trip to Hawaii (one deputy reportedly ate more than $1,000 worth of food in nine days) or the bungled sex crimes investigation. At one point he ended up shouting at Morgan Lowe, a reporter at KPHO. Why? Because Lowe didn't start his question by saying "I'm Morgan Lowe from KPHO." Seriously.

No one I know is surprised by this. Arpaio's fighting a losing battle against the administration. The Department of Justice is suing him for racial profiling and an ACLU lawsuit against him starts Thursday. Some people think the Sheriff's "investigation" is a counter attack against the administration and an effort to draw attention away from the problems he is facing.

There are more photos from the press conference in my archive.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Navajo Camp Meeting

A preacher prays over a boy who collapsed in rapture during the alter call at the Navajo Nation Camp Meeting in Ft. Defiance Friday. 

I went to the 23rd annual Navajo Nation Camp Meeting last week. It was one of the most interesting events I've covered in my time as a photojournalist.  

Preachers from across the Navajo Nation, and the western US, come to Navajo Nation Camp Meeting to preach and evangelize. Evangelical Christians make up a growing part of the reservation - there are now about a hundred camp meetings and tent revivals on the reservation every year, almost all during the summer. 

The camp meeting in Ft. Defiance draws nearly 200 people each night of its six day run. Many of the attendees convert to evangelical Christianity from traditional Navajo beliefs, Catholicism or Mormonism. In Ft. Defiance, one of the preachers warned people about following the false faiths of Catholicism, Mormonism or the Native Church.  

One camp meeting regular said the camp meeting and Christianity is about love. He said people's love in Christ would set them free but that traditional beliefs were about fear and taboos. "If you (Navajo people) don't offer pollen to the four directions, something bad would happen, or if you see a coyote cross the road something bad is going to happen." But, he said, Christ's love is about freedom from bondage to those beliefs and bondage caused by alcohol and substance abuse. 

Freedom from drugs and alcohol is a theme among conservative and fundamentalist Christians on the reservation. Several Navajo preachers included their histories and battles with alcohol in their personal testimonies. One Navajo man told me his was on a path to be a Navajo medicine man, but was in an alcohol related single car accident. He discovered Christ during his months long recovery in a hospital Albuquerque and credits his sobriety to his conversion.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Navajo Veterans' Cemetery

An American flag flies over a headstone in the Navajo's veterans' cemetery between Window Rock and Ft. Defiance on the Navajo Nation. 

I drove up to the Navajo Nation this week to photograph a couple of stories - a Camp Meeting in Ft. Defiance and bull riding class in Oak Springs. I sort of stumbled into both of them. I love photographing on the "rez" but I dread the drive. It's more than five hours from Phoenix to Window Rock, mostly on narrow country roads, so when I go up to the Navajo Nation I try to find as much to do as possible to make the drive worthwhile. 

Cathy actually found the camp meeting. She was looking at the Navajo Times, the newspaper that covers the Nation, and noticed a calendar listing for the Camp Meeting. I saw the note about the bull riding school later the same day. I called the numbers listed for both events, told them what I wanted to do and was invited to come up. 

The cemetery is about five miles north of Window Rock, on the way to Ft. Defiance. It sits on a windswept plateau east of BIA Highway 12. The reservation is sun baked and windy - nowhere more so than the cemetery. The flags snap over the final resting place of the DinĂ© veterans of America's 20th and 21st century wars. 

There's a haunting quality to the cemetery. National cemeteries in cities like Washington, St. Paul or Phoenix are spotlessly clean and orderly. Graves are in neat rows, the grass is cut (in Phoenix the gravel is raked). Flowers are placed in authorized vases. It's not like that in Navajo land. It's kind of unruly. Graves don't appear to be in any particular order. Some are mounds, others are fenced in, still others have sunk into the sun baked earth. Huge flags fly over many of the graves, while tiny ones adorn others. Some of the graves have plastic flowers but most do not. 

If you find yourself driving along BIA Highway 12 north of Window Rock, you owe it to yourself to stop at the cemetery. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Things Go BOOM in the Night

Fourth of July Fireworks at the end of our street in central Phoenix. 

Technobabble: Canon 5D Mark III, 200mm f2.8 lens, f18, 30 second exposure, ISO 400. Processed in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4.1 and prepped for the web with Pixelmator

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fiesta of Independence

People cheer and wave American flags after they were sworn in as new US citizens Wednesday. 

The 4th of July usually means barbecues and fireworks, parades and patriotism. But for 250 people in Phoenix and thousands more across the country it means a new beginning because it's the day they become naturalized US citizens. In a ceremony that has become a Phoenix tradition, the US Citizenship and Immigration office and South Mountain Community College hosts the "Fiesta of Independence," the largest naturalization ceremony in Phoenix.

It's also one of my favorite things to photograph each year. This year was no different. It's a chance to see what really makes America great. Ours is a country that is constantly reinventing itself, rejuvenating itself as new immigrants become new citizens. They bring their culture, their food, their music and it gets thrown into the great American stewpot. Eventually their food and music becomes our food and music. No other country in the world can claim that.

There are more photos from today's ceremony in my archive.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Shorty Forty

My 5D Mark II with the new 40mm "pancake" lens next to my 5D Mark III with a 50mm f1.2 L. 

Canon is introducing a whole slew of new lenses this summer. New 24mm and 28mm f2.8 primes with image stabilization, the new 40mm f2.8 "pancake" lens and a new 24-70mm Mark II zoom lens. 

The new zoom doesn't interest me at all. I went back to "prime" lenses in 2006, shortly after I got the original 5D full frame body. My lenses run to the fast side of the spectrum - the 24mm f1.4 L, 50mm f1.2 L, 100 f2 and 200mm f2.8, the extra lens speed gives me more control over depth of field, something I've written about before, and the primes make my kit smaller and lighter than it would be with zooms that cover all of those focal lengths. 

The 24mm and 50mm are big honkin' lenses, but they're still fractionally smaller and lighter than the L series f2.8 zooms. They're are also sharper. There's no comparison on the 100 f2 and 200 f2.8. Both are great lenses (especially for the price) and positively petite compared to the 70-200 f2.8 L zoom. The zooms are undeniably more flexible than the primes, but I prefer to "zoom with my feet" lens and use the primes. 

That said, I found I had a gap between the 24 and 50 that was sometimes hard to fill. 

Canon's excellent but very expensive (and heavy) 35mm f1.4 L lens was one option but it wasn't what I wanted. It is too expensive to add to my kit and so big that it would wipe out the size/weight advantage. I thought about the much cheaper 35mm f2 but that lenses has gotten too expensive in the last couple of years (because of the falling dollar vs yen exchange rate), at $320 it wouldn't provide a very good bang for buck. Earlier this year Canon announced the new lenses and the 40 immediately caught my eye. 

Its specifications aren't that impressive. The 40mm focal length is a little longer than the 35mm wide angle but not quite a 50. The f2.8 maximum f-stop is 2 ⅓  stops slower than the 50mm and 2 stops slower than the 24. On paper this is a big "So what?"