Category On Location

Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge

Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge
Maine Game Warden Pete Herring, photographed on the shore of Lake Arrowhead near Waterboro, ME.

For the first time, I’m publishing a few images from a project on Maine’s Peace Officers that I’ve been working on for over a year with the working title, Arrested:  Stories Behind the Badge.

Arrested’ is a series of portraits of law enforcement officers from across the state of Maine, photographed at the actual locations where they experienced a life-altering incident on the job.

The diversity of situations the officers I’ve interviewed have been incredible: some have been shot; others have had to use their weapons. Some have been injured, some have saved lives. All have had to react in situations that required skill, judgement and humanity.

Nationally, the idea that cops are dangerous and out of control, and are to be feared–this is an additional burden on officers in Maine, many of whom police the same communities they and their families live in. When a difficult incident occurs, they are reminded of it every time they pass the spot where it occurred.

Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge
Photographing at the scene of a house fire rescue, Old Orchard Beach, ME.

This project is an attempt to convey the reality of the difficult work officers do every day. I’m thankful to the officers who have participated. I’d like to say that it’s been a good experience for them to share their stories, but I also know it’s not been easy for people who tend to avoid the spotlight.

It’s been an incredible experience for me as well and I hope to share the complete project, as well as the many stories, soon.

Arrested: Stories Behind the Badge
York County Sheriff’s Deputy, Sgt. Steven Thistlewood.

Showcase: Take your Millennial to Work Day, Dispatch Magazine

I’ve worked with Down East Magazine in the past, but this month my work was published in Dispatch Magazine for the first time (which shares some operations with Down East Enterprise, Inc.)  Dispatch targets a readership interested in nightlife, events and food in Maine’s largest city.  When Visuals Director Mark Fleming called me, asking if I’d take on concept of “Take your millenial to work day”,  I was interested. It sounded like a challenge—not the least because it had to be set up and shot within the following three days.

I spent time with both subjects–Chelsea, a millennial working at a local bookshop,  and Bill, a Boomer-generation copy machine salesman, as they visited each other’s places of work, and photographed them in a variety of scenarios both posed and unposed. The magazine ended up using a couple scenarios, but here on the blog I get to share a few more that I liked as well. Keep in mind the goal was to be a little over the top, with a wink and a nod to stereotypes about both generations.  You can read more about the story, which I recommend, at Dispatch Magazine.  Enjoy!

 

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No, I was not attacked in Iraq

 Note:  the above images are mostly outtakes from my time embedded with troops from the 737th Transportation Company from January-March 2004.  All images © Yakima Herald-Republic.

CORRECTION:  I mentioned “bulletproof” vests in my article.  The troops at the time had fragmentary resistant vests, later upgraded to the type of vest I wore–a ballistic vest with ceramic plates in the front and back.    Also, a soldier with the 737th pointed out that he had never heard a mortar ‘whistle’.  While the sound is clear in my memory, I’d have to describe it more accurately as a loud hissing noise, increasing in intensity to a roar.  In any case, terrifying. 

Like many of my journalist friends I’ve followed with fascination the controversy over NBC anchor Brian Williams’ misrepresentation of his role during an incident in Iraq in 2003.  As someone who spent 16 years as a photojournalist and photo editor, I’m particularly sensitive to the topic. Just a few months after Williams’ incident, I was also an embedded journalist, living with and reporting on troops in Kuwait and Iraq.

Everyone remembers incidents differently over time.  Ask a cop whether eyewitness accounts are reliable.   Williams’ account isn’t the first time that someone with an incidental role in a major event ends up over time recasting themselves closer and closer to the action.   But I’m hard-pressed to remember a time when a professional journalist of such stature—someone paid to bear witness and to tell truth—has so been accused.
It’s not just his dramatic retelling that happened in the years since the episode. For me, it’s interesting that in the report Williams aired immediately after the incident, he reported that the chopper ahead of his had taken fire and was forced to land.  It implied that he witnessed the scene as part of the convoy rather than on a ‘following’ chopper arriving later at the scene.      I suspect that Williams’ error has less to do with some moral failing and a lot to do with the nature of TV news.     The emphasis is for TV journalists to be in the picture, part of the scene, and encourages them to imply an immediacy that may be misleading.    It’s a desire to be part of the story, and is in contrast to the type of journalism practiced by print and photo-journalists whose emphasis is should be on the subject and never on themselves (with some exceptions, I’m sure).
I witnessed both approaches during the time I spent embedded with troops of the 737th Transportation Company back in 2004.   I was one of two journalists from Eastern Washington state given the opportunity to document the lives of some 160 Army Reservists whose unit had been last called to active duty during the Vietnam War.      The goal was to tell the story not of the war, but  of the men and women from my community who put their lives on hold for a year (or more) to go to war far from home.   My sacred mission was to keep the focus on them and not on me.   Looking back, it was easier for me as a newspaper journalist to do that—to stay behind the scenes, watching, reporting, photographing.    For a TV journalist it’s not so simple.   Embedded with me was Patrick Preston, a reporter from KXLY-TV in Spokane, Washington.    Both of us were doing double-duty:  I was photographing and writing stories and he was filing reports on air and handling his video camera and gear.   After looking at his bags of gear, I realized that I had the better end of the bargain.  Even with my RBGAN satellite data phone, my voice satellite phone, two cameras, lenses, laptop and backup drives,  I was 10 times more mobile than Patrick (see his picture, above).    I also could ‘embed’ easier, hanging out the soldiers, photographing them as they went about their business.  Patrick had to do a lot of stand-up interviews, usually at 5 am each morning in time for the Spokane broadcast.  He also had to be in front of the camera, essentially narrating and shaping each broadcast while I had the luxury of letting my photos tell the story with a little help from a caption or two.
This gave me a distinct advantage, and allowed me to grow closer to the troops.  For Patrick, his broadcast time restraints and his heavy gear all made it tougher for him to just be one of the guys.  During a convoy escort mission into Iraq, Patrick and I were given space in separate Humvees.  The reason was simple:  a journalist doesn’t have a weapon, and so you spread them out so that you’re only missing one rifle in each gun truck, rather than two.     The First Sergeant told us in no uncertain terms to stay awake.  His theory was, if a hostile is looking for a weak spot in a line of trucks, they’ll go with the one that has one less rifle–especially if they see a civilian not paying attention.   Because Patrick had to do daily early-morning stand-up reports, he tended to pass out after hours in the Humvee.   Eventually, the First Sergeant got so frustrated that he came to my Humvee, pulled out a solider and traded spots with him.  He was worried that Patrick’s Humvee would be hit, and he didn’t want to tempt fate.
Through it all, I think Patrick did a great job with very little resources or sleep.   I had the easier time.   But having gone through that experience, I can understand some of the context around Brian Williams’ faulty memory.  To me, it’s really not about a faulty memory.  It’s about an emphasis in TV news about being on screen instead of behind it;  about being part of the story instead of simply reporting it.
Patrick and I spent about five weeks with the 737th, living with them at Ft. Lewis, Washington and deploying with them overseas to Kuwait.  We actually feared that we wouldn’t make it to Iraq at all, given the fact that the mission changed, and changed again after our arrival.    The last week of my embed—the very end of February, 2004—we were given the mission to escort a convoy into Iraq.   We were nervous, excited, but happy to be given a chance to show the folks back home what the Iraq experience might be like for their loved ones.
We spent five days in Iraq.   During that time, we ate a lot of dust, saw a lot of destruction and saw the troops perform admirably.   We were subject to two incidents: one in which unknown persons hurled a large rock from an overpass in Baghdad, hitting the windshield of a Humvee (not mine, nor his), and another in which two mortars were lobbed indiscriminately from beyond the perimeter and landed among our lines of trucks at the motor pool at operating base Speicher, near Tikrit, Iraq.    In that incident, we were relaxing and awaiting departure when we heard the whistle of incoming mortars.  We were unprepared.   Many soldiers were missing their Kevlar helmets and others (probably me among them) had taken off our uncomfortable bulletproof vests.   There were casualties with minor injuries, as the rockets landed a hundred yards away between lines of fuel tankers.  It could have been much, much worse.
We were lucky, and neither I nor Patrick ever ‘conflated’ our role in either incident to one of prominence.   After all, it was about the troops and not about us.   Whatever happens to Brian Williams, I hope the incident isn’t cast as a simple failing of an egotistical TV personality.  It should be a reminder for all journalists, TV or otherwise, of something my ASU journalism professor Bruce Itule always told us:  “It ain’t about you.”
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Inspire ME with John Lee Dumas

John Lee Dumas, a very cold EntrepreneurOnFire.  Photo by Brian Fitzgerald
John Lee Dumas, a very cold EntrepreneurOnFire. Photo by Brian Fitzgerald

Way back in 2011 I launched Inspire Portland, a project showcasing (through portraits and interviews) inspiring and interesting people who choose to call Portland, ME home.    I planned it to last a year and so I closed it down in 2012–temporarily glad to move on to other things but sad to see it go.    When you get down to it, Inspire was a killer way to meet and spend time with all sorts of interesting people that I found fascinating.    The photos and the website?   Like icing on the cake.

Fast forward to 2014, just a short year ago now.   I had been getting occasional emails from people suggesting those they felt would make a good profile.  In my travels around Maine I realized that there were many more interesting people all over the state that I’d like to meet.   Inspire Maine was born.

This week I relaunched the project, albeit with a slightly different name.   My first victim is John Lee Dumas, who runs the crazy-popular EntrepreneurOnFire podcast and who, according to his website, generated income in November of $307,504.50.   Dollars.   I hate to be a numbers guy, but that’s pretty astounding.  Even more incredible is that he has more than 800 podcast episodes to date, broadcasting seven days a week.   Not bad for a commercial broker from Portland.

I’ll be posting other episodes on Inspire on a semi-regular schedule from here on out–most with a behind-the-scenes story to go with them here on this blog.    As fun as these shoots are to do, there’s always a bunch of stuff that happens during the shoot (much of it unanticipated) that you don’t see.      Take John’s shoot, last January.    We’d intended to take his photo months later but John ended up coming to Maine for a short trip during the coldest time of year.    Our initial idea was to photograph John in a typical Maine coast setting, but with a twist:   we wanted to try a complicated procedure with steel wool, sparklers and flame.  I mean, EntrepreneurOnFire.    What could go wrong?  We didn’t have time to practice much beforehand, and then we ended up outside in 10 degrees with the temperature falling fast.   Lights, steel wool and my brain do funny things in such situations.   The result was not exactly a great image (saving this technique for another time) and John looks….well, freezing.   My assistant, Charlie, still points out that he has a burn hole through one of his jackets as a result.    We definitely suffered, but sometimes things don’t come up like you planned.  At least we have a new story to tell…..

 

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Recent Work: Maine Standards Company

It’s surprising to realize just how many amazing, world-class companies we have in Maine that fly under the radar. Maine Standards Company is one of those. Based in Southern Maine, Maine Standards develops and provides kits for the precise testing and calibration of medical diagnostic equipment. They’re doing cutting-edge stuff using some pretty cool tools. My job was to spend the day photographing their lab, testing kits and analyzers for use in trade show materials. It was a jam-packed day of setting up and breaking down gear, gelling lights and blocking light from reflecting everywhere in those shiny lab surfaces. I love, love this stuff! Check out some of our results.

 

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Recent Work: ecomaine

This is the second time I’ve showcased some of my work for ecomaine, a non-profit waste management company.   That’s due in part to the fact that the work they do is so interesting and their industrial environment lends itself to amazing images.   This time around, I spent a day following around the people who work at ecomaine’s landfill, waste-to-energy plant and recycling facility.   The job can be difficult and the environment is ever-changing, which makes it a photographic challenge.   I opted for a very portable lighting kit that I could set up and take down at a moment’s notice.  Even though the lighting looks complex, I kept it fairly simple, choosing to incorporate ambient light into the scene whenever possible.   Here are some of my favorites that I think really capture both the environment and the diverse people that work there.

 

 

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Inside the machine shop.

 

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Operating the Recycling Facility compactor.

 

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Inside the “tipping hall”, where garbage is unloaded into a seven-story bunker.

 

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The ultimate result of all that garbage is tons of ash.

 

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A view of the landfill through the window of a vehicle.

 

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Recycling Facility supervisor.

 

I can’t say enough positive words about the ecomaine crew.   It’s not fun to have a camera in your face, and likely it’s even more uncomfortable when you’re operating heavy and fast-moving equipment.   They were fantastic to deal with and I think the images make them look like the rock stars they are.

 

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Recent Work: CBRE | The Boulos Company

I’ve had the pleasure of working with the team of folks at The Boulos Company this past year on an ad campaign showcasing the partnership between their brokers and commercial clients.   The creative called for environmental portraits that showed off the commercial spaces, which are located throughout Southern Maine.    The ads ran in MaineBiz.   The entire process was fun…and I think the ads look great.

 

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Native Sons

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Back in the early part of the 2000s, I was chief photographer of the Yakima (Wash.) Herald-Republic, a Seattle Times Company newspaper centrally located in the part of Washington State Seattlites refer to as “the Dry Side”, among other things.

Yakima derived its name from its nearest neighbor—the sprawling reservation of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation.    Comprised of 14 separate Columbia River tribes, the Yakamas now occupy a 2,185-square-mile sized territory that includes a portion of nearby Pahto (12,281-foot-tall Mt. Adams).

Growing up in Northern Arizona, I’ve always lived around and interacted with Native Americans.  My first reporting job out of college was to cover the Yavapai-Apache in Arizona’s Verde Valley.   When I moved to Yakima, years later, I was eager to explore the Yakamas.   A proud people, the Yakamas still live on a portion of the ancestral lands and practice their hunting, gathering and fishing traditions as best they can.   They fought the US Army in the 1800s until a federal treaty recognizing their rights was signed.  They fought many battles in federal court since, with precent-setting law the result.

For much of five years I met with interviewed and photographed many Yakama tribal members, and met many new friends along the way.  One of the results was a project with writer Phil Ferolito, published as a special newspaper section, called “Native Sons:  The Men of the Yakama Nation”.    As best we could, we attempted to show the unique struggles, challenges and triumphs of different generations of Yakama men and their families.    I’m proud of what we were able to do, but so much more could have been done to promote understanding and appreciation of Yakama, and native, culture and life realities.  See the pages of the published project below.

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Storytelling for John T. Gorman Foundation

One of my favorite projects this past year was working with the John T. Gorman Foundation here in Portland.  This unassuming group directs their resources to many significant non-profits statewide, from early childhood education to homeless teens and more.  Especially at a time when the state has cut its funding back of such groups, private foundations like JTG have become even more important. 

My assignment was to document the people and faces of some of their supported programs, and to show the human impact of what they do.    Over the course of a month and a half, I created a series of images that tell the story of what JTG does by showing the lives of those impacted by their efforts. I was given wide discretion over what I photographed, and focused on populations served by the foundation, among them single mothers, early childhood education and teens.  Here’s a sampling of my favorites.

Enjoy!

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Client Showcase: ecomaine

It’s nice to do creative work.  It’s even nicer to create work for a company that I like and believe in.   That’s why I was excited last fall when ecomaine approached me to create a library of images.  Ecomaine is a non-profit waste waste management facility run by 21 different municipalities in Maine that makes energy from trash—yours and mine.   They also recycled a staggering 35,000 tons of material at their recycling center in 2010-11.

I love to photograph industrial operations—the bigger and the more technically challenging the better.    Ecomaine has three physical locations: a landfill, a recycling center and their waste-to-energy facility.   Gleaming on the outside, the waste-to-energy plant (perhaps not surprising given that they take in trash and incinerate it)  is full of dust, extreme temperatures and dark corners requiring extra location lighting magic.

It’s the whole ball of wax, as they say.  That is, if the wax is full of sodium-vapor lighting, large moving globs of machinery and lots of dust.

I love a challenge.

We carefully planned out a full day that would take us to all three facilities, starting with a landfill and then ending with the power plant.    With the outside temperature heading south from 33 degrees and an inside environment that approached the temperature of a Russian bath house,  our challenge was to move quickly and not let lenses fog or our energy to waste.  The lighting was fairly simple, since we had to be on-the-move all day.   From a scouting visit we knew which areas were high-priority for ecomaine.  Of key importance for me was to recruit workers as we progressed, incorporating them into images to provide scale and a human element.

All in all, the day went very well.   My assistant and I got a great workout climbing from the bottom to the top of the waste facility (broken elevator!).   Here’s a few of the images I really enjoyed creating from the shoot, (mostly) minus the dust.  Enjoy!


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