Hurricane surf, 1986

First of all, it’s kind of a miracle that I have this image to share. It started as a color film negative that I shot in 1986 but then handed over to the Associated Press, who bought the picture.

But editors had me make prints in their office and I kept a few imperfect copies, including this image with the “over-burned” background, showing the sky much darker than it really appeared and darkening the top edges of the wave as well.

In those days, one would often need to shoot a copy slide from prints for competition submissions. And then I digitized one of those slides when films scanner came along in the 1990s. Since I had lost track of the original prints, I made new copies with an early digital printer.

But then I lost that digital file too — thanks to the unstable storage platforms of the day — and I later made this file with a flatbed scanner… from the digital print… from the scan… taken from the slide… from the print… made from the original negative.

But I really wanted to talk about the picture:

I had just wrapped up a summer and fall working for the Associated Press in Boston when Hurricane Frances made her way along the east coast and sent bands of wind and rain and swelling tides toward New England.

I was checking out the surf along Revere Beach, just north of Boston and not far from my home at the time, when I spotted a couple of young guys playing along the seawall as waves were splashing slightly over the top.

On an ordinary summer day, sunbathers might bask on the beach about 10 feet below, on the other side of the wall; so, the ocean level this day was already extraordinary.

I was about 40 yards away and stepped out of my car into ankle-deep water as these two played in waves that were breaking about knee-high across them. It was November and the water was cold.

Then, as they turned their backs to the sea to look at the flooding between us, I saw a huge, dark wave swelling behind them and I yelled for them to look out but they couldn’t hear me over the sounds of the surf and wind.

At the last second, I lifted my camera and caught the moment as the wave broke over them. In the following frames, they could be seen falling safely toward me, into shallow sidewalk flooding.

I didn’t stay around long enough to see if they left or kept playing, since I was stopped in a traffic lane, there was deep water between us and more than a few other people around.

I also needed to drive my film back to the office since we had no technologies to deliver pictures wirelessly at the time.

Over the next few days, I got calls from angry readers and editors, accusing me of staging the photo and putting these young men in harm’s way, although I wasn’t much older or wiser myself, perhaps obviously.

Staging a photo would never have crossed my mind as a photojournalist, and I’m pretty sure these guys never even saw me, but I have since been mindful that one could argue that pictures like this could encourage others to take stupid chances in severe weather.

However, I have never made such a photo again and the problem doesn’t seem to have gone away.

Houston shelters Katrina evacuees, 2005

After Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and much of the Gulf coast in 2005, I went to Houston to photograph efforts to shelter evacuees in the Astrodome and adjoining convention center.

Provided with food and water, clean clothing and a chance to shower, everybody looked pretty good but the most frightening problem they faced was separation from loved ones, as very few people had mobile phones or social media accounts at the time.

Home phones were gone with the homes that had been destroyed and extended families from poor neighborhoods knew they would have no place to gather and find each other. With no better option, many were making posters seeking each other but had no contact information to share.

I am hoping that digital homes on Facebook and other platforms will be more helpful getting people reconnected this time. But I am also wondering what other new technologies could help.

Click on any photo below to scroll through the slide show. There are some additional photos on my other site.

Eclipsed in Philadelphia

I dropped by Dilworth Plaza just as the first eclipse of the social media generation was reaching it’s peak here in Center City Philadelphia today.

Before I left, I grabbed this angle looking past the statue of William Penn atop Philadelphia City Hall.

Thousands of people were out, many with eclipse glasses, homemade viewers, cameras, telescopes and contraptions of all sorts. I spotted this group grabbing a selfie.

Rizzo mural defaced, 1999

The Frank Rizzo mural in South Philadelphia has been vandalized for so long that I was still shooting film when I made these pictures as police were investigating an incident near the end of the last millennium.

According to my caption written that day in October, 1999: “It appeared that light bulbs, bottles, and Christmas ornaments full of paint were thrown at the mural.”

Rizzo was the mayor of the Philadelphia through most of the 1970s, had previously been police commissioner for about four years and his reign seems to have been remembered very differently by some groups than others.

Rizzo died while running for mayor once again in 1991, just a few months before I moved to Philadelphia but neither side can let him go, even though two-thirds of today’s residents were not yet born when he was first elected.

Recent local and national events have raised the question once again this week about what this mural — as well as a Frank Rizzo statue near city hall — mean to Philadelphians and if they should be removed.

But what if instead of focusing on symbolism, we could actually address the constantly simmering, sometimes steaming relationship between police and communities in Philadelphia?

Instead of endlessly investigating each other, defending themselves, vandalizing public art and arresting suspects, what if everyone could just sit down and agree to listen to each other for once?

Why can’t we focus on peacemaking instead of exacerbating a conflict which won’t be resolved with paint, eggs or handcuffs or by preserving, tearing down or compromising on depictions of a mayor who was born nearly 100 years ago?

I have never walked the walk of a police officer nor suffered police brutality, but my career in photojournalism offered me a pretty good look at both groups and it strikes me as idiotic to think that stirring the pot with no strategy for outcomes will lead us anywhere we want to go.

Most of us want peace. But we better get to work before someone gets hurt.

Bailing out, 2004

U.S. Army soldiers bail out after their Bradley fighting vehicle was disabled by a roadside bomb during a major incursion into the Sadr City section of Baghdad, Iraq, Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2004. Nobody was seriously injured but fuel was gushing from a ruptured tank after the blast and they had to take shelter inside a nearby building until more vehicles arrived.