Archive for 'Stories & Thoughts'


Jimmy Colton reminded me of this piece in a Facebook comment yesterday.

His kind words started me thinking about a few things.

How much my personal and professional lives shifted strongly in a very short time frame.

More or less seven years ago Laura and I started producing multimedia/video pieces in earnest.   For a few reasons. We work very well together, and this format is the best way to utilize her multitude of storytelling skills. Longform storytelling was in it’s infancy and we wanted to get to it early on. It was clear the media landscape was changing and having our own production company is a good way to at least partially control what and how we approach projects — there are some serious issues that need to be talked about and we wanted to start to position ourselves in place where we could tell them. But more about that when we relaunch and during the first week of January 2016.   

A wonderful picture editor at Sports Illustrated Marguerite Schropp Lucarelli assigned us to a do a piece on the FAMU band. I always jumped at any chance to work with her, for more than 2 decades she has been a kind, and consistently great friend first, and editor second.   

It was one of the first multimedia pieces Laura Heald and I did. Total exploration of the medium from the ground up. We had some ideas, but not much experience.

Laura did a wonderful job of both shooting and editing. We had paired one of our 300mm f2 lenses with a Nikon D90, and first time out she rocked the manual pull focus — a tough thing to do.

We were hard at work trying to finish the piece on the band.  We desperately needed a few more pieces to get it close to what we wanted—standards were different then, they have evolved massively in the past years. We had no way to put the cameras in motion then, primitive audio, and frankly very basic video files to work with. Still we had emotion, and passion for the piece and the storytelling I think carried the day.

At halftime of the game, my sister Elizabeth called to tell me our mother had passed away in faraway Nebraska. I was shaken and FAMU band director Dr. White could tell something had happened. He asked, I explained.

He brought the entire band together, said a prayer, and they sang. Incredibly generous gift.

The D90 was Nikon’s first foray into DSLR video, and thanks to William Pekala we had a couple of the units available. When he got his hands on the camera initially he called me and said you need to see this. It’s going to change your world. I don’t think either of us could have guessed how right he would be.

Steve Johnson jumped in to help us. Steve is a total band geek, and was just starting at UF. To say he was engaged, is well, a huge understatement.

Jimmy helped us figure it all out, and get it published correctly.

Lots of thoughts today mainly about what great folks I’m surrounded by.

On August 31st, the Jacksonville Jaguars made sports news by trading Josh Scobee, their kicker for 11 seasons, to the Pittsburg Steelers. Jacksonville fans took to social media. Most of them angry and upset the Jags had traded away the team’s most recognizable player.

Laura with her family at the first Jaguar game in 1995. She was 9.

Laura with her family at the first Jaguar game in 1995. She was 9.

As a Jacksonville native and long-time Jaguars fan, I understand. Only in Jacksonville is a kicker the most recognizable name on the roster. I’ve watched in pain over the last few years as the offense continually stalled. But there was a saving grace. There was #10 warming up on the sidelines. Our last lifeline. Our most consistent player. The only player who has created any memorable moments over the last 5 years of football hell here in Jacksonville. Josh Scobee. Josh Scobee, for much of his career, has been considered one of the best, most consistent kickers in football. But more importantly, he’s a really great guy. Jacksonville fans are as worried about losing their all-time leading scorer as they are about losing the city’s biggest advocate. Josh Scobee is a community icon down here. He visits hospitals and schools, holds charity golf tournaments and is always up for a chat or a joke. He was never too busy. Never too cool. Scobee was always available. It was fall of 2013 when I met Josh Scobee. Bill and I had been tasked to tell the stories of the four NFL kickers who had kicked 63 yard field goals. At that time, 63 yards was the longest field goal ever recorded in a game. But Sports Illustrated writer Tim Layden knew the record would fall, and soon. Several longer field goals had been attempted, but none had yet been made. Bill and I were flying to Atlanta. I can’t remember what our final destination was. I can tell you it was one of three places: New Orleans, San Francisco or Anchorage. Those were the three places we were visiting to meet up with the kickers themselves: Tom Dempsey, Jason Elam, Sebastian Janikowsky and David Akers. I boarded the plane and sat down. I looked across the aisle and saw a very tall and surprisingly familiar man sit down next to me. I noticed his very official looking Jaguars backpack and realized I was sitting across from Josh Scobee. I said hello by telling him it was an honor to be flying next to the best football player in Jacksonville. He smiled and held his hand out in introduction. We started talking football and fishing. He asked where we were headed and we told him about the story. He was exceedingly interested. He wondered what old Tom Dempsey was like and where Jason Elam had retired to. Bill mentioned casually that the only thing we were missing for the video was a foot kicking a ball in slow motion. Something to put over narration. “I’ll do it,” Scobee said. He told us to stop by after practice next week. He’d kick the ball as many times as we needed. We had expected to hunt down a high school kicker and make it look as professional as possible. But now, we had one of the best kickers in the National Football League offering us his talents. That's the Josh Scobee that Jacksonville is sad to see go. He wasn’t in the story and likely never will be, but he was willing to lend a helping hand, or foot in this case. We went to EverBank Field the next week and waited as the team hit the locker room. Before long, Josh Scobee and rookie punter Bryan Anger came out to the field with several balls. Scobee kicked the ball about 10 times for us. All the while talking and telling jokes. When we were finished he stayed and chatted a little longer. Before he went back inside he gave us his email address and told us to send him the link when it was finished. That is Josh Scobee: the most approachable man in football.

Not sure how exactly why I stopped to talk with him.

I was in a hurry, working on an assignment for ESPN at the baseball grounds in Birmingham and things were hopping.

We'd never met but I hope we will again and again.

Birmingham, AL  5/31/2015 Biloxi Shuckers road trip. Birmingham Barons vs Biloxi

Birmingham, AL 5/31/2015
Biloxi Shuckers road trip.
Birmingham Barons vs Biloxi

His tenor was slow and steady, the cadence strong and measured. Quiet, but absolutely resonate. Pleasant.

He asked me if I was from Mississippi. I was totally caught off guard. My accent is not Southern, but I went to school in Oxford years ago. So I allowed yes, sort of — I spent some time there.

I was searching for the clue that tipped him off. No Ole Miss logos anywhere, no mention of Mannings, he couldn't have known I had a Larry Brown novel in my backpack....

There was music blaring on the stadium sound system. Rap.

We shared a fifty year old plus guy look, grin and nod at the lyrics, which were, ummm, not conservative.

He mentioned jazz. He used to play tenor sax, but when he wanted to go north for a music education — Berkeley in Boston, Guliard, NYU college of music, his parents pushed him to something more practical, more likely to be financially beneficial. We talked about education, formal and informal.

That led to more jazz. And Miles Davis. The imagination of Davis' trumpet riffs. He said it took him years and hundreds of listens to get his mind free enough to, well, understand the possibilities, the voice, his voice.

I told him I don't really understand jazz. I'm too straightforward I suppose. I like the Blues. They tell you what they're thinking. It's storytelling, it's voices from the land, of the people.

He understood.

We talked about what it was like to grow up black in Bull Connor's Birmingham. And conversely my life in the Nebraska badlands. Not much overlap.

We talked about where society is, and about the work that's been done, and the work that needs to be done.

A chance meeting, but a new friend.


A piece I worked on for ESPN, “On the Road Again - The Biloxi Shucker's Endless Summer” launches today.

Covering the Kentucky Derby is no easy task. There are countless photographers working to get the position they need to make their picture. Over the last 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with and teaching fellow Nikon Ambassador Andrew Hancock. Since this is the 10th anniversary of the first time we worked together, we decided to do a joint blog post about covering the Derby, collaboration and life.  

010_wThe 141st Kentucky Derby from under rail. (Photo by Bill Frakes)
Bill: I was covering a Colt's game in Indy in 2004 — that was 5 million miles and at least 5 million images ago — and this tall, gangly nervous kid with a subtle Texas accent came up to me on the sideline and introduced himself. He said he really wanted to learn more, he was willing to work very hard at it, and he knew making images needed to be a huge part of his life. Something in his calm manner and determined look resonated with me, so I said okay, let's stay in touch, and I'll see if I can help point you in the right direction. Ten years ago to the day, I brought him to Louisville to work with my team at the Kentucky Derby. Except for not knowing there is a time change between Indy and Louisville and showing up very flustered and a little late, he did a great job that weekend. Working in the first turn, he fired the remote camera that produced a Leading Off in Sports Illustrated. He paid attention, worked very hard, and was unfailingly polite. He earned another chance.  
SI_2004 SI Leading Off: The pack makes its way around turn one at Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby. 50-1 longshot Giacomo would win go on to win the 131st running of the race.
  Andy: Ten years ago, I was fresh out of college and working at a small six-day-a-week newspaper in rural northeast Indiana. I was eager to learn, grow and work. A little over a year into that first job, I was most fortunate when covering a Colts game in Indianapolis during the 2004 season that I would cross paths with one of the very few photographers who I have admired since the beginning, Bill Frakes. Cautious to approach as he was holding court with a handful of photographers around him, he made the time for an introduction and a few brief conversations during the game. I knew that in order for me to start taking strides in my career, I needed to work with and learn from the best and take myself out of my comfort zone. By the end of the game, that opportunity came when I offered my services to assist and learn. Bill suggested I stay in touch, and he would see if I could join his Derby crew. That first trip to Churchill Downs would come that following spring as I was welcomed to Bill’s Sports Illustrated crew to help in his coverage of the 131st running of the Kentucky Derby. That first year was an eye opening experience for me and put me on a path with much greater aspirations and goals. It challenged me in every way I could imagine. It changed my vision and my trajectory and was a watershed moment in my career. During the past ten years, I’ve continued to work with Bill on various projects and assignments… but one place I kept coming back to each year was Churchill.  Over the course of eight Derbies, I sought the chance not only to make some pictures for myself, but more importantly, the chance to learn from one of the greats. Bill: We've been some places since then. Except for his honeymoon with his lovely wife Maria, his first trips out of the country were spent working with me. He never fails to be there when I need him, he's been a great friend and terrific colleague through it all. Andy has turned into one of the world’s best photographers. He has an abundance of natural talent and intellect, but I'm pretty happy to be able to say that he earns everything he gets. The man works his tail off with a fierce determination to make the most of any situation. I often hear folks -- art directors, picture editors, agents -- say that you need to do personal pictures.  Seriously?  EVERY picture I make is personal. They all matter, each and every time. Andy gets that too, and it's a huge reason why he is really good at this. Andy: Even after I began working as a contributing photographer for Sports Illustrated eight years ago, I kept coming back to assist Bill at the Derby. It is no easy task running a crew of assistants and managing the tremendous operation of a large remote camera setup with cameras positioned all over the track. Each year was new and exciting and every year I would learn something from Bill. The technical knowledge I received was substantial. Equally important was his advice and the insight on the industry — how it was changing, how to prepare and how to succeed. He began to take me under his wing to teach me… and to push me. Coming back to Churchill each year was much more than coming to assist. I kept coming to work with and help out a mentor, a colleague, a friend. With eyes and ears open, working with Bill made me a better photographer. He refused to let me settle or make a routine picture. He forced me to stay out of my comfort zone and to think ahead and faster than everyone else. Bill: It's been huge fun watching him grow. The cross pollination between us reminds me of the way Heinz Kluetmeier — maybe the best there ever was — helped me. Kluet taught me to think, to work, and to turn it up when things get tough.  Andy's got that intensity now too. Outside of our mutual friend Laura Heald, I can't think of anyone I trust more to always get it done. One of our mutual bonds, and something we share with Kluet, is love for our daughters. We all have a lot going on professionally, but no conversation starts without stories about the girls. It's a joy, and pretty sure it helps keep us not only grounded, but moving ahead strongly. I love looking at his new work, that big silly grin that he gets every time he shows me a new image or wants to bounce an idea for a project off me is one of the things that makes my job/life the best I can possibly imagine. Andy: After my second Derby, Bill and I were talking as we walked beneath the historic twin spires atop the Churchill Downs grandstand when he gave me a piece of advice that I carry with me on every assignment. We were discussing our editors and image selection. Photographers won’t always agree with editors when it comes to image selection and as we were talking about that, Bill told me a simple and powerful statement. He said that regardless of what an editor picks or doesn’t pick, our job is to create something special, and we will do that. His advice however also went beyond the technical. A few years ago, my wife Maria and I were talking about the possibility of growing our family. I wanted to hear from friends and colleagues first hand on the challenges that I would face. I was starting to travel a lot and knew that part of my job would increase substantially, which it has. Bill’s love and admiration for his daughter is inspiring. As we were in the work room preparing equipment in 2011, I asked him if it was worth it… balancing fatherhood and work. He quickly stopped what he was doing, turned around and grinned ear to ear. “Absolutely,” he said, ‘Without a doubt.” The only Derby I missed in the last 10 years was 2012… because my wife was pregnant with our first daughter. Over the years, our conversations became less of the technical variety and more of the personal and philosophical variety as we discussed the changing landscape of our industry. Now, we look at ways to collaborate. We have similar, but visually distinct and different visions and approaches. After the 2014 Derby, Bill and I stayed an extra day to shoot California Chrome at the stables and follow that up with proper coffee and breakfast while we discussed the road we each were on and how to make that road intersect even more often. Even though Bill and I were on different teams this year, our goals were still the same… to make a special picture not only for our client, but for ourselves. I would be taking all the notes I have made over the past decade in working with Bill and putting them to practice for myself and the New York Times. My editor for the assignment, Jeff Furticella, is one editor that I have more respect for than most. He has been in the trenches as a photographer and also worked as an SI assistant for Bill at the Derby in 2006. He has great vision in what he looks for in a photograph and how to select the best photo to tell the story. He and I were also teammates at the Eddie Adams Workshop in 2006. Our team leader? Bill Frakes. Our team editor? The fabulous James Colton. Looking back at this past Derby, I know that the best photos I made are the photos Jeff selected for the paper and for the online gallery. I can look back and know I was able to follow Bill's advice and know that I succeeded in creating something special both for the NYT and for myself. This year will go down as a year just as memorable as my first one ten years ago. My favorite image this year was from a new position that had never before been attempted in 141 years as I mounted a camera to a light pole near the finish line.   LOUISVILLE, KY. - MAY 2, 2015: XXXXXXX XXXXX during the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Andrew Hancock for The New York Times)
During the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. (Photo by Andrew Hancock)
  While it was my favorite, it was not selected for print. For that, Jeff would select an image made from the outside of turn one as American Pharoah would start to move outside to keep pace with the leaders. Ten years ago during that first Derby with Bill, I was triggering a set of remote cameras on the outside of turn one. The frame that would tell the story that year of 50-1 long shot Giacomo winning the race would come from those cameras. A wide shot showing Giacomo making his first move around the outside of turn one with the iconic spires in the background. It ran as a Leading Off. It was the most exciting thing I had ever been a part of in my career at that point. This year was as equally as exciting. That first year I was working for Bill and this year, I was working alongside him. Both I feel are defining moments in my career. Bill: This past weekend, we were crawling around in the catwalks and on the roof of venerable Churchill Downs figuring out together the best way to do something different. Most everybody else had left a long time before, and we were standing high over the Downs talking about the best ways to cover the race on Saturday and about future projects. One of the things I do is think ahead.  Last year, Andy pointed out an angle he thought we should try this year -- at the time we didn't know we would be working for different organizations. When we talked a few weeks before this year’s race Andy mentioned that he was going to put a camera on the light stand, and that he was going to work on getting permission.  I casually told him I'd already been in touch with the track and we were good to go - I already had it cleared. We couldn't have done this the same way without help from Darren Rogers and Keith Kleine at Churchill. Our friends at Nikon helped out hugely as well. Andy used 18 Nikon cameras and lenses.  I used 28 of each. I've been to the Derby 31 times. Every single year someone from Nikon Professional Services has done something to help me. This year, I was on my way to the barns on Sunday and stopped for coffee. The NYT sports section was open on a table. It made me smile.   NYT    

Bill's Favorite Images from the 141st Kentucky Derby

Andy's Favorite Images from the 141st Kentucky Derby

I live much of my life with a nonstop musical score, sometimes just the one in my mind, but more often actual sounds… so I considered it a very good omen when the first song in the rotation today was Patty Larkin's Letter..."Give me a ticket for an airplane...” I'm heading to Louisville for the 141st annual running of the Kentucky Derby, my favorite annual sporting event. derby1_w This will be my 31st time there, and every single time it's been magic.  I love being at Churchill Downs, they've always greeted me warmly -- Southern Hospitality at its finest. Derby2_w Sunrise on the backside. Beautiful.  Blissfully peaceful, even with the cacophony of Derby week. Derby5_w The stunningly powerful thoroughbreds, just babies, but magnificent, the best of their breed -- coats glistening in the early morning air as they breathe hard following the morning gallop. Getting washed, and rubbed down, surrounded by crowds of onlookers all eager for this private glance at the elite 20. Derby8_w There are a number of sporting traditions that still move me. The crowd at the Melbourne Cricket Ground singing Waltzing Matilda before the Aussie Rules Grand Final, the quiet when the sprinters get into blocks for 100 meters final at the Olympics, match point on centre court at Wimbledon, walking through the Grove before an Ole Miss/LSU game Dixie quietly being played behind heavy Southern drawls and lilting coed laughter -- I've gotten to be there front and center for all of them.  But there is nothing like hearing My Old Kentucky Home as the horses enter the track for the greatest two minutes in sports. Derby3_w When that happens, I go to a different place, the one where I am a young boy hanging out in a pasture with a little red transistor radio listening to the call crackling on the tiny speaker imagining the splendor of the great place.  Little did I imagine I'd be standing on the track year after year during the race, comfortable with surroundings I've come to know so well. Derby7_w Lots of my friends will be in town for the race and it'll be wonderful to see them, especially Dan Dry who took me to my first Derby; Razor Bogdon who will no doubt borrow something from my cases; and the little General, Bill Luster, whose covering his 50th Derby. 50! Wow! From hearing stories, I would have guessed the number to be much higher. Derby4_w But three won't, and I'm sad about that. I worked the race maybe 25 times with the legendary Heinz Kluetmeier -- the best there ever was, and my default answer at the track is always the same, WWKD? Laura Heald has been with me doing a lot of the heavy thinking -- and lifting -- for the past 7 Derbies, but we've been running especially hard this year, and she is sitting this one out. I'll really miss her. We got in from Beirut last night, and we're headed back out right after the Derby so she drew the long straw and gets to enjoy some much deserved beach time before another three intense weeks on the road. The last absent friend, Tony Leonard. His image of Secretariat as a colt hangs in my office.  He was a special guy. We lost him a few years ago, 89 years young.  I'll raise a lens to him, and save him a spot on the rail -- as he would have done for me.

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