Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Vault | Pat Tillman

It's hard to believe Pat Tillman was killed nearly three years ago.

And Pat's story still stays in the news as his mother Mary and brother Kevin testified on Capitol Hill this week on the House side about the Army's fabrication of the story surrounding Pat's death, at the hand of fellow soldiers.

Pat was an incredible American, in my opinion a true hero. It still humbles me that Pat would give up his career in the NFL to join the army (not as an officer either, but as an enlisted soldier) and became a Ranger assigned to Afghanistan.

This photo of Pat was made in 1997 when he was completing his senior season as the middle linebacker for Arizona State. Pat, though a bit undersized for a Division I linebacker, was incredibly fierce and during his senior season he was named Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. He was also a great student and was going to graduate with his bachelors degree in Economics in less than four years.

Sports Illustrated decided to do a profile on Pat, the accomplished student/athlete, to wrap up the season and it just so happened that I had been in the SI offices to show my portfolio. The day after my visit, they called me and offered me the assignment to photograph Pat.

I was psyched.

Shooting for SI had been a dream of mine since college and I grew up not only reading the magazine (Kenny Moore, the world-class marathoner (and 4th place finisher at the 1972 Munich Olympic marathon) was my favorite writer. His articles on both the Fukuoka (Japan) marathon and the '72 Olympic coverage still are seered in my brain) but viewing the images shot by Neil Leifer, Walter Iooss, Jr., Andy Hayt, John Iacono, John Zimmerman, and Brian Lanker among others.

I knew Pat was unique when I spoke with him on the phone the night before the shoot. The magazine had hoped for a single photograph that summed up the notion of Pat as a student and athlete. I had an idea that I shared with Pat.

"Mr. Gero," he said, "I don't mean to be difficult, but that doesn't sound like me. I'm sorry."

I said that was fine, did he have an idea of what we might do that could fit with that concept?

"Well, sometimes I climb into the light towers and I just think."

I almost dropped my cell phone, the image I visualized of him up there would be amazing. And so much better than anything I could come up with.

The next day we met and did some more formal portraits in a classroom on campus and then we climbed a light tower at the Stadium.

The scene was breathtaking and Pat took a position on the railing that seemed a bit like a classic statue. Below was the field and as I was making the photograph I thought to myself: "man, this would make an awesome double truck in the magazine (a double truck is when an image runs two full pages with the image bleeding off the edge).

I quickly caught myself and thought: "this is your first assignment for the magazine, you'll be lucky to see it run 2 or 3 columns in the magazine. Get back to reality."

You can imagine my excitement when the photo editor called me the next day and said that they absolutely loved the image of him in the lights and they were going to use a double truck!

So I have Pat to thank for that gift. Which is the case for any photograph really. I believe our subjects allow us into their world and what we see is a reflection of that trust.

The next summer I would be assigned to the first day of the Arizona Cardinals training camp up in Flagstaff, AZ. Pat was drafted in the 7th round by the local team and he would be converted to the secondary instead of a linebacker as he had been in college. Even at the new position he was still a bit undersized.

But Pat showed on that first day of practice by the intensity of the hits he made and just the flat-out hustle that he may be small in stature but he sure had drive. He not only made the team, he stood out that season on special teams and playing a lot for a rookie. He would later be a starter.

Pat always held a special place in my heart because of the way he helped me look good on my first assignment for a world-class magazine and thus helping me realize a life-long dream.

But I think the place he holds now is even more dear because of the ultimate sacrifice that he gave for not only me, but all of us.

It's people like Pat and the millions like him who fight so that we are free to pursue happiness -- however that appears for us.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sabrina & John's Wedding | April 21, 2007

Sabrina and John had their wedding Saturday and the ceremony was at the Mission Basilica in San Juan Capistrano, a place incredibly rich with history and tradition.

After the wedding we spent about an hour taking photographs of the wedding party and the couple inside the old mission grounds adjacent to the Basilica. Sabrina & John then decided to walk a few blocks to their reception location at El Adobe.

It was a great time, a lot of wild dancing and just a fantastic day -- have a great honeymoon you two and we'll talk when you get back!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Ollie North, nearly 20 years ago

Time for another photo from the vault...

I found this image recently while going through some of my old files as I was preparing for a speaking engagement.

It was made on July 8, 1987 (my gosh, ages ago!) during the Iran-Contra hearings on Capitol Hill.

The mood in DC that summer was electric as the hearings were the talk of the town and especially the much anticipated testimony of one (then) obscure Marine Lt. Col. Oliver L. North.

North tried to keep a low profile during the summer, though a photographer dogged his every move -- my good friend Ken Jarecke , of Contact Press Images .

Ken saw a very personal side of North documenting events like graduations, the comings and goings at North's McLean, VA home, and made images no one else had of North by his talent and by sheer force of will. I was in awe of that commitment and dedication.

I didn't have Ken's persistance and determination to chronicle North to that extent -- I was waiting for the hearing.

That day the press corps vied for positions and angles for the historic photograph of North being sworn in. There must have been at least 40 photographers present to witness that (and you could barely hear him say "I do" over the sounds of the motor drives).

Positions had been planned out in advance following the typical DC "pecking order" -- meaning the bigger and more established presence in town, the better your spot for this event. I was relegated to the back corner and made a pretty useless frame when you compare it to the front and center positions the wires and magazines would command. Oh well, that's how the game is played.

Terry Ashe from Time magazine, a Brooks Institute-trained photographer, made the most amazing photograph of the swearing in -- shot on a 4 x 5 inch view camera showing the enormity and splendor of the room and all the characters. That image appeared in the magazine the next week as a double truck (2 full pages, full bleed).

It was simply astounding when you consider that Terry shot the photograph with an incredibly slow shutter speed, on transparency film and nailed it. One frame. Pretty old school, but an awesome, awesome historical image.

Most of the morning was spent listening to the various members of the committee get their turn in the spotlight to make their statements. That continued on for what seemed like days but finally there was a break for lunch.

Following the break, the Committee's counsel, John Nields began to interrogate North, who was seated with his attorney Brendan Sullivan.

Nields, a brilliant, though slight and bookish attorney, appeared a stark contrast to the career Marine, adorned with his battle ribbons. Most thought that North would be eaten for lunch by the powerful figures towering over him during this hearing/inquest -- including me.

In this photograph, North fired back at Nields, in answer to a question, practically jumping out of his chair. I knew in that instant that I wasn't the only one that had horribly underestimated North. He turned the tables on the committee.

North, testifying under the protection of immunity, showed the fire that would eventually endear him to many Americans, and the Gary Cooper-like screen presence that would keep him in the media's eye to this day (he's a Fox TV host).

After this exchange and after making this frame it was late in the day with far fewer photographers in attendance. I looked over to my colleague (and fellow young buck) Chris Wilkins, then with AFP photos, and we shared a smile.

We both had horrible positions in the morning for the swearing in, but we each captured this moment (for me it would be on page one in the next day's Tribune) and suddenly felt a lot better.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Two Faces

The first image shows Kate asleep after coming home from church on Easter...very peaceful.

The second one, from a few days later, when the rods came out of the core and she had a "cadenza" as Granny Moira would say.

Pink Crocs & A New Car Seat!

Ever the trendy little 16 month old, Kate's sporting some uber fab pink Crocs from Babys r Us (well, they're probably knock-offs, but at this age ;-)!)...she also got a new car seat which is styled after a Holstein (in honor of her Cheesehead Father)...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Connor & Tanner

Last week I photographed fraternal twins Connor & Tanner in Ladera. They were full of fun, and were in great form for the duration of the portrait session.

Thanks Jen! Looking forward to showing you more of the photographs!

Saturday, April 07, 2007


American Idol 2022??

Shelby's First Birthday

We had a great time despite the chilly weather at Founder's Park for Shelby's First Birthday...

Shelby enjoyed her yellow duck cake (the theme for the party) and Kate, Marlee (crawling) and Shelby all loved the parachute as the adults fluttered it around them.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

John, Cristina & Zachary Family Session

I had the opportunity to photograph John, Cristina and Zachary on Sunday at their beautiful home in Orange County.

Zach is four months old and incredibly expressive. I look forward to seeing them soon!

Kate's Sunday @ the Park

"hands...up!" is a little game we play with Kate and she loves to stretch as high as she can.

Late Sunday afternoon we took Kate in her convertible to the little park off in Ladera where she loves to play.

She swings, she climbs the jungle jim and now her new thing is to take off running when she gets tired of the other stuff (and get a laugh as Dad chases).

It was a great way to end a great weekend.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Nicole & Greg Engagement Session

On Saturday we headed back to our ole' stomping grounds--Manhattan Beach--to meet and photograph Nicole & Greg who are going to be married in May.

This was the first time we met them in person, having emailed and talked with Nicole on the phone. (Nicki and Kate joined me and had a great time at the beach while I happened to be shooting).

They are a fantastic couple and it was great getting to know them better by doing this engagement session. They met almost two years ago to the day, and both are big sports fans--which is no surprise since both were highly accomplished athletes coming out of high school (Greg in football, Nicole in volleyball).

We started out shooting under the pier (a good way to start if the sun is still fairly high) and then proceeded to walk around the streets of Manhattan Beach for a kind of urban session. It was fun and we had some interesting folks crossed by the camera -- I especially love the newlyweds walking along the pier (a nice bit of irony) with Nicole & Greg in the background.

I'm really looking forward to witnessing their wedding and the vows, I just know that it will be a day full of great joy and emotion.