Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Dave & Conrad

Updated 05/10/08 re NNA win
It was a gesture that lasted a split second, but veteran photographer Dave Chidley was there to capture it forever.

Conrad Black, the disgraced media baron, giving a finger salute to the media during his fraud trial in Chicago was a still photo exclusive for the Canadian Press photographer.

To date, the former Sun Media photographer's photo has won first prizes in the 2007 News Photographers Association of Canada awards and the 2007 National Newspaper Awards.

TSF asked Dave - a Sun Media vet with more than 23 years at papers in Toronto, Calgary and London before Quebecor's cutbacks cost him his job in October of 2006 - to replay the day Conrad made his day.

Says the winner of a 1997 NNA and numerous other national and provincial photo awards:

"I was asked by Canadian Press to cover some of the Hollinger executive's trial in Chicago as the jurors deliberated. I had been there for a couple of days the previous week and was fortunate enough to be there the week it all wrapped up.

Most days were extremely boring. There was a "Media Compound" in the middle of the courthouse lobby, where most of us waited. CBC, CTV, Global all had their areas, the locals on another piece of marble and the still photographers crowded in one corner.

Most of the reporters gathered and waited on the upper floor, where the courtroom was situated. All of the still photographers had folding lawn chairs and some had foot rests. A lot of reading and Internet surfing helped to kill the time. If the jury came back for any reason, the accused and the lawyers would have 30 minutes to get back to the courthouse.

During my seven days covering the trial, that only happened twice. So you would go from many, many hours of painfully boring waiting to extreme chaos in a matter of minutes. If the key players were nearby (as in across the street in the lawyer's office) it might take just a minute or two for them to make it to the courthouse. So being ready, despite the tedium, was essential.

The day of the finger photo, Conrad appeared in a taxi at the front doors of the courthouse. I was waiting there and relieved because the courthouse had a side entrance a half-city block away and to make it there was a long sprint to have any chance of a shot. There was a great scrum of media at the front door by the time he arrived and exited the taxi.

My strategy was to get a couple of shots as he opened the door of the taxi, then run around the scrum and position myself by the revolving entrance door to ensure I'd get him walking straight towards me. Getting stuck in the scrum sometimes gets you in way too close and if you get behind, you are never going to get back out in front.

I got several good, quick shots as Conrad exited the taxi. There were four or five of us who stepped out onto the street and got the right angle for his exit out the left side of the vehicle. One of those photographers was the photographer for Reuters. He also took the same plan of attack as I did because, as Conrad approached and passed me to enter the glass revolving doors, I felt the Reuters guy brush past me just in front of Conrad's path.

As Conrad pushed on the door and moved into the circular glass-enclosed revolving door, he hesitated and turned back. I saw the anger, or fire in his eye, directed to my left to where the Reuters photographer had moved. I am only guessing, but I believe the door was snug and perhaps Conrad believed the photographer was blocking the door.

It all happened in a split second and when I saw the fire in his eye I pushed the shutter for two quick frames before he turned his head away and made it through the door. I didn't realize exactly what had happened until I checked the images and could see the middle finger had also been directed next to me in the direction of the Reuters shooter. It was visible in both frames. You can see a bit of a reflection of the hair of the other photographer just above Conrad's head.

There was certainly not any expectation of making a usable photo once he entered the revolving doors. There was a flat pane of glass on the exterior and then the curved pane of glass of the revolving door inside that. The double layers of thick, tinted glass are obviously not the obstruction one would try and shoot through.

If it weren't for the fact he turned my way and I saw that intense expression, I wouldn't have shot either. Only the video shooter for CTV, who just kept shooting as Conrad disappeared into the dark door, got another image of the finger and it was only visible when my flash lit it up.

CTV did a freeze frame on it when my flash fired. None of the other 20 or more shooters in the vicinity of the door got it. It really was totally unexpected in one of the ugliest spots for it to happen. I'm sure if Conrad had done it before entering the revolving door, there would have been numerous great shots of the gesture.

It's debatable if the flash reflection and the poor quality as a result of the glass add to, or detract, from the photo. I personally feel it gives the image the newsy edge that illustrates the split -second nature of spot news photography. Yes, it would have been great for him to be out front in good light and not to have two panes of glass to shoot through, but I certainly wouldn't have had the exclusive still shot if that were the case.

I am happy to trade quality for exclusivity. It really was a split second in the very lengthy trial and I only covered a small portion of the many months it went on. I was lucky to be in the right spot at the right time to react to his expression.

Despite how fast the expression and gesture happened, I was fortunate to get it and as one of the photographers who unfortunately missed the shot lamented, that's the shot that's going to get all the play and be "the shot" of the trial.

The fact that AP didn't transmit the photo on their system to the USA and the rest of the world is another story.

I am thrilled that here in Canada, it has received the News Photographers Association of Canada (NPAC) Spot News award and a National Newspaper Award.

Earl McRae's column in the Ottawa Sun focused on the Conrad finger photo and Joe Warmington wrote about it in the Toronto Sun.

Here are some varied and interesting reactions to the photo and to it being awarded first place in the NPAC Spot News category.

Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun Times columnist

Fark.com forum

Everyone has an opinion it seems."

Thanks for the replay Dave. Best of luck at the NNAs.

Richard Roeper. Isn't he a TV critic? Or is it movies? He certainly earns a big thumbs down as a spot news photography critic.

One exclusive shot is what it takes to separate you from the crowd.

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