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Paying the M.D. a Visit

I shoot. A lot.

That’s perhaps an understatement.

After nearly 3 weeks of taking photos every day at the Winter Olympics, well, I needed some serious help editing. So I decided to pay Mike Davis a visit.

It’s fun and enlightening how just two hours of editing with Mike can bring clarity to such a large and broad body of work. Here’s what he came up with.

Unlike in Beijing, where literally everything seemed culturally connected to the Olympic Games, Vancouver felt too plain. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a gorgeous city, multi-cultural in a way that I hope Portland could one day be. But there wasn’t that frenzy that I felt in China.

Sorry, Canada. You’re too normal for me. Still love ya.

Of course, I knew all this going in. That became my challenge in Van City, to approach the Olys like I would any other sports event I cover. It took me a little while, but after a few days I started to feel my groove.

To me, the Olympics are really about the fans. Yeah, the athletes – and The Governator (?!) – get all the attention. But without the thousands of supporters from every corner of the globe, well, it might as well be a closed-door convention.

One of the biggest challenges, I think, other than managing enough sleep at the Olympics, is to come back with a unique image. Everyone is crammed into the same photo positions, often shooting with the same lenses.

Throughout the 17 days of action, I saw many, many photos from each sport and each venue. Sometimes, my immediate reaction was: “Shit, how did they steal my photo?” But then I remembered that there was another photographer standing next to me when I made an identical photo.

Yeah, the Olympics are well-covered.

Some photos, like the one of the ski jumper (above), are the result of being stuck on the side of a hill for 30 jumpers and trying to make chicken salad from repetitive repetition. Afterwards, I saw a small handful of similar frames by other shooters from this vantage point. My experience and approach weren’t altogether unique.

Others moments, like the one below of the gold medalist in the ski jump, hold a little more value to me. After the first heat, all the photographers scattered to the bottom to get the tight jube. It’s a formula that makes sense, but I tried to be where others weren’t. I think I was the only one still on the hillside shooting down after the finals.

At the snowboard venue, everyone was fighting for the best angle to get the Olympic Rings in the background for when the athletes passed by. It kind of bored me, so I went to the worst possible spot I could. An Olympic “smurf” volunteer looked at me when I wandered to his zone and laughed. “You’re the first photographer to shoot from here.” I responded, “I’m either doing something right or something terribly wrong.”

Often times, the road less traveled is rewarding. It’s also very unnerving. Am I missing the proper way to shoot the Olympics? Is there a proper way? Am I making good photos? Am I making marketable photos?

Of course, my expectations were a bit different than most of my colleagues there, who were on assignment for their papers. I had only to please myself, not a newsroom of editors nervously second-guessing every situation.

The Vancouver Olys venues were basically split in two: events held up on Mt. Whistler (2+ hours each way by bus) and events in and near the city. While I shot several times from nearby Cypress Mountain, I spent only one day on Whistler.

To be quite honest, freezing my tail off stuck for hours in a random photo position hoping to simply get a speeding skier in focus wasn’t my idea of a great time, let alone a recipe for great photography. And events like bobsled, skeleton and luge, while exciting on TV, are simply dull stills.

Being in the city narrowed my options some. That’s how I spent three nights photographing figure skating, my penance for trying to stay warm.

As with life, I tried to roll with the flow even when things went unexpectedly wrong. That’s how I discovered this snowboarder, above, performing on a trampoline for tourists at Robson Square. I saw him from my window seat while stuck on the wrong shuttle bus heading to the burbs. I immediately doubled-back and caught the last performance. If not for my sleepwalking routine at the shuttle terminal, I would have missed him altogether.

During the Olympics, I posted a photo a day (Hi Melissa!) on my blog which featured the Olympic Rings somewhere in the photo. You can start from the very beginning here to see the photos in order.

The series was a good exercise for me, to continually look for common threads at this sports tournament. Don’t know how successful I was at it, but it did produce a couple images I like that made this final edit. It’s something I need to do better in the future with images from my travels.

Hands down, my favourite time spent in Vancouver was photographing the Canadian hockey fans. In fact, that was the main reason why I was excited to cover the Winter Olympics in Canada. It’s their sport. It’s their identity. What else matters more in Canada? Nothing, that’s the answer.

I became fascinated with beer consumption at hockey games. Before each period, every fan over the age of 19 would grab 2 beers – at $8 each – to hold them over until the next intermission. So that’s a minimum of 6 beers per game. A minimum. Did I mention that the alcohol content is 5.5%?

I met one cat who was balancing 3 beers before Canada’s afternoon semi-final game against Slovakia. When I asked him how many beers he had already consumed, he said he started earlier in the day, during the U.S. semi-final victory. “Let’s see. Seventeen, I think.” Plus three in the hand. Plus several more rounds in his immediate future. Simply amazing. And yes, he had the beer gut to prove it.

Most fans weren’t that lit, but few were stone cold sober.

I think if you had asked Canadians prior to the Olys, “We’ll give you gold in men’s hockey in exchange for failing in every other sport.” that they would have jumped at that. In the end, Canada kicked ass in hockey and the gold medal count, something I heard about regularly from Eugene in T.O.

Personally, I was very happy that Canada won. I don’t think the country’s identity could have suffered losing to its neighbours to the south, in a sport that Americans might (might) rank as its 4th most popular. Now back home, we’ve already moved onto March Madness. The Winter Games are but a fading memory for Americans.

In Canada, though, they will always remember these Olympics with pride. And a couple cold beers, eh.

Along this life path, I continually find myself blessed to have dear friends that help support my passion for photography. That important group includes Rob Gauthier (above).

You will not find a more passionate, hard-working, humble, gracious and compassionate photographer in this profession. You won’t. It was also apparent that this guy doesn’t need sleep to function at a high level. Quite impressive. Thanks, buddy, for your support, encouragement and friendship.

As with college football, perhaps the best thing about covering the Olympics is spending large amounts of quality time on the sidelines with fun photo friends. Those include, in no order, Trent Nelson, Yoon (BY-YOON) Byun, Nhat Meyer, Martin Gisborne, David Schloss, Kevin Sully, Smiley Pool, GJ Jazzy Gerry McCarthy, Andrew Burton and my photography idol growing up, Mr. Paul Kitagaki, Jr. (I feel like Evel Knievel listing off his sponsors during his final fundraiser dinner.) KGStrazz and Detrick, you were sorely missed. The Olys weren’t the same without you.

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