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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-10-05

Intern Diaries: Assisting Jack Gruber
'That's one of things that I love about assisting, getting to observe photographers like Jack work has taught me and helped me so much…'

By Jordan Murph

Photo by Jordan Murph

Photo by Jordan Murph

Self portrait of Jordan with his beloved cowboy hat right after sunrise as he drove through Yellowstone National Park on the way to Salt Lake City on July 2, 2006.
(Editor's note: A student doesn't have to work at an internship over the summer to learn and grow as a photographer and person. Simply assisting a photographer with an assignment will teach them things that aren't in a school textbook.)

Summer 2006 was the best summer ever. I say this for various reasons, and one of those reasons was the coolest trip that I have ever been on in my short life. I had the amazing opportunity to assist USA TODAY staff photographer Jack Gruber across 2,500 miles the American West as he covered professional team ropers during Cowboy Christmas.

But this Christmas in the middle of the summer is the week leading up to the fourth of July holiday when there are dozens of rodeos going on across the country and cowboys travel thousands of miles to compete in as many of them as they can in that short period of time. Needless to say, I was pretty excited. Actually, I was stoked! I worked everything out with Jack and USA TODAY director of photography Mick Cochran, picked up some last minute supplies, said goodbye to my girlfriend, and less than 48 hours later I was on a flight to Phoenix, AZ where the journey would be begin.

I sat on the plane on my way to Phoenix and realized that I had no idea where the heck I would be going, sleeping, or eating for the next week. I admit that I was pretty nervous, but I had never been so excited too. Jack picked me up in our ride and home for the next week, a Dodge Durango. We headed into Phoenix and had dinner with cool dude Rob Schumacher from the Arizona Republic. I started learning from the very get-go of the trip. I learned so much by just listening to Rob and Jack's stories about the business, assignments, and past Olympic games. After dinner and a grand tour of the Arizona Republic's newsroom (no other newsroom has a view like theirs!), Jack and I bid farewell to Rob and we headed to the Super Wal-Mart to load up the Durango with supplies for the next week.

I learned that many of Jack's assignments begin like this: Loading up on supplies because he is often on the road and traveling for his assignments. We picked up lots of snacks and drinks for the road, and things like air mattresses, pillows, handy wipes, and other items that I never would have thought of. Jack is often in the middle of nowhere covering assignments across the world and I learned that good preparation helps a lot in the end.

Photo by Jordan Murph

Photo by Jordan Murph

Jack Gruber, awake at the crack of dawn of the fourth day, waits on the bumper of his ride for the cowboys to wake up at the Navajo fairgrounds in Holbrook, AZ on June, 30.
The next morning we began our trek north to Prescott, AZ where we were scheduled to meet the cowboys at the Prescott Frontier Days Rodeo, which claims to be the oldest rodeo in the country). Being on this week-long trip, I got to ask Jack all sorts of questions and it was awesome getting to listen to stories about assignments across the country and world. That's one of things that I love about assisting, getting to observe photographers like Jack work has taught me and helped me so much, but just getting to ask questions and getting to listen to cool stories are amazing learning opportunities and just plain cool to hear.

The next morning we headed back to the rodeo grounds and we met Jack's subjects, professional team ropers Shain Sproul, Cory Petska, Cesar Dela Cruz, and Colter Todd. We would be spending almost a week with these guys and Jack wasted no time and quickly got to work getting to know the guys and taking pictures. Later that afternoon we followed the four cowboys, who all travel together in a pickup along with their horses in a trailer, out of town en-route to the next rodeo which was the following morning about 300 miles away in Window Rock, AZ.

We camped that night in Holbrook, AZ and shortly after sunrise the next morning we were off to Window Rock where the cowboys competed once again. By noon we were back on the interstate heading east to Albuquerque, NM and then on to Livingston, Montana 1,100 miles to the north.

I slept most of the way through Colorado and I woke up just as we were coming into a truck stop in Cheyenne, Wyoming. The cowboys had stopped to fill up the gas tanks as well as walk and water their horses. I livened up and took the reigns of the Durango and Jack got back to work shooting pictures. One of the best parts of the trip was having the opportunity to observe Jack while he worked for a whole week. Here I was, a nobody kid who grew up on an island in the middle of an ocean, and I am at this truck stop at midnight a world away from home and I was watching one of the best photographers in the business do his work. Jack had been driving for almost seven hours straight while I was resting up, and still he was crawling on top of the cowboys' trailer and following the horses around the parking lot shooting pictures. It just got me thinking about listening to photographers complaining about this or that, I learned a little lesson about laziness that night.

We headed north again around 1 am, this time I was driving while Jack took a well-deserved nap. After a night of avoiding at least a hundred rabbits and a couple dozen dear that were mesmerized by our headlights, including the biggest dear I had ever seen in my life that almost caused the cowboys and ourselves to wreck, the sun was peeking over the horizon as we left Wyoming behind and entered Montana before arriving in Livingston a few hours later that morning for the last day we would be spending with the cowboys.

Photo by Jordan Murph

Photo by Jordan Murph

Jack gets some work done on his laptop somewhere on Interstate 40 east of Albuquerque in New Mexico on June 30th.
This was to be our last day with the cowboys, and Jack and I would be leaving that day after their runs in the Livingston Roundup Rodeo. The highlight of that day was when Shain gave me one of his custom cowboy hats that he wore in competition. I was so excited and I wore it all day long at the rodeo. That afternoon as the cowboys packed up to head to another rodeo Jack and I had to say goodbye to our new friends. Jack meets new people every week and spends time earning their trust to make compelling pictures and to tell a story. It really sucks having to leave so quickly, and Jack said it's sad because when the time is up and you must say goodbye, that's just about the time when the subjects have accepted and stopped paying attention to you. Not only that, but you have to say goodbye to your new friends.

That afternoon we headed down to Cody, WY and spent the night. Early the next morning before sunrise I said goodbye to my boss and mentor for the past week as I began my drive down to Salt Lake City, Utah to return our Durango and catch my flight back home. Jack was still editing his photos from the past week and would be turning them in by deadline at noon that day before flying back home out of Cody. The drive to Salt Lake was about ten hours long but I got to pass through Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks and see more of our beautiful country, which was totally awesome.

I learn something new every time I get to assist. This assisting gig was six days long and was a documentary project, something that I had never done before. It was all new territory for me. I learned so much while having a ton of fun in the six days I was able to help Jack. Important things I learned that stand out in my mind:

1. Always treat those you are working with and your subjects the utmost respect.
2. Documentary projects like this require a lot of planning and having things set up ahead of time is important.
3. Don't take a pro DSLR into the Sizzler if your waitress is a photo student.
4. It's all about the subject, not about YOU!
5. Make sure that you check "Shortest Time" and not "Shortest Distance" when you use MapQuest. It makes a BIG difference on a 500 mile, ten hour long drive through the mountains. Trust me, I learned the hard way.
6. The actual process of planning a big documentary project, to interacting with subjects, shooting pictures, editing, and finishing.
7. Patience really is a virtue.
8. Blueberry Pop-Tarts and Dr. Pepper=the best combo ever for a road trip.

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Photo by Jack Gruber / USA TODAY

Jordan Murph wakes up early in the morning.
As I was picking up my bag at the baggage claim back in Ontario, CA wearing my big cowboy hat, I couldn't believe that I had just spent the past week driving 2,500 miles with Jack Gruber across the American West taking pictures of cowboys and seeing our beautiful country.

I am such a rookie and documentary photography was something that I had no experience or real knowledge of before the trip. I was able to learn so much by just getting to observe a fantastic photographer working and interacting with his subjects, which is something I could never have learned from a book or a class. It definitely wasn't your everyday assisting gig. In fact, the only real work I did was drive. Butt sure is a great summer story and I got a lot more out of it than I ever could have hoped. One word sums it up: Yeehaw!

Mahalo nui loa to Jack, USA TODAY, The Kahuna, and Cory, Cesar, Colter, and especially Shain for a trip I'll never forget.

Links:
Cowboy Christmas Story:
http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2006-07-02-cowboy-christmas_x.htm
Cowboy Christmas Slideshow: http://www.usatoday.com/news/2006/070306_cowboy/flash.htm


(Jordan Murph is a senior at the University of Hawaii. He will be on the staff of the upcoming Sports Shooter Academy assisting the faculty at that educational event. To look at his work, check his SportsShooter.com member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/jmurph.)

Related Links:
Murph's member page

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