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|| News Item: Posted 2013-01-11

A Tale of Two Conventions
By Brian Blanco

Photo by Brian Blanco/European Pressphoto Agency

Photo by Brian Blanco/European Pressphoto Agency

Confetti falls on delegates following US President Barack Obama's speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, 6 September 2012.
They're the Super Bowls of politics; the national political conventions that descend on a couple of chosen cities every four years and, in doing so, create vast shortages of red and blue balloons through great swaths of the country... mostly swing states. This year I was honored to cover both conventions for a client which, due to the nature of my assignments at each, would grant me broadly different experiences and opportunities at each and, in the end, leave me visually spoiled and counting down the months until 2016.

The first convention, the Republican National Convention, would be held in the unofficial strip club capital of the country, Tampa, FL, while the second, the Democratic National Convention, would introduce me to Charlotte, N.C. a place legendary for BBQ but where I ended up surviving a week mostly on media room trail mix.

There are two basic assignments at these national political conventions that shooters tend to affectionately designate as "inside guy" or "outside guy", a term that appears to be used irrespective of the shooter's sex.

I was an "inside guy" for the Democratic National Convention. If you're an "inside guy", you're either parked in a fixed, elevated shooting position with a long lens trying to find increasingly inventive ways to make images of a seemingly endless parade of forgettable speeches by forgettable politicians that even Jon Stewart might have to Google **or** you've got a coveted floor pass, which means you're wandering around, dodging pundits and TV cameras as you photograph delegates in funny, but colorful, hats as they clap, cry, cheer, pray, hug, etc., ANYTHING, just as long as they're wearing a funny hat. I was the floor pass guy at the DNC... I have an obnoxious amount of photos of hats.

Irrespective of what your roll is as "inside guy", you're likely part of a team of shooters who are all waiting for the final minute of the final day where the candidate and his beautiful family take to the stage and side-hug as they point and wave off into the distance whilst a well-timed downpour of balloons and/or confetti bath the room, and your viewfinder, in spectacular, not-at-all-scripted, pure Americana-ness.

Photo by Brian Blanco/European Pressphoto Agency

Photo by Brian Blanco/European Pressphoto Agency

Demonstrators, including several people dressed in typical Black Bloc clothing, lay down and close an open street in the area around the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida, USA, 30 August 2012.
Benefits to being an "inside guy" are:
* Air-conditioning (these things are generally held in August)
* Beautiful and consistent light
* Enough color to make an image 'vibrant' enough to not be tossed out in the first round at
* Trail mix that 17 shooters have dug their hands into (and likely dug out the M&Ms)
* You're remote transmitting so your editor has to Google the lesser-known politicians
* Nobody, for the most part, is trying to punch you or arrest you

Downsides to being an "inside guy" are:
* The media lines at the Secret Service screening ingress points
* You're forced to actually listen to the speeches
* Having to compete, on a level playing field, against the best in the business (think Winter, Crowley, Lo Scalzo, etc.) and humbly having to see their take next to yours
* Nobody, for the most part, is trying to punch you or arrest you (this one works both ways)

For the Republican National Convention I drew the short straw (remember August in Tampa) and was designated as the "outside guy" for the week. If you're assigned as the "outside guy" you're generally tasked with covering the myriad of protests that crop up around the perimeter of the venue. This generally involves dodging tear gas and rubber bullets from the police and sidestepping insults and urine bombs from the anarchists, but it appears that in
2012, at the RNC anyway, anarchists AND the police were somehow unknowingly slipped large doses of some secret government 'chill pills' and everybody got along beautifully... which of course left all parties involved secretly disappointed.

Instead of covering the anticipated violent clashes between drug-fueled anarchists and machismo-fueled riot cops, we all essentially sat around together; cops, protestors and photojournalists, politely debating what the new features would be on the iPhone 5 and sharing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the shade. It was I can assure you, a surreal experience that I will not soon forget.

Of course we'd occasionally get to take photos when, every now and then, some of the "anarchists" would gather together at their camp next to the Army Surplus store (where they and the police all shopped together for cool gear) and begin a march through downtown toward the RNC venue. The riot police graciously stopped traffic for them and, I kid you not, even gave them directions when they appeared to get disoriented or made a wrong turn.

Our photos essentially amounted to images of guys and gals wearing black masks, pumping their fists, waving flags and screaming as they walked past police in riot gear through the streets around the venue until heat exhaustion would overcome us all and, together, we'd all make our way back to the shade next to the Army Surplus Store. Photojournalism, I can assure you, at its finest, but we were there should something have actually happened.

Benefits to being an "outside guy" are:
* You can wear shorts and t-shirts
* You get some cool Facebook photos of your colleagues and they of you
* No Secret Service screening lines
* Protest "medics" make a damn good PB&J sandwich
* You never have to change your caption field from "Protestors march in the area of..."
* You lose about 15 pounds in water weight from the walking and the sweat

Downsides to being an "outside guy" are:
* The anarchists' chants get stuck in your head for weeks
* Rubber bullets (not applicable in Tampa) hurt... like... bad
* You have to listen to Ben Lowy go on-and-on about how yummy the vanilla frozen yogurt is at Ikea (yes, the furniture store) until you're forced to drive him there
* Everybody, you included, smells like an armpit
Anyway, like I said at the start of this rant, covering these things really is a visual feast and they certainly should be on any photojournalist's must-do-at-least-once list. Aside from being fun they're also pretty important, so if you ever get a chance to cover one, do it... just don't steal all the M&Ms.

Brian Blanco is a freelance photojournalist based in Tampa Bay, Florida area. Check out his work at his member page:

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