I missed posting last week, but it's fine. The real meat of this update came last Tuesday when the eyes of the nation, still weary of the implications realized from the presidential election, focused on our town as the real-life internet troll named Richard Spencer did a speaking engagement on campus at Texas A&M. Spencer is widely regarded as being the man who coined the term “alt-right,” and while I don’t have the patience to open up that can of worms, the man comes across as genuinely racist, sexist, and anti-Semitic. The university, unwilling to nudge against freedom of speech, let the engagement go on, and instead of heeding to cries of many students, whipped up a counter-event, bringing in various musician and speakers to their no-cost “Aggie United” event right across the street from the Memorial Student Center, where the the speech was happening. Their heart was in the right place, but from what I heard, the counter-event was a flop, and the real show was the protesting happening outside, and, for a while, inside the MSC.
I was covering the protests, then ducked inside to cover the speak itself, but was culled back to the louder of the protests when I got a hot tip that police in riot gear were confronting protestors that made their way inside the building. I left the speech, and found myself behind a blockade of police, shields, batons, and rubber-bullet guns readied, systematically pushing the crowds back. The police were professionals about the whole situation, and I was awestruck at how courteous a few of them were to me while I worked my way into the crowd. At one point a row a police on bikes came in, surrounding me and the front line of shields. I felt a tug at my jacket, turned around and one of the bike officers simply said, “You don't want to be in the middle.” I shrugged and stepped behind him. I documented them pushing the crowd back with machine-like efficiency. Due to blocked hallways I wasn't able to get to the main entrance where they were bottle-necking and forcing out protestors, and I missed the shot of the night. A Houston Chronicle photographer, Brett Coomer, was there, and made what I feel was the most dramatic shot of the night as the police made their final push out the door. Three people were arrested.
Spencer went about his speaking engagement unabated, and the crowd eventually subsided. Within a few hours, they street was quiet again. Protestors made their point. A&M will probably vet out who they rent rooms to more carefully in the future. And all that was left was for the keyboard warriors to criticize media coverage. Nothing new there. It should be noted that there was a sizable silent protest that got very little attention or coverage. I wish I was able to document their protest more thoroughly, but when police are clashing with citizens, my lens must stay fixed on that situation.
The late night bled into an early morning, covering the 75 anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor at The Bush Library, where former president George H.W. Bush, former first lady Barbara Bush, and former Senator Bob Dole, all made an appearance. I thought the crowds at the protest were bad, but the media scrum in the only place to get a shot of Bush might have been worse.
Outside of that event, the last two weeks were a blur; most of which was actually spent driving the less-than-spectacular Texas highway system. Since Texas A&M football season is over, we've been in full-blown high school football playoffs mode. While the regular season can be monotonous, playoffs are a mixture of high-caliber teams, playing with brazen emotion. It took me a few games to really realize that many of these kids are playing what might be their final football games, and the further teams make it into the playoffs, the more they buy in to that do-or-die mentality. I was able to travel to the Prairie View A&M University stadium to shoot our local College Station High School team take on Marshall, the team that had just dispatched College Station's cross-town rival, A&M Consolidated, from the playoffs the week before. But College Station was a much bigger dog than Consol and ended Marshall's season. The glee on the players' faces shined through the images I shot.
It wasn't until the next week, when College Station fell to Calallen High School in a heart-wrenching loss, that I had to see the other side of that coin. My job is to document the moment, and in this case that meant getting a shot that showed the emotional tailspin that follows a tough, career ending loss. The guilt that I feel when pointing my lens at kids bawling feels slimy and voyeuristic, but my hope is that anybody who sees those images will empathize with the kids, and see that these kids, the seniors at least, have poured everything they had into the game, and now, abruptly, have to find a way to walk away from it.
Our paper has a tendency to not publish sad photos of local high school teams (handling them with kiddy-gloves as one copy editor says) but I submitted a sad shot anyway, simply because I felt it told the story best. By the time I got back into town that night, I was happy to see that copy desk placed it above the fold on A1. Maybe we got flak for that. I don't know. If at least one person saw that and felt for the kid, then I can sleep soundly.
Beyond that, I've been back to shooting Aggie basketball. The season is young and this year's team is working out the kinks against lower competition, but they look like they could have a decent run again this year. Overall, they are young, and lack the spark they had from a few senior that left last year, but hopefully they gel as the season wears on.
I was also able to shoot a little track and field, which, while a bit more boring than other sports, usually yields nice, clean shots. And all the while, nice little feature shot opportunities were sprinkled into the weeks. A Brigadier General kissed a pig, kids practiced putting on horse shoes, a man decorated the ever-loving hell out of his front yard for Christmas, and a local library put on a little ballet. People doing stuff. It never gets old.
As always, thanks for taking a look, and as a wise woman once told me, “If you can't be good, be safe.”