Monthly Archives: July 2014

Spectator paparazzi

I am a spectator paparazzi. That is, I take pictures of those who watch the stars. In the past the audience was an anonymous mass, and certainly the modern mega-paid mega-star is built on the wallets of those anonymous millions who watch. One went to see the stars play and did not expect to be seen, possibly did not want to be seen. The social media generation is different. They want to see the action, the game, the stars, but they also want to know who they know who was there watching the action. Which of my friends was at the game? Were they styling? Who was jumping up, dancing, singing, and shouting?

Reloliza Saimon
Reloliza Saimon, athlete, track star, traditional photographic subject in sports

I go to the games to take pictures of both the action and the spectators. I may ask for permission, explicitly or implicitly. The latter happens when I point my lens at a duo, trio, or more often a quad and they immediately smile, pose, and throw shaka and peace symbols.

Spectators including Mary Alexander
Spectators who know me providing implicit permission with warm smiles

The pictures are not for me. They are for their friends and family abroad. Children who long to see their mother, fathers who have not seen their son in a long time, friends who want to see another friend’s face. A phone call lets them hear their voice, but mom and dad are always, “We’re fine,” whether or not they are actually fine. A photograph is reassuring – seeing dad is a little older but still looks strong is reassuring to a son or daughter working  overseas.


In the past I had, at most, thirty-six 35 millimeter film shots to work with. I rarely had spare film or budget to take more than thirty-six images. In late 1997 I acquired a Sony digital camera that permitted my first experimentation with the world of digital photography. The camera I carry today can store up to 17000 photographs at the resolutions I work at. I can simply shoot continuously, or at least until both of my batteries are dead.

A mother and her Pohnpei state athlete daughter
A mother and her Pohnpei state athlete daughter

The medium by which photographs are shared has changed as well. Newspaper articles might include a single image. A photographer had to catch the single most iconic instant for that news story. Magazines might feature a spread of ten to twelve photos for an article. A photographic team might take hundreds of photos, sometimes thousands, culling through the images for the ten or twelve really magical images. For every jaw-dropping gorgeous National Geographic magazine photo there were a thousand images discarded.

The limits on image distribution and sharing have changed radically. FaceBook albums hold 200 images, all uploaded at no financial cost to the photographer. Today’s viewer of photographs does not want a single iconic image. They want an album of 200 photos they can scream through on their broad band connection, stopping and pausing only at that which catches their attention. And not just a single album. Multiple albums.

Kosraean women marching and singing in celebration of their runners
Kosraean women singing in the audience

I oblige the modern desire for a flood of images, providing “firehose” coverage to the extent that I can. I do not select images and the only editing I do is to delete blurry or inappropriate images. The rest get posted on line. No cropping, nothing. Raw feed, the more images the better. And yet some viewers have written saying, “More please!” This is also a characteristic of the social media generation. Sensory overload is not possible for a generation raised on iPads and xBoxes, a generation accustomed to being always on and connected.

Generation social media wants images of the event, those at the event, and lots of images. This is the brave new world of media.

Not only the off-islanders want more images, a local friend noted the same paucity of images. There are teams of photographers working the games, but the photo galleries appearing on line on sites covering the games often mimic a magazine. Articles include a single image. Photo galleries are nine to ten selected images. None of these teams is operating in the “shoot everything, post everything” mode, nor can they. One team of photographers is a youth media team who are being taught to capture iconic images, to select images, to be shooters and editors. Images are cropped and rebalanced to shine after the fact. The firehose photographer has to crop the image before they shoot. Whatever is in the frame at the time of the photo stays in the frame.

There are other differences. The newspaper and magazine photographer expects and deserves credit, if not also remuneration, for their images. For the professional, photography is part of their professional life. The pro gun usually includes a signature watermark in the image. One photographer in these games puts their watermark across the middle of the image as if their name is the star of the image. Spectator paparazzi may be relatively unknown, and if known, they are typically not known for being photographers. They may lack any photographic skills. They shoot everything and often post everything, including really blurry shots from low end cell phone cameras.

When I shot one image of a volunteer and her friend, her friend told me to be sure the image gets put on FaceBook. The volunteer turned to the friend with a puzzled look. The friend explained that I was the guy putting up all those albums from the games. She seemed incredulous, she found it hard to believe the images were being taken by me. She knew of me, but had no idea I was the one taking the images.

I post my images in albums with the privacy set to public – in other words, no privacy. This allows my 2500 plus friends and acquaintances to freely share my albums with their friends, and thence on to third and fourth connections. The albums do not expire at the periphery of my friends or friends of friends. No restrictions. Images get downloaded and then re-uploaded by others, and this makes me happy. I do not own my images. If anyone owns the image, the owners are the people in the image. I only captured some photons of light in transit at a particular instant in time. I own nothing more than the camera.

Medal bearers
Medal bearers

Another difference is that for the professional images are art, to be seen and appreciated but not necessarily not interacted with. Most professional, corporate, and institutional photographers post photos with tagging disabled. There are often legal reasons for disabling tagging. The spectator paparazzi is all about tagging and connecting. Social connectivity and interactivity are primary goals of the social media photographer. If a tree falls in an empty forest it makes no sound, if a photograph has no tags and comments then the photograph fails to exist in a social sense. The more tags and comments, the better the photograph, regardless of whether the photograph is artistically worthy or not. An exquisite photograph with no comments, no tags, and no shares, is a social media failure. A crummy, blurry, unbalanced shot with a plethora of comments, tags, and multiple shares is a success. Photo quality is irrelevant, photo connectivity is everything for the social media photographer.

Family photo opportunity
Family photo opportunity – popular on social media

Not only is tagging allowed and actively encouraged, but the social media photographer befriends all comers. The judicious use of groups such as acquaintances, close friends, family, and other groups helps keep the social media photographer’s wall from being swamped by information of no meaning or use.

Photographing the photographers
Photographing the photographers

I also know that if anyone points a camera at me, I have to strike a pose, look my best. I cannot hide behind my lens. I am fair game in the spectator paparazzi photo firefights. I also always try to photograph the photographers when I can. To make a sweeping over-generalization, sports photographers are usually so focused getting the action picture that they are rather oblivious to everything else around them that is not action, including, and maybe especially, other photographers. They have to be focused to get the iconic shot on goal, the moment at which the game was won.

There may be a difference in equipment. Using a long telephoto lens on a single lens reflex photographic body to take what are essentially portrait pictures is intimidating up close, creepy when done at extreme range. The little point and shoot I use requires that I get up close and personal to get a good FaceBook tag worthy photo. I cannot get the stop action photo of the critical moment in the game. The distances are typically too great.

I have one other asset that is useful, at least here on Pohnpei. My face. Having lived here for 22 years and having taught over 3000 some students I am fairly widely recognized and known. In almost any crowd I will know someone. I am an elder in a society that respects elders, a member of the community. My children were born and raised in Pohnpei and Kosrae. People know me and many know that I post photos to FaceBook, sometimes people ask to be photographed. Other times I know relatives abroad who enjoy pictures of a particular person and so I know who the photo will have to be shared to. And some, seeing me coming, hide like a rock star avoiding publicity. Athletes have to expect to be photographed when in action, the spectators have no such expectation. When an event is open to the public, free of entry charge, and held in a public facility, personal photographic privacy may be violated even if inadvertently.

Hiding from the paparazzi
Back row hides from the paparazzi

I use the word paparazzi in part to reflect the gray areas in which I sometimes operate. A granddaughter in North Carolina might ask, “If you get a chance, take a picture of my grandfather.” Now I may know that grandpa would prefer not to be photographed if given a choice. Yet he is present at a kamadipw at which I am taking pictures. Do I avoid shots in which he is present or get the granddaughter a picture that makes her happy? Add in that grandpa does not use FaceBook and the granddaughter does – so if I snag a shot with him in the frame, he will not realize he was photographed and shared via FaceBook. Who’s desire for happiness trumps? By Pohnpei rules the elder, but wherein he is unaware there seems to be less harm done by getting the granddaughter the image she so desires.

Eight days has produced eight albums and just over 1500 images, none of them worthy of “publishing,” all of them “published” on social media. Tag, like, and comment rates push upwards of a hundred an hour. This is the new media order in social media – quantity over quality. Photos of everyone and everything. Viewed and forgotten in the same instant, as ephemeral as a conversation and yet important to feeling connected for those who view them.

There will certainly long be a role for the professional photographer and the work that they do. I argue only that there is a new genre of photographers who play by different rules for different goals, differences made possible by social media. Maybe call it koinonikophotography, although anthrophotography rolls off the tongue better.

If you see me roaming an event, either strike a smile and a pose to let me know you are open to being photographed, or duck, cover, and run to avoid being caught on digital by a spectator paparazzi.



With age there is comfort in stability and the lack of change. At some point in life changes are not usually for the medically better. Cholesterol tends to rise with age as does blood sugar, uric acid levels, and overall body fat. One moves from planning on running times getting better to hoping that they will at least stay the same.

Habits and preferences become somewhat engrained. I have run in ASICS shoes for over two decades. My earliest shoes still carried the Tiger moniker. Over the years I have not been completely averse to change. I tried and liked Avia back in the day when they introduced the cantilever design. I have also learned that change can be threatening. A pair of New Balance shoes in 1996 took the blame, fairly or not, for a fall term of Plantars fasciitus. I tried and liked Mizuno wave plate based shoes in the oughts.

I had always returned to ASICS line shoes. In the 1990s I favored their motion control monsters – Gel MC line and subsequent Gel Evo line. As the years of running passed I found I also liked the GT-2000 series, especially the odd numbered decadals, 2010, 2030, 2050, 2070.  I still have a pair of 3010 and 3030 in my stable along with a pair of the new edition of the GT-2000. Decades of running without injury in a particular line of shoes leads to a “don’t fix what ain’t broke” logic.

Those same decades of running have also taught me that old habits sometimes blind one to better ways. Life is like that. One can spend years working out what works best for one, then one tends to stick to that one way without question. Change becomes threatening at some point in life.

Still, I am a afficionado of technology. And those same two decades of running have taught me that EVA foam dies hard. Literally. The midsole of a running shoe loses cushioning, rebound, and flexibility with age. The foam compresses and collapses, the bubbles tear and rip at a microscopic level.

I was trying to figure out how to order the new ASICS GT-3000 2, the odd and confusingly numbered successor to the GT-3000 which appears to have succeeded the GT-3030. I have to suppose that the numbering sequence is some form of ill-conceived marketing manoever. While wandering around sites I stumbled on someone complaining that their rather expensive Adidas shoes had a styrofoam midsole. That piqued my interest, primarily because sytrofoam could not work well as a midsole material.

I had recently learned of the wind tunnel work done by Adidas to get the World Cup Brazuca to behave more like a 32 panel soccer ball than the 2010 World Cup Jabulani ball. The Jabulani “knuckled” at too high a speed, up near penalty kick speeds, leaving players frustrated by the unpredictable ball paths at high speeds. Serious money was spent to get the Brazuca to knuckle and float at speeds close to a tradiational soccer ball and to not soak up water in the tropical heat of Brazil. Adidas had to know better than to use styrofoam in a running shoe.

I quickly learned that the material was not styrofoam but a material made from thermoplastic polyurethane via a process that resulted in the styrofoam appearance. This was a new midsole technology for running shoes, and runners who tried the shoes were impressed by the ride. Although the price was a step up for running shoes for me, I only buy shoes at a rate of about a pair a year. After more research I decided that a flat-footer with a history of being an over-pronator belonged in the Adistar Boost series rather than the Energy Boost.

Adidas Adistar Boost
Adidas Adistar Boost

Getting shoes shipped to the outer edge of paradise is always a challenge, Pohnpei is a long way east of Eden. About eleven time zones give or take a zone. Many of the online shoe supplying options including Amazon and RoadRunnerSports could not land an Adistar Boost onto the island. Of late I have found that Running Warehouse is about the only supplier willing to ship to the rock.

Heel detail on Adistar
Heel detail on Adistar

I knew and expected the snuggly glove like fit of the neoprene like mesh Tech Fit upper, and have found that to be a plus. I went with the same size I use in ASICS – an eleven. Technically my foot is a 9.5 to 10, but in running shoes I am fairly consistently an eleven. And while I am perhaps too accustomed to running in died harder old EVA soles, I have put on new shoes enough times in my running life to know the difference a new pair makes. The TPU Boost really does provide more energy return and rebound, even for an old joggler. Whether or not the science seen in a video is applicable to running, the shoes delivered. I was flying down the road like a Douglas Spaulding in Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine. New shoes, new gear, can bring out the inner child in one.

I have often hoped that I would not become comfortably numb and wake up one day wondering, “Well…How did I get here?” I know that one path away from letting the days go by is to be open to change, being willing to break out of the ruts and habits of a lifetime. Even in small details such as shoes. I know a colleague who wears only Converse shoes and has worn them to the exclusion of all other shoes for over four decades. He became rather concerned when the company filed for bankruptcy – the thought of having to find another shoe to wear was a matter of great concern. Nike swept in and bought the company, continuing to produce the only shoes my colleague will wear.

Daughter swimming the butterfly

I sat by the swimming pool this evening and watched my daughter swim laps in preparation for the 2014 Micronesian Games next week. She is fast and confident in the water, sure of herself. The same sense of capability she exhibited when she first began to walk. Although she had learned to stand, she would stand still and then sit back down, never taking a single step. Then one fine Friday, the 24th of January 2003, she stood up on the porch and began walking around. No falling down, no stumbling.

030126shanwalk01 030126shanwalk02 030126shanwalk03 030126shanwalk04 030126shanwalk05 030126shanwalk06

The next day I took her to the college, put her down, and she stood up and began walking around. Now she is a swimming competitively. When she does run, her stride far exceeds mine and I have to churn my short legs like some hamster on a hamster wheel to keep up with her. Children embody change, children teach their parents to accept change – although not without a struggle.

Daughter running

Kolonia is changing. New buildings, bigger buildings. Roads and intersections being widened. Change is all around me as I run. Places that were verdant forest or stands of swamp grass are being cleared for homes and buildings. At times I yearn for yesteryear, wanting back the wilder vistas. My running is increasingly citified by changes along the road. Running that might be slightly faster and lighter footed than yesterday, boosted by Boost underfoot.