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Alan Chin

After working with Michael Shaw at the BAGnewsNotes blog during the primary season, photojournalist Alan Chin decided to take an assignment to cover the 2008 Democratic National Convention for the blog. The experience brought up some big questions about photography as well as blogging. Don’t miss “Photo assignments from bloggers… 1” and “2” describing the pros and cons of shooting for the blog and Michael’s explanation of how BAGnewsNotes still distinguishes itself from the MSM. In “Photo assignments… 4” Alan explains how the team’s coverage developed at the DNC.
Biden and Obama during the DNC. © Alan Chin

Biden and Obama during the DNC, published at BAGnewsNotes. © Alan Chin

With a sense of duty but not much true excitement, I had planned on traveling to Denver for the Democratic National Convention, months before. Then, in August, war broke out in the Caucuses between Russia and Georgia. I called Michael and said, I want to go to Georgia. And he said, do you have an assignment? And I said, no. And he said, what about the DNC? I said, forget about the DNC. And he said, are you going to forget about the DNC if I can “assign” you again? I said, what do you mean? He said, if I can commit to paying you, would you think about not going to Georgia on your own?

If someone gives you a good assignment, you take it, right? I’m not going to be able to pay my rent from this blog, but, a) it’s the thought that counts, the fact that he’s willing to commit; and b) every bit helps. When I thought about it, it came down to: Michael Shaw is offering me an assignment to cover the DNC.

So Michael came to Denver as well, because he’s not only the editor, he’s also the main writer and journalist for the BAGnewsNotes blog. It was the first time we worked together face-to-face, because he lives in San Diego and I’m in New York. And it was enormously productive. We were able to get decent access, because the political parties take blogging very seriously, so they gave us standard press credentials. Of course it’s funny for me because I ran into all these photographers I know, and they asked me, who are you working for? They say, Time or Newsweek or whoever, and I say, it’s a blog called BAGnewsNotes. But just gauging from their responses, many photographers had already heard of what Michael was doing, and were already reading the blog. So within the small world of photojournalism, people know and appreciate it.

They thought what we were doing was fabulous, but also that it was incredibly ironic because I’m known for being very analog in this digital age, and developing film in hotel rooms. I do all these really old-fashioned traditional things, yet here I am on the other end of it. I’m shooting black-and-white film, processing it in a bathtub, and uploading the images to a blog. I was shooting digital as well at the DNC, but the New Hampshire and Ohio primaries I photographed entirely on film.

I believe that BAGNewsNotes has real credibility. Aesthetically, we’re not there not yet, I’ll be the first to admit that. When it comes to design and how we present the images and text, it’s not perfect. But that’s growing pains, technical issues. In terms of mentally and conceptually where we want the site to go, we have a good idea and I think we’re succeeding. Sometimes I feel like I’m really sticking my neck out, because I’ve put a lot of work into this in the last couple years, especially the last year. And I do wonder if maybe that was time that I should have spent trying to get traditional assignments. But then I look at the fruits of our labor, the photography and the analysis, and I’m really proud of what we’ve accomplished, on less than a shoestring. Hopefully, the more people who look at what we’re doing, and the more people we’re able to get turned onto this, the more viable it becomes.

Michael Shaw, who dissects the political posturing of newswire photos at his BAGnewsNotes blog, has been posting unpublished images from photojournalists for years. During the 2008 presidential campaign he assigned, and even paid, photographer Alan Chin to make original photos for the blog. Here Alan reflects on the implications of that collaboration for photojournalists. Check out “Photo assignments…2” when Michael explains how Alan’s images uncover the spectacle of political press coverage.
An image by Alan Chin from the New Hampshire primary season. © Alan Chin

An image by Alan Chin from the New Hampshire primary season. © Alan Chin

I’ve been collaborating with Michael for a number of years. Initially it was because he had picked up an image of mine that was in the New York Times while I was freelancing for them in Iraq. One day I had Googled myself and I saw [my photo] was on this blog. I saw his commenters were reading all these things into it and I wrote in and said, I’m the photographer and I want to answer some of your questions. I was very factual, just to give more context. Of course no one had done that before. It started this whole interesting conversation online. Somehow in the process Michael was like, I’m really interested in hearing what you have to say and I would love to hear some more.

And in the next few years, any time I did something that I thought was interesting, after it was published or if I couldn’t get it published, I would send him a picture to let him run it on the blog. I figured, if it’s already been published or it’s not getting published, then what do I have to lose. I might as well have it be seen and talked about rather than just sitting on my hard drive.

Then when Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama officially announced their candidacies, both of them did trips in New Hampshire and I decided to go up and shoot that. And I’m not a political junkie; I’m not a Washington photographer. I’m not very well experienced in this, I’ve never been in the bubble, but I thought this was obviously a really important time. So I sent Michael pictures from that because I couldn’t get them published. And he loved it, and the audience of the site loved it. And basically he committed, he said, look, you’re having a problem getting assignments. How about I pay at least a little bit, so at least you don’t go broke doing this, at least you can afford to put gas in your car, and you can cover some of these primaries for me. More »


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