I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received the assignment to cover the Amber Rose SlutWalk for Cosmopolitan a few weeks ago. I had no idea what a SlutWalk was, nor did I really know who Amber Rose was. A little research turned up that Rose is a hip-hop model and entrepreneur who is probably most widely known for the tabloid attention her romances with Kanye West and Wiz Khalifa have brought her. SlutWalks, I learned, are actually a widespread movement started in Toronto in 2011 in response to an officer’s response that women shouldn’t dress like sluts to avoid being assaulted by men. Since then there have been organized rallies throughout the world and in numerous U.S. cities where people – mostly young women, but a few men – have gathered to protest the ideas that society should dictate what people wear and that what people wear can be used as a valid excuse for matters such as sexual assault and rape. Rose had decided to organize this walk in part as a reaction to the slut-shaming she has endured from Kanye and Khloe Kardashian.
Though the event at first appeared poorly organized and the turnout was far less than the 15,000 organizers had promoted, by most accounts it turned out to be a success. By my estimates around 1,000 people, many of them dressed as provocatively as current laws permit, gathered that Saturday morning at downtown’s Pershing Square. From there they moved a block or two south on Olive Street where they made signs and officially kicked off the with a greeting and rallying cry from Rose and a couple of guest speakers. Following that they made short walk back to the square, chanting and hoisting their signs. I joked that it wasn’t much of a “walk,” but was also thankful, as we were still in the middle of a heatwave. The rest of the afternoon was spent in front of a much larger stage where a series of speeches, performances and a fashion show kept the crowd engaged.
Over the course of the day I covered the general event and also collaborated with the writer to create a portrait series of individuals who were willing to share their stories. Many of them had experiences being slut shamed at some point in their lives, either for how they dressed or for their own sexual activities, rumored or not. It surprised us though – and really drove home the importance of this event – how many had been victims of assault and rape. I was impressed that so many of them were willing to come out to directly confront the matter in such a public way.
In the end I was glad I was there and that Cosmopolitan decided to cover this story. Though the events are not without critics, I hope we can all agree that the central point of this – that no one “deserves” to be attacked or raped – is as valid as they come. Hopefully these events will have a positive effect on public attitudes.
It was a busy past couple of weeks with trips to Denver and NYC for the premieres of Touch the Wall, a documentary directed by my good friends Christo Brock and Grant Barbeito focusing on the simultaneous rise of Olympic swimmer Missy Franklin and the decline of her more experienced teammate, two-time Olympian Kara Lynn Joyce. I was fortunate to be involved in the film as an additional photographer for some key scenes late in the film. So when they invited me to come along to the premieres, I was more than happy to join them, both to celebrate and help out by documenting the behind-the-scenes experiences of both momentous weekends. The official premiere was at the Starz Denver Film Festival and was as exciting a start as any small film could hope for. The screening sold out the enormous Buell Theater’s 2500+ seats, outselling the festival’s opening night. This was in no small part to the fact that Denver — more specifically, Aurora — is Missy’s hometown and has also recently become home to Kara Lynn. Needless to say, there was a huge turnout from the swimming community and locals who have followed the ascent of Missy’s career long before she had won her five Olympic medals at the age of 17. The following weekend, we reconvened in Manhattan for a private premiere screening hosted by USA Swimming at the Sunshine Theater. Though the crowd was smaller, the theater still sold out and was attended by several notables in professional swimming, from Rowdy Gaines, who hosted the Q&A after the screening, to Olympic gold medalist Davis Tarwater, as well as Olympic gymnast Nastia Luikin. Both weekends were great. Missy and Kara are genuinely a lot of fun, and I had a good time tagging along as they got the Hollywood treatment, from the red carpet to a private dress shopping visit at Nicole Miller. I also got to enjoy brunch with the Franklin’s at a restaurant high above Times Square where Missy was recognized by an adoring server and a nearby table of teenage girls.
Though my role was small, I’m really proud to be a part of this film and am proud of my friends Grant and Christo for pulling it off. Not only did they complete the film — a grueling, four-year process including two years of filming, countless hours trying to raise money and I have no idea how many hours of editing — but they managed to tell a great story that makes the film interesting whether you’re a fan of swimming or somehow have no idea who Michael Phelps is. The level of personal sacrifice they put themselves through was also amazing to me, and I truly hope they reap the rewards. To that end, I recommend that you go see it! Since it’s a small independent film, the filmmakers are trying a new approach to distribution, in which people can request screenings in their hometown theaters. There are a number of screenings already taking place around the country, and if you miss them you can request your own or choose to buy a digital download of the film for your own private viewing. All the info you need is HERE.
I had a chance to stop by the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach for a couple hours last week while in the area working on a project. Fortunately well before the trouble started! (A little riot broke out, if you hadn’t heard) On the day we were there it was quite calm and pleasant, and as you can see, there was quite a crowd on hand. We took in a few heats and took in the sights and thought it was a fun event, though I’d agree a bit too commercial. Hopefully they’ll get things sorted out in the future so there won’t won’t be any repeat trouble.
Tip for a great summer: self-assign a project revolving around surf culture. Even if the project’s a bust, at least you can spend a couple of days a week surfing and hanging at the beach and call it work. That’s been my plan this summer at least, and so far it’s yielded several great new photos and made me a slightly better surfer than I was a few months ago. These images have nothing to do with the project, but are just a couple I shot recently on an overcast day in San Onofre when I wasn’t making much progress otherwise. The San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is an iconic landmark defining the south end of Surf Beach and has been in the news a lot lately following Southern California Edison’s recent decision to permanently shutter it after having provided power to SoCal since 1968. How the state will fill the void in the region’s power supply or how they will eventually dismantle the facility contains is anybody’s guess, but it’s pretty likely the soon-to-be abandoned plant will continue to mark the shoreline for years to come. Also, Surf Beach is the closest thing you’ll find if you’re looking for that classic 1950’s “Surfin’ USA” feeling, and is a great place to come see classic beach cars, from VW Vanagons to Woodies, and in this case, a beat up old Beetle. I couldn’t help but grab a shot as I left the beach one day last week. With several more weeks of summer left and probably several months of good surfing weather left after August, I’m planning on keeping this project going as long as possible!
An article recently ran featuring work I did for Der Spiegel last summer. The story focuses on the slow economic decline of the city of San Bernardino – home of the original McDonald’s restaurant – as it teetered on the brink of bankruptcy, which it officially filed for less than a month after our visit. We – myself, the writer and a videographer – spent a long, hot, winding day in the depressed town of 213,000 that took us from the site of the restaurant, which is now an independently operated museum, to a number of agencies, a brief visit with firefighters at risk of losing their jobs and finally to a city council meeting where the council discussed possible austerity measures that would be required to eventually dig out of this mess. Something that at this point seems a long way away. The article’s an interesting read. Check it out here.
A couple weeks ago I worked on a story for the Chronicle of Higher Education that brought national attention for the small Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. In late December, due to a complaint from an employee to the Board of Trustees that the school wasn’t properly vetting its employees’ immigration statuses, 17 workers who could not prove their citizenship were fired. One was Christian Torres, a 25-year-old kitchen worker who had been employed by the college for several years. Torres – who is pictured in the room he rents in a house occupied by two other families – and 15 fellow kitchen workers were among the 17 fired. The sudden termination of the employees resulted in immediate protests by both students and employees of the liberal college that prides itself on promoting Latino culture and continues to be a topic of debate. Meanwhile, those affected, like Christian, are moving on and trying to find new work, which he was hoping to land soon so he didn’t have to sell his car. Without getting into the debate of who’s wrong and who’s right, the situation is understandably a difficult one in areas such as this, which are primarily Latino.