Biker Heaven

©2007 Brett Flashnick/All Rights Reserved

When the alarm went off at 6am on Sunday morning to get out of bed to go shoot another assignment was the last thing on my mind, especially after having 14 hour days Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and late night of shooting on Saturday. However this is one of those assignments that I “had to do.” Its not like anyone was going to fault me for turning this down, and I almost did, until I found out that this “church assignment” wasn’t your typical church.
©2007 Brett Flashnick/All Rights Reserved

On the last Sunday of the month since April, 2007, the quiet neighborhood on Holland Street, in West Columbia, S.C. has been brought to life by the sound of motorcycles thundering down the road, to Suburban Baptist Church, on their way to “Biker Church” at 7:30am. Inside a group of approximately a dozen bikers, congregate over breakfast, and a small worship service that follows. “And when the weather permits after that we take the church out on the road, because the theology here is that the church is the people, not the building, and even when we hit the road the church is still there,” Biker Church co-Founder, Frank Lengel said.
©2007 Brett Flashnick/All Rights Reserved

To add insult to injury, as I was beginning to work on getting all of my non deadline assignments from last week out to clients, and starting to work on the multimedia from “Biker Church,” my iBook decided to take a yet another dirt nap. In an effort to get work done, I swapped the hard drives of my iBook with a 5 year old PowerBook G4 that was laying around for just such an occasion. Even though it is slow, the screen looks a “little yellow”, and there is some gunk on the screen that I can’t seem to get off the PowerBook is running like a champ so far, and while it took a little longer than normal I managed to produce a multimedia slideshow from Biker Church. Hopefully next week will go better.

To view my multimedia presentations point your browsers here —

Meet the Romneys

Over the past few days I’ve had the opportunity to spend some behind the scenes time with the family of 2008 Republican Presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney as they toured South Carolina. I had a great time getting to know Ann, Mary, and Parker Romney, as we drove around the state on their tour bus. ABOVE: Ann Romney, center, and Mary Romney, left, along with campaign supporters and staff, laugh as Parker Romney, tries to make a call on his baby monitor on Tuesday afternoon. BELOW: Mitt Romney, left, and Ann Romney, right, share a moment as they prepare to go separate ways, after departing a fundraiser at Saluda Shoals Park on Thursday afternoon. After three days of campaigning separately, the Romneys only spent a few hours together in Columbia, S.C., before going their separate ways again.

More From the Trail

After a busy couple of weeks I finally have some time to sit down and update my website. I’ve added a gallery from my time on the 2008 presidential campaign trail. So far I’ve spent some time with five of the candidates vying for their party nomination. Photographing these events can be frustrating, and rewarding at the same time however. It is a lot of hurry up and wait (note the recurring theme of this profession), you show up 2 hours early, get set up, scope things out, talk to the handlers, and then wait. When the time comes you can be shoulder to shoulder with 10 other photographers trying to get the same shot as you, so hopefully all of the planning, and politicking and your instincts will take over and put you into a position where you can find a unique angle, when the moment comes.

The whole experience can be a draining one, and hopefully when the smoke clears, my editors and I will be happy with the result. Even though every time out hasn’t resulted in a home run, it has been a learning experience seeing how these campaigns work, and it will be interesting to see which candidate and strategy comes out on top in a years time. Until then time to celebrate the small successes, and get back to work telling stories… until next time.

Click here to view more photos from my time with the candidates.

Waiving flags, kissing babies, and shaking hands…

Welcome to the 2008 Presidential Campaign Trail….

Just spent my first week on the 2008 Presidential Campaign Trail, I can’t believe I’m saying that and its only February of 2007… This trail is looking more like a marathon course. With 11 months to go until primaries the outcome could favor anyone. Every editor I have spoken with this week has shared the same sentiment. Along the road I’ve had the chance to meet a lot of shooters… seeing old friends and meeting new ones. It has been a great journey so far, I’ve had a great time getting to know the candidates, their families, campaign staffers, and more importantly the voters. Everyone I have worked with has been extremely professional, helpful, and on many occasions have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help me get great access. To top off this crazy week, I was called to go on assignment for Newsweek, with former Massachusetts Governor, and Presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, and I had a really nice frame published from it. Ahhhh… this is the life.


Just pretty pictures, nothing more, nothing less…

I’ve spent five out of the past seven days on the road, and put more than 1200 miles of highway behind me, while traveling up and down the South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida coastline.I have a had a lot of time to think about things and make some pretty pictures even though I was going through technology withdrawal from time to time, due to the lack of internet, and cell. But after I returned and the emails starting pouring in, and the phone kept ringing off the hook I realized that I had taken for granted the time I had to just enjoy making photographs. I became a photographer because I love meeting people, seeing new places, and having the ability to share those experiences with others. However, recently I have let life get in the way. Sure you need to be concerned with making a living to put food on the table, a roof over your head, an gas in your car, but there are much easier and more lucrative ways to do that, aside from being a photographer. People are photographers because they love it, and I lost sight of that. What reminded me of my passion was something so simple. While sitting on the deck of a beach house I was staying at (aka sleeping on the couch) I saw seagulls swooping down to grab pieces of bread tossed into the air by some kids walking down the beach, the first thing that came to my mind was “How can I setup a remote camera to get in the middle of that?” and just like that I put the beer down and went to work, no distracting cell phones, no email, just the challenge of figuring out how to make an image that was in my head. When it was all said and done, all I needed to get my passion back was a monopod, a camera and a cable release… who know it would be so simple…. So where ever the road may take you in the future, remember to have fun doing what ever it is that you love, and stay safe.

A “visionary Luddite pixilator”

There are certain parts of any job that you love, and others that you dread. I always have a pit in my stomach when I have to photograph funeral proceedings for someone that was taken from loved ones all too soon. Its a delicate balance between telling a story about what this person meant, and being respectful towards a grieving family, and sometimes that line is hard to find.

On Wednesday I photographed the funeral of Helen Hill, a documentary film maker from New Orleans, La., who was murdered in her home just six days earlier. What most people know by now is that Hill, a talented film maker, who has become an example of the escalating violence in “The Big Easy,” was one of six people murdered in a 24-hour period in hurricane ravaged city, which she loved. But what has been left out of the network news reports, and what I learned throughout the day, is that she was a wife, a mother, a daughter, a sister, and a friend to almost anyone she met.

As the Hill’s casket was carried into St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, I caught a glimpse of her 2-year-old son Francis Pop, in the arms of his father and Hill’s husband, Dr. Paul Gailiunas, who was also shot in the same incident in which Helen was killed. As they walked past me, I had to put the camera to my eye in order to avoid making eye contact. However as they passed where I was standing to enter the church, Francis’ eyes locked with my lens, and I couldn’t look away. There was something so innocent about his gaze in my direction, which wasn’t the typical stare of disgust that I am used to receiving as I photograph a funeral. As he continued to stare, I framed the image, of him looking over his fathers shoulder, and took a picture. His father turned to kiss him on the head, another picture, and another, and another, and so on. The few moments the two were standing on the steps of the church seemed to last an eternity.

As I walked up the stairs to enter the balcony of the church my mind jumped back in time, to three hours earlier, where a crowd gathered outside of a small independent theatre, before the funeral. Friends and family lined the block as they waited to enter the dark screening room for a viewing of Hill’s short films, as the governor of South Carolina was being sworn in across the street. As the the services began Hill’s brother, Jacob D. Hill IV spoke to a the crowd now gathered inside of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Bull St., saying “I think she’s laughing seeing all her pacifist, left-leaning activist friends gathering across the street from where a Republican governor is being sworn in with F16s flying overhead.” More stories from friends, and family followed, all describing the same compassionate, fun loving, artistic person, that I began to wish I had the chance to meet.

As the service ended, Hill’s friends and family spilled onto the street, still wiping tears from their eyes, comforting each other, but all seemed to be overcome with athe spirit of compassion, in the memory of someone they loved dearly. As the crowd began to break up for the procession to the cemetery, Christine Gump, a friend of Helen’s, who flew to Columbia, from Los Angeles, removed the jacket, that was covering her left arm where a brightly “chicken embryo” tattoo had been freshly inked into her skin. “Eight of us went and got these on Sunday… We wanted to do it to remember her,” Gump said.

As I walked back to my car, physically and emotionally drained, I couldn’t help but feel happiness, because even though I never had the chance to meet Helen, her spirit, which lives on in her friends and family gave me a brief, and fleeting glimpse into how wonderful of a person she really was. Even posthumously, Helen touched my life.

Helen Hill Memorial Website
b.rox:Life in the Flood Zone
Videos of Helen Hill on You Tube
NPR Commentary by David Koen

Thanks for the Funk!

On Saturday afternoon in Augusta, Ga., the world said goodbye to a true legend. James Brown, the “Godfather of Soul” was sent off with four hour long “Home Going” memorial service presided over by Rev. Al Sharpton, and Rev. Jessie Jackson, in the soul singer’s hometown. Seeing the number of people who showed up at the James Brown Arena in Augusta, was a sight to behold. It was amazing to see how many people Mr. Brown’s music and message touched. Throughout the day tens of thousands of mourners passed by the casket of this amazing human being, each paying their final respect to the “Godfather” in their own way. Some passed by with a look, others wept and could not even face the sight of their hero lying helpless in his 24 karat gold casket. From time to time, the line would be stopped, and a celebrity friend of Mr. Brown would be escorted to the front of the room for their own private moment.

By 11:45 the arena had reached its 8500+ person capacity, and the doors were shut, yet hundreds still gathered outside, behind orange barricades, to listen to the service to loudspeakers wired into the arena’s public address system. The following hours are still a blur to me. Remarks were made by Brown’s family, and close friend Michael Jackson. M.C. Hammer, was so moved during a performance of “Like a Sex Machine,” by Bobby Byrd that he broke into dance on stage, to the cheers of thousands, however by the time Rev. Al Sharpton proclaimed the famous words “Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust” those in attendance made their somber exit of the building, having paid tribute to a legend.

As I drove home I couldn’t stop humming the hits of the “Godfather” myself. This will definitely be a story to tell the kids one day. May you rest in piece Mr. Brown, and as one mourner put it “Thanks for the Funk!”

Change of Pace

For the past three weeks I have been following home school families associated with the Forest Acres Christian Educators association, as they prepare for their first annual Fall Heritage Ball. To the students this was more than just a regular fall dance. Since they are home schooled this is the closest that many of them would get to attending a formal dance that resembled a prom. For the parents the evening marked one more victory in their quest to provide an education for their children… on their terms.

After months of planning, shopping, and rehearsing the formal dances like the Virginia Reel, Postie’s Jig, and several Waltzes, the night finally arrived. However unlike most proms the was no blaring hip-hop music, no gyrating bodies, and no skimpy dresses that left little to the imagination. As one parent stated, “if its not for sale, don’t advertise it. As the sounds of a traditional waltz made their way out of the stereo, fathers danced with daughters, brothers danced with sisters, and friends danced with each other.

This story has been a nice change of pace for me, and its also been a fun opportunity to learn more about a part of the community that I didn’t know much about. Even though I’m sure we have a lot of differences in ideals, morals, and religion, these families were absolutely wonderful to me. They allowed me complete access to anything I wanted, and thanked me for being there every time I showed up. It is stories and experiences like this, that recharge my batteries for photojournalism, if only I could do more of them.

The art of Hurry up… and Wait…

Seven and a half hours of waiting, for six seconds of excitement… That is what Saturday boiled down to. It was the classic scenario of “hurry up and wait… and wait… and wait,” where all I was told was that “We know this is going to happen some time today, but we’re not sure when,” but when didn’t really matter it was the what and why that made this a fun hunt.

The movie “Death Sentence” is being filmed in Columbia, and on Saturday they were going to drop a car off of the top floor of a parking garage in the middle of Main St. In LosAngeles, the fact that they were doing a movie stunt wouldn’t have even gotten a blip on the radar, but in Columbia, S.C. its big news, so I had to do something big with it. I talked my way into the South Carolina Health and Human Services building, which sits adjacent to the parking garage, and picked my location, the 9th floor mens restroom. As the crew was setting the car and cameras below me, I began placing remote cameras in the windows, covering the lenses with gaffers tape to cut down on glare, and making sure everything was set. Its one of those shots that you don’t get a second chance with, so no screwing up.

Reggie, the head of security who had let me into the building, poked his head in the door around 2pm and said “They just called the 30 minute warning.” After seven-hours of standing around on the street corner, the parking lot across the street, and in the mens restroom, every movement on the parking garage below got my coplete attention. Through the tinted windows I could hear the director call “Stand By” and a few seconds later “Action”. As the car began to roll I fired both cameras simultaneously, and didn’t stop until I heard the car crash on the asphalt below. See the Sequence I guess there is something about dropping stuff off of high places that excites us as people, not to mention the fact that when the movie comes out, I can say “hey I saw that happen” and I have the pictures to prove it.


Sometimes the pictures you don’t take seriously are the ones you need to be taking…

Lately I’ve been taking my job a little to seriously, and it is becoming something I do to have an income, instead of something I love to do. But then again lately I’ve been taking life a little to seriously. I suppose that is the curse of making something that you love to do your career. In some ways its inevitable to just take something lightly as you get older, because you begin to realize that you need to be able to make a car payment, rent, insurance, food, etc… But when you worry about all of that stuff you tend to forget why you really started doing this in the first place. Perhaps its just time to stop taking everything so seriously, and start having fun again. Maybe then things will just fall into place. Who knows how everything will work out in the long run, and if we did know that… what would be the fun in living life. Its time to get up off of the couch and go explore the world, have some fun, and see what happens. Its time to take the point and shoot out, like I did at the beach the other day, because its more about the journey than the resullts. In that moment when I wasn’t thinking about shutter speeds, f-stops, and iso, so I get to remember the sunrise, instead of how I photographed the sunrise. I think the line from the movie is “Don’t take life to seriously, you’ll never get out alive.”