If At First You Don’t Succeed…

Mercersburg DustJacket

This is a ‘re-do’ of a previous post, with a few changes and additions…. the lead-in picture was not included in the original post.  This photo was used as the wrap-around dust jacket for the book.  They almost rejected the image because they thought that I had moved buildings and mountains around in post-processing, but when I showed the exact spot from which I shot this, it became an, “oh…never mind” situation…

Grab a cup of coffee…this might take a minute…

These photos were taken on a ‘road trip’  ostensibly to record as many sporting events as possible at an exclusive private prep/boarding school during “Parents’ Weekend” in a delightful, small Pennsylvania town with a wonderfully colorful history.

(They had me at ‘Jimmy Stewart went to high school here’!)

My assignment was to cover Football, Cross-country, boys and girls Soccer, Swimming, Lacrosse, Tiddly-Winks, (not really, but they do participate in 28 sports…)

…whatever I could find that was happening at this bastion of athletics and learning.

A brief synopsis would include that this institution had produced some 54 Olympians, ( 9 Gold medal winners), 4 Medal-of-Honor recipients, a Nobel prize laureate in Physics, literary notables (…ever read The Black Stallion ?, amongst others…), 7 Rhodes scholars, 2 Academy awards, governors, ambassadors, television producers, a President’s son (Coolidge) etc…..

and at least one President of a South American nation.

So, my assignment was to capture the camaraderie,…the Pride…the youthful spirit…sportsmanship…tradition… along with the action, for a ‘coffee-table’ book to entice prospective students and to inspire patrons.

Nobody said anything about the rain…

the incessant rain…

the four days of rain….

from dawn till dusk….

and from dusk till dawn.

Oh, I managed to photograph football, field hockey, cross-country, boys and girls soccer, swimming…

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I shot from a golf cart…

Or while under an umbrella…

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sometimes with a fill flash protected by a white  plastic grocery sack…which also doubled as a diffuser (I still haven’t figured out what happened to my Zero candy bar, but I appreciated the plastic bag and used it above and beyond mere ‘recycling’)CrossCountry  A lr

I shot…and shot, and slogged around in the mire,

and after 3 days I thought,

“I’ve got NOTHING! How can I justify my spent time?”

(And… “Do cameras get moldy?”)

I have already been excessively ‘wordy’ so I’ll try to keep from making a short story long…    (too late, right?!)

During one of the particularly nasty days as I was shooting archival materials in the upper floor of the school library overlooking the grounds and chapel, I beseechingly peered from an upper window, praying for sunlight to cast some illumination for the grinding, albeit water-logged competition on the various fields of athletic endeavor….

and begging for a reprieve, I mused aloud,

“I have this picture in my head of 10 or 12 students with school umbrellas, meandering up the serpentine walk towards the chapel.”

Now, here’s the most important part of this story.

The archivist, Jay,

(who was providing me with some incredible memorabilia. They have a 16 inch diameter ball of string that a student in the ‘30s created using the collected strings that were tied around his 4 years of dry-cleaning packages. His family told the school, “We don’t know what to do with it, so now it’s YOURS!”)

Anyway, Jay simply said,

” Well,… if you see it in your mind, you should probably just do it!”

I’m sorry but I feel the need to repeat those words.

“…if you see it in your mind, you should probably just do it!”

Simple, succinct, and motivational in a way that’s beyond what I am usually capable of convincing myself….(read “The War of Art” for a further explanation of the Resistance that has formerly entrapped me…And still tries to grab for my attention.)

I gathered the umbrellas from the bookstore, requisitioned walkie-talkies from Security and stopped every student I came across and asked them to show up at the location right after the chapel service…and “…bring your friends! You’ll all be in The book!”  I was, more than once, looked at ‘askance’, so I asked twice as many students as I actually needed, trying to cover my bases.

First, chapel .

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Rainy outside, no problem, relax, enjoy the quiet dignity…the ‘inner’ light…

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Then, when I stepped outside, had I been in a movie I would have heard the angel choir heralding the brilliant sunshine…..

My prayers had been answ………?

Wait a minute…..the sun comes out NOW…?!

After I planned on the rain?

And where are the students?

No rain, no students, no photo, or at least not the one that I had imagined…

I lined up the umbrellas on the sidewalk and waited.

Two girls finally showed up and I decided I would just move them around via walkie-talkie and do multiple exposures to be layered together in post-production.

One girl said, “We’ll go to the cafeteria and bring some people.” And off they ran…as the clouds began swirling back around.

I’m thinking, “I’ll never see them again!!!”

But, they came back with friends in tow and a grand ten minutes before they all had to again disperse.  (Most of them mumbling, “Now what…? What are we doing?  My parents are waiting for me…”)  I handed one girl a walkie-talkie and ran up the stairs to where the camera was already set up and locked in.

The sun disappeared  and I was able to produce the photo that I had envisioned, and was even able to add a little homage to Cartier-Bresson via …well, see for yourself…

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Immediately after we had finished, the Sun broke through ‘for good’ and I shot and shot and shot until there was no more light,

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and then I shot the dark..

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Moral of the story:

I dunno,

“Good things come to those who wait” ?

“Be careful what you wish for” ?

“Play the hand that you are dealt”?

or maybe it’s the one I remember hearing from the neighborhood boys before I even started school…

“If at first you don’t succeed,

Keep on sucking till you do suc-ceed!”

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~ by rkpowers on March 11, 2014.

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