The past few weeks have been pretty hectic for Andrew and I. That being said, we are hoping to wrap up filming for The Sickness in the next few days.
Wes is one of our main subjects in the film. He just got out of rehab, and is 19 days clean today. I went to get a coffee and bagel with him, and showed him our trailer for the first time on my iPhone. He was quick to share his thoughts:
“Instead of like those abrupt changes, you should make it fade in and out of black more. Also I think you need more depressing music.”
It sounds like we should hire him as an editor for the film.
Sometime in December, Sam Maller, the photo editor at the Daily Orange, asked me if I would be willing to shoot a story on the Syracuse Marching Band’s trip to the Super Bowl.
"Does that mean that I will be going to the Super Bowl?" I asked.
He did in fact already have press credentials ready to go, and the only reason he wasn’t taking the story himself was because he would be photographing the Syracuse/Duke game the night before. Fair enough.
Fast forward to the morning of Monday, February 3, and my story is being printed as I sleep for the first time in 28 hours. The story focused on the Marching Band’s road to the Super Bowl, and it can be seen here.
My experience, however, is as follows:
After watching the Duke game with my father and celebrating Syracuse’s victory with him afterwards, I got into bed around midnight. I woke up two and a half hours later to go to the Carrier Dome where the Marching Band was loading their instruments onto a truck. I had been to a few practices before the weekend, but they weren’t quite comfortable with me shoving a camera in their faces - especially at 3 o’clock in the morning.
On the bus, I got some pretty lousy sleep - if you can even call it sleep. But I did get a couple of nice early-morning photos of the band sleeping in pre-dawn light. It occurred to me how used to these bus rides the band members are. I was sitting next to the baton-twirler, and she told me that she had been twirling since she was four years old. Most of these kids had been taking bus rides like this at least since they were in high school. That’s also when I realized how important this game was for them. It would be the last performance for many of the senior’s band careers. Although a bit clichéd, “Once in a lifetime” became the theme of the entire story. Come editing time, I would stand behind it as a headline for the story.
After practice at Rutgers, another theme became incredibly clear throughout the day: “Hurry up and wait.” It was almost comical how they had planned to shuttle 400 kids to multiple stops along the way to the Super Bowl to feed the band, get them credentialed and prepared for their police escort. The band kids will be the first to admit that they are a pretty goofy bunch, but I had never realized how downright funny they are. I was with the drumline and the color guard for most of the trip, and they were constantly cracking loud, usually raunchy jokes among the likes of policeman, Super Bowl officials and conductors. They fed off of each other’s enthusiasm and I don’t think that it was caused by game day hype.
Once at the Super Bowl, excitement was at an all time high. These kids don’t just have a pride in the colors they wear on their uniforms. They are really good at what they do – there is a reason they were chosen to play at the Super Bowl. After finishing their warm ups and tuning, they continued playing songs in the parking lot with incredible enthusiasm. I even started feeling proud for being an Orangeman, and anyone who knows me will attest to the fact that I am not the biggest sports fan – I haven’t been in the Otto’s Army student section since Freshman year.
The next “hurry up and wait” moment came when we were ushered into the tunnels of MetLife Stadium. The band had quieted down as we were surrounded by security and Super Bowl support staff. Somebody said “excuse me” after I stepped in front of them to take a photograph. I stepped aside and ignored their presence, still shooting. A passerby informed me that I had just cut off Kevin Bacon on his way through the tunnels.
At the mouth of the field we were able to catch glimpses of the refs on their way to the locker rooms as the Seattle kickers were finishing their warm-ups on the field. You could feel the crowd from where we were standing, not just from their cheers, but from the enormous presence of 80,000 people buzzing around a field that I happened to be standing on. Before I knew it, we were sprinting onto the field. I was surrounded by professional photographers with enormous 400 mm lenses and tan vests. They were surrounding some dude in a ridiculous fur jacket – later I found out that he was an old Jets quarter back who did the coin toss. Again, I’m not the biggest sports fan. Sorry, not sorry.
The sound that exploded from the band was nothing short of amazing. My description in the Daily Orange about their notes overtaking the crowd was an understatement. I have never photographed in a more pressured situation. I quickly realized that I would not have the luxury of time to shoot like I did during their practices, I could only nail a couple of shots. All of the sudden they were sprinting off the field, I found myself smiling in awe of what I had just been able to photograph. While this was a once in a lifetime experience for the band, I hope to find myself at the Super Bowl again, except next time with the luxury of being able to photograph the actual game.
On the bus ride home, I had one of those great reaffirming moments where I knew that this is what I want to be doing. The members of the band had allowed me into one of the most important part of their lives. Phrases along the lines of, “I get to tell my kids that I performed at the Super Bowl,” were muttered all the way home. I got to challenge myself to photograph their journey and witness an emotional roller coaster of a day. Most importantly, I have been thanked by many of the band members personally, even though most of them didn’t get their faces in my final take. It was well worth the late night edit.
During the last night that I spent in Boulder before returning to Syracuse, my friend Keelan invited me to his friend’s family Fireball party. He showed me some pictures from last year’s party and it looked to me like a bunch of people just ran around kicking and throwing a flaming soccer ball. That isn’t far from what it turned out to be.
The party was at a big family farm. It started in the barn with good food and conversation. After everybody finished eating, the father gathered everyone around to explain the game.
1. If you are playing the game, you are putting yourself at risk.
2. If somebody falls down by the ball, stop playing and let them get up. Otherwise they might get fire kicked into their face.
3. Kerosene burns at a relatively low temperature. That being said, if you hold the ball more than a few seconds after it starts to hurt, you will get second degree burns. More than a few seconds after that, you will get third degree burns.
4. The object of the game is to get the ball into the other team’s goal.
That was about it. Everybody broke up into two teams and somebody lit the ball on fire, which was actually a giant cloth knot that had been soaked in kerosene
After that, all that I saw happen was a frenzied mob of people moving around a flaming ball. Once in awhile the ball would be picked up and thrown in the air or kicked further than three feet.Eventually, some of the action turned into goal scoring and some footwork and ball movement that slightly resembled team soccer with a flaming ball. I heard a few people shout “OW” after holding the ball for too long.I realized that the ball was actually getting smaller as the fabric continued to burn away. Eventually it was the size of a baseball and people began hurling it the entire length of the field. The ball finally disintegrated, signifying the end of the game.Everybody gathered around to compare burn marks. A lot of people had black hands, some rubbed off the singed ends of their hair from their head.Others came away with black burn marks on their face. I will admit that it looked like a lot of fun - albeit insane. Apparently the game is an adaption of an old Native American coming of age tradition. Looks to me like an excuse to act like barbarians for awhile. I’m ok with that.
Doctor of Osteopathy Joseph Cohen gives recommendations for medical marijuana treatments to patients with a wide array of medical disorders. Even though recreational marijuana has recently become legal and available to the public, Cohen says that he has seen no decrease in medical marijuana license applications.
Just like last year, I spent my last day in Steamboat Springs at the Winter Driving Course with my friend Kubo, who is now working to become an instructor at the school. His friend TJ took us out in his Miata and they took turns driving while I photographed and took a few laps in shotgun.
Catwalk to East Face, Steamboat Ski Resort
Over Thanksgiving Break I was lucky enough to go home to Colorado to see my family and enjoy the beautiful weather out there. I also worked on a portrait series that I hope to continue over Winter Break. I want to show who is still involved in the medical aspect of marijuana as it is legalized for recreational use in Colorado.
Voters in the state of Colorado passed Amendment 20 in 2000, legalizing limited amounts of medical marijuana for patients and their primary caregivers. According to the Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry, patients with “qualifying, debilitating medical conditions” can obtain identification cards for legal access to the drug. Despite the passage of Amendment 64 in 2013, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana, many patients are still renewing their medical licenses.
"Marijuana… that works for me. It puts me in a better place mentally," says Charles Krushinski, who has multiple sclerosis which has caused complete paralysis in his right leg. Krushinski, 52, doesn’t like the side effects that his other prescribed pain medications give him, so he uses medical marijuana as a substitute.
Ryan May has had his medical marijuana license, or “red card,” for two years. He uses marijuana to treat the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), commonly known as acid reflux, which include nausea and loss of appetite. May, 26, sits in the Terrapin Dispensary waiting room in Boulder, Colo.
Zane Tumia smokes a pipe specially made for burning butane hash oil. Tumia, 22, broke his finger playing basketball, which resulted in having to undergo two surgeries and extensive physical therapy. He still can’t bend his finger. As an avid writer and basketball player, he uses marijuana to treat the pain associated with the old injury.
Andrea Sobel has been working in the medical marijuana industry for six months and is in the process of getting her own medical marijuana license to treat her depression. Combined with exercise, she claims that marijuana is the best anti-depressant that she has tried, including various combinations of prescription medication and therapy. Sobel, 22, works at the Terrapin dispensary in Boulder, Colo.
Leigh Collings is a geriatric care manager and a medical marijuana caregiver. Collings, 67, has a special license to purchase and transport medical marijuana for a homebound client, but she does not use marijuana herself.
Kyle Raddatz is the general manager at Green Dream Health Services dispensary in Boulder, Colo., which caters predominantly to 30-50 year olds. Raddatz, 27, has been working at the dispensary for almost two years and has a medical license himself to treat back pain from two herniated disks.
Doris Foster has pain in her knees caused by pinched nerves in her lower back. Foster, 94, takes drops of hemp oil on her tongue from a strain of marijuana with none of the psychoactive THC, but is high in Cannabidiol (CBD). This allows her to benefit from the pain relief of medical marijuana without experiencing the typical effects associated with a smoker’s high. Foster lives in an independent living facility in Boulder, Colo., and has had her medical marijuana license for five months.
I’m excited to continue photographing for this project. I hope to incorporate photographs of greenhouse growers as well as doctors who support marijuana as a treatment for the side effects of certain illnesses and other prescription drugs.