A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes the story, or part of the story, behind the picture goes untold. Get a glimpse behind the lens of the camera's unblinking eye.
Sports are a great place to capture emotion, especially in seasons like those produced by the Mukwonago basketball and wrestling teams this year. All it takes is sinking a shot at the halftime buzzer and the gymnasium explodes.
Or a hard-fought pin in a close meet
or a scramble for the ball on the basketball court.
While sports can provide great emotion and action, it can be a challenge to capture. Poorly lit gymnasiums pose the first problem, followed by slow lenses and/or poor flash capabilities, not to mention sports like gymnastics where no flash at all is allowed.
Freezing action at a fast shutter speed under low light with no flash has its own rewards when you nail a great shot and the athlete hangs suspended in air for photographic eternity.
While some of the challenge is dealt with in equipment - fast lenses, shutter speeds and ISO settings -even more comes in knowing the sport, anticipating the moment of peak action and being in the right place at the right time. One of the hardest moments to capture is a football kickoff return that results in a touchdown. If the photographer is waiting for hard hits where the ball is caught, being at the other end of the field to follow the receiver as he crosses the goal line isn't going to happen.
In gymnastics, knowing the routine of each gymnast helps to get them facing the camera when they leap across the floor. The best place on the floor for a basketball game is the sweet spot behind the net - until an official crosses in front of the camera and you end up with zebra stripes instead of the tie-breaking shot.
However, if you want lots of guaranteed emotion, train your lens on the student fan section. They never let photographers down when you need a sure fire image. Especially when they are trying to cast a spell on the opponent trying to help their team win a close game.
I don't get to photograph wildlife much since they rarely make headlines, don't end up in the police blotter and, quite frankly, who wants to see an animal that's been involved in an auto accident. Just this morning I watched a middle school girl gingerly swing a wide, icy circle around a dead possum lying in the middle of the road. However, you can always count on animals, geese in particular around here, in a pinch.
When news is slow and pages empty, I know exactly where to find geese - hanging around any body of water. While they pose very nicely in the sun, it doesn't take much to stir them up and move them into action.
While geese do have their naysayers because of the mess, wildlife and nature photography provides a pleasant calming change of pace from the usual hectic, deadline-paced world of journalism. Although peak action can be predicted, patience is a key element of any photography since we never know when the prime moment will occur to best capture the spirit of the occasion.
As I slowly approached the geese sitting along the Fox River in the Village of Waterford, one by one they started jumping in the freezing water, setting up what I knew would be a great shot. Focusing on each goose eyeing the water, hitting the shutter each time a bird took flight, I waited for the right combination of wings, water and air.
In the office we dubbed the goose Sam, since none of us knew if it was male or female. I shivered as Sam hit the water, since I was freezing standing on land - in the sunshine. But Sam helped us out, giving us a nice photo and offering me a change of pace. Next time I meet Sam I hope its warmer and without a deadline so I can stick around longer and enjoy the scenery.
Two kings sit at the corner of St. Pius Catholic Church on Grand Ave. in Mukwonago as they journey to the manger scene - kind of a skewed version of "we three kings of orient are," since the third king was taken from the nativity scene last year. Short of a fallen angel needing repair, the Mukwonago Lioness nativity has remained intact this Christmas season, having suffered theft of the baby Jesus twice in the past 10 years or so.
It makes me think nothing is sacred, if taking not only a king from a religious scene, but the figure that symbolizes "the reason for the season" is the source of someone's thrill. Is there no respect?
The kings in the St. Pius nativity stand behind a camel, probably wondering where their comrade has gone. The baby Jesus in the Lioness nativity, twice stolen, is now a doll donated by a friend of one of the members.
The people that put these nativity scenes up each year take great care and pride in creating a setting that reflects the meaning of the holiday season, sometimes following the Biblical timeline. To me it's sad that some don't have enough respect to honor certain traditions, whether they believe or follow it themselves.
There is little hope the kneeling king from the St. Pius nativity will ever return and it has been a struggle for the church to find a replacement. Unlike the infant figure in the Lioness nativity, a doll to substitute for a king is impossible to find.
Hopefully the sacrilege in the area will be replaced with tidings of comfort and joy for the future.
I have mixed feelings about Black Friday. While I enjoy a good bargain as much as anyone, the long lines winding through Mukwonago Wal-Mart - or any store that day - steal the true meaning of Christmas for me.
The lines were long, running from the front of the store to the back where clear wrapped pallets waited to be split open and contents loaded into the carts of eager shoppers. I did hear a rumor that there might have been a fight in the toy department earlier that evening when the first post-Thanksgiving sales event took place.
However, during the hour or so that I spent squeezing through throngs of people, the atmosphere was pleasant. Those waiting in line visited with their Black Friday neighbors and a cheer went up through the store when the magic hour for the next sales event brought out knives to slice through the plastic wrap and expose the coveted item.
People I talked to told me it was about the experience, although I think saving a chunk of money was more a motivating factor.
I pitied the poor lady standing in the long checkout line with a few grocery items covering the bottom of her cart. I enjoyed the spirit of the Carol and Ashley Phillips who pulled up chairs that wouldn't go on sale until later that day and waited until they could pay for their purchases as they kept in touch by phone with other family members price matching at another store. It was a family event and they good-naturedly allowed me to take their picture as they sat behind four shopping carts of merchandise.
While I don't like the materialistic nature of Black Friday, some of the stories I hear and witness put a little warm holiday feeling in my heart.
I've written plenty about Greg Stefanski being chosen for homecoming court, but I had to share this photo since it didn't make our print editions. The look on his and Sarah Neubauer's faces, framed around clapping hands and spotlights sums up the emotion of the once-in-a-lifetime moment.
It was a proud moment for Greg and his family. It was a proud moment for Best Buddies, only in its second year at Mukwongao High School. It was an especially proud moment for MHS as the student body rallied around their peer and lifted him to a level he probably never expected to reach.
An email circulated through the school district with a letter from a young woman who had been a penpal with Greg about three years ago. She commended the school, teachers, administration and students for their "wonderful, thoughtful, loving actions" for an "incredible young man with a remarkable sense of humor and a zest for life."
As the author of the letter stated, this moment in MHS history is an inspiration to students and schools across the nation.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but sometimes there are no words that can adequately define the moment capture in a photograph.
I never attended band camp - never even picked up an instrument until my daughter started violin lessons in fourth grade (she is now a mom and finishing her degree for nurse practitioner). Maybe that lack of musical experience explains my wonder and awe regarding the Phantom Legion marching band at Mukwonago High School.
Each year I cover the band during its summer camp as they begin the painstaking task of putting together a field show, I learn something new and my admiration for the dedication of the band members deepens as they endure sunburn and aching muscles.
This year, in true Hunger Games fashion, the Phantom Legion's show is titled, Band on Fire. Last month Mukwonago hosted Phantom Phest, a marching band competition. Every weekend since then, the band travels to competitions.
"The band is performing very well and students are feeling good about their success," director Josh Werner said. "The music is written by our director, Tom Gard, who has crafted two wonderful original works based on the Hunger Games novels as our theme."
Gard filled me in on one of the most exciting aspects of competitive marching - how much the show changes from the beginning of the season to the final performance at the state marching championships.
"Each competition, we present a show, listen to judge feedback, and then collaborate to make the show more effective for the next performance. Those revisions keep the show evolving, which means you will never see the same performance twice," Gard explained. "That also means that the kids have only a couple hours to re-learn all new parts each week, so the activity is challenging for students and staff through the whole season while it remains fresh and entertaining for the crowd."
Playing an instrument sitting in one spot is one thing, marching in specific patterns across a field, quite another. My wonder and awe seems to be justified.
Look for more Phantom Phest photos under staff photo galleries.
When I walked into the art room at Rolling Hills Elementary School, painted wooden pieces were spread across the floor waiting for assembly. I never knew Adirondack chairs could be purchased unassembled, let alone seeing the talents of all the art teachers in the Mukwonago Area School District culminate in one piece of furniture.
The project had been several months in the making as Rolling Hills art teacher Ashley Klug approached her colleagues in spring about painting the chair and donating it to the Mukwonago Education Foundation fundraising dinner auction this Sunday, Sept. 23 at the Broadlands Golf Club in North Prairie.
Each piece was a work of art by itself, beautifully painted, or in some cases drawn with black Sharpie, with amazing detail and much imagination.
As Gary Weiler, Klug, Marnie Phillips, Beth Engelking and Amy Kratochvil began assembling, a pattern emerged with black and white pieces contrasting colored pieces as the chair took shape.
I am a fan of Adirondack chairs and wished I was able to attend the fundraising event to bid on the chair. An administrator in the Kettle Moraine School District told me about artistically painted chairs that brought hundreds of dollars at recent foundation auctions. I could see the same happening here.
As the group finished the assembly, they made plans to rotate the chair to each school during the week, raising intrigue and showcasing the creativity of MASD art teachers. I wonder if I could commission any of them to make a chair like that for me.
Bill McKenzie was a North Prairie icon to me. When we first moved into the area in 1992 and built our house just south of North Prairie, we frequented Bill's Service often to get refreshments and even use the restrooms. Over the years, Bill's smiling face was always a welcome sight when stopping at the corner gas station.
The last time I saw Bill was when the Remembrance Rescue Project visited the North Prairie Fire Department in the beginning of August. He sat with his usual smile, holding his fire chief hat from his term as "temporary" fire chief for 10 years with the department.
He was a kind, sweet man; however, my acquaintance with Bill was minimal compared to some in North Prairie. While working on a story about Bill after he passed away, Village Trustee Donna Samuels sent her memories of Bill, which unfortunately reached me after deadline.
Here are the thoughts Donna shared with me:
"I knew Bill more from a business man perspective than anything. Most people who lived in North Prairie for any period of time knew who Bill is. You would always see him walking in town..to church, the post office, the village hall, to and from work. That to me was his trademark....he was always on the go. He would greet people as they came in and out of his station/store, stock the shelves, clean the floors in winter, pick up and empty the trash inside and outside. He always wanted to present his business in the best light he could and that reflected in what he did and how he went about his business. He was always cordial and fair minded to all, from what I know.
I also had the opportunity to serve with Bill on the Community Development Authority (CDA) in North Prairie. We had very few meetings during that time but I do always recall Bill having concern for what would be in the best interest of our Village. He greatly cared about this community, was always willing to donate his time as well as money for the Village and village functions/causes. This is true for both Bill and his wife, Avis.
I hadn't seen him walking around town much over the past couple of years and it just didn't feel right. You could always say hi and wave and receive the same in return as if he were the village greeter and ambassador. For those who knew Bill and have been in the community for many years its as if a long standing tradition, or landmark (if you will) is now missing."
There is something I have always loved about the beginning of school (and it wasn't the fact that my kids would be out of the house during the day). I always liked that fresh beginning, that new perspective, the brighter outlook that accompanied a new school year, along with the kids' thrills and excitement of being back among peers.
The look on Kettle Moraine High School freshman Jose Regalado's face captures that wonder and awe as he was one of the first few to emerge from the human tunnel welcoming freshmen to the first day of high school.
When I arrived at KMHS that first day, freshmen filled the hall outside the gymnasium. I didn't get to see their faces when the pounding started on the doors as the welcoming team signaled its readiness to begin the freshman orientation.
One by one, freshman students popped out of the tunnel surrounded by the booming beat of the KM drum line. If they weren't awake before, the drum line shook the last vestiges of sleep from their system. Some emerged from the tunnel dazed, some timid, some smiling, some, like Jose, ready to take it all in.
I don't remember my first day of high school, but I am certain it didn't involve drums or human tunnels or blaring music or anything remotely fun or upbeat. I hope Jose and the rest of the freshmen, whether high school or college, embrace the awe of a new experience and the wonder of the journey they have started.
The Challenge Day events are over, yet the real challenge still lies ahead at Mukwonago High School as the work begins to "be the change" that MHS needs to end bullying, discrimination, gossiping, intolerance, apathy and hidden pressures that keep teens from feeling loved, accepted and celebrated.
Since last year when I covered Challenge Day at the Phantom Lake YMCA Camp, I knew it was an amazing event that could change lives. When I signed up to take part in one of the day sessions this year, people told me I would love it, but I would be exhausted. They were right.
Being asked to step out of your box of comfort for an adult (for the sake of the teenage participants) can be tiring. Watching teens melt at the realization of the suffering they endure and being helpless to do no more than lend a consoling hug or touch on the arm is emotionally exhausting. As an adult, I would rather endure any pain and suffering if it would save a child from the same, however, life doesn't work that way. It can't work that way, for every diamond must endure flames and pressure to become that precious gem.
While I remember getting picked on as a kid, it was nothing compared to what some of these kids "crossed the line" for on Challenge Day. I went home to loving, healthy parents in a secure home environment. There was no abuse, no drugs, no alcoholism, no violence.
What we can do besides trying to break down the barriers of bullying and intolerance (for it will always exist to some extent since we are human), is give kids the tools to survive and to let them know that they are unique, they are special, they are valuable and they are loved. That's what Challenge Day is all about.
I saw many kids I know cry over things they thought didn't bother them. They had buried themselves behind everyday activities, which allowed them to stay afloat in life. We all know stuff happens and the only way to continue is to walk over that stuff or plow through it as best we can.
Challenge Day showed everyone at MHS that they are not alone in their miseries of life. It brought everyone together through tears and hugs, through shared stories and shared sorrows. It showed students and staff alike that even the weakest among us sheds tears, hurts and triumphs despite everything.
In the dimly lit gymnasium, the school united at one of its weakest moments and all took comfort knowing pain is part of life, healing can happen and hope can start with the first person willing to make a change for the better.
For years I have heard stories of bullying and intolerance in the school district, yet many didn't seem to realize that perhaps this is bigger than "getting picked on" that some recall from childhood, but when is any intolerance not a big deal? When I talked to kids and saw the masks they hid behind to get through the day or heard the pain they dealt with at home and tried to push aside while at school, my heart tore a little more with each story. Now I stood and watched healing and my heart began to mend.
For those who did not experience the excitement of the Mukwonago Varsity Dance team's fundraising event, Dancing With Our Stars on Jan. 7, you missed an entertaining evening. The entire event is impressive involving weeks of choreography, teaching, rehearsals and planning.
I have the opportunity to see the varsity dance team in action occasionally while covering basketball games and sometimes in passing through the high school during a team practice. Every time the dancers march onto the gym floor during halftime, I can't help but be impressed with their athleticism, rhythm and skill.
That talent is highlighted during Dancing With Our Stars as senior dancers choreograph and teach a local "celebrity" (teacher, police officer, library director, etc.) a dance that is then performed before judges. The top five come back on stage to perform a second time before the crowd approval is recorded on the "applause-o-meter" and scores are recalculated to determine the winner.
My favorite photo from the event came after Cassie Zielinski, Jeremiah Chitwood and his son Hayden danced to "Footloose," which caused the auditorium to explode in applause. The trio waited anxiously, locking hands, watching the judges as they revealed a perfect score. There was little doubt in my mind that the trio would win the competition.
The amount of preparation that goes into the event to make it a polished evening of quality entertainment is evident especially as videos created during rehearsals for each couple are played before the performances. Equally impressive is the talent of the dancers not only in dancing but in choreographing a captivating routine and successfully guiding their partner through learning each step, shimmy and swagger. The event certainly cemented my admiration of the young dancers even more so than their awe-inspiring routines during halftime.
I’ve been behind the scenes for many plays and musicals, but I have to admit, when I visited David Popp and Ingrid Hanson-Popp’s home in Waterford, it was my first time backstage with puppets. Actually, there really was no backstage, unless you counted the fireplace and kitchen hidden behind the backdrop that transformed their living room into a puppet theater. While the staging area was somewhat cramped, it didn’t hamper anyone’s passion for the work they were undertaking.
That’s what struck me the most as I watched rehearsing and filming for The Fred and Susie Show – adults completely engrossed and enthralled with producing quality, Christian shows for children. They sat, scrunched on crates, arms sticking in the air, watching their movements – which were all reversed in the monitor – running through lines to match the puppet’s mouth movement to the voice.
On the evening I was there, they were minus two of their members, one who helps with the puppets’ hand movements. Two people to animate one puppet in an area about as small as a work cubicle – this was a labor of love.
When I talked to the show’s “talent,” Jill Kossow, the only person that appears in the show, she was a bundle of energy bursting at the seams as she raced through lines for their third DVD. She had to slow down as she said her lines since puppeteer Craig Schneider couldn’t make the stiff-mouthed puppet move fast enough to keep up with her.
Jill’s regular job is as an elementary teacher, but she had also performed in musicals. Her elementary education background makes her the perfect person for making sure the script is at a kid level, but not dummied down so much that adults won’t enjoy watching the shows with their kids.
Everyone who is part of the Fred and Susie show brings something from their day jobs to the productions, as well as hobbies and passions. From graphic design to song writing, puppet making, web design and marketing, everything is pulled together to make their final product.
I guess I never gave much thought to children’s shows even though growing up my kids watched Sesame Street, which sparked David’s interest in children’s productions. As adults, I think we forget how much work and planning go into quality programming, but we are quick to pull the plug on the shows we don’t deem fit for kid’s consumption.
Watching the crew in action, I could see how the show consumed their attention and energy, not only that night as they filmed, but the days between rehearsals as they worked on the plan of action that would hopefully find the show on television some day.
When I volunteered to do a photo blog, my first thoughts were what if I don’t cover anything interesting enough for blogging? Then I got the word about a mock crash at Kettle Moraine High School, complete with Flight For Life, the medical examiner and a student leaving in a body bag. My interest was piqued.
- Sports freeze frames (0)
- Focusing on fine, feathered friends (0)
- Nativity sacrilege (1)
- Black Friday magic (1)
- An indefinable moment at Mukwonago High School (0)
- Music on the move with Phantom Legion (0)
- Work of art in the shape of a chair (0)
- Remembering Bill (0)
- Wonder and awe of the first day of school (0)
- A challenge to change the world (0)
- More The Camera's Eye posts