The UConn women won their eighth national championship earlier this month in New Orleans when they crushed rival Notre Dame, 83-65 in the semi-final and rolled over Louisville, 93-60, in the title game. They made it look easy in the Big Easy. They were led by freshman wunderkind Breanna Stewart, affectionately known as “Stewie” who was named the tournament Most Outstanding Player after scoring a total of 52 points over the two games. But the victory was truly a team effort. They were unstoppable.
Covering the Final Four was exhilarating and exhausting at the same time. It was a whirlwind of events starting with the Parade of Teams to kick off the weekend. Then the real work began with shooting team practices, press conferences, autograph-signing sessions, locker room scenes, the high school All America game, both semi-final games, more press conferences, and finally the big game.
Here is a sampling of some of my favorite images from the tournament.
Morgan Tuck, Breanna Stewart, Kiah Stokes, and Moriah Jefferson get into the spirit of the Big Easy all dressed up complete with feather boas in the Parade of Teams at Mardi Gras World Friday night where the four teams were introduced to fans.
Stefanie Dolson shoots a layup during an open practice at the New Orleans Arena the day before taking on Notre Dame in a semi-final game.
Associate head coach Chris Dailey sets a light-hearted mood during practice.
Skylar Diggins and the Irish looked relaxed and confident as they posed for a team photo at their open practice the day before the semi-final game.
Back in the locker room after practice, Stefanie Dolson removes an ice pack from her right leg which was healing from a stress fracture.
Breanna Stewart playfully tickles Chris Dailey as she is interviewed in the locker room after practice.
Moriah Jefferson reacts to a card delt while playing UNO with Morgan Tuck and Brianna Banks and Heather Buck (off camera), a locker room ritual for the group.
The team holds an autograph session for the legions of loyal fans who made the trip to New Orleans to cheer on their Huskies.
UConn’s Kelly Faris was instrumental in keeping Skylar Diggins away from the ball as the two former high school opponents from Indiana faced off.
Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw takes issue with a ref’s call in the second half as UConn pulls away.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis showed off her considerable skills adding 16 points against the Irish.
Caroline Doty shows why she’s the emotional leader for the Huskies as she leaps for joy as a teammate scores in the second half.
Stefanie Dolson battles Notre Dame’s Kayla McBride for a loose ball. McBride was the high scorer for the Irish with 16 points, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Huskies stifling defense.
UConn head coach Geno Auriemma directs his squad as they hold off Notre Dame.
Bria Hartley drives to the hoop as Skylar Diggins defends. Hartley scored 15 points in the game.
UConn fan Liz Manning cheers as the Huskies roll over Notre Dame.
As the clock winds down, Notre Dame’s Kayla McBride and Skylar Diggins can only watch as their 30-game winning streak comes to an end.
The New Orleans Arena fills up as UConn and Louisville warm up before playing in the national championship.
Stefanie Dolson gets a mouthful of fingers from Louisville’s Bria Smith in the first half of the championship game. Dolson played through pain from a stress fracture throughout the tournament but managed 12 points and 6 rebounds in the game.
The Huskies, feeling the momentum building, celebrate after Breanna Stewart was fouled on a play.
Breanna Stewart dominated the game with 23 points and 9 rebounds.
Louisville head coach Jeff Walz gets in Shoni Schimmel’s face as UConn has it’s way with her in the championship game.
A highlight of the game came late in the second half when senior Heather Buck stole the ball from a Louisville player and scored on the fast break.
Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis cuts the last piece of one of the nets after UConn won the national championship.
Former UConn greats Maya Moore, Kalana Greene and Mel Thomas watch the celebration from the stands. Heather Buck’s Dad, David, is at left.
The Huskies hoist the championship trophy for the fans to see.
The team carries coach Geno Auriemma across the floor after UConn won their eighth national championship, tying Pat Summit’s record at Tennessee.
“My fundamental belief is that we are all the same as human beings. We don’t need an introduction when we meet because we are mentally, physically, emotionally the same. I find this is a very helpful way of thinking. Whether I’m speaking to 1000 people or 100,000, there are no barriers between us.” The Dalai Lama.
I was thrilled to be assigned to cover His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet when he spoke last week at Western Connecticut State University. Presented by WCSU and Do Ngak Kunphen Ling Tibetan Buddhist Center for Universal Peace in nearby Redding, the Dalai Lama spoke on “The Art of Compassion.”
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, the Dalai Lama’s teachings on compassion, religious tolerance and peace serve as a beacon of hope in our chaotic, combative world. The 77-year-old Buddhist monk has lived in exile in India since 1959 after fleeing China’s military occupation of Tibet. The Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader travels the globe promoting a range of human values such as compassion, forgiveness, tolerance, contentment and self-discipline.
Reporter Kathy Megan and I were assigned to cover the first of two talks His Holiness gave at the school. After applying for credentials, we were emailed detailed instructions about parking, time of arrival, restrictions on food and drink and general protocol. When we arrived, we were subjected to a security screening that rivaled a presidential visit, with an arrival deadline a full four hours prior to the speech and a sweep of our equipment by a Ct. state police bomb-sniffing dog prior to entering the arena.
Once inside, the media were corralled into an area in a corner of the arena far from the stage. There was no riser, as is normally provided for such events, so we were forced to shoot from floor level, frequently blocked by latecomers heading to their seats.
After a few minutes of chanting by a group of Buddhist monks, the Dalai Lama – which means “Ocean of Wisdom” – emerged from a curtain behind the stage draped in crimson and saffron-colored robes, and took a seat in a large throne-like chair in the center of the stage. After welcoming remarks from WCSU president James Schmotter, and an introduction by actor Richard Gere, a long-time disciple, the Dalai Lama began his talk at a plexi-glass podium – sporting a WCSU visor – with his interpreter by his side.
The still photographers and videographers were split into two groups, and escorted in turn up to the stage for one minute – yes, only one minute! – at the start of the Dalai Lama’s talk to get some close-ups. Then we were returned to the “corral” for the duration. With limited shooting opportunities, I took comfort in at least being able to hear the talk, but the acoustics in our corner of the room were such that the Dalai Lama was difficult to hear.
After his talk, His Holiness took pre-recorded questions from WCSU students for a few minutes before exiting through the blue curtain.
But difficulties and restrictions aside, It was an amazing experience to have even a brief close encounter with such a revered and awe-inspiring man.
In anthropological terms, photojournalists are akin to hunter-gatherers. We hunt for and gather pictures to feed the eternally hungry pages of the newspaper, not unlike a growing child, and their voraciously hungry teenage brother, the web.
We are always on the prowl, even when we’re not working. We’re always searching, eyes darting from side to side as we cruise around the state, ready to hit the brakes when something catches our eye, something pixel-worthy. This is a skill that has been passed down through generations. My first week on the job at the Courant, in pre-historic times 25 years ago, I was sent out on an instructional foray with the intrepid photographer Dan Haar (who has since given up the hunter-gatherer lifestyle for a more predictable desk job as business editor and columnist) as my guide. Dan taught me valuable skills that I employ to this day, like how to multi-task while scouring the burbs for feature photos. I learned how to avoid hitting objects like mail boxes, pets and small children while driving and simultaneously turning my head from side to side tenaciously browsing the bushes for movement and signs of life. After grabbing sandwiches at a local deli, Dan taught me how to eat and drive while steering with my knees, tirelessly scanning the passing landscape for prey. And he taught me to economize by demonstrating how to shoot an assignment AND an enterprise photo all on one roll of film (yes, film. Remember that?)
The urge to hunt and gather is so powerful, we even do it unconsciously. When we’re at an assignment and should be concentrating on the subject matter, our eyes are always searching, scanning, easily distracted by unusual visual stimulus. Recently, while photographing the Bristol Eastern High School graduation on a steamy June evening, my eyes kept drifting over to a sprinkler at the edge of the football field, the setting sun illuminating the water with a gorgeous golden glow. Suddenly, a little girl, too distracted by the summer heat to watch her sister graduate, wandered over to the sprinkler to cool off. I crouched, I framed, I focused, I waited, and at last I captured my prey.
On a warm morning in May as I was getting ready to leave for work, I noticed a male Bluebird sitting atop my bird feeder. I waited inside and watched him hop from the feeder, which is next to my driveway, onto the edge of my car window near the side rearview mirror. He kept jumping off the window ledge and hovering in front of the mirror, flapping his wings and tapping it with his feet, before coming back to rest. He repeated this several times. I quietly snuck outside, grabbed my camera and a long lens from my trunk, found a good position a few feet down my driveway, and waited. He flew off into the nearby tree when he spotted me, but came back a minute later to resume his attack. He continued for several minutes as I fired away.
A few days earlier I had heard a segment on NPR’s Birdnote Moment about this very behavior when birds see their reflection in a mirror or window. The segment explained that the birds think the reflection is an intruder moving in on their breeding territory and they try to scare it off. Birders recommend that if you see this response, known as “battering robin syndrome,” that you cover the reflective surface that causes the bird to feel threatened, as some birds will do it to exhaustion. To read more about this fascinating avian behavior, read the transcript of the Birdnote installment by Frances Wood: http://www.birdnote.org/show/american-robin-valiant-challenger
Coincidently, Courant photographer Michael McAndrews found an identical situation in a parking lot at Riverside Park in Glastonbury this week, but with a male Cardinal on the offensive. “I immediately thought of your picture,” McAndrews said when he told me about his find. “This bird was pretty messed up because he had so many cars to choose from,” he said. The Cardinal was flitting back and forth attacking his reflection in multiple car mirrors. He finally gave up the fight after several cars left.
This is the latest installment in an occasional series, Spirit of a Century, profiling centenarians in Connecticut. We profile Thurston Couser, of Hartford.
Thurston Couser has no regrets. At 100, he is satisfied with his life and wouldn’t change a thing.
“If I had a second time to go around I’d want everything the same — same family, same job, and I’d still leave school at 15,” he said. “I had two weeks of high school and said ‘that’s enough.’”
“But the wild things cried, “Oh please don’t go – we’ll eat you up – we love you so!”
And Max said, “No!”
The wild things roared their terrible roars and gnashed their terrible teeth and rolled their terrible eyes and showed their terrible claws but Max stepped into his private boat and waved goodbye.”
from “Where the Wild Things Are,” by Maurice Sendak
I was fortunate to be assigned to photograph renowned children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak at his Ridgefield home in 2006 to accompany a story being written by Courant arts writer Frank Rizzo in advance of the children’s opera ”Brundibar,” in which he collaborated, to be presented in New Haven. Sendak died this week at age 83 in Danbury after suffering a stroke. He leaves behind a body of work that will leave indelible marks on generations of children. His iconic “Where the Wild Things Are” is at once strange and captivating. I always marveled at the “monsters” he drew that blurred the line between fear and fascination, revulsion and charm. When my son, Will, was little, I read “Where the Wild Things Are” to him dozens of times. I always imagined a little bit of Max in Will, and how perhaps he related to Max’s escape to the land of the wild things after being scolded. Here are a few of my favorite images from my brief time with the late, great Maurice Sendak.
The interchange for I-91 and I-95 in New Haven has been a mess for a long time. It seems like the area has been under construction for our entire lives. Making my way to the top of one of the concrete piers allowed me to get an idea of what is actually happening there. The climb inside the narrow column was difficult but the when I emerged from the top, the view was worth it. Looking at the new “Q” bridge, the old bridge and the city of New Haven from 75 feet brought the massive project into focus. Now it makes sense. The new bridge is nearing completion and traffic should be routed onto it by this summer. Then the old bridge will be demolished in stages and another bridge matching the new one will be built in it’s place creating ultimately ten lanes of traffic in both directions. Traffic has to continue flowing during the years of construction making the construction a complex puzzle. The entire project should be completed by 2015.
It was my good fortune recently to be given an assignment to photograph veteran jazz pianist Emery Smith at his home in Hartford’s Blue Hills neighborhood. The assignment requested a portrait of Mr. Smith to go with a story running April 22 in the Arts section in advance of his appearance in the Baby Grand Piano series at the Hartford Public Library on April 29. Upon my arrival at his modest Cape on a quiet street, I had to knock a few times before he heard me since he was inside playing piano at the time. When he came to the door, he greeted me warmly and invited me in. I asked him where his piano was. He led me to a small room where his baby grand sat snuggly surrounded by shelves of books, knick knacks, and stereo equipment. Although the assignment asked for a portrait, I asked him if he wouldn’t mind sitting down to play while I took pictures. I don’t necessarily think a portrait has to have the subject sitting staring into the lens. Some of the best portraits capture the subject working their craft. Smith willingly obliged and as I began setting up lights he started playing a string of jazz numbers that delighted and soothed me as I worked. The room was a challenge, and its cramped space left me little room to work with. I tried several angles to see what worked best. The problem: how to eliminate some of the room clutter to make Smith stand out without losing all the ambiance. I started with one light with a small soft box on the other side of the room. I liked the way the light skimmed Smith’s face and lit his hands, but I would need a higher angle to avoid my light.
I started moving the light back toward the side wall to get better illumination on Smith’s face, but lost light on his hands in the process. In order to avoid the bookshelves behind his head, I had to take a lower vantage point, but still needed to move the light back further behind the piano top.
Now the soft box was hidden, but it was illuminating the rest of the room too much. And I still had to add light to Smith’s hands.
I added a second light fitted with a grid and a snoot to direct the light onto Smith’s hands. As it was, I was shooting from a tight corner with no room to maneuver, and I had to place the light just to my right, up against the wall. I wanted the viewer’s eye to go to Smith’s face and hands, rather than to the surroundings. I also thought darker tones would better fit the subject, since when I think of jazz, I think of a dimly lit, smoky room. But there was still too much light spilling into the room from the soft box, now at a 90 degree angle to Smith.
By replacing the softbox on my main light with a snoot, I was able to achieve the effect I was looking for, highlighting Smith’s face and hands in a dramatic way, while leaving hints of his environment. An hour and several adjustments later, I had my shot – serenaded the entire time with Smith’s silky tunes.
Once I had my shot, I asked Smith to pose for a more traditional portrait in case it worked better with the story. At the very least, it would be good to have for our files.
Working in tight spaces can be challenging, but with perseverance and trial and error, problems can be solved.
The UConn women got down to business at the XL Center Tuesday night. They brought their fighting game to defeat the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, 63-54, to win the Big East championship, their fifth consecutive title and 18th overall. After a four-loss season and coming into the tournament as the third seed (13-3, Big East) they finally jelled as a team to defeat their nemesis who had beat them in their last three meetings, starting with last year’s heartbreaking national semi-final when Notre Dame eliminated the Huskies, 72-63. The last straw was on February 27, when they lost 72-59 at the XL Center. But Tuesday, they came out with energy and confidence and didn’t flinch when Notre Dame fought back. They made head coach Geno Auriemma proud, finally playing the game “his way.”