From the Archive

    From the Archive is a regular column that features one image from our archive and appears every Thursday. LUCEO Images has a thorough group archive (keyword search bar, top right) and it can be at the LUCEO Image Archive.

    This week we are featuring an archive image by Matt Slaby taken while covering the Gulf Oil Spill in July of 2010.

    About This Photo:

    “Press events are challenging.  In my opinion, when something is put on because an organization feels that the only way to logistically accommodate a barrage of media, the events are usually adversarial on some level.  The sponsoring organization ‘handles’ the press, attendees jockey with each other for the best positions, and everyone kinda scrums it out for a picture or a story that is essentially a mediocre retelling of a controlled message.  Of course there are plenty of talented people who navigate these things on a daily basis without that depth of cynicism.  It’s just not my strong suit.

    When I have a long-term assignment and and I’m faced with a string of events that are basically for the benefit of staging something the press is clamoring for, I usually put on my patience hat and start picking and choosing the things that I would like better access to.  During my time covering the oil spill in 2010, one of those things that I wanted access to was the bird rehab and triage work.  The group that was handling most of the incoming birds was hosting a press event a couple of times each week and on one of those weeks I made the drive down to the facility to do the walk-through with the other cameras to watch a bird get cleaned from behind yellow tape.  

    At its core, for someone on a tight deadline, there was a picture to be made at the presser.  That said, I was really hoping for an opportunity to explore the facility without the handlers and without feeling like my mission was somehow adversarial or intrusive to the staff.  As I made my way through the tour, I got to talking with one of the FEMA public information people facilitating the event and quickly realized that I had worked with him on several wildfires in my past career working as a Forest Service hotshot.  We knew several of the same people and, for better or worse, the revolving door of public employment had allowed me to open a conversation with him that helped me learn what the rehabbers were trying to avoid with their current press event plan.

    “That list of things is fairly short and probably familiar to anyone who has been working for more than a couple of days: they wanted to be able to work in a safe and quiet environment without the stereotypical pushiness that sometimes overcomes us when we see a picture and want to make.  In short, the rehabbers didn’t want to be on the set of a 24-7 reality television show.

    Understandable, right?

    Several days later I had the opportunity to make a portrait of the director of the bird rehab organization at his rented trailer near the facility.  Armed with the values that I knew the rehabbers had (and that I respected and shared), I made my portraits and then spent some time talking to him about being allowed to shadow the rehabbers on a quieter day.  The work they did and the energy they put into that work was, in my opinion, deserving of a little more attention than was afforded by the presser.  I expressed that I understood and respected the values of the workers and essentially said that if he felt our shoot was productive, quiet, and respectful, that it’s exemplary of how I would work were I permitted to shoot the facility in a little more depth.

    With the director’s blessing and the caveat that the veterinarians on staff could kill my access at any time, I showed up the next day to make the pictures that I had hoped to make, unencumbered and unbothered.  The photographs ran in several magazines and the access is something that I was grateful for.

    I took away a big lesson from handling access to this event: knowing the values of the people you would like to work with, reflecting that you share and respect them, and being patient in your persistence goes a long way in getting the photographs that you want and that your clients are hoping for.”  -Matt Slaby


    International Bird Rescue workers examine a dead, oil-splotched juvenile roseate spoonbill Ft. Jackson, Louisiana. Oil makes it difficult for birds to repel water making it difficult for the soaked bird to control its body temperature, forage for food, or properly hydrate.   At the time this photograph was made, the treatment facility had seen more than 800 birds brought in by wildlife workers for oil-related injuries and illnesses.  At its peak, the spill was estimated to have gushed 35,000 to 60,000 barells of oil into the ocean per day.  The spill is among the world’s worst.


    To view the full edit from this shoot or to license this image, please visit the LUCEO Image Archive >>