Myra Klarman Photography families / seniors / headshots

President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010

 
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | President Obama flanked by Governor Jennifer Granholm and UM President Mary Sue Coleman.
President Obama flanked by Governor Jennifer Granholm and UM President Mary Sue Coleman.

Photographing the UM commencement on Saturday, May 1 was an exhilarating, mind-expanding experience. For starters, before that day I’d never so much as set foot inside the Big House (weird, I know). And, to the best of my knowledge, I’d never been within a nautical mile of Barack Obama (or any other head of state, for that matter) — let alone gotten to photograph him. Finally, and this may surprise you the most, I’d never shot with any lens longer than 135mm. But I got to do all this (and more) thanks to a great opportunity that fell into my lap.

Silly me, I wasn’t even planning to go.

I don’t generally go see super-famous people, mostly because of the crowds and hoopla associated with such events. So while I felt a fair measure of hometown pride upon learning that President Obama would be speaking just down the street, I had no intention of trying to get tickets — honestly, it wasn’t even on my radar. But I have to admit that when Mary Morgan of the Ann Arbor Chronicle told me she wanted to submit my name for press credentials to photograph the commencement exercises, I got very excited. And once my press credentials were confirmed, I got very, very excited. What a rare and delicious treat! I would get to be (or at least try real hard to pretend to be) a news photographer for a day. And what an assignment: Obama at commencement! Everyone was so excited for me, and I felt so high!

Sobering Piece of Info #1

This helpful tip from the UM Media memo quickly brought me back to earth with a deafening thud: “Photographers: Prepare for a distance of at least 60 yards in the stadium.” 60 yards? Gulp. Certainly they must’ve meant feet, right? Feet and yards are often confused. Nope, not a typo. I had a tough time getting my head around the “60 yards” concept. Typically, when I shoot events, I’m granted unlimited access — anywhere in the house, the wings, backstage, even (sometimes) on the stage. I’m not accustomed to there being several thousand people (some of them secret service agents) between me and my subject. I started to imagine what kind of lens I’d need so that the POTUS wouldn’t look like a spec, like an errant piece of dust on my sensor.

I talked to several photographers, intensively researched lens options, and factored in “Sobering Piece of Info #2” (see below) before settling on renting a 300mm lens and a 1.4x teleconverter (which would bring my effective focal length to 420mm). This lens weighs 6.3lbs; it’s 10.5″ inches long, and the hood adds another 5″ or so. I knew I’d need a monopod (it’s like a one-legged tripod, if you’re into the oxymoron thing) to bear most of the weight and help keep the unwieldy lens steady. When the lens arrived on Friday, I photographed Rich standing 60 yards away, and realized immediately that I needed more telephoto power. Thanks to Mark Bialek, a freelance photographer who frequently works with AnnArbor.com, for lending me his 2x teleconverter at the last minute, which brought my effective focal length up to 600mm.

Sobering Piece of Info #2

In the days leading up to May 1, all the weather reports were predicting thunderstorms for the morning of commencement. There was the distinct possibility that it would be raining in the hours before Obama’s speech — and even during his speech. In my portrait photography work, I can use a sophisticated, hi-tech device known to photo professionals as a “raindate” to protect me, my clients, and my expensive gear from inclement weather. Or, for fun, we can incorporate umbrellas into the photostory. But, I’m afraid, there are no raindates for commencement. And umbrellas aren’t allowed in the Big House, not even for the press. I’d have to find other ways of protecting thousands of dollars of equipment, including the rental lens (worth $5000) from rainy conditions. (Yes, everything was insured, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t freaked out about it getting damaged and possibly rendered unusable.) I passed many a sleepless night tossing and turning over the weather and how I’d change lenses, etc. in a downpour.

What a huge relief it was that I didn’t have to learn whether my assortment of plastic bags would’ve kept my gear dry while allowing me to shoot. After a frightful thunderstorm at dawn, there was (mercifully) very little rainfall after 8:30am. This made life easier for everyone, especially for those of us working with sensitive, expensive, and not-at-all-waterproof equipment.

Sobering Piece of Info #3

I was stunned to learn at 8am Saturday morning that some photographers had been granted special access to the buffer area between the stage and the seats — within 10 yards of the podium! Melanie Maxwell of AnnArbor.com was one of them, and she got some amazing shots. This opportunity was also offered to other local news outlets including the Michigan Daily and the Detroit Free Press, but not the Chronicle. It was obviously too late for me to undergo the requisite background checks at that point, so we were out of luck.

All sobered up, and having a blast

Just being there at all, not to mention getting authorization to bring a high-powered lens to a national media event, was more than I’d imagined or hoped for. I may not have had optimal access to the president, but I’d do the best I could with what I did have. And he sounded great from where I was standing on the risers next to Rich and Mary. Obama's message was so inspiring and so relevant. I could totally get why 92,000 people braved the crowds, weather, and security checks to be here. I’m so glad I was one of them. You really should read an annotated transcript of President Obama’s speech and/or watch it on video.

It was sweet to experience the camaraderie among the news photographers. I imagine they could tell I was new to this media circus thing, and they were very cool and generous, taking the trouble to alert me to things that were coming up — so I’d be ready. That meant a lot to me. I have great respect for news photographers. They have to be crazy fast and efficient — they’re on their laptops uploading photos of what’s happening while it’s still happening. And then they publish the rest of their shots within a very short time of the event ending (unlike me). And the next day, they get to wake up and do it all over again. Amazing endurance. (It’s now Monday, and I’m still recovering from the commencement.)

I even managed to get well-acquainted with a member of the secret service. Well before the speeches began, I would venture away from the risers to snag photos of graduates (and their footwear) milling about, only to be chastised by the same secret service man over and over (and over) again. He had this seriously stern look on his face that never changed. I mean, even though he had to tell me so many times to get back on the risers, his stern expression never escalated to “how many times do I have to tell you? If I have to tell you again, you’re out of here!” And I appreciated that. He was the consummate professional. What can I say, I liked the guy.

Finally I want to express my appreciation to Mary and Dave. I was proud to represent the Chronicle, and I thank them for giving me such an exceptionally wonderful opportunity and experience. And thanks to Rico for assisting me at the commencement, and for his extensive editorial support on this hefty Relish entry!

President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Ponchoville
Ponchoville
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | The latest in poncho couture
The latest in poncho couture
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Terry Robert Burleson, Jr. (BA, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts) — this is what I can do when I have access to my subject!
Terry Robert Burleson, Jr. (BA, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts) — this is what I can do when I have access to my subject!
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | This was one of (at least) two teams of very serious–looking dudes positioned on the stadium roof. I didn’t see any of them wielding sniper rifles, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had them close at hand. I certainly don’t envy the hermetic security under which all U.S. presidents (unfortunately) must live.
This was one of (at least) two teams of very serious–looking dudes positioned on the stadium roof. I didn’t see any of them wielding sniper rifles, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they had them close at hand. I certainly don’t envy the hermetic security under which all U.S. presidents (unfortunately) must live.
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | The stormy weather on Saturday led graduates to don an interesting assortment of footwear. At some point in the late morning, Rico elbowed me in the ribs and said, “Murn, you gotta capture the ‘boots on the ground’ story.”
The stormy weather on Saturday led graduates to don an interesting assortment of footwear. At some point in the late morning, Rico elbowed me in the ribs and said, “Murn, you gotta capture the ‘boots on the ground’ story.”
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | “My” secret service agent kept his eye on me. | Perhaps because the secret service was doing such a good job of protecting the president, our local sheriff’s deputy could relax his facial muscles a bit and offer a smile.
“My” secret service agent kept his eye on me. | Perhaps because the secret service was doing such a good job of protecting the president, our local sheriff’s deputy could relax his facial muscles a bit and offer a smile.
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Grads seeing themselves on the JumboTron created a lot of excitement.
Grads seeing themselves on the JumboTron created a lot of excitement.
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Just a few of the hundreds of assistant photographers I’d assigned to positions throughout the Big House. They were well placed to capture Obama as he made his way up to the podium.
Just a few of the hundreds of assistant photographers I’d assigned to positions throughout the Big House. They were well placed to capture Obama as he made his way up to the podium.
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Most people thoroughly enjoyed Obama’s speech.
Most people thoroughly enjoyed Obama’s speech.
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Stanford R. Ovshinsky, Ornette Coleman, Jean W. Campbell (seated), and, of course, Obama all received honorary degrees. Honorary degrees were also awarded to Susan Stamberg and Charles M. Vest (not pictured).
Stanford R. Ovshinsky, Ornette Coleman, Jean W. Campbell (seated), and, of course, Obama all received honorary degrees. Honorary degrees were also awarded to Susan Stamberg and Charles M. Vest (not pictured).
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Kelly Gallagher (School of Art & Design graduate) photographed by a pal at the very moment her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree was conferred.
Kelly Gallagher (School of Art & Design graduate) photographed by a pal at the very moment her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree was conferred.
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Not everyone at the Big House was an Obama fan. It’s actually quite a testament to the American (obviously, not exclusively American) spirit that this guy could express this opinion in the presence of President Obama himself — surrounded by a crowd that was overwhelmingly pro-Obama — without fear of harassment, violence, or incarceration. Don’t try this at home (if your home happens to be in, say, Iran, North Korea, China, Zimbabwe, Burma…). This beautifully illustrates a major theme in Obama’s address: that maintaining a culture of civility, one that celebrates disagreement while resisting the slide into demonization, is a necessary precondition for a functioning democracy.
Not everyone at the Big House was an Obama fan. It’s actually quite a testament to the American (obviously, not exclusively American) spirit that this guy could express this opinion in the presence of President Obama himself — surrounded by a crowd that was overwhelmingly pro-Obama — without fear of harassment, violence, or incarceration. Don’t try this at home (if your home happens to be in, say, Iran, North Korea, China, Zimbabwe, Burma…). This beautifully illustrates a major theme in Obama’s address: that maintaining a culture of civility, one that celebrates disagreement while resisting the slide into demonization, is a necessary precondition for a functioning democracy.
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Just because nobody actually knows the lyrics to UM’s alma mater doesn’t mean we can’t pump our fists in the air and fake our way through it. “Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue!”
Just because nobody actually knows the lyrics to UM’s alma mater doesn’t mean we can’t pump our fists in the air and fake our way through it. “Hurrah for the Yellow and Blue!”
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Fussed with the exposure on this shot to show the ominous sky above us. Thankfully we were spared the 80-90% chance of thundershowers that were predicted during Obama’s speech.
Fussed with the exposure on this shot to show the ominous sky above us. Thankfully we were spared the 80-90% chance of thundershowers that were predicted during Obama’s speech.
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | Rico (who just happened to be wearing his John Coltrane t-shirt) was thrilled when Ornette Coleman received an honorary doctorate. Michigan Stadium is surely big enough to accommodate these two jazz titans! | Do I look a little bit excited?
Rico (who just happened to be wearing his John Coltrane t-shirt) was thrilled when Ornette Coleman received an honorary doctorate. Michigan Stadium is surely big enough to accommodate these two jazz titans! | Do I look a little bit excited?
President Obama @ UM Commencement 2010 | I was happy to get this photo of Obama. But, of course, for me nothing will ever equal Max’s Obama, with Flag (2009), the quintessential visual representation of our 44th president.
I was happy to get this photo of Obama. But, of course, for me nothing will ever equal Max’s Obama, with Flag (2009), the quintessential visual representation of our 44th president.
 

Comments

As always, EXCELLENT work, Myra Klarman! I’m so glad you take time from photographing the president to photograph our little family. :-D

#1 Kjirsten

LOVE it. Gorgeous bright colors and bright smiles on a great day. Glad you could “soak” it up (har har). Great work as always, my dear!

#2 Fran Loosen

What a wonderful opportunity! The pictures and the commentary are great!
Millie Blander

#3 Millie Blander

Thanks for bringing this to LIFE with your personal notes and beautiful photos. I had to settle for watching on my laptop. What a great experience! Loved Max’s drawing…

#4 Jeff Lassaline

what an amazing opportunity. you shot wonderful images.

#5 monet

Once again you have given us the gift of your magic Myra. The colors, compositions, energy, humanity and excitement are all there for us to enjoy. You are such an artist. thank you!

So awesome, Myra! Loved reading it and looking at the pictures.

#7 Mary Jean

Wonderful photos Myra! Thanks for sharing. Eli has one of Max’s Obama portraits on the wall in his room from last year’s Art Fair.

Great job, Myra!! As always, you did a lot more than just photograph a person or an event. You documented the experience. I feel like I was there!

#9 Kim

Incredible memories for you and everyone present. How joyous and flabbergasting! Here’s to many more exceptional moments.

Love, Mom

#10 Lorie Heiberger

Feels like I had my camera in hand. Thanks for sharing the entire photographic experience.

#11 Larry Works

I agree with all of the above, especially the “Love, Mom.”
Barb

#12 Barbara

Excellent photos. Your commentary and your shots really captured the ceremony’s moments. My favorite shot of all was the one with the four sets of footwear. Good luck and may your gift of the “eye” grow and grow!

#13 Thomas O'Hagan

As of today, Myra, Ornette Coleman’s entry on Wikipedia doesn’t reflect the honorary degree awarded at this event. You might want to add it, although perhaps not your copyrighted photo.

#14 Amy Thomas

Unbelievable!

#15 Suzanne Upton

Congrats on the opportunity but you are, of course, so deserving of the honor.

#16 robbi

This was so so so fun to read and your photos captured it all. Congrats again on the great opportunity.

As Always, your photos leave me breathless, they are SO amazing and awe inspiring! …oh, and I love your commentary to boot :) …you are Awesome!
XOXOXO

#18 catherine

A friend gave me the link to your photos from the graduation. I am pictured in one of the shots, and it was wonderful to get such a vivid reminder of that joyful and momentous day in my life. Thank you!
jeannie

#19 Jeannie Thrall

These are great, Myra! I got a chance to photograph Obama and Hillary in NH during the campaign. It was a great experience. I was lucky that the weather wasn’t as threatening and the security wasn’t so intense back then. You can see the images here:
doktorwise.com/obama…

Leave a comment…


(optional)

Yes     No

 

Use asterisks to make text *bold*. Use underscores for _italics_. Include http:// in URLs. Objectionable comments may be edited or deleted. Your email address will never be displayed; nor will it be shared, sold, or otherwise abused. Glad to hear from you. :-)

Photo of Myra Klarman
About Myra Klarman

I’m a professional photographer specializing in studio and lifestyle portraits of children, families, high school seniors, and performing artists. I live in Ann Arbor with my husband, Rich, and our 11-year-old son, Max. Learn more about my portrait and headshot services at Myra Klarman Photography.

Browse / Follow / Subscribe
Browse the Relish Archive (by tag or by date). Follow Myra Klarman Photography on Facebook Subscribe via email