Wednesday, July 29, 2015

My Kind of Assignment

Wandering, looking, shooting

My Kind of Assignment


It's among my favorite kind of assignment: "We have a story coming tomorrow about some X, Y or Z - so we need you to get something for the section front."

I love trying to make pictures that can provide visual information at the same time they give readers something intriguing, fun or aesthetically pleasing to look at. Something that might make someone read a story they might otherwise overlook.

On Friday I was asked to illustrate a story that would be an update on construction of the new Barnes Foundation museum and gallery. It's the first addition in generations to the Ben Franklin Parkway’s cultural corridor.

So what's the "Kilroy was Here" photo above have do with the one of the world’s largest private collections of nineteenth and twentieth-century French post-impressionist and modern art paintings in the world?

It's a bust of William Pepper, founder of the Philadelphia Free Library, in a window at the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music in the Central Library on Logan Circle. I saw him down the hall while waiting to get an okay to look out an upper story window there while trying to find a vantage point to make an overall of the Barnes site. I also went up into the observation deck of City Hall and tried unsuccessfully to reach building managers at a couple of condo and apartment high-rises (since 9-11 you can no longer just walk into a lobby and ask to go up on the roof).

This is the kind of photography I like best. Nobody has read a story and told me, "I want a picture of this guy quoted in the third paragraph, standing next to that thing mentioning in the sixth paragraph."

No, on these kinds of assignments, I get to go out and wander. I get to walk around, ask questions, stare at things for a while, and really look at what's going on. I get to try various angles, use different lenses, wait 15 minutes for something in a scene to change, or come back to re-shoot something when I notice the light has changed. All the while trying to get an image that provides context and content. One that is more than just something I enjoyed making.

Inquirer Staff Photographer
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About this blog

Tom Gralish is a general assignment photographer at The Inquirer, concentrating on local news and self-generated feature photos.

He has been at the paper since 1983, photographing everything from revolution in the Philippines to George W. Bush’s road to the White House to homeless people living on the street right outside his newspaper's front door. For his photo essay on Philadelphia’s homeless, he was awarded both the Pulitzer Prize and the Robert F. Kennedy Award.

His weekly newspaper column, "Scene Through the Lens," takes a look at Philadelphia's urban landscape.

Gralish, along with Inquirer colleague and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Michael Vitez, spent a year visiting the Philadelphia Museum of Art to capture the stories and photos of "Rocky runners" who come from all over the world to climb the steps - just as Sylvester Stallone did in the Academy Award winning film, Rocky. Their book, Rocky Stories: Tales of Love, Hope and Happiness at America’s Most Famous Steps, was published in November 2006.

Reach Tom at

Tom Gralish Inquirer Staff Photographer
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