Exposed DC: A Photographic Record of a Crazy Year

What a long strange year it’s been.

That was my thought looking at the 14th Annual Exposed DC Photography Show.

I’ve had photos in the show twice before. I was in the very first one in 2007 and again in 2012.

The annual Exposed DC show is always an interesting snapshot of the times, illustrating what life is like in Washington, DC.

In 2019, the Nationals won the World Series, an Apollo rocket took off from the Mall and Gilead came to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. They’re all captured in the exhibit, as well as much quieter and more domestic moments, photographers finding beauty in the simplest of compositions, like a kitchen sink in light that is just right.

A couple of the photographers in the show recently spoke about street photography . Geoff Livingston is a storyteller that who looks for dramatic moments. His winning photo – Scoot Down the Highway – depicts an electric scooter rider in light and shadow. It’s an image which makes sense in 2019 but would seem like science fiction if it was in an earlier show.

Mukul Ranjan is not afraid to get up close and personal. His photo of three women in a convertible is more than just an image, it depicts a relationship between the photographer and subjects. Aware of his presence, they’re smiling for him, knowing that they look great and wanting him to capture this late-afternoon moment. His street photography advice is simple: get closer.

If I had to explain to someone what they missed in DC in 2019, I’d take them to the Exposed DC Photography Show. Full of feeling, the photos share what it was like to be alive in Washington during this tumultuous time.

Exposed DC Photography Show – 14th Annual Exhibition
 – Touchstone Gallery 
901 New York Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC, 20001
United States (map)

 

Eight Life Lessons Learned, 2010 – 2019

Andrew Jackson statue at sunset

The world has been turned upside down since 2010. This crazy decade has taught me eight invaluable life lessons.

  1. If you don’t do politics, politics is going to do you.
  2. Your most interesting times will be the worst.
  3. You can bike in any kind of weather. Snow, rain, polar vortex. Doesn’t matter. Humans are designed for this.
  4. Read that book. Reading is the best use of your leisure time.
  5. Write that book! Creating art has its own rewards.
  6. Don’t try to monetize your hobby.
  7. If you’re healthy, appreciate that. If not, endure.
  8. We’re not here forever. Go to that party, hug that friend, take that cheesy sunset photo.

New article: Seven Reasons to Join a Photo Collective

Tap city on 4th St

Sweating and gulping beer, I watched Steph tap dance in a nearly empty apartment building on the edge of downtown DC. The structure was going to be gutted and gentrified but first one last party on a steamy summer evening. No need to worry about the neighbors because there were no neighbors – everyone else in the building had moved out.

And I owe it all to photography. I met Steph through InstagramDC, a community for photographers in Washington, DC. We get together for instameets, happy hours and other events – it’s a photo collective.

Which is why I wrote Seven Reasons to Join a Photo Collective for Submittable.

Through a collective like InstagramDC you can expand your skills, pool talents and, most importantly, meet new people. If you’re creative, inspiration comes from new experiences, such as watching a friend tap dance on a sweaty evening in an abandoned building.

Published! Five Tips for a Better Weather Photo

cyclist on P St

I have a new article in The Washington Post – Five Tips for a Better Weather Photo!

In this listicle for the Capital Weather Gang, I share my tips for creating a good weather photo. It’s about composition, knowing your camera, including people, getting out of the car and telling a weather story.

The photo editor included lots of bike photos – that’s what I’m known for as a photographer. A bike is also how I get around the city and am able to capture so much interesting imagery.

I’m a huge Capital Weather Gang fan. It’s the best part of the paper, IMHO. I was glad to share my knowledge with their readers.

Instagram is a Lie Factory

urban vultures

On my way to brunch, I saw a pair of vultures.

They were in the middle of the street, fighting over a rat carcass. A car honked but they did not move, consumed by their struggle.

I’m a compulsive photographer. Not a day goes by where I don’t take a photo of something and share it on Instagram.

I loved Instagram when it first began. While there were similar photo apps, Instagram was a community, allowing me a look into the lives and visions of people around the world.

It was more than just an online app. I met great friends through InstagramDC, local photographers like me who share a passion for mobile photography.

It felt real. Excited by this new medium, people created images of things that meant something to them. They experimented. They grew.

You were excited when people you respected liked your photo, the heart providing a bit of virtual recognition.

The other apps fell away and Instagram exploded. Suddenly, it was not a niche tool used by insta-photographers but something that everyone had on their iPhone.

There were top ten lists in magazines. Who were the best Instagrammers in DC? Find out!

Companies ran contests. Take a photo, share it, and you could win a trip!

 

View this post on Instagram

 

The Poutinerie is open! Get a taste of Canada at Dupont Circle @aircanada #aircanadafliesthere #contest #poutine #canada

A post shared by Joe Flood (@joeflood) on

Marketing firms put together lists of influencers. Want to get the word out about your new restaurant? Reach out to these food photographers. Give them drinks and they’ll post photos of your place online.

I’m guilty. I went to those meals, bewitched by the chance to be cool.

The fun photo app that was Instagram became a marketing tool for big brands, a new way to get advertisements in front of eyeballs, a digital method to drive conspicuous consumption.

But this one was sneaky. We know how to ignore banner ads on web sites, glossy ads in magazines, commercials blaring during timeouts. But how do you ignore marketing messages that look like Instagram posts?

Is that travel photographer you follow being paid for her fabulous adventures? She gushed about a hotel. Is her post a paid ad or an uncompensated review?

Everyone got in on it, even me. I was a Brand Ambassador, paid to take day trips around the DC region. I loved it. Would do it again.

Enterprise CarShare followed the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, which required that I put #ad #sponsored on my post. Not every company is so scrupulous.

And would you notice a #sponsored in a hundred other hashtags? Social media marketing is virtually unregulated, with the difference between legitimate post and a compensated one nearly impossible for consumers to determine.

But that’s not the only deceit.

You see a beautiful plate of pasta on Instagram, bolognese bright against a white plate. What you don’t see is the time carefully arranging the noodles, wiping off the mess, setting up the tripod for the DSLR, softening the scene with a lightbox and then editing the photos in Photoshop.

Instagram is all about the likes now, an online popularity contest, the hell of high school duplicated in cyberspace.

In response to virtual rewards, we lie and present curated lives, our fears hidden by bright images of an idealized life.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

The LEGO takeover has begun #lego #bikedc #lincolnmemorial

A post shared by Joe Flood (@joeflood) on

“You have what I want,” someone told me. “You just ride bikes and drink beer.”

But that’s not true. Like much of America, I’ve had a lousy couple of years, a fact that I’ve largely kept to myself (I’m from the Midwest), my social media feed showing little evidence of crushing anxiety and depression.

One of the creators of Instagram quit the app, after seeing what Facebook did after purchasing the online photo service. Instagram become a celebrity-driven marketplace engineered to sap users’ time and attention at the cost of their well-being. The community she nourished from birth become merely another profit center for the online leviathan.

Facebook scaled Instagram and monetized it, filling it with ads and content that looks like ads, while committing unknowable violations of privacy and decency along the way, anything, even treason, to keep the Silicon Valley machine growing.

Instagram is a lie factory. The photos aren’t real, the users aren’t honest and the company deceitful.

Yet, I still use it and love it. Is this due to my passion for photography or the virtual rewards I receive? Is it about the photos or the likes?

I took a photo of a pair of vultures fighting over a rat carcass. I did not share it on Instagram. It did not fit my brand, my carefully curated life of bikes and beer.

The answer is there. Like millions of other Americans, Instagram to me is not about photography, it’s about the likes.

Walking Away from Democracy

crazy stupid sign

The rain, sadly, ended in time for the Walk Away pro-Trump rally in Washington, DC.

Supposedly a group of ex-Democrats who had “walked away” from the party, they gathered, a couple hundred of them, on the concrete expanse of Freedom Plaza.

The Florida bomber wasn’t mentioned. Nor the Pittsburgh shooter. Instead, they complained that they were the victims, renounced by friends and family for “walking away” from liberalism.

Over and over, speakers claimed that they weren’t racist, to a very white and old crowd. I have never seen so much vaping in DC. One woman said that she couldn’t be racist because she had a black husband and a black baby.

“You won’t see this picture on the mainstream media!” she shouted in front of a collage of portraits of people in the movement, steps away from the Press tent, where the media could check in. Trumpkins desperately want coverage from the media that they scorn.

Political group demonstrates in DC isn’t news, especially if there’s only a couple hundred of them. This is a city which has seen anti-Trump demonstrators by the millions.

Q

Another speaker bragged of his ignorance. He only got the news from Twitter, as a couple circulated through the crowd holding a “Q” in red, white and blue. It’s the right’s favorite conspiracy theory, too complex and stupid to summarize. Basically, the government that Republicans have cursed as incompetent is secretly so competent that they can organize a deep state conspiracy against Trump.

The dangerous part is that these conspiracy theorists believe that Trump will strike back soon, with a military coup, that they cheer and encourage, as they work to make Trump a dictator.

It’s important to know your enemy. I went to see and record their anti-democratic beliefs and oddball notions. There is a temptation to ignore the madness of our fellow citizens.

But it’s better to know what they believe, for they are Trump’s base and provide cover for acts of violence like the Florida bomber. They are the sea in which terrorists swim.

For the Trump movement is a fascist movement. If the leader of another country called the media “enemies of the people” and winked at acts of violence against them, that’s how the American media would cover it. They’d call it fascism and refer to Trumpkins as right-wing militias or violent supporters of the regime.

But, since it’s here, we deny what occurs before our very eyes. We can’t be 1970s Argentina. Or Franco’s Spain. Yet, we have much in common with these fascist states, including a vast military, economic inequality and a leader’s cult of personality.

We should take seriously the words of Trump supporters. Calls for dictatorship and violent suppression of enemies (“lock her up”) are preparation for the real thing.

A couple hundred people rally in DC, walking away from reality and into the comfort of authoritarianism. It’s easy to mock them as old and stupid and sick. But we do so at our peril.

Photos: 500 Days of Trump

I intended to ignore the Trump administration. But, 500 days ago, during the Inauguration, I heard a helicopter hovering over my apartment, followed it into the street, and I’ve been taking photos ever since.

Inauguration Day riot, Muslim ban protest, Women’s March, Science March, Climate March, Women’s March (again), perp walks, protests, street art, paper mache, Juggalos, makeout sessions, security theater – I’ve documented the resistance in DC.

limo in flames on K St Continue reading “Photos: 500 Days of Trump”

Tweetstorm: Five Lessons from Going Viral

Tweet activity

A viral photo became my most popular tweet ever, racking up more than 200,000 impressions.

It’s a picture that I captured outside the White House Correspondents Dinner, a quick shot of Parkland survivor David Hogg before I was shooed away by security. Happy to get any photo, I posted it to Twitter, thinking my photographer friends would enjoy it.

And then it blew up online, my phone steadily buzzing with notifications through the night and for days afterward.

What can you learn from going viral?

  1. It will be accidental. It’s nice to think that you can make a post go viral – you can’t. Twitter is driven by the users. Their likes, dislikes, passions, prejudices and whims determine what goes viral and what doesn’t. I’ve written funnier tweets, taken better photos and shared more interesting links but it was this post of David Hogg that went viral, for it was timely (the dinner was going on as I posted the photo) and Hogg is a controversial figure in the gun control debate.
  2. You’ll want to change your tweet. In my photo, another person is pictured. I didn’t recognize him so just identified David Hogg. Within minutes, a reply told me that it was Zion Kelly, whose brother was shot to death on the streets of DC. You can’t edit a tweet so I added a threaded post identifying him.
  3. You will be personally attacked. I didn’t reply to the gun nuts who thought that the presence of David Hogg at the WHCD was preposterous. But a couple people said that I was racist for omitting mention of Zion Kelly in my original tweet. When I explained to one that I didn’t recognize him, she grudgingly admitted that I might not be a racist but my response was “problematic.”
  4. You won’t understand the analytics. My original tweet had 221,000 impressions. The thread I added with Zion Kelly’s name had 680,000 impressions. Why does the thread have more than the original?
  5. It won’t amount to much. Seeing the photo go viral, I wrote a post the next day on the moment, which captured some of the traffic my photo generated. But out of 220,000 Twitter impressions, I gained five new followers. The raging discourse of America had landed briefly on me, lit me in its fire, and then moved on to the next topic in the endless, infernal debate.

Going viral is short-lived and unsatisfying. All that storm und drang around my photo ultimately amounted to little.

The next morning, I bundled up and biked to see my friends from the District Department of Transformation, a group of activists trying to make the city’s streets safer. They’re all people I’ve met through Twitter. They had blocked off a street for breakfast, an action designed to show that streets should be for people, not cars.

I took a photo and shared it using the #BikeDC hashtag.

That’s the type of engagement that matters – real, small-scale and committed.

If you’re a social media manager, don’t chase social media fame, which is ephemeral and low-value. Instead, use Twitter to build an impactful community of engaged supporters, people who will show up for you on a cold Sunday morning to occupy a street.

My DC: Blossoms, books and gelato

Jefferson Memorial with cherry blossoms

A weekend of cherry blossoms, books and gelato taught me to love DC once again.

I’ve become inured to the sights and sounds of Washington, DC – the historic monuments, the thudding helicopters, the blue sparkle of the Potomac. I see and yet don’t see, because they’re so familiar. Playing tour guide for the weekend helped me rediscover the city.

The occasion was a college reunion. Because I was the only one who still lived in the city, I was appointed tour guide.

It’s hard work being tour guide! Much easier to be led by another, not knowing where you’re going to eat or what you’re going to do next, confident that the tour guide has those details figured out. Make it a large group – eight people – and make it the height of the spring tourist season, and you can understand why I was a bit anxious. Thankfully, it was an easy group that I knew from time spent together at American University.

The advantage of being tour guide is going to the places you like best. Here are my choices for 36 hours in Washington, DC.

Friday

The Darcy
My friends stayed at this boutique hotel by Hilton. Located near Logan Circle, it’s an ideal home base for visitors who want to explore the city. Even better when you get an upgrade to a top-floor suite!

Tidal Basin
If you come to DC, you’re going to walk. During cherry blossom season, it’s also the easiest way to get around (other than biking, of course). After checking-in at the Darcy, we walked down 16th St to see the cherry blossoms at the Tidal Basin, along with half a million of our friends, it seemed. The walk is about thirty minutes, and filled with interesting sights along the way, like the White House and Washington Monument.

Thai Tanic
Every Thai restaurant in DC must have a pun-based name. Popular among Logan Circle locals like me, Thai Tanic been serving interesting Thai dishes on 14th St for years. They were also very accommodating as our party grew from six to eight on a busy Friday night.

Gelato time

Dolcezza
How I love this place! The gelato is delicious. I almost always get a combo of dark chocolate and hazelnut. If you’re with me, this is a mandatory stop.

Saturday

American University
It wouldn’t be a college reunion without a trip to college. We went to AU in the pre-wonk era, which was far more fun, and considerably cheaper, than the serious world-changers of today. While the campus is nicer, with a brand new School of International Service, it’s not the same, probably due to the lack of alcohol.

Surfside
One of the challenges of leading a large group through DC is, “Where will we eat?” While they took my favorite burrito off the menu, Surfside in Glover Park was still a good choice. No one noticed a group of eight in this taco joint mobbed with soccer moms and kids from the field across the street.

Bob in Georgetown

Georgetown Waterfront Park
If you’re with me, you’re walking (or biking). Thankfully, my friends love to walk. After lunch, we walked down Wisconsin Avenue and 33rd Street to the Georgetown Waterfront Park, which has a great view of Rosslyn and the Key Bridge.

Dog Tag Bakery
Georgetown Cupcake is for tourists. Instead, visit this pleasant little shop near the C&O Canal that helps military veterans and families. The scones are great and they serve Compass Coffee.

Whole Foods P St
Finding a table for eight on a Saturday night in Logan Circle struck me as impossible. Instead, everyone got food and drink at Whole Foods and partied back in the suite at the Darcy Hotel. Sushi, cheese, fruit, beer, wine, chicken, chocolate rugelach – we ate well, without the hassle of going out.

Sunday

Lil B
This New Orleans-inspired coffee shop at the Darcy Hotel became the spot to meet every morning. While the beignets are more like fried dough than what you’d find in the Big Easy, they make good hangover food.

Dupont Circle Farmers Market
Why don’t I go here more often? This sprawling market has more than just produce. You can get pancakes, pizza and even a growler of beer from Right Proper.

Spanish Steps
One of those 0ff-the-beaten path places that I love, this miniature version of the Roman landmark is a spot I captured in an award-winning photo. It’s a lovely walk from Dupont Circle, as well, in which you pass art galleries and embassies. Makes a great spot for portraits.

Kramerbooks

Kramerbooks
Now, this is a required stop, at least if you’re with me. Washington loves its bookstores and Kramerbooks is the oldest and most famous. I have a connection to it too – I did a reading here. You’re sure to find something smart for the plane in this bookstore.

Of course, this is just a small sample of things to do in DC. But if I’m the tour guide, there’s going to be gelato, coffee and books. That’s my DC.

Science Not Silence: Voices from the March for Science

The thinking cap photo is mine

I have a photo in this beautiful book from MIT Press! Science Not Silence celebrates last year’s March for Science with stories and photos from around the world. More than a million people came out to support science, in cities across America and around the world.

My photo is the guy in the thinking cap. Heading down to the march in Washington, DC, I didn’t know what to expect. The weather was terrible – it had rained all day. Would people even show up? But when I approached Constitution Avenue, I heard a dull roar. Crowds stretched in both directions, from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol, a half-million people joyously marching, singing and chanting.

I was proud to support the cause. I’ve spent a career working with scientists, helping to communicate their achievements at The Nature Conservancy and NOAA. What makes science different than other professions is that it’s not just a job, it’s a life. You are a biologist or an oceanographer or a chemist – it’s not just something you do 9-5.

It’s inspiring to be around that kind of passion. After my NOAA experience, I wrote a novel, The Swamp, that features a meteorologist as a character. He has to send his employees home after their shifts, otherwise they would hang around the forecast office:

weather being as much an obsession as a vocation and one that they would abandon only upon death.

That’s the kind of dedication I’ve found in the sciences.

At the march, there was so much to see – women dressed as Klingons, people in dinosaur suits and countless hilarious signs grown soggy from steady rain. I captured the photo of the guy in the thinking cap toward the Capitol, where the crowds began to thin. I liked his expression.

I had been out for an hour, zipping around the edges of the massive demonstration on a bright red Capital Bikeshare bike. Despite my raincoat, I was cold and wet. The thinking cap photo was one of the last I took before I left to get warm.

“Science predicted rain,” read one sign. The forecast came from a National Weather Service meteorologist, a government employee and a scientist, which must enrage the red state know-nothings who believe that they can live in some kind of lawless, free fire zone of ignorance.

The rain fell on everyone – marchers, tourists, photographers. Like science, it was non-partisan. Like science, you can deny it but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re soaked.

Science Not Silence: Voices from the March for Science Movement is available from MIT Press.