Photographing political events and photos ops are pretty strange. It is always a challenge to try to distinguish the “op” from the real, and more often than not there ain’t much real. Last Saturday I found myself down at Marsh Park along the Elysian Valley surrounded by a large fuzzy Lion, a cadre of cheerleaders, a bunch of political handlers all buzzing about along with various groups of helpful citizens there for a river clean-up.
Seems the mayors of Los Angeles and Anaheim, Eric Garcetti and Tom Tait, made a bet about their respective hockey teams, the loser in this case was not bound to eat some local culinary specialty, but the Anaheim Mayor instead found himself with a commitment to spend a couple of hours cleaning up the LA River.
I had gone down to shoot some photos of FoLAR’s new refreshment stand and visitor center, the Frog Spot, and thought I would check out the mayoral clean-up which was taking place just a short way up the bike path from it. The festivities were underway when I arrived, the cheerleaders and The LA Kings mascot, Bailey (the big fuzzy lion), were very busy posing for photos with everyone. The crowd was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the mayors who were supposed to kayak down the river to event, but Mayor Tait evidently tipped over in his kayak and the mayor’s ended up taking a more pedestrian entrance and simply walked in.
After a variety of speeches, the clean-up began. I stayed close to Mayor Garcetti as he headed down the beveled banks of the river and anxiously looked around for some plastic bags or other trash to pick up. It was hard for him to get too far without someone asking him for a photo with them or the ubiquitous selfie, and as genuinely compliant as the Mayor was, I could tell he was anxious to get to work on the matter at hand. He soon plunged into the thick brush adjacent to the river and I followed him in. The other press photographers stayed in the open and I soon found myself alone deep in the brush with the mayor and his young press assistant.
We exchanged a few comments about river trash and the drought and before I knew it the mayor was scampering up a tree to get to the higher branches where the thick masses of plastic bags lodge themselves when the high waters of the winter rains come. At some point I realized this was more than a simple photo op for the mayor, he not only knew what he was doing (he told me he had in fact done several clean-ups before), but he honestly seemed intent on actually making a dent in the morass of tree lined plastic. I have photographed the mayor on other occasions and I could tell from the way he spoke about the river and other environmental issues that he is the real deal. The magnificent effort he recently made in Washington DC on the river’s behalf, that yielded a billion dollars of help, bore that out as well. I think we are good hands.
I couldn’t help thinking about when I had photographed Mayor Ed Koch in the Eighties and tried to imagine following “Hizzoner” up a tree in Central Park or venturing with him into the Hudson River. A definite difference in styles!