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September 9, 2011

President Obama (video) UPDATED

President Obama (video) UPDATED

Wohoo – I had the unexpected pleasure of attending a speech by president Barack Obama – live in person. Here is how it came about…

I just happened to be in Richmond. I had just (barely) woken up, checked out from my motel and was now sitting in my Jeep in front of “7 Eleven”. As I was having my modest breakfast consisting of a banana and trying to wake up, I flipped on the radio. It was mentioned right then that president Barack Obama would be appearing at Richmond University one and a half hour later to give a speech on the Jobs Act that he had just announced in his speech to congress a couple of days earlier.

Suddenly I was completely awake. Hey, I was in Richmond and the president was on his way here!

Maybe I would have a chance of catching a glimpse of the president or even take a snapshot at his arrival, if I was lucky?

Quickly swallowing the last bites of the banana I pondered whether it on the other hand would really be worth it to head towards the university, knowing that the security would be tight and I might just get caught up in traffic congestion and the security hassle without even seeing as much as the motorcade. It might not be worth it.

Well, what the heck – I took the chance, punched “Richmond University” into the GPS and went on my way.

Going down the highway, I noticed the increased police presence with a patrol car parked in the median every few miles, and as I turned off the highway and proceeded towards the university the security became really tight.

The first couple of rows of every parking lot next to the road were fenced off, and there would be a police car in the driveway of every single private property for the last few miles towards the university. Police and security forces were everywhere, on the streets, in the surrounding woods and not least in the air by helicopter.

As I arrived at the first gate to the university, I wondered if this was the place, where the president would arrive. The GPS suggested me to continue for several miles. But the presence of security forces, fire trucks and ambulances hinted that this was probably the right place.

There was a small parking lot in the woods just opposite the gate, and I managed to squeeze the Jeep in on an unauthorized spot between the trees. I hoped it would not be hauled off…

Considering the security situation, I decided to leave my photo backpack in the car and took just my camera with me. On my way towards the university buildings I met a nice young couple, who informed me that this was indeed the right place, and the auditorium, where Obama would give his speech, was just beyond the ballpark in front of us.

They also informed me that in order to attend the event I needed a preordered ticket.  What a bummer… Well, I might still have a chance to see the president arrive, so I went along with my new friends towards the auditorium.

As we passed a police officer I overheard instructions on the police radio: “Do not let any pedestrians pass by!” I quickly picked up my pace, while the officer luckily just responded: “I just did…”

At the auditorium people were standing in long lines around the building. My new friends quickly lined up.

Left by myself I tried to assess the situation. I noticed an elderly couple sitting on some stairs and I struck up a conversation with them. It turned out that they had given up standing in line, and I could have their tickets.

Wohoo – it seemed to be my lucky day. I thanked them and headed towards the lines, where my friends from earlier had advanced quite a bit in the meantime. So I sort of joined them not to far from the entrance.

Obviously there was a security procedure at the entrance. It was similar to that of an airport. But I did not even have to show any ID, and I was allowed to bring my camera after a security officer had checked it out.

Wohoo – I was starting to get excited!

All the best seats were obviously taken in the auditorium, but there seemed to be a few seats with a front view of the president in the corner far up behind. But I would have a better view if I could stay right on the platform in front of the entrance. A few disabled people had been assigned space there in their wheelchairs and on regular chairs.

So, I borrowed an extra chair from a security guard, and while this was certainly not the best seat in the house it was not that bad either as I would have a clear view of the president.

Wohoo – I was ready for the experience and getting more and more excited as the crowd cheered, made waves and acted as if we were about to experience a rock concert or a football match.

The energy kept building up in the crowd and I for one could not help being affected by it.

Then suddenly president Obama was introduced and came into to hall. As he entered the hall it was like the electricity that had charged in the air finally was released and struck all of us like a lightning bolt. The crowd let out a huge roar and gave the president an enthusiastic applause. It seemed like the roof might blow off!

The president was obviously among supporters. Several members of the crowd would interrupt the beginning of his speech by yelling: “I love you!” and the president would reply “I love you too!” to cheers and applause from the crowd.

Then the president went into his serious speech about the Jobs Act that according to president contained measures that democrats and republicans should be able to agree on. The president outlined that everything in his proposal would be paid for, that it would create much needed jobs and that congress should pass this bill right now!

The crowd went wild, and so did I!

Even though my camera (or rather the 24-105mm lens) has an image stabilizer I had to support it against a railing because with all the excitement my hands were literally trembling.

Unfortunately I was a bit too far from the president to get a tight shot, as I had only a 24-105mm lens on a full frame camera. How I wished I had the 100-400mm that I rented for Yellowstone. Well, the only thing I could do was to try to get closer. So after charming a secret service agent a little bit, she let me go down the stairs to the front row and take a few shots and a bit of video before she ordered me back on the platform. I was still not really happy with my photos though.

The president wound up his speech to another huge roar, and the national anthem came on as the president slowly made his way towards the exit shaking hands with crowd members on his way out. As the audience broke up I saw the chance to move closer to where the president had entered and would surely exit the auditorium.

As you can see below, I did manage to snap a few shots more up-close. They are not perfect, but I find them decent under the quite difficult circumstances of the available light, the excitement, the security hassle and not least a nutty lady next to me who started punching at my camera because I had taken enough photos, in her opinion…

Wohoo – it was one of the most exciting events I have ever experienced!

It took me quite a while to wind down in the parking lot afterwards. While I was waiting for the traffic congestion to dissolve, I reflected about the whole experience. I had finally come to witness and understand how a charismatic leader can affect a crowd.

Fortunately, Obama is one of the good guys and I hope that his balanced policies will prevail to the benefit of the American people and the world.

In between trying to capture a decent photograph of the president, I managed to capture excerpts of the speech on video with my (photo) camera. Again, I wish i was able to get closer, that I had my directional microphone with me etc. But hey this was a spur of the moment thing recorded under difficult circumstances. I think it holds up – do check it out!

The president in a thoughtful moment during his speech. This photo is heavily cropped as I was too far from the president to frame him tightly with my 24-105mm lens.


President Obama took his time to greet members of the crowd before leaving the building.


Hopefully this photo gives a sense of the excitement and the affection between the audience and the president.


In my opinion president Obama has genuinely reached out - if only congress would come together and "pass this bill!"


Here I happened to catch the president with a bit of a funny look on his face. I cropped this shot a bit and blurred the background in Photoshop in order to isolate him from distractive elements in the background.


Here I also blurred the fore- and background in Photoshop but a bit less than in the previous shot.


President Obama is leaving Richmond University.


August 8, 2011

Kimballton & Elk Horn (video)

Kimballton & Elk Horn (video)

The villages Kimballton and Elk Horn in Iowa are probably less well-known Danish immigrant communities than Solvang, California. But while I have not met a single person of Danish descent on my two visits to Solvang, Danish descendants are everywhere in the two Iowa villages. In fact the very first person I had the pleasure of meeting in Elk Horn – Lisa Steen Riggs, manager of the Danish windmill – had a Danish background.

Yes, Elk Horn has an original Danish windmill from 1848 – in contrast to the replicas in Solvang. Check out the video below to learn more about the windmill.

Lisa explained to me that the Danish immigrants had settled in two villages according to life style and beliefs. The “holy Danes”, of which many were member of “The Internal Mission”, had settled in Elk Horn. The “happy Danes” had settled in nearby Kimballton. Later during my visit the local hairdresser told me the same story and added that even though the “holy Danes” were not supposed to drink,  some did anyway secretly…

Perhaps things have changed, because a micro brewery is underway in Elk Horn and there is a winery too in addition to the windmill, the Danish Immigrant Museum and other attractions. In Kimballton you will find a nice  replica of the Little Mermaid.

By the way, I think my colleagues in the Danish electricity company SEAS-NVE will be interested in knowing that just outside the village of Elk Horn there are a lot of modern windmills, just like in the real Denmark. Furthermore, Elk Horn is the community in the USA with the highest number of charging stations for electric vehicles per capita. Finally, Elk Horn has a high-speed optical fiber network!

How about that?

By the way, not many speak Danish anymore other than a few words, and Danish traditions change over time, which is understandable. But I have a hard time understanding that in Elk Horn the Danish Christmas special, “æbleskiver” (kind of waffles), and the dinner dish of “medisterpølse” (sausage) are served together – for breakfast!!!

After the windmill from Nørre Snede, Denmark was moved to Elk Horn, Iowa, Danish legislation was put in place to prevent further export of historic windmills. But the windmill had probably not been preserved, if it had not been exported. And, the undertaking really galvanized the Danish communities in and around Elk Horn.


The windmill as seen from behind the bust of famous Danish fairytale writer, Hans Christian Andersen.


Charging stations for electrical vehicles in Elk Horn, Iowa.



A typical house in Elk Horn.



The Little Mermaid in Kimballton, Iowa.


Stars and Stripes and Dannebrog seen to caress each other.


July 23, 2011

Happy Birthday Michael (video)

Happy Birthday Michael (video)

I am going to stick to the theme(s) of this blog – except when there is a good reason to deviate. And this is such an occasion.

My good old friend Michael is turning 40 today, July 23rd.

As he has fled to Italy and I am on my road trip in the States, I am sending him the virtual greeting below.

Other viewers than Michael may be interested in the breathtaking view. I am right on the edge. Be careful if you go there!

This is my first attempt to shoot video with the Canon 5D MkII and to upload it, so it may not be not perfect. There were some strong wind gusts, which can be heard on occasion. I could not do anything about. By the way, you may find it funny how I am trying to loose my “German” accent in this clip. It is simply because, everywhere I go people think that I am German based on my (Danish!) accent. So I am working on that. Bare with me folks…


July 22, 2011

Arches (video) UPDATED

Arches (video) UPDATED

After posting my virtual birthday greeting to my friend, Michael, I have received requests to do more videos. Trying to oblige, I have shot another short video in Arches National Park that you will find below and on my youtube channel.

I will probably do more but not many, as videos for a number of reasons are very hard and time consuming to do as a one-man-band.

First, it is technically difficult to film yourself: getting the framing and focus right.  Second, it is a challenge to act to a camera without anybody behind it. Third, people continuously get in your picture and audio spoiling the footage.

Thus it is necessary to shoot multiple takes – in this case under the burning sun…

Naturally, it can be hard to capture ordinary still images as well for one of the same reasons; people get in your way.

The Moab Information Center had warned me that this would be the situation exactly, if I wanted to photograph Delicate Arch, the most famous landmark in the park. But I took my  chances…

As many others, I headed up the 2.4 (1,6 mi) moderately strenuous trail in the heat of the late afternoon. I carried 25 pounds of equipment on my back, the tripod in one hand and a water bottle in the other.

The water had been stored in the car for the whole day, and it was nearly boiling at this point. So was I. Fortunately, I met a charming young Italian couple on their honeymoon. Besides keeping me with excellent company, they graciously gave me one of their cool water bottles and saved me from a heatstroke.

Thank you so much guys! :-)

Nevertheless, I nearly had a different kind of stroke, when I arrived at the viewpoint from where I was going to photograph the arch. The Moab Information Center had not downplayed the scene, and I started to get pretty frustrated about it along with a bunch of other photographers.

I realize that neither I nor the other amateur photographers have a special entitlement to photograph the arch over the rest of the crowd. But could we just get a break and do our thing for a minute?

Furthermore, if you want your picture taken in front of it, you need to move away from it – closer towards the camera. Otherwise you will be so small in the picture that no one can identify you.

Thus it was indeed frustrating that the fruitless attempts of some spoiled it for the rest of us.

As the sun started to set the frustrations continued to grow among the photographers, including yours truly.

You could really feel the tension in the air.

Finally, a desperate lady cried out from the top of her lungs what so many of us were thinking: “Stooooooooop – moooooove awaaaaaaay!”

This emotional eruption was met with an instant applause from the crowd of photographers and bystanders, and a cool local dude with a rasta hairdo went down and explained to the crowd to please get out of the view/shot.

In a split second cameras went off like machine guns and there was a sense of great relief.

Not before long the situation was back to square one and repeated itself. But I did manage to capture a few decent shots without any people it. So I started to cool off.

By the way, while I was sitting there, I was suddenly approached by an eloquent 13 year old kid, who introduced himself as Randy from Lexington, Kentucky.

Randy was quite talkative (just like me) and he did not beat around the bush but started to enlighten me about his hometown of Lexington and a whole range of subjects.

Randy, I enjoyed meeting you and talking to you. You have a lot on the ball. You are certainly the most knowledgeable 13 year-old I have met for quite a while. Keep on piling on the knowledge and use it well, and you will have a great future in front of you my friend.

And, Randy, if you meet anyone who wants their picture taken in front of a large object, do not hesitate to tell them to moooooooove awaaaaaay from it. ;-)

It can be frustrating to photograph a landmark when people are in the way all the time. By the way, this photo illustrates how you have to mooooove awaaaaay from the large object and closer to the camera, if you want anybody to recognize you. Notice how small the people appear in the background close to one of the "windows" in Arches National Park.


Nobody in the way for a second - oh yes - I just managed to snap the sun setting on Delicate Arch, while the shadows creep up on it.


I met this charming Italian couple on their honeymoon on the trail to Delicate Arch. Unlike me, they knew how to keep cool.