by Susan B. Markisz

July 4th was a veritable feast of photo opportunities but it was no picnic in terms of official access to this year's Presidential Military review and OpSail.

Working for the Big Newspaper has distinct advantages over working for smaller publications, or, for example, Susan B. Markisz Photography.  In the case of the former, Susan calls up usually willing subject or PR person to confirm assignment, which by and large has already gone through the photo desk.  In the case of a news event, it's usually enough to flash my neon pink New York City Press Pass, issued every two years to deserving press photographers by the New York City Police Department, which likes to keep tabs on the media.

Not so for Big News Events like papal or presidential visits, when presidential safety and the threat of terrorism far outweigh my rights and privileges as a news photographer wearing the letter "F" for freelance.  In these cases, my NYC press pass doesn't pass muster without the Big Event

During the Papal visit to NY in 1995, I had credentials through the weekly Riverdale Press, for the Central Park and Meadowlands.  We were refused credentials for St. Joseph's Seminary although it was in our coverage area and we had a local angle.  While covering the Meadowlands, I was ejected from the stadium for standing in an area for which I was not color-coded. I had been taking pictures along with dozens of non-credentialed "faithful" with their point-and-shoots, underneath the center scaffolding area, above which was reserved for the wire services and the larger publications.  In an ecumenical spirit, everyone took turns getting a front-and -center view of the Pope, only yards away,  through a tiny opening in scaffolding, while the platform above shielded us from the drenching rain.  Although we were interfering with no one standing on the scaffolding above us, one press photographer, who was more interested in assuring his exclusivity than shooting, continually demanded to see our press credentials, to ensure we weren't encroaching on his territory.  Shortly after I left the venue, the director of papal security approached me and physically removed me from the stadium although he had not caught me "in flagrante delicto." When I asked him what I had done, he said:  "You KNOW what you did.  Read the back of your press card," which essentially limited my access to the press box, way up in the rafters.   I eventually managed to talk my way back into the stadium, by telling one of the priests involved in the incident that I didn't think this is what God OR the Pope intended.  But it left a somewhat bitter taste in my mouth as to the preferential treatment when it comes to credentials.

But that's water under the bridge and lessons learned.  I didn't have an invitation to the USS Kennedy this year, where President Clinton was going to review the parade of Tall Ships.  I knew that if I hoped to get any pictures at all, I was going to battle traffic, road closures and access limitations. The way I figured it was, I'd capture a New Yorker's view of July 4th, and not the privileged view afforded press photographers.

What we had in New York this past July 4th, was a promise of tall ships and spectacular vistas.  In reality the hundreds of tall ships turned out to be only a handful that bothered to make their way past 79th street, leaving thousands of disappointed New Yorkers north of 79th Street on the Hudson River side of our island.  Butdepending on where you were in Manhattan, there was plenty going on.  There were sailors and street fairs,  flags and fireworks.  We even had cows dressed for the occasion.

I may not have been able to sit at the head table, but I consoled myself with the fact that I had photographed some of the spirit of the day around town, even without the Big Event Credential.  Imagine then, my chagrin when, a few days later I was in Staples and some guy was making color copies of pictures of himself with the President.  "How did you get aboard the Kennedy?" I
asked him. "Oh," he replied proudly, "I know the admiral!" 

Just goes to show you there are more ways than one to get a picture!

Susan B. Markisz
July 4, 2000

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