by Anthony Correia
Staff Photographer
Queens Chronicle

I like interesting assignments. Editors usually send me off to shoot a grip and grin ceremony or a street renaming event, somewhere (usually in Queens, NY). One time an editor actually told me that a picture can’t run because the editor doesn’t like the person in the picture. I explain that that person made the story happen (meaning, he was the only one really taking a stand and speaking)…the picture ran, but I digress.
Yes, assignments can be varied and interesting at a local weekly newspaper in Queens.
Sometimes interesting assignments find me.
Back in ’99 my home telephone rang (no cellphone … had a cheap pager, but couldn’t afford a cellphone yet). Somehow, my name was mentioned for a possible assignment shooting for a foreign diplomat (thank goodness for business cards…drop enough around and you are sure to get a call).
Well, the New York Belgian Consulate to the United Nations (UN) came a’calling yours truly.
The caller explained that the Belgian Foreign Minister, Louis Michel, was making his first trip ever to New York City for the 54th UN General Assembly and had a contingent of media representatives with him (about 20 or so people altogether) and no one thought of hiring a still photographer – until now. I was asked if I was available to shoot for two weeks while the minister was in town. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance.
“ Exciting,” I thought. Little did I know how exciting those two weeks would become.
As a native New Yorker, I had never visited the UN building until this assignment. Sure, I knew where it was and was well aware of the history there, etc… But, like most New Yorkers, I took (and sometimes still do) take landmarks for granted… like never going to the top of the Empire State Building (did a few times after turning 25, a while ago) and the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers (they’ll be there when I get around to wanting to feel like a tourist, I thought)… little did I know September 11 would occur. That day is another story altogether. (I was fortunate enough to visit those towers on more than one occasion prior to September 11). But, again, I digress.
I needed to visit the consulate to obtain my ID card. The consulate is located across the street from the UN building. Very convenient location I thought to myself. When I showed up and identified myself, I was told where to go for the ID card. I was literally in and out in less than 25 minutes. I was amazed when I saw that my ID card read: ‘Official Belgian Photographer.’ Yes, some of my family members laughed, but there it was, my mug on that ID card.
I was told where to report for the first day, so that I may receive that day’s itinerary. For the first day, I was told to report to a hotel at 7AM and wait outside. I wasn’t given a contact name, but I had my official ID card handy. I waited, waited… and waited some more (almost two hours)… until finally a few vans pull up. People, whom I presume to be Belgian delegates start walking outside the hotel, standing and waiting themselves, as I try to figure out who to identify myself to. I knew no one there. Not even the minister. All I had was that ID card.


19SEPT99 - NEW YORK CITY, EAST RIVER ABOARD SAILBOAT 'PIONEER' - Belgium Minister of Foreign Affairs Louis Michel is interviewed by journalists as he enjoys a sailboat ride on the 'Pioneer'. The Minister was in town for the recent United Nation's General Assembly. This was his first official trip to the United Nation.

After introducing myself and figuring out who to listen to, (I had the right group), I was told to wait a little more for the minister to leave the hotel. This is where I met Michel. We met and he told me to follow him. He stepped into a waiting car and took off. Everyone else ran to the waiting vans and I barely made it in time. Inside I found out that we were heading to Pier 17, the South Street Seaport. The Belgian government had charted a boat for a day’s excursion. I have sea legs, but burn easily. I wish I knew we were heading to the water beforehand. This first experience would be the first of my wishes’ during my two week stint.
That fist day ended up being a little long, shadowing the minister on the boat, taking scenics of him operating the boat and in Battery Park, nearby later in the day. I arrived home, collapsing on my bed from exhaustion.
“ Wow, I am going to really earn my pay with this gig,” I thought.


19SEPT99 - EAST RIVER, NEW YORK CITY - SAILBOAT 'PIONEER' - Belgium Minister of Foreign Affairs Louis Michel is pictured at the helm of the sailboat 'Pioneer' during his recent trip to New York City. Minister Michel was in town for the United Nation's recent General Assembly.

Days fly by and I get into the routine. Report to consulate, receive day’s anticipated itinerary (anticipated meaning it could and would change, as necessary) and then go to the UN building and wait. My first day in the UN building was fun for me, although my guide (a Belgian consulate rep) wasn’t happy being my guide.
Trying to get into the UN building with camera equipment is like trying to get into Fort Knox, I soon found out. Back then I was shooting film with Minolta X-700 bodies (I shoot with Canon film and digital bodies now). I had my camera bag ready, two bodies with the advance motors attached, extra batteries, lenses and lots of film. My guide went through security rather easily and started to get miffed by my security ‘issue.’ A guard there didn’t care what my ID card said. “Official photographer or not, you have to empty out your bag,” he said. I said, “ok.” I proceeded to empty everything I had in my Domke bag, leaving my film in the exterior pouches. The guard said again, “please empty everything out of your bag.” I asked, “including the film?” “Yes,” he said. I had probably 40 or so 35mm film cartridges in those little white containers that they come in. You know, the ones that you fit and store quarters into. Well, the guard then asked me to take the film out of the containers… I finally made it through security after about 20 minutes or so. My guide was mad, but proceeded to rush me to the appointed area for the beginning of the bilateral meetings. At least I learned what to do next time I had to get through security again.
One day was particularly interesting. I learned that the minister was scheduled to meet with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and then with U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright later on. I made it to the hotel for the meeting with Arafat and proceeded to wait, wait…. and wait some more. Secret Service agents were all over the place and told me and the other Belgian press (I still smile when I think of myself as Belgian press) to drop our equipment to the floor, turn everything on and leave the area. Needless to say, I had never been searched, prodded or sniffed like on that particular day, ever. One thing I can say for the Secret Service, they are thorough. Even their dogs. The agents touch and inspect our equipment (for me, an agent popped off a frame or two of the floor). The canine unit is brought in, sniffs around, and then we are told to pick up our stuff right away.
The agents escort us to nearby elevators and we proceed to the 36th floor of the hotel. On that level, we are subjected to another round of searches. I walk through a metal detector and my equipment is searched again and examined with an x-ray machine. (I knew by this day that I should use a film bag, just for film cartridges… no containers. Had to ask the agents not to x-ray the film and I was amazed when they did not x-ray the film).
After that round, we were let onto the floor area itself. I noticed that the Belgian journalists were running to a room on the other side of the floor. I grabbed my bag and walked a few steps to a clear area and kneeled down to my bag to access my gear. “I need to do this quick,” I remember thinking. I pulled out my Domke belt pouch, wrapped it around my waist and then grabbed my external flash battery, an old Quantum. As I pulled the battery out of the bag, I heard what I thought was a gun cocking nearby. I slowly looked to my left and saw a uniformed soldier (no clue what kind of soldier) lean out of a doorway area down the hall with this huge automatic rifle/gun thing (I say thing because I have no clue what kind of rifle it was… but it was HUGE). The weapon was never pointed at me, but I had a feeling he was trying to scare me. Well, I had the battery in my hand and, while looking at him and pointing to the Quantum, said,”battery”…   (I pushed a button on the battery so that it would light up for him to see), pointed to myself and said, “photographer.”
The soldier then leaned back into his doorway security position and let me gear up. I was a little pissed off now. I was late…


22SEPT99 - NEW YORK - UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY WEEK - Belgium minister of Foreign Affairs meets Palestinian Leader Yassir Arafat. This was the Minister's first official trip to the United Nations.

With my gear on and powered up I made it to the room with my boss (Louis Michel) and Arafat inside. I turn a corner and see a wall of press people in front of me. I could not get through them at all, no matter how hard I tried. The walls had empty chairs lined up along the perimeter, shaped like an ‘L.’ I saw that and proceeded to jump onto the chairs and then literally ran around the press people there. When I turned the corner and saw there was room, I jumped down in front of the press group and near Michel and Arafat. Before landing (while on the chairs) I heard someone say,” hey, he can’t do that.” But, I did. After kneeling down and taking a few shots, I realized that I could have been shot for what I did. Dumb move, but I was THE Official Belgian Photographer!

I was really only able to get off one or two shots, actually. The grip and grin was over and the press was told to leave so that the two leaders could get chummy. I knew that I didn’t have THE shot that I needed. My boss would be pissed, I thought. I kept saying,”one more, please” but an Arafat aide told me to leave with everyone else. I was the last one in the room and the last one out. As I was leaving, I asked the aide if it would be possible for me to get one last opportunity to photograph them together (I didn’t want to use the word ‘shoot’ for obvious reasons). The aide was actually very nice and told me to wait. Ok, I knew the routine: I waited, waited…. and waited some more. The aide appeared and told me to get ready. Arafat came outside his hotel room with my boss and did a grip and grin that I wouldn’t soon forget.
Louis Michel is actually a very nice man. He bought us press folk lunch one time at a Belgian restaurant on 14th Street and Eight Avenue (I forget the name). It was a great place, I recall. I sat down with three other journalists and we chatted a bit about anything and everything. When the waitress came around, she asked what we wanted. All three asked for Steak Tar Tar. I thought to myself, “Hhmmm, that sounds good.” I asked what that was and was told that it was a french treat…. Hamburger on a pattie with some home fries. “Nice, ‘  I said. Other folks already had their meals and one person points out a Steak Tar Tar to me…. I then find out that the meat is uncooked. I had ordered raw meat, freshly ground with egg and spices.  “UGH!” When I saw the waitress, I asked her to please cook my burger. Everyone laughed, but I had a really nice tasting burger.
Another day comes around and I arrive early for another round of grip and grins with Michel and foreign dignitaries. By this time I was a little chummy with the foreign minister. I was told that the minister would be flying out the next day and that he would want certain prints made of the images from the trip, so far. I simply thought that I would have the time to make the prints properly, etc…, but I soon learned otherwise. We had a few minutes of downtime in between the bilateral meetings, so I started speaking with Michel, asking him when he would depart and what he would like in terms of print sizes. I later learned that I was thinking in inches (an 8 x 10, maybe??) and he thought that I was talking about centimeters. Anyway…  “I leave tomorrow morning,” he said. He then mentioned that he would like the prints prior to his boarding for home. I said that that would be difficult to do in such a short time (I had taken a lot of images and he wanted a lot printed). He looked at me and said,”you will do it.”
I knew I had to do it …. Or else. Or else what, I didn’t want to know.
I estimated that in between the morning meeting and the important one with Koffi Annan later in the afternoon, I had about three hours to kill. I had the brilliant idea of going home to pick up my negs, get them to a printer and have the lab process the prints overnight,  then make it for that important meeting. I live about 15 miles away from Manhattan in Queens, so this was going to be a quick round trip I thought. Well, I took the LIRR. It would be faster instead of the 7 train. It was faster, but I didn’t take the LIRR on a regular basis. I
learned that day that the LIRR train does not stop at my stop all the time. I also learned that it is quicker, but expensive if you board WITHOUT a ticket. Geez. (No worries. I was able to expense everything later on, which was cool).
I make it back to Penn Station with maybe 20 minutes to spare. I think that the 7 train on 42nd Street would get me across town with time to spare. Turns out that the 7 train was out of service when I needed it the most. I proceeded to grab a cab and went maybe half a block towards the UN, but there was heavy traffic (security around town effects traffic big time when the UN General Assembly is in action). We didn’t move and we were not going to move, I thought to myself.
I paid the cabbie and started to run towards the UN with all my gear and negs. I think I was on 7th Avenue and 42nd Street. I had to make it to the UN in about ten minutes…. On foot now, no less..  I couldn’t believe my luck.
Well, I must have looked like a mess when I ran towards the main UN building. Forget security. I had my ID card out and said that I needed to get in NOW. I was THE Official Belgian photographer. They knew my face by then and the guards did a quicker than usual check of my bag and let me in in record time. I ran some more and made it to the grip and grin UN area…. Just in time too. I set up and proceeded to take as many pictures as possible of Louis Michel meeting with Koffi Annan. A photographer spoke up and said,”gosh, you’re taking a lot of shots.” I said that I was shooting my boss… I think he understood as sweat was streaming down my face.
This was my first UN experience. A pleasure, to be sure!

Anthony Correia



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