The 2007 Iraqi Labor Tour: A photographer’s blog

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June 6

Today was Capitol Hill day. H was to meet with various Members of Congress and staff in the afternoon. While the Tour was being planned Denice had asked me to find a place for them to eat lunch beforehand and show them what I could of the Capitol. I couldn’t remember what cafeterias were open to the public so I had e-mailed some people I know on the Hill telling them I was playing tour guide to two Iraqis and asking for advice. Matt W. of the House History office kindly offered to take us on a special tour. This I gladly accepted. When I had taken a visiting Russian scholar on the official tourist tour a couple years ago, the logistics were difficult and the line was long. (You have to get tickets in the morning for the next available time slot; one ticket is given out per person; if you miss your time slot and come late, you don’t go in. If you come on time, you still have to wait. It’s hard to do all that and keep other appointments on the same day). There was still a lot of uncertainty. When a last minute meeting was added with a staffer from Steny Hoyer’s office at 11:00, tour and lunch got a little squeezed. When Faleh couldn’t get his visa in time, Hoyer’s office canceled the meeting.

Denice told me to meet them at the Capitol South metro exit at 11:00. She didn’t have time for touring so Kathy Black of Philadelphia AFSCME, another USLAW co-convener, joined H. and Zein. We crept through security (H was overloaded with metal jewelry) and descended to a basement office in the Cannon House Office Building. There we met our tour guide, Laura Turner. She said we could leave our bags there to escape some of the delay from the metal detectors and searches. She also said it would be quicker if we went overground to the Capitol rather than used the tunnels. The tunnels between the Capitol and the various House office buildings are no longer open to the public, unless escorted by staff. Even so, there are metal detectors and delay.

Laura gave a great tour, emphasizing women’s history. H. must not have brought her camera that day because she wanted me to take photos. I hadn’t planned to take any on the Capitol tour since I didn’t think USLAW would want those, but I was certainly willing to do so. First H wanted one in front of a large and impressive painting. I suggested one in front of the Suffragists statue and another beside Dr. King. I asked Laura to take us by Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol office and took one of H standing underneath the “Speaker” sign.


As we departed I shot one of the four of them behind a sign that said “Tours” to send to Laura for the office files. Whenever H was standing by herself she looked right at my camera. But when I shot the four of them, once again her eyes went sideways toward the interpreter. I expected her to give me an e-mail address so I could send her the photos, but she never did. Nor did Denice. No one ever got the Capitol tour photos that I didn’t intend to shoot.

After H expressed interest in the artworks, Laura said there was a book on Art in the Capitol that we might find in the gift shop near the cafeteria in the Longworth House Office Building. The cafeteria was very crowded, mostly with tourists. While the others stood in line to get food I went to the gift shop to find the book. I didn’t find that one, but did find a couple others with pictures in them – one for H and one for her 8-year-old son. Back in the cafeteria, H was glad to get them.

Cong. Jim McDermott’s (D. WA) office was fortuitously one floor above us because we barely had time to eat and get there by 2:00. The staff member in charge wanted us to wait for Denice, who was late. Just when the Congressman was tired of waiting, Denice appeared and we all went into the his office. We were joined by a couple staff members and two more M.C.s – Michael Hondo (D. CA) and William Delahunt (D. MA).

The seating was C-shaped -- very good for photos, though it helped to have a wide-angle lens. Mine was just a little shy of wide enough to get everyone into my frame. Denice, H and a different interpreter sat on the couch against the wall. Cong. McDermott sat in a rocker on their right, with Honda and Delahunt to their left. At least this way when H faced her interpreter she was also facing two M.C.s I actually got a couple good shots of her looking at them (or so it seemed) and using her hands.


Of course the translator was also using his hands. Sometimes he appeared to elaborate on what H said. I couldn’t get a shot of her looking at McDermott while talking and using her hands, but did get one of her looking at him while he was talking. H. was getting better at facing her intended audience rather than the interpreter while speaking, though she still looked down and took notes when listening.

There were several other people in the room, including staff members and a reporter for the Seattle Times. She asked me to send her some of the shots I took for her story. (She didn’t offer to pay for them). I did so that evening, but never heard back so don’t know if any were published. Before we left the Congressman asked H to pose with him and the other two M.C.s so his staffer could take a photo. I took one also -- even though all four of them were looking at the staffer’s camera rather than mine.


Our final meeting for the day was hosted by the Progressive Caucus inside the Capitol Building. Cong. McDermott’s staffer escorted us through the tunnels. I was learning that even staffers had to give a destination and explanation to the security guards in order to take the public through. There were certain right answers which they knew to use even if they weren’t truthful. The Capitol security system needs a sprinkling of little white lies to make it work without unreasonable delay. There are also some hidden treasures in those tunnels. At least one is decorated with some very interesting art – one per Congressional District created by constituents.

Inside HC-6 (which is physically outside the original Capitol) the podium was placed in front of two tables. Kathy Black sat behind one looking rather lonely. The seats in front were lined up way too close to the podium with an aisle down the middle. I sat down directly in front of Kathy, who was stage left of the podium. About 20 people wandered in and took seats behind me. Most looked very young, so I assumed they were staff. Cong. Barbara Lee (D. CA) came in and sat for a few minutes in the front row next to Bill Goold, Executive Director of the Progressive Caucus. The PC is the largest partisan caucus in the house. Lee and Cong. Lynn Woolsey (D. CA) are the co-chairs.

After a long delay H was introduced and began speaking. H is not tall, and was almost hidden behind the podium. There was still another interpreter for this event, standing to H.’s right. I soon realized that if I wanted a shot of H’s face and not the side of her head (half covered by her head scarf) I was on the wrong side of the aisle. I switched sides, which effectively put me in the front row that was obviously reserved for Members of Congress. Goold looked at me somewhat skeptically, but said nothing. No other M.C.s arrived.

H returned to her usual practice of speaking to her interpreter. She didn’t turn her body, but twisted her head toward Aseel, and slanted her eyes even further to the side. I got lousy shots of H; great shots of Aseel. I thought H might look at the audience while Aseel was speaking, but Aseel stretched out her hands and leaned them on the front and side edge of the podium which somewhat blocked the line of sight from my camera lens to H’s face. Only when there were questions from the audience did I get anything I would want to show to someone else.



I got one shot of Jerry Moran of Kansas, the only Republican Member who came and the only other M.C. to show at all. He sat in the middle of the audience listening quietly, and would have said nothing had he not been prodded and prodded to ask a question. Then he respectfully questioned H in a manner that showed his disagreement with her assessment of the situation in Iraq. After he left, another questioner made fun of his question.


At some point TV Telesur (Venezuela) came in and mounted its camera at the back of the room. The reporter came forward and put her mike right on the podium on the opposite corner from Aseel’s hands. If I were still sitting stage left it would have blocked my camera’s line of sight. Between Aseel’s hands on one side and the mike on the other, there was no angle from which to shoot while sitting.

Of course I could have stood up in the middle aisle and shot over both hands and mike, but that would have blocked the audience’s view and given Telesur a good shot of my back. This is bad behavior for a photographer. While we all do it sometimes, it’s frowned upon. We’re supposed to stay in the background.

Cong. Woolsey came in and sat down in the seat between me and Goold. I switched sides once again, in part to get a good shot of the Congresswoman. She was a dream to shoot – animated, expressive, and while she didn’t look at my camera, she did look at H, not the interpreter. And H looked at her! This time I stood up, but not in the middle of the aisle. I stood on the chair so I could shoot down. Only a couple people’s view was blocked. H. gave Woolsey a small present, which the Congresswoman gratefully accepted. Finally, some action shots! Those were the best shots of the day.





As the meeting shifted into a press conference, I left. It had been a long day and I still had to send photos to USLAW. After three days of shooting I finally had a few shots that I thought were really good.


None of the “really good” photos I sent to USLAW appeared on its webpage. On June 8, I got a mass e-mail from Denice which concluded with

Your photos are really wonderful, Bruce. Thanks! I saw them on the USLAW website. I might call you to ask for help putting my photos on photoshow. Tried it myself and can't figure it out. Denice

When I went to the USLAW home page and clicked on “Voices of Iraqi Workers Solidarity Tour - Washington, DC Photos” I found only a blank screen.

I finally found Bruce’s photos, but I didn’t find mine. I wrote to the USLAW webmaster late that night, who replied that he had been too busy to post my photos but would do so as soon as he had time.

For almost two weeks I clicked that “Voices” page and found it blank. Finally I wrote again. He replied that

When I had a chance to post photos, I decided to post them first with the other stories and videos from the tour. I had created an area of the tour section specifically for that purpose. I have started to post photos organized by tour city, as time permits. You can find this area, including some of your photos, by using the top menu bar, clicking on Campaigns & Projects, then on Find tour photos, videos and news coverage HERE. Once there, you will see a headline that says: Voices of Iraqi Workers Solidarity Tour - Washington, DC Photos, where you will find some of the photos you sent.

I clicked as he said and found six of my photos from the meetings at the AFL. None of them had a credit line. Bruce’s photos had a credit line. The photos from “The Voices of Iraqi Workers Solidarity Tour - Berkeley Photos” had a credit line to David Bacon. Irritated, I wrote the webmaster again. He replied:

“If you pass your mouse over each photo, a little box should appear that says "Photo by Jo Freeman". If you click on the photo, it provides the original larger version.”

Even more irritated, I wrote back

“This is not satisfactory. I really would appreciate your providing the same easy to see credit line that you gave David Bacon and not one that can only be viewed by cognoscenti. I would also like to print a copy for my files that will show my name. I wasn't irritated the first time I wrote you asking where the photos were posted, when you thought I was. But I am now. I don't understand why you think it is OK to proudly proclaim the author of some photographs, but not others. If this were a paid, union job, it's the kind of thing my union would grieve over. I learned long ago from my years as an activist that if you can't pay people in money you pay them in credit. Different rates for different people isn't any better in the volunteer arena than it is in the work-for-pay world.”

A couple days later I finally found “Photos by Jo Freeman” below the last of my six photos. Underneath that was a link to “Photos of the final event on June 26, 2007 by Bruce Wolfe.” There was no reciprocal link.

I hadn’t gone to that final evening event. I wanted nothing more to do with the Tour. When Matt W. sent a couple art books that I couldn’t find in the gift shop for me to give to H, I forwarded them to Denice.

When I volunteered to take photos of the DC portion of the tour, I thought I was performing a service. In retrospect I see that I was foolish to believe this. In reality I was just an unpaid staff photographer. But it was worth doing -- once. I’ll never do it again.

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Copyright© by Jo Freeman, 2007

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