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What do menorahs, gospel music, and top Philly businesspeople have in common? | Scene Through the Lens

Staff Photographer Tom Gralish blogs about his work

J. Donald Dumpson conducts the Philadelphia Heritage Chorale onstage at the annual A Soulful Christmas communal gathering of regional choristers.
J. Donald Dumpson conducts the Philadelphia Heritage Chorale onstage at the annual A Soulful Christmas communal gathering of regional choristers.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Those disparate sounding topics are just three of many assignments I’ve covered in the past couple of weeks. But all three illustrate one of my favorite approaches to newspaper photography: looking at the same thing in a different way.

Last year I did a little photo essay on the “holiday lights” in Center City that made it a fun wintery place to visit. This year I decided to celebrate the eight-night Hanukkah season. Forty-four years ago - in front of Independence Hall - a rabbi and a few yeshiva students lighted the first candle on a small wooden menorah. Since then, erecting oversized outdoor menorahs in public spaces has spread all over the country - and the world.

I visited menorahs throughout the region - including the one on Independence Mall, now grown over the years to forty feet high - capturing varied images during this wintertime “festival of lights.”

Driving all over the city and suburbs, I ended up shooting fifteen very similar menorahs, trying to make sure I ended up with at least a half dozen pictures of them that didn’t all look the same.

I shot some really tight, some with a slow shutter speed on a tripod, and a few juxtaposing scenes of daily (nighttime) life around them. A selection appeared in the Inquirer and Daily News, and online.

For a few years now the Inquirer has presented “Industry Icon Awards” to recognize Philadelphia's outstanding business leaders during a Hall of Fame Dinner. Throughout the evening, each of the six awardees or there families (two were awarded posthumously) stepped up on the same stage after a video presentation. Each one stood in the same place to receive their award and each then stepped up to the podium to address their fellow business leaders.

The picture of each one standing there with the award was a important image. Luckily for me, our marketing department had hired an event photographer for the evening so I could concentrate on making pictures for the newspapers and our website. And while it is great that each honoree was able to receive a souvenir photo of themselves, I didn’t want our readers to have to see six identical photos from the evening.

So, before the dinner began, I scoped out the banquet hall and mentally mapped out different ways to photograph each of the six honorees onstage.

***Break for a flashback: This is my all-time favorite “grip and grin” photo collection. President Obama, seen in a video created by Eric Spiegelman from Official White House photos by Lawrence Jackson in 2009 as the POTUS and the First Lady hosted a reception and posed for 135 individual photos with all the visiting foreign dignitaries in town for a United Nations meeting. It’s old, but watch the video. It’s excellent.***

Finally, I covered the “A Soulful Christmas” communal gathering with eight regional choristers. Again, all on the same stage. And - except for the big finale group and the youth choir - all dressed in black. Movement in the Kimmel Center’s Verizon Hall was restricted, but with lens choice and changes in position I did manage to get images of the choirs that did not look all the same.