"Behind the Chase" - Looking for OKC-based Volunteers!

Conor Clancy

Feb 18, 2016
Philadelphia, PA
Hi everyone, Stormtrack n00b here. I'm working on a personal photo project documenting the lives of storm chasers while they're on the road, and I'm looking for anyone based in the Oklahoma City metro area who would be interested in participating this spring (I will be in town 5/18-5/25). I've attached what is, at this point, the closest I have to the introduction of a formal proposal (in actuality it's the body of an e-mail).

I'm still working on formatting the presentation of the project. At present, I am leaning towards a blog, which will give me the freedom to write. To sell myself a bit for those wary of having a stranger photographing them, I can say that because of my background in live music photography, I'm pretty good at staying out of the way. On the opposite end of that, I'm also prepared to help out if need be (this includes the rare occasion a chase ends with search & rescue).

Please, if anyone has any questions or even suggestions, feel free to PM or E-mail me (conor@conorclancyphoto.com). I've put the links to my work at the bottom of this topic, so you can get an idea of my style.

My name is Conor Clancy, and I’m a freelance photographer and writer currently based in Philadelphia, PA. For the last several years, the breadth of my photo work has been live music photography. Music has always been a passion of mine, and while I am still thoroughly enchanted by it, I never feel like I am telling a story; just capturing another artist doing so. In my quest to find new ways in which to tell stories of human interest, I revisited the concept of Photojournalism. Previously, narrow-minded way of thinking caused me to write-off the genre of photojournalism as simply “war photography;” members of the media donning Kevlar vests and blast helmets and putting their lives on the line in an attempt to really convey the horrors of wartime.

In actuality the definition has a much broader reach. Perusing through portfolios of other photojournalists gave way to brainstorming, trying desperately to discover some way in which I could align my interests with the concept of a cohesive “visual narrative,” while at the same time creating something which has never been seen. Jotting down some ideas, I recognized much of what interested me revolved around a series of “A Day in the Life Of…” narratives vaguely reminiscent of Brandon Stanton's Humans of New York, only with more time spent following the subject. Clarity came afterwards, when I sat down at the end of the evening to wind down and watch something recommended for me on Hulu––TVN’s Tornado Chasers.

Severe weather has long been an interest of mine, probably since my first viewing of The Wizard of Oz. At the age of eight I read Warren Faidley’s Storm Chaser: In Pursuit of Untamed Skies, cover-to-cover. I can recall visualizing Faidley as the "Indiana Jones" of the Great Plains; the supercell being the “Well of Lost Souls,” while the tornado served as the Ark. It was 1996, and America was in full-scale Twister hysteria, and a “Storm Chaser” was suddenly the occupation-du-jour. Twenty years later, I find myself in awe of how large of an impact Twister made on the mainstream’s psyche––a good lot of my acquaintances still believe a storm chaser’s life is much like Helen Hunt driving that red Dodge Pick-Up through Oklahoma, and we both know this isn’t true, especially in 2016. Tornado Chasers introduced me to what a real chaser's life can be like, and I wanted to see more (since I'm sure the majority of you guys aren't driving into tornadoes in armored vehicles). While 8-year-old me would have been most enthralled by the tornado footage, the softball-sized hail, and fast-paced adventure; 28-year-old me was stricken by the human side of chasing: Timmer’s battle against the Homeowner’s Association for regularly parking the Dominators in his front yard, a friendly neighbor arriving to tidy up his house knowing he has no time to do it, having to deal with the disappointment of picking a target area, only to find out the real storm was in his backyard. The human interest side of chasing, which I believe portrays the storm chaser as someone I could identify with: an individual pursuing his or her passion, using their own funds, and doing so just because it’s something they enjoy.

The Project
On page 1 of Storm Chasing Handbook, Vasquez writes, “The ultimate goal of storm chasing is incredibly multifaceted and varied.” My ultimate goal is to put together some sort of chronicle utilizing both my photography and my writing; a portrait of a large cross-section of chasers while they are on the road. Storm chasers are all share a common goal: the storm, but the differences in both their motivations and the paths they choose to reach the common goal is what I find so fascinating. From seasoned pros, students, research teams, chase tours, first timers, hundredth-timers, local news chapters, YouTube sensation… the list is endless, and they all deal with aspects of the chase uniquely. What do they do on a quiet day? How do they cope with being on the road for long stretches of time? With being away from family for weeks. Additionally, the technology involved with chasing has undoubtedly come a long way in a short amount of time. How has new technology added to the safety of the chase, and has it detracted from the experience at all? (I’ve also attached a preliminary list of questions I wish to address throughout this project)? I will be in essence shadowing the chase team for a few days, shooting whatever I can shoot without getting in the way.

As this venture is currently self-funded, I plan to start out small––testing the viability of my concept in order to see what works, and what doesn’t. I’ve booked a week in the Oklahoma City Metro area from May 18, 2016 to May 25, 2016 to use as a “home base,” so to speak. In advance of the date, I’m looking to touch base with interested chase parties who call OKC “home.” I will contact interested parties with a few pre-shoot and logistical questions, and to see how they work a chase. Once I have a shortlist going, my plan is to phone each team in the morning to see if a) they’re in the area and b) have the capacity for me and my camera. From there, I will drive to them and spend the duration of the chase riding wherever I can fit in the chase vehicle.

Once the week has progressed, if I feel like the results are what I was looking for, I plan to return to the Plains next year (2017) to do it all over again.



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