We Have You Covered

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The three of us walk into the 5th Floor Terrace Room of the Tennessee Bar Center, armed with nothing but a copy of an article, some photos or sketches, a pen, a cup of coffee and a good idea. (Sometimes we come without the good idea, but never without the coffee.) Eyeing each other, Barry Kolar, Landry Butler and I size each other up to see who will crack first, who will be willing to throw out the first idea for the next issue’s cover.

Some months we all want to go first, if there are plenty of obvious ideas to illustrate the month’s pick for the cover article. Some months — like, say, when the story is about an extremely vague legal concept that has no concrete visual associated with it — there is nervous silence followed by a comment on the unseasonable weather or other unrelated topic like how the used car search is coming along. It is classic brainstorming with some nutty ideas, but it eventually, usually works. And we laugh a lot, which makes the monthly cover meeting one of the best parts of my job.

The Journal’s covers have not always been decided this way, although for many years this has been the process. From 1965 to 1973, there was a series of Tennessee landmarks on the cover that bore no relation to articles on the inside. Presumably these were free and a good option for a new publication on a tight budget. From 1974 to 1984, Journal covers sported drawings of Tennessee courthouses, followed by law-related artwork through early 1987. Most of these were made available through the West Art & the Law Collection, by West Publishing Company. They were free for our use and win-win — great publicity for West, plus there was such a variety we could always find art that related to the subject of an article inside.

We moved away from that (and West stopped the practice at some point) and by 1988 we were shooting a lot of our own photos. There wasn’t much budget for it since up until that point the art had been free, so we were very creative in our set-up, props, lighting — and procurement of models. I’ve taken some heat over the years for having family and staff members on the cover (and also former co-workers, pets and even our printer). It is clearly playing favorites. But it is also always free, so it’s hard to argue with that.

When we are not shooting our own covers these days, we buy art from the plentiful sources available at the touch of a button, as we did this month. This is the 353rd cover on this publication.

We’ve had some award-winning shots as well as some dogs (and actual dogs that should have been award-winning), but each of them has a story behind it.

We also could have organized these covers by 1. Found Objects; 2. Those Shot on the Corner of My Desk or Nearby Table; 3. Co-Workers’ Body Parts (Primarily Hands); and 4. Desserts. Here are some of them.

Behind the Scenes

Steps 1 through 3: Have the idea, go buy some cheap cups; recruit staff member to be model.

Step 4: To check the light and to demonstrate the idea, Publications Coordinator Landry Butler serves as stunt model.

Step 5: Then-staff member Alexandria Honeycutt comes in to do the real work.

Sleight of Hand … and Photoshop

It LOOKS easy, sure. But it’s hard work being a hand model as you can see from this May 2008 cover.

Haters Gonna Hate

Is it nepotism — or just good budget management since the labor was free? This is, from left, my younger daughter Allie (now 18), my older daughter Anne Grace (now 24), and my mother (age unavailable). The background on the November 2004 issue was someone’s bedsheet, held up with clothes pins in Nippert Hall at the Tennessee Bar Center. The shot we missed for the “Trailblazers” cover was the 7-months-pregnant editor/photographer, shooting from across the street from the Williamson County Courthouse.

Dirty Work

It took us a while to get just the right clean, which we did on the first floor of the Tennessee Bar Center. Landry Butler behind the camera; me behind the mop.


Landry Butler set this up in the TBA’s Nippert Hall to celebrate the Journal’s 40th — and what could we do after the shoot but eat the cake Sharon Ballinger had brought in for the occasion?

We not only have used the free labor of TBA employees, this shot from January/February 1988 was a co-worker from my previous job.

Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle was not even a real judge when this was shot during mock trial for the May/June 1988 cover. At left is John Wells, whose father, Greeley, was an assistant DA in Kingsport at the time.

Lance and Trooper worked for nothing but pats on the head for this July/August 1988 illustration about dog law. With the price of the sign, it cost about $3.98.

For this November/December 1988 cover, Associate Executive Director Gary Hunt and I drove to his house where he had this bookshelf. We made fake advertising books and voila!

Here, we borrowed scales from a law office and two flags from the Governor’s Office, flung them up on the wall behind my desk and waited for the sun to stream in just right. It won an award of execellence in photography from the International Association of Business Communicators.

One of several cover shots taken on the corner of my desk. Not sure whose glasses those are, but although this was taken in 1989, the mug can still be found in use at the Tennessee Bar Center.

For March 1999 we traveled to Clarksville to witness, write and photograph the legal community there pulling together after a tornado destroyed much of downtown, including many law offices, the courthouse and its records.

The TBA was in an old house at this time and my office was a converted sun porch. My co-worker Julie Warner Swearingen and I poured change into a pile outside the door, let some sun hit it just right — and click.

We bought a can of paint and a brush, but the talent here is Bob Chadwell, who ran the TBA’s now-defunct print shop. The set is sitting in front of a drape of black velvet.

A stack of paper from our in-house print shop topped by my then one-year-old daughter’s Earth pillow. It is sitting on that same piece of black velvet (at left), so this one was free.

This picture of Justice Bill Harbison soon after he left the bench is one of many on-location shots of our cover story subjects.

We traveled to Memphis and took this picture of Brooke Lathram for the cover of the July/August 1992 Journal inside the Shelby County Jail. It was the first year TBA gave Access to Justice awards; Lathram was being honored.

May 2014 cover

We met Terry Price at Scarritt-Bennett Center‘s labrynth in Nashville for this story about how he combines legal work with his passion for writing.

A gavel, a map and the conference room table. Boom.

This was taken on the front sidewalk of the TBA’s office on West End Avenue in Nashville. Our accommodating printer, Bill Vinett, was our model.

Staff member Julie Warner Swearingen was our “judge” for this shoot. We borrowed the robe with help from then-Supreme Court Clerk A. B. Neil  and the shoes from Nashville’s Athlete’s House.

We did not have the foresight to take a picture of Barry Kolar up on a ladder in my office shooting down toward my table, with Kate Jankowski holding my floor lamp at a rakeish angle to light this pie and staff member Anjanette Eash’s hands. Missed opportunity.

The rubber duckies, so obvious. The glasses and placement on 501(c)3 filings, to illustrate a new law allowing certain organizations to hold “games of chance” — creative genius.

Barry Kolar shot pictures of an ordinary phone book (remember those?) and two telephones, and threw in some boxing gloves to create this masterpiece.

This sobering article about victims and survivors and their belief in the legal system was in the July/August 1996 issue. To illustrate it, I called in our Special Oklahoma Correspondent (AKA my cousin, Justan Floyd, who went and took a picture for me of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building after the bombing).

We didn’t shoot this one but you need to be reminded that we’ve come a long way.

Photographer Dana Thomas shot the August 2005 cover in the Tennessee Supreme Court Library for a story about Justice Frank Drowota when he retired.

This photo shoot drew stares from passersby in the back alley behind the Tennessee Bar Center as Barry Kolar, Kate Jankowski and I threw mud on a white piece of paper and took pictures of it. Later, Barry waved the magic Photoshop wand and splatted it over a piece of ® clip art.


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