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Sketchy Business: The Life of a Courtroom Artist

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Courtroom sketch artist Shepard (in red) shows one of her drawings of the Martha Stewart trial to a reporter. © Ramin Talaie/Corbis/2004

Why can't they just use a photographer?

In many cases in the US (and the UK and Canada), cameras aren't allowed into the courtroom. Especially in high-profile trials, where the presence of many media personnel and their equipment would present a distraction for the court. (There are exceptions, of course, and some states allow camera blanket access to courtrooms).

A sketch artist, however, armed with a pad and some charcoal pencils, is usually less intrusive than someone with a bulky, ever-clicking camera.

Even then, though, sketch artists are sometimes not permitted to actually draw during court proceedings, lest they cause a distraction, and must draw later from memory or notes. A federal judge in Oklahoma infamously threw a Texas television station's sketch artist out of his courtroom, claiming that the artist's work disrupted the trial.

Before the 1950s, cameras were commonly allowed in courtrooms. They were gradually shut out after several convictions were overturned by appellate courts based on claims that the atmosphere created by the media presence led to unfair trials—most notably, the case of Sam Sheppard. By the mid-1960s, Texas and Colorado were the only two states still allowing cameras, but similar overturned convictions convinced both states to finally join the camera ban.

As cameras get smaller, quieter and less conspicuous, though, they may make a comeback in the courtroom, and several states have already started allowing their use again. One courtroom that won't be getting cameras any time soon is the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice David H. Souter was particularly strong in his feelings on the subject. He said, "I can tell you the day you see a camera come into our courtroom, it's going to roll over my dead body."

Is this a real career? How much might I get paid?

While a few court sketch artists might be on-staff at newspapers and TV stations, the bulk of them are freelance. Like other media freelancers, the money depends on what kind of work they're doing and for whom they're doing it. The sustainability of the career depends on how good they are and how much they can hustle.

Often, sketch artists can take their talents to more lucrative, or at least solid, jobs on the side. Steve Werblun, who'd sketched for the Philadelphia Daily News since 1975, left for Hollywood after 30 years and has worked as a storyboard artist on films like The Day After Tomorrow, Along Came Polly, and Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights. Dana Verkouteren, who's sketched for CNN, ABC, FOX and other broadcast outlets, sidelines as an illustrator and caricaturist.

What happens to the sketches after the trial?

Depending on the contract between the sketch artist and the media outlet, one party or the other keeps the sketches and the right to their use. Sometimes, the artists might sell their drawings to memento-seeking judges or attorneys depicted in them. The lawyers involved in former New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas' 2007 sexual harassment case reportedly bought a good number of sketches produced during the trial.

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Thomas Quine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
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Weird
Take a Peek Inside One of Berlin's Strangest Museums
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Thomas Quine, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Vlad Korneev is a man with an obsession. He's spent years collecting technical and industrial objects from the last century—think iron lungs, World War II gas masks, 1930s fans, and vintage medical prostheses. At his Designpanoptikum in Berlin, which bills itself (accurately) as a "surreal museum of industrial objects," Korneev arranges his collection in fascinating, if disturbing, assemblages. (Atlas Obscura warns that it's "half design museum, half horror house of imagination.") Recently, the Midnight Archive caught up with Vlad for a special tour and some insight into the question visitors inevitably ask—"but what is it, really?" You can watch the full video below.

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Courtesy of Nikon
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science
Microscopic Videos Provide a Rare Close-Up Glimpse of the Natural World
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Courtesy of Nikon

Nature’s wonders aren’t always visible to the naked eye. To celebrate the miniature realm, Nikon’s Small World in Motion digital video competition awards prizes to the most stunning microscopic moving images, as filmed and submitted by photographers and scientists. The winners of the seventh annual competition were just announced on September 21—and you can check out the top submissions below.

FIRST PRIZE

Daniel von Wangenheim, a biologist at the Institute of Science and Technology Austria, took first place with a time-lapse video of thale cress root growth. For the uninitiated, thale cress—known to scientists as Arabidopsis thalianais a small flowering plant, considered by many to be a weed. Plant and genetics researchers like thale cress because of its fast growth cycle, abundant seed production, ability to pollinate itself, and wild genes, which haven’t been subjected to breeding and artificial selection.

Von Wangenheim’s footage condenses 17 hours of root tip growth into just 10 seconds. Magnified with a confocal microscope, the root appears neon green and pink—but von Wangenheim’s work shouldn’t be appreciated only for its aesthetics, he explains in a Nikon news release.

"Once we have a better understanding of the behavior of plant roots and its underlying mechanisms, we can help them grow deeper into the soil to reach water, or defy gravity in upper areas of the soil to adjust their root branching angle to areas with richer nutrients," said von Wangenheim, who studies how plants perceive and respond to gravity. "One step further, this could finally help to successfully grow plants under microgravity conditions in outer space—to provide food for astronauts in long-lasting missions."

SECOND PRIZE

Second place went to Tsutomu Tomita and Shun Miyazaki, both seasoned micro-photographers. They used a stereomicroscope to create a time-lapse video of a sweating fingertip, resulting in footage that’s both mesmerizing and gross.

To prompt the scene, "Tomita created tension amongst the subjects by showing them a video of daredevils climbing to the top of a skyscraper," according to Nikon. "Sweating is a common part of daily life, but being able to see it at a microscopic level is equal parts enlightening and cringe-worthy."

THIRD PRIZE

Third prize was awarded to Satoshi Nishimura, a professor from Japan’s Jichi Medical University who’s also a photography hobbyist. He filmed leukocyte accumulations and platelet aggregations in injured mouse cells. The rainbow-hued video "provides a rare look at how the body reacts to a puncture wound and begins the healing process by creating a blood clot," Nikon said.

To view the complete list of winners, visit Nikon’s website.

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