As TV news photojournalists, we are the weary foot soldiers of the local newsgathering force. The glitzy anchors get all the attention, but without the lenslingers, the nightly news would be little more than cross talk and hand puppets. Credit that to the power of the moving image, as flickering images hold sway over our collective consciousness like no other medium. That includes such pedestrian footage as the evening news. Be it a hostage in the barrio or a parade of circus midgets, the indelible images that pour out of that box in the corner of your living room started as a glimmer in the photog‘s eye.
Of course, much of what passes for news is pre-packaged tragedy, salacious recordings of the offended and vanquished. It’s that way for a number of reasons, mainly because the slow-moving gravy train of human suffering is so easy to catch. Hell, it stops at every station. Scanners burble and pagers chirp, signaling the media pack that its feeding time again. Soon we’re congregating at the corner of Crack Pipe and Drive-by, shuffling our feet as authorities drink coffee out of paper cups and second-guess the dead. Is it any wonder the extras in these passion plays don’t always want our prying glass to chronicle their role? Would you?
So its no surprise that anyone who brandishes an unconcealed camera long enough will encounter a stranger who wishes them great harm. Locked in the moments of their very worst day, they lash out at our lenses with unanchored rancor. I might too, if I lost a loved one. But feeling compassion for the person in the tiny viewfinder doesn’t stop me from doing my job. It cannot. Quite simply, it is my job and nature to document what I see before me. Though I use sophisticated tools to place myself on the edge of drama, I rarely want to be there. So I use distance and judgement to bag my quarry, knowing that, while it’s an unpleasant enough episode for me, the person on the other end of the focal tube is watching their whole world fall apart.
Still, the kind of turbulent situations we photogs (and reporters) thrust ourselves into rarely have a clearly marked escape route. Cursed by passing motorists and spat at by handcuffed bikers, I know a thing or two about not feeling welcome. Every photog does - including my fellow camera-scribe Chris Weaver, who tells his own tale of victims, verve and venom in the aptly-titled ‘Bad Day to be a Photojournalist’.