In the highly-recommended book Kitchen Confidential, executive chef Anthony Bourdain peals back the layers of his own profession to reveal a lurid life in the culinary trenches. I seek to do the same for the lowly photog, for the characters and the calamity packed into our craft beg to be written about. Thus, the following: an ode to a photog, if you will (and even if you won‘t).
With our blinking cell phones and shoulder-mounted glass, the TV news shooter regularly bears witness to a region’s randomness, greeting the most unlikeliest of feats with quiet urgency and knowing indifference. It’s a grueling kick. Crisscrossing the countryside in our many pimped-out rides, we race about on a never ending news-quest - be it breaking or boring, the deadline’s the same. So it’s not all that surprising that a certain morbidity manifest itself in the typical news veteran, a careworn sarcasm honed from years of lurking on the edge of mishap and pageantry. What else would you expect from the battle-hardened foot soldiers of your nightly newscast war? Serendipity? Hah! Visit your local photog’s lounge and you’ll no doubt find gallows humor, colorful (ahem!) language, and a room full of people who can see through bullshit. Or so we tell ourselves.
Besides, life is a repeat. That’s what I’m starting to believe after covering countless twelve month cycles of murders, morons and meetings. From the inner city stand-off to the cub scout day camp, I’ve put it all on Tee-Vee a time or nine. I know there’s more in store for me someday, but for now I‘ll continue swooping in on climax and cliffhangers with the dead-calm agenda of sharing it with the world - or at least the tri-county area. But all that continued team smotherage has a lasting effect on those of us in the trenches. Swing a lens in the same town long enough and you’ll start to identify various landmarks by the catastrophes that occurred there. You know, right past that corner where the three kids died...
This ain’t the only gig that’ll make you do that; cops, fireman and paramedics I know can recite an even grislier roadmap. Still, as a licensed camera jockey I’m far more cynical and weathered than if I sold stereos for a living. Oh well. The least I can do is study the likes of my kind. The photogs I work with (and the agents of other broadcasts I encounter in the field) are affable enough, casually dressed yet intensely focused individuals who make a habit of making it happen. But they’re not just deadline monkeys, they are practitioners of street level cinema, logo‘d ambassadors, tool-packing technicians, cop-car contortionists and to varying degrees, artists. I’m proud to be counted among their ranks, even if the viewing public does consider us mere caddies to the nearly famous.