A fellow news shooter and old cohort of mine, Mike Durenberger of WNCT-TV, posts a valid question on my favorite message board:
How do we or can we separate ourselves or deal with the depth of emotions brought on by watching our fellow humans reduced to basic, primitive survival behavior. I've been through more than a dozen hurricanes including the aftermath of hurricane Floyd six years ago. That was one thing. What's happening in the Gulf coast region is deeper.
We don't. We keep our humanity at close range even as we zoom in on the devastated and the downtrodden. Otherwise we're truly the heartless jackals many people already think we are. Sure, we develop thick outer shells, hide our true feelings under a thick layer of cynicism as we make crass jokes with other journeyman shooters and scribes. But the day we don't allow the tragedies we document to shape our soul in some way is the day we become camera-toting robots.
I don't wanna be a robot. Instead I want to pay for my all-access pass to calamity by treating the subjects of my stories with wit and compassion. To do anything less is to betray those we point our cameras at. Am I sometimes a callous bastard? Sure - on the surface. But deep down inside, my heart goes out to each and every victim I witness - whether its through the wide-screen in my den or the tiny black and white screen at the end of that magical tube.
Like you Mike, I've covered countless storms. The one that left the deepest scars on my pockmarked psyche was without a doubt Hurricane Floyd. I will never forget standing amid the flood victims at the Tarboro High School gymnasium. Whole families hovering on government-issue cots, an old man brushing his teeth with a filthy rag, a little girl playing with an amputated Barbie doll...
Those scenes will follow me to the grave, which is how it should be. I use them to help me gain perspective when I find myself bitching about work, speeding past a panhandler or explaining life's many mysteries to my girls. I don't know what well of experience your average accountant draws from in times like these, but I know what the readers of this message board do. It's part of what makes me proud to be photog - and it's what makes me proud of you, too.
More responses to Mike's question can be found here. Read them, as they prove we're not the thoughtless leeches so often portrayed in movies. Most of the time, anyway...