As the old folks moved in determined unison, I tried desperately to get into the groove. Still, I couldn’t seem to get in synch with my viewfinder and it was beginning to piss me off. It certainly wasn’t due to a lack of visuals. Before me, everything a student of the moving image could want played out in slow motion: repetitive action, staccato sound, fat shafts of morning sunlight. The subjects of my lens were even ignoring me, lost in thought as the burly personal trainer guided them through movements they used to take for granted. Parkinson’s disease had robbed the dozen senior citizens of coordination and the broad shoulder man who looked like he should be pacing the sidelines of a football game was determined to recover their dignity. I was determined to capture it all with my camera, if only I could find my mojo somewhere in my fanny pack.
Electronic News Gathering is fraught with small complications. Spent batteries, dying bulbs, finicky lenses: tiny maladies that can bring the show to a crashing halt, despite the best of intentions. Very often the news shooter spends more time trouble shooting than composing magic. The trick is to never let the viewer know that things are going South, be it through quick thinking or slow editing. Thus, nothing’s more frustrating when every gadget is working but you. As a camera-malady, it’s impossible to predict. Be it a picturesque car wreck, a swirling blizzard, or solemn prayer vigil, everything you line up in your sights feels flat, off kilter, unworthy of broadcast. Worst of all, there is no cure, and show producers rarely grasp your sudden lack of photog feng shui
Sometimes, only a cinematic tragedy can snap you out of it. That’s what happened yesterday, as the trainer instructed the Parkinson’s patients to form two single-file lines. Turning into face each other, the seniors stood at stooped attention as the trainer walked down the center of the sunlit aisle. I leaned on a mirrored wall, cracked my knuckles and thought about the two cups of Guatemalan java I’d downed over my morning e-mail. As I did, two old fellows on the end broke rank and rubbed it in. Slowly, they raised their weathered arms and shook each other’s hand. The small, silent act illustrated their plight in a way words cannot. Worse yet, the backlit sun rendered them in perfect silhouette. In my corner, I fumed – irate with myself for missing what surely would have been my story’s piece de resistance. Grumbling under my breath, I shouldered my axe and waded into the fray, determined not to miss another visual touchstone…
Truth be told, I never did get my groove back. But I captured enough of the room’s atmosphere to properly portray it on screen. Now, every mistake I made on that pockmarked dance floor will come back to haunt me in the edit bay. Maybe that’s where I left my mojo.