Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Strung Out on the Access

Fox 8 Gang 024The grueling pace, the shrieking desk, that empty feeling at the end of the day ... there’s a lot to loathe about the newsgathering process. Of course it didn’t seem that way in 1989, when every other assignment was a lid-tripping exercise in self discovery, time management and electronic field surgery. Those breathless days of constant epiphany are gone forever, I’m afraid - leaving only the thunderous march of a thousand deadlines to fill the void. Most days I can still hack it, occasionally I can’t, but so far it hasn’t stopped me from saddling up every day for another crack at the fruitless pursuit. Why? The easy answer is the paycheck of course, but I’m pretty sure I could find a less soul-jarring way to make the same pile of escudos every week. No, its not the pay that draws me to the newscast factory every weekday morning and it damn sure ain’t the glory. It’s the access, plain and simple - the ability to enter other people’s lives in times of times of triumph or downfall and quiz them on just how they feel about it. It ain’t the classic approach to an education, but it will litter your subconscious with a million prophetic impressions:

I remember knocking on the front door of an inner city home and asking the red-eyed giant who shuffled forward for a picture of the daughter he’d lost the night before. The Polaroid he thrust forward was wrinkled, tear-stained and to him, priceless.

I remember reaching down out of a hot air balloon to snatch a few leaves from the top of a Randolph County oak tree. When the horses in the pasture below whinnied in protest I heard childlike laughter and realized it was me.

I remember slipping into a crowded courthouse just in time to hear a young woman drunk with distraught try to explain why she torched a couch outside her boyfriend’s apartment and accidentally killed four people in the process.

I remember gripping my camera tightly as an overdressed lackey pushed a golf cart to its absolute limit in hopes of catching up with the King of Nascar. We finally caught up with Richard Petty and after a bit of cajoling I stood in the shadow of the great man’s hat for the very first time.

I remember backpedaling in a bad part of town late at night as a female officer escorted a coughing, hand-cuffed homeless man away from a smoldering blaze. It was only upon playback that I realized the weird thing on the side of his head was the melted remains of his John Deere cap.

I remember walking into a Winston-Salem bar with my camera shouldered and turning every head in the standing-room only place. As I floated wordlessly around the room, tough guys stiffened, happy drunks tried to high-five me and inebriated college girls fought for my lens’ attention.

I remember sitting in silence in the back of a 500 pound woman’s Winnie-the-Pooh decorated bedroom as she explained how bad judgment, youthful abuse and poor metabolism has imprisoned her inside her tiny home for the better part of three years.

I remember sucking air though my teeth in hopes of maintaining my composure as hundreds of returning marines embraced their wives, girlfriends and children. It was my very first shift on the baby stroller and cleavage scene, but not my last.

I remember waiting for David Melvin’s head to explode as the silhouetted figure in my viewfinder chugged beer, put a pistol to his temple and flipped off me and the SWAT Team. David survived the stand-off but he changed many people’s lives that day, including mine.

No, with unfinished imagery like that still simmering in my brain pan, how could I even entertain the notion of finding other work? No other role could afford me such storytelling fodder, no other job could expose me to more delicious turmoil, no other gig could teach me so much about the human condition. Still, it would be nice to have all my holidays off...


SassyJill said...

Sounds like you've had some pretty incrediable times out there. While I haven't been in the biz as long as you I can relate strongly to the way being a photog can change your life.

Personaly I think watching the troops leave is much harder than watching them return. While I'm on a shoot I can escape into my viewfinder and focus on getting the shots I need, all on a very small black and white impersonal screen. The heart-wrenching cries of women and children don't effect me until I'm back in the news car.

Only when I'm driving back to the station does the emotion hit me. It takes everything I have not to skip the rest of my shoots to run and see my boyfriend. Makes me realize how lucky I am to have those I care about within my reach.

And I think we stick with it because we're avid observers of the world and couldn't stand being locked in an office.

Wes said...

And then there are the funerals of which we've seen too many lately. they're the toughest for me. I have to shoot one at noon today. His family is made up of some of the finest people i've ever met. It sounds as though their son was no different. David Timmons died when his helicopter crashed a couple of weeks ago on Afghanistan.