Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Acrid Plumes and Other Hazards

Whenever I'm feeling uninspired here in the Piedmont, I hit the web and peruse the work of far-flung colleagues. Try it sometime. Whether you're a house painter or a proctologist, chances are others in your field are posting videos, stories and photos of your particular profession. For news dorks like me, it's hard to decide where to start. Blogs, YouTube, Flickr - all boast extensive imagery of broadcasters in action. Lately, I've been scouring this vast material for nuance and meaning, hoping to learn a little bit about myself as well as all those others battered souls behind the lens. While I've yet to stumble across too many revelations, I have made what I feel to be an important observation: We photogs hang out in some pretty stupid places. Chemical spills, structure fires, suspicious package gatherings...if there's a glowing puddle of ooze, a choking smoke-tower or a ticking lunchbox - you can bet there's a news shooter nearby, leaning in for a closer look and cursing his superiors.

Hey, I'm as guilty as the next ex-scanner addict. Sixteen years in the biz I've raced to hurricanes, clamored to stand-offs and weaseled my way into more sticky thickets than alot of self-professed adrenaline junkies. Why? It's what I do. Hell, it's what I've always done. Back in my early twenties, though, I never stopped to think what might happen when hopped-up lawmen drew weapons on low level crack dealers (in hopes I would get their good side). No, back then conical projectiles and burning textile plants never really semed to bother me. I was too busy learning the politics of roadblocks to ever ponder what peril lay beyond the squad car. How come? I was immortal - mentally impervious to shifting winds, deranged gunmen and flying debris. Throw in the glow of a thousand microwaved live shots and it's a wonder I ever had kids - let alone gifted offspring who are already smart enough to be mortified at the feigned breakdance prowess of their goofball father. But I digress...

Since the scanner days, I've slowed my roll considerably. Though I still suffer the whims of the Spot News Gods, I tend to deal in fluffier fare. It's not that I'm skeered, mind you. I just got enough sense to know plenty of danger, boredom and strife will come my way in the normal course of a news year - I ain't gotta go lookin' for it! Besides, your average feature piece packs its own hazards. You ever schlepped a fancy-cam though a Boat Show and endured the sales pitch of a thousand BassMasters? Ever got down on the floor with a pack of pre-schoolers whacked out of their gourds on Skittles and Juicy-Juice? Ever walked a TV camera through a coliseum full of delusional American Idol wannabes? It may not merit combat pay, but suffer the spoils of your typical goat rodeo and see if you don't slink away with a few more mental scars (and a funky smell on your clothes). Why, it's enough to make a weary lenslinger pine for simpler times, when the worst aspect of covering the news was the threat of being shot, poisoned or drowned. At least then I had my youth.

(A dip of the lens to Stuck Behind The Lens, newsphotog6801 and cadencefilm for their excellent shots of news in the making.)

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