Monday, August 06, 2007

All the World's a Stage

Forget all those buttons you gotta push, the hardest part about working a TV news camera is knowing where to put it. Take this shot of a Vegas attorney glowering at a few volumes of his law library. A staple of any law office, those heavy books in the foreground instantly contextualize the interviewee: He is so obviously a lawyer; albeit one with a slight case of indigestion. Thus, the photog responsible should be commended for so properly framing his subject ... unless of course said shooter stacked the books himself - in which this case, he did. It may not seem like a big deal to you watching at home, but to those of us with tripod blisters, it represents a fundamental debate over what we're out there doing with our cameras in the first place. Don't believe me? Check out the four pages of piss and conjecture this rather pedestrian shot is generating at on-line watering holes. But you'd better pack a lunch, some of those photogs are long-winded...

You didn't read the whole thread, did you? That's cool, even I skimmed over parts of it. The core of the argument is: What some cameramanthropologists consider harmless room rearranging, others call shameless 'staging' - a taboo practice among those committed to shooting the truth. But then again, what is truth? Is it a homeless shelter director swathed in perfect three point-lighting? Is it a stroke victim hobbling alongside some nodding reporter in a backyard rose garden? Is it a swim team coach hamming it up with a wireless microphone attached to the whistle around his neck? I ask these questions because it is easier than answering them. All three scenarios are variations on the kind of themes I've been shooting for going on eighteen years. In that time I've committed every kind of cinematic excess there is, until I whittled it all down to minimalistic schtick.

Of course you have to strip down your production techniques when you roll through the door alone. How else ya gonna squeeze through the threshhold? Most days I travel light and fast, with just enough tools to capture reality with flare, not stage an off-Broadway re-imagining of CATS. Sure, I'll kill the overhead lights, tweak your blinds and ask you not to squint, but I'm not about to fudge up your feng shui. That's for those Dateline crews - the ones who spend whole afternoons replacing the detritus of someone's hovel until the setting glistens with their trademark sheen. I'd much rather contort my lens and self around the existing clutter, find the best way to showcase the true environs of whatever talking head I'm pretending to listen to. That's not to say I've never shifted a knick-kack or two. Was a time I insisted on shooting every interview at a crazy Batman angle with purple light shooting through whatever office plany I could round up, but we all go through phases, right?

Don't bother answering. Just know that we TV news photogs put an alarming amount of thought into the images we serve up every night, both those we garnish and those we don't. Now if you'll excuse me, I goota go rustle up a giant thermometer and the backseat of an abandoned Buick. What, like you've never done it?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Then why did you ask me to wear a dress for that story about gas prices?