Friday, August 26, 2005

Losing Stevie

15 years ago today, Stevie Ray Vaughan died when the helicopter he was in crashed into a fog-enshrouded embankment outside Alpine Valley, Wisconsin. With this unceremonious collision, an undeniable giant in the field of American music was forever silenced. When I heard the news that terrible day I cried like a baby, even though I was already twenty-three years old.

You see, back in the 1980's, when Boy George, Thompson Twins and Duran Duran were filling the airwaves with the frilly sounds of a slick new British invasion, Stevie Ray was busy re-writing the electric Blues guitar. He did so because he knew how to do nothing else, he lacked good looks, sound judgment or a musical pedigree. But what Stevie had in spades was TONE, that indefinable aural quality that most guitarists would sell their souls to possess.

Aside from his incredible virtuosity, Stevie Ray was known for his love of the Masters. Once he obtained worldwide fame, he took every opportunity to cite his influences. As a result he helped revive the career of many a forgotten Blues cat. Just ask Lonnie Mack, Albert King, Buddy Guy or the scores of other musicians whose work I wouldn’t own had it not been for the scrawny little force of nature known as ‘Guitar Hurricane’.

So do me a favor, if you like SRV, listen to his music today. I do, EVERYDAY - for something about this American original, this gee-tar impresario, this ugly little cat from Texas with the blistering chops speaks to me like no other musical artist on the planet. Stevie Ray Vaughan died on August 27th, 1990, but his signature sound will live on forever in the hearts and souls of millions of fiercely loyal fans. Books have been written, tribute albums recorded, and movie rights secured, but nothing has ever come close to replicating the magical abilities or the troubled genius of the late great Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Weary from Battle

What a work-week! 54 hours on the clock, 4 small plane lift-offs, 4 small plane touchdowns (whew!), five reporters, four live shots, three meetings, two airport alerts, one burning eighteen wheeler, countless hours in the edit bay and a few blog posts in between. Needless to say, I’m tapped. On the bright side, I’ve found sleep deprivation supplies the same kind of buzz some people loiter on street corners to obtain.

Brutal as it felt, it’s a pretty typical series of shifts for a general assignment TV news photographer. I usually work alone, turning stories that end newscasts rather than start them. Lately though, I’ve been drafted to the front lines, assigned a foxhole buddy and made to dig while an endless barrage of daily deadlines rain down from above. I’ll survive alright, but forgive me if I’m a little shell-shocked as of late.

Strangely, the nights are the worst. Haunting images of an older, fatter, balder me chasing year after year of meaningless intrigue jar me awake in a cold sweat. Lying there in the cool darkness, I stare into the abyss and review my work-life: so many slots filled, wild gooses chased, press conferences met with indifference. For what? A weekly stipend, a sore back and a mountain of logo-wear...

But it’s given me more, and I know it. For all the wear and tear the past decade and a half have wrought, those same fifteen years have fed my family, stirred my soul and ignited my imagination. I always knew I would write about my life; I just didn’t know it would be the jaundiced tale of a weary lenslinger. I suppose I could switch careers, but then what would I fill up the page with? Reflections of an Amway Salesman?

No way. I’m a news guy through and through, one who looks at life through a viewfinder and rarely understands everything he sees. As grateful as I am to wield that lens, I’m awful tired of pointing it at the lowest common denominator. What I would give for a chance at advancement, an opportunity to do more than nail the shot, make the deadline and man the live truck...

Maybe I’ll sell Mary Kay.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sheehan Marine Goes 'Kenny Rogers'

As a working journalist , I'm not about to weigh in on the political potboiler brewing down in Crawford. Having said that, I think The Cindy Sheehan Show has officially 'jumped the shark'. From The National Review:

"While news cameras were filming the event, Marine Jeff Key physically grabbed a cameraman from San Francisco local affiliate KGO. Key objected to the cameraman’s shooting position, which was on the same site where the protesters have erected crosses listing the names of fallen soldiers in Iraq"

I'm all for honoring dead heroes, but one of the tenants they fought and died for is Freedom of the Press. When rabid believers from either side run out of things to do and begin attacking the members of the media they've tried so hard to attract, well - it's time to pack up the circus tent and go home.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Back in the Day with Charlie

Via the ever intriguing Nashville is Talking, a delightful look at the newsrooms of yesteryear from, a broadcast elder of sorts and my newly favorite Tennessee-based curmudgeon. In his latest post, Charlie blows the dust off the teletype and fires up the film-chain to show just how primitive the local news was some fifty years ago, before videotape, live trucks and consultancy run amok fairly ruined the once-promising form...

"It was the black-and-white days of local TV news, and we showed stills ripped from the United Press photo wire--a machine that burned news pictures onto a paper roll. Years later, in the early sixties after color came in, we used magic markers to color the photos, taped them on a board in front of a camera, and presto! We had a color shot of a national or foreign news event."

There's alot more, so go read the whole thing. Though I've only been prowling newsrooms for a scant fifteen years or so, Charlie's post reminded of my very first station - a Roy Park owned, backwaters CBS affilliate that could have served as a museum for dying news technology. Thus, I got to experience teletype machines, paper-chain teleprompters, film room fumes and the pall of cigarette smoke EVERYWHERE. Alot has changed since then, but I'm awful glad my formulative years were spent playing with gadgets from a generation back and learning from more than a few local living legends (like Charlie). I dare say I'm a better broadcaster for it.

Someday I'll return the favor by explaining to a group of jetpack journalists how we news-geezers actually used to run around in trucks with telescopic masts. I'm telling ya, it was CRA-ZEEE!

"What's the Vector, Victor?"

Despite my many adventures in aviation, I really don’t enjoy flying. But yesterday an assignment required I wedge myself in the co-pilot’s seat of a Beech Baron 55 for a daylong crisscross of the Tar Heel State. As always, I followed my camera into battle, though not without a little trepidation. In the end, there was nothing to be concerned about, though the day did not lack a little in-flight drama. More on that in a minute, but first, lets meet our pilot...

Duncan Jones is Sales Manager of Lancair Certified Aircraft and one hell of a nice guy. All day long he tended to his instruments, exuding quiet confidence in his ability to launch and land his vintage Seventies-era flyer. Why, he barely batted an eyelash at the fidgety photog ridin’ shotgun, who flashed a hearty thumbs up one moment and looked positively green the next. Nor did he avert his perfect vision to the rear of the plane, where nervous giggles could be heard regularly emanating from one Jeff Varner.

Luckily I had a lens to fiddle with. With my full size fancy-cam stashed in the back, I wielded a down-sized Sony for most of the trip. It’s tiny controls and attachable wide-eye made for excellent diversions whenever I wished to ignore the fact I was thousands of feet in the air in a rickety five-seater. Forgoing the full color flip-out monitor, I squinted through the viewfinder and reduced the sweeping vista to a one inch black-and-white screen. Occasionally, I’d bump the co-pilots wheel with my elbow, causing little variation in the aircraft’s trajectory but triggering doomsday scenarios in my overfed imagination nonetheless. It was a long day.

Nonetheless, we accomplished our mission and took in some incredible views along the way. From the deliberate quilt-scape of the rolling farmland to the bright aqua pinheads of far below swimming pools to the billowing behemoths of cumulus cloud just off the wing, planet Earth is incredible from every altitude. Only once did things get hinky, just after lift-off from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Just before our craft entered the base of a dark, towering thunderhead, the pilot keyed his microphone...

“We’re probably gonna get some rain, a few bumps - ”

Suddenly the plane lurched downward and to the left. As it entered the swirling gray mist, shadows fell over the cabin and deep rivets of rain streamed across the arced windshield. The propellers sliced pockets of unstable air and the twin engines fought for supremacy as the airplane shimmied and shook. By then I was no longer shooting, choosing instead to close my eyes and take whatever was coming like the pansy I am. As the beleaguered craft continued to buck and bounce I heard Jeff yelp a time or two over the headsets. ‘If this gets any weirder...’, I thought. As I did the skies brightened and the turbulence faded away.

Sunshine filled the cockpit as the twin engines hummed in accordance. I looked behind me and Jeff flashed his trademark grin. It was then I realized what would happen if we DID crash. The media would screech of an ex- Survivor’s untimely death while barely mentioning the additional passing of pilot and photog. I’d be the Ritchie Valens to Jeff’s Buddy Holly - if I were lucky! Somehow that notion, however morbid and unlikely, brought me a little comfort up there in the Great Blue Expanse. That and the thought that when I did get back on the ground, I’d have something to blog about.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Waking up on the Interstate

The above image is out of focus for a reason; I was half asleep when I took it. But what do you expect when, five hours after crawling in bed, you find yourself huddling in the rain by some Interstate calamity? Hell, it was all I could do to fire up the appropriate lenses, knowing as I did the mile of traffic backed up on I-40 would be no doubt be long gone by the time any of my footage hit air. Still, it is not my job to question these things, but only to collect the images (and the overtime). But with a full day of flying scheduled for later, those were three hours of sleep I could have put to use in the most righteous of manners...Oh well.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Blogging Togs: The Next Generation

Stardate: 2005...The photograblogosphere continues to swirl and thicken. After exploring its outer realm, I humbly file this report, from the Bourbon-soaked voyages of the Starship Lenslinger, its five minute mission to explore strange new links, to seek out new blogs and the the shooters behind them, to boldly go where no sober photog has gone before - HIC!

From the seedier side of urban Ohio, Richard Breaden shows us what its like to work Overnights In Columbus. Breaden, who need not worry about job offers from the local Chamber of Commerce, says of his midnight gig:

“This is a world infested with drug pushers, pimps, prostitutes, gangs, cops, and the occasional TV news crew. When you wake up at five o'clock in the morning and you see the images of death and destruction on your television sets...there is a good chance I was there providing you the glimpse into overnights in Columbus...”

Damn, the Buckeye State never seemed so...C.S.I. Next up is a reticent young fellow I pass in the hallways at work. What little I know of Matt Wood I like, but that’s one placid cat! I‘ve learned far more about the New Hampshire native from his promising blog Betaboy SP, which details his initial forays into the business as well as his very first fatal:

“Next to it laid a dark colored car with its roof cut off. The EMS crew was doing CPR on a victim in a front seat. I captured shot after shot of the scene. I let my artistic mind take over and used my memory from all the other wrecks to get the best pictures I could.”

If you don’t understand what he’s talking about, you’ve never rolled up on a fresh wreck with a camera you like. You should try it sometime. But first though, come with me to Dallas where a former news shooter - nay an ExTvTog takes a cue from young Matt and describes his boyhood encounter with a news lens, courtesy of a thoughtful one-woman-band.

“She must have noticed me standing there fascinated and in awe, so she did something that most reporters would not do especially to a kid following them around. What she did had a profound affect on my life. It gave me purpose and focus, clarity as to what I must do in life. I stuck my boyish eye in front of that large betacam viewfinder cup as she pushed the play button. I was amazed at the tv magic she had created. From 6 years old, I was hooked!

Poor bastard. While he seeks the proper therapy let’s swing over to a fabled place called Michiana where another veteran of the p.m. shift punches in. Brian Sapp’s been slingin’ an evening lens for seven years, and he seems to like it that way.

“We try to find the news to fill up that half-hour news slot after prime time. You know the one. Right before Letterman or Leno. We do most of this without any direct supervision of management. They go home and try to forget the day they've just suffered. Sooo...what happens once the policy makers leave?”

Wait - don’t answer that. We all need our jobs. How else could we accumulate such wondrous war stories? I.T. guys don’t have this much fun. Though, they do get weekends and holidays off. Forget I mentioned it. Now beam me up, would ya? My ice is melting...

Sunday, August 21, 2005

ConvergeSouth, Coming Soon

David Hoggard reminds me (and every other Triad blogger) that it's past time to start promoting ConvergeSouth. Not a problem. This October (7th/8th) event is one I've long looked forward to, ever since my Blogfather hinted about it that day in his office. What was then vague talk of a 'happening' has morphed into a gathering of giants, a summit of thinkers, hell-bent on explaining and exploring "Creativity on the web for all people"...

That's a hefty bill, but the names already attached to this conference include more than a few 'rock stars' of the blogging world (did I just say that?). ConvergeSouth has other marketable aspects, namely it's price (Read: FREE). Also it's taking place at N.C . A&T, no stranger to diversity itself, in the heart of Greensboro in the fall. But why the Gate City? Greensboro's Internet community has become so active that The LA Times dubbed the city "Blogsboro" for the scores of people who have their own online journals...

That includes me, I suppose. So look for your trusty camera jockey at ConvergeSouth, I'll be there with my many lenses and mid-range laptop in tow. If you need me I'll be attending the many sessions, learning about podcasting, video-streaming and all other manners of web communications from the very pioneers of the forms themselves. When I'm not out back, washing Ed Cone's car, that is. (Sue's too, I'm now told...)