Friday, February 03, 2006

Open Up and Say Cheese

That's gotta hurtSome days my job is like pulling teeth. Other days it's merely like watching someone else get their teeth pulled. That was my Friday morning, stumbling through a crowded dental clinic like some two-headed cyclops bent on peering into every gaping mouth. Thanks to intern Stephen George for snapping this shot, though it doesn't really do justice to the crushing swell of humanity packed into the dozen dental chairs, or the stir Jeff Varner and I made while we were there. All I can say is, if you've never waded into a sea of giddy dental hygienists with a TV camera on your shoulder and a former Survivor contestant by your side...well then, you haven't walked even a half mile in my boots. Not that you'd want to.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Grand Revision

Today's lack of quality post brought to you by Unbridled Ambition, an exciting new fragrance that quite frankly has your friendly neighborhood lenslinger spinning in his office chair. What I'm trying to find a new way to say is I didn't blog last night. Rather, I broke open my collection of scribbled notebooks and launched a hard target search for meaning and clarity. When that quickly proved difficult, I lost interest and began staring at the lava lamp again. But a few minutes later I turned back to my tablets and scratched out a table of contents, columns and rows that represent an awful lot of work for yours truly. But I'm not whining. Instead I'm excited yet weary, grateful to those who've risen from the mist with offers of help and determined to make it worth their while. I probably won't blog about it much; if so, I'll never get it done. Just know that forces are colliding, and work on The Book has begun in earnest. Now if you don't mind, I have about a million words to rewrite. By the way, anybody got a quick synonym for 'delusional'?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Mojo Denied

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.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Level of Discourse

I was sitting at my desk the other day, wondering what in the world I might blog about next, when a conversation between a nightside reporter and a photographer caught my ever so jaded attention.

"Hey, we got a find something else," the reporter said with more than a little disappointment in his voice, "the murder didn't work out."

"Really? What happened?"

"Turns out it's natural causes."

"Dude, that SUCKS!"

About that time they noticed me staring from across the cubicle. "What?" they asked in near unison.

"Nothing, nothing..." I sputtered as they turned back to figure out what they'd now pursue in the name of news. But I could only smile as I scribbled the phrase in a worn notebook. 'The murder didn't work out.' Five simple words that would strike most people as incredibly callous; a declarative sentence that wouldn't raise the first eyebrow in a working newsroom. In fact, I wouldn't have given the remark a second thought, had I not recently dedicated myself to collecting such oddities of the trade.

It's not that my friends and colleagues are unfeeling. Quite the opposite, actually. But when the trials and tragedies of a region are your daily commodity, you quickly adopt a shorthand to beter manage the never-ending influx of salacious suffering. Like Slick Willy Clinton, we know how to compartmentalize. Each week I find myself uttering profanity-free yet unthinkable exchanges that I wouldn't dare repeat around my children.

"Hey, remember last summer, when that kid died in the hole? The Mom's on the phone. She wants to talk." OR "Yo, turn the live truck around. The old folk's home ain't on fire after all. Seems some grandpa just likes to pull the alarm when they don't serve jello." OR "Why do I care if a plane's comin' in on half an engine? My Easter Egg piece airs in thirty minutes!" OR "Hey dude, we can't do Mexican after all. Some jerk stabbed his wife in Burlington and the suits are goin' nuts!"

Most of the time, I don't notice the unusual verbage inherent in news-gathering. But then I'll visit some hushed cubicle farm, where the overdressed denizens speak in whispers cloaked in political correctness. Only then do I realize that my line of work isn't nearly as normal as I assume it to be and that, for better or worse, I'm damn lucky to have found my calling at an early age. Now if you'll pardon me, the Sheriff's gonna announce charges on some shady childcare center. Can you believe that? I mean, who schedules a press conference at four o clock in the afternoon anyway?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Phone Tag, Firefighters and Floor Wax

Roger that...Okay, so not EVERY day behind your local TV news lens is a breath-taking thrill-ride through pomp and cataclysm. Truth is, some days my gig is as boring as...well, your job. Take today for instance. After a brisk morning of thwarted phone calls, I jumped up from my newsroom cubicle at the first mention of a certified calamity in progress just a few miles away. Crawling into Unit 4, I pushed last week's collection of newspapers out of the way and threw it in reverse. Screw playing phone-tag with a bunch of PR flacks, I thought as I gunned the engine out of the parking lot, I got a toxic waste spill to check out.

Floor Wax CreekFive minutes later my glee dissipated as I clung to a bamboo stalk and looked down at the alledged toxicity. Something was definitely wrong with the creek behind High Point University; what was usually a trickling artery of rushing brown water now sat stagnant under a thick milky layer of mysterious fluid. Staring into the abyss, memories of all-night galley-mopping roiled to the surface of my simmering brain pan. That's when the three firemen who had been containing the mess with shovels full of mud noticed the TV geek clinging to the banks and with seven simple words affirmed my suspicions: "Hey dude, you lose some floor wax?"

Floor Wax FiremenThat's right, floor wax. Seems an independent contractor at a nearby Food Lion thought it might be a good idea to dump gallons upon gallons of floor wax in the grocery store parking lot. Mix in a little gravity, an eager storm drain and a curious jogger and you have the three main reasons some of High Point's bravest and yours truly spent a few quality moments huddling over North Carolina's most lemony-fresh waterway. Luckily, I love firefighters, perhaps because my brother is one. As we waited for the city dump trucks to arrive, we traded insults, talked shop and admired our collective reflections in the shimmering, mirror-like surface.

All in all, it was a pleasant midday interlude I'd gladly waste forty-five minutes on again - even if I did have six unanswered phone messages waiting for me when I got back to my desk. Beats a real job.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

News Crew Injured in Iraq

The thoughts and prayers of the Photog Nation are with fellow news shooter Doug Vogt and ABC co-anchor Bob Woodruff this quiet Sunday morning. Both men received serious injuries earlier when their Iraqi Army convoy vehicle was struck by 'a large Improvised Explosive Device'. It occured in Taji, a volatile region northwest of Baghdad. The two men were in an armored U.S. humvee for a time, then they moved into an Iraqi mechanized vehicle. From assorted reports, via TVNewser:
They were in the lead vehicle of that convoy, apparently standing up in a hatch and filming a report, when a large IED exploded nearby. The explosion was followed by small arms fire. Both men were wearing body armor and ballistic glasses. The men were medevaced to the Green Zone to receive treatment. They were then flown by helicopter to Balad which is about a 20-minute ride from Baghdad," said. Woodruff was reportedly in surgery at 8:15am ET. Both men have head injuries.
Serious news indeed. In today's misguided world, the grim injury of a newly-minted network news anchor will carry far more weight than the similiar fate of thousands of others. No surprise there, but I can't help but think of the guy with the camera on his shoulder and a family back home. Then again, Woodruff has four children of his own. Both are now out of surgery and listed in 'stable' condition - an all too generic term that can mean alot of different things. The next few days will be critical, but hopefully they can soon get back to their loved ones. I only wish the troops could.

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