Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Schizophrenia in the Trenches

With Idol over and early summer in full swing, I once again find myself slogging through the trenches of 'General Assignment'. What's that, you say? Well, just what it sounds like: General Assignment, that non-category of newsgathering that makes up 89.7 percent of your average broadcast. Be it a visiting dignitary, a slow-motion board meeting or a three alarm fire, working 'G.A.' can be a strenuous exercise in intermittent intrigue. It can also be a stone cold drag - especially when you got quite used to cranking out three puff-pieces a week on bald rockers and ditzy southern belles. But my own occupational aimlessness shall have to be the subject of another post, as this one is about the eclectic nature of elctronic image acquisition. In other words, what I lack in sweeping themes I can more than make up for in random photos and meaningless text. Shall we begin?

Condi and the KidsHoly Bureaucrat, Batman - it's Condoleezza Rice! The Secretary of State (and no longer the only earthling named Condoleezza) was in town yesterday for the Southern Baptists Annual Convention. Moments after her unmarked jet touched down in the middle of Downpour Alberto, Condi ducked into a nearby hangar for a few highly choreographed moments with area Girl Scouts, salivating politicians and soggy cameramen. If you think such an innocuous photo-op would be relatively spontaneous, then you've never haggled with State Department officials as to where you can set your tripod. Luckily, I secured an unfettered spot that afforded me maximum visibility, thus completing my mission and ensuring the future of the Republic. I just wish the fawning Girl Scout crowd had though to bring along some Thin Mints. Mmmmm, Thin Mints...

Austin sets upUh-oh. We seem to have caught my buddy Austin here in mid-erection. No worries - in a few moments he'll be all set up and dozing behind his camera with the rest of us. Truly, the only reason I took this shot was a failed attempt to fight press conference paralysis - that immobilizing force that drains you of any interest whatsoever in whatever the glad-handing podium jockey is droning on and on about at the front of the room (or in this case front of the client-deprived industrial park). Judging from the posture of the schlub in the distance, Austin's a little late to the party. That's more the assignment desk's fault than his, as deskies are notorious for handing photogs a 10:00 appointment a few minutes before noon. Like any good glass-addict, Austin knows how to jump curbs, sprint across parking lots and throw up his sticks in seconds flat - just so he can lose himself in thought - until the midday sun glints off the mayor's giant scissors and reminds him he's already late for his next gig. I feel ya brother, now get out of my shot!

Pit Bull, InterruptedNot to bring down the room, but chances are this pooch won't be alive much longer. Before you organize a protest however, a little background: Eighteen hours before I huddled over his cage, this Pit Bull and his buddy-in-breed broke loose from their backyard pen, roamed the neighborhood until they found a small stable, where they promptly ripped a full grown horse to shreds. I know, I stood over the mutilated mare this morning while the Grandfather that loved her choked back tears just off camera. To hear Gramps tell it, the two runaway Pit Bulls stalked the hapless horse until the poor animal ensnared itself in the stable fence. Once trapped, the horse was doomed as the two dogs - locked in some kind of pack-mentality bloodlust - literally disembowled the 15 year old Apaloosa as hapless neighbors watched in disbelief. Too grisly for ya? Perhaps you'd be more comfy back in the newsroom - where the biggest perils are paper cuts, air conditioning and scanner noise.

Ricky and DaveThere are however, a few benefits to working in the Big House - namely the slow trickle of semi-famous faces that pour through any TV station's hallowed halls. Here, nightside assignment guy David Smith (in green) strikes a pose with (ex) Carolina Panthers Wide Receiver Ricky Proehl. Now I'm no sports expert, but even I knew who Ricky Proehl is. Over the years, his journeyman mojo and dazzling catches have made me spill my Sunday afternoon popcorn on more than one occasion. I told Ricky this and he responded with some NFL minutia that registered as only pops and clicks in my uneducated ears. Hoping to avert his attention from my lack of football acumen, I asked him about his sister Deb - a lady I manned many an icy overpass with, before she wized up and got out of the biz. These days, Deb sells real estate and from what I can tell, does very well for herself.

I wonder though, does she miss it? Does she ever pause during an over-polite Open House to pine for the raucous days of turning tragedy, trivia and tripe into minute-fifteen passion plays? My guess, is yes ... until the holidays roll around and she finds herself lounging by the fireplace, instead of pacing about some unplanned imbroglio with an unshaven grouch like me. Come to think of it, I wonder of there's any room on her Realty Team for a disillusioned lenslinger? I don't know much about property values, but I look do look damn spiffy in a yellow blazer. Whadaya say, Deb? ... Deb? Hello? Is this thing on?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

'Blood Done Sign My Name'

If anyone's wondered why I haven't penned anything too in-depth as of late, place the blame squarely on Timothy B. Tyson. For more than a week the native North Carolinian's masterwork, 'Blood Done Sign My Name' has captivated my imagination, ripped open my soul and made me laugh out loud at more than one Guilford County stoplight. That in itself is a testament to the author's skill, as his source material is far from humorous. When Tyson was but a boy, a white merchant in his adopted hometown of Oxford, N.C. gunned down a young black war veteran in the harsh daylight hours of May 11, 1970. A lackadaisical investigation followed, as did Klan Rallies and Civil Rights marches. Before it was over, several white-owned businesses burned to the ground at the hands of apoplectic African-Americans. Oxford survived the ensuing uproar and the townsfolk quickly went about the business of burying the details of their unpleasant past, (Sound familiar, Greensboro?)

But Tim Tyson didn't forget. Rather, the ugly truth of Henry Marrow's undignified demise forever altered the son of a preacher's 11 year old mind. For years it festered there until, like any good narrative, it became too much for the writer too keep to himself. So, cursed with a book he was born to write, Tyson did the only honorable thing ... he shone the light of truth on every crevice of a complicated tale. When those rays spilled over and illuminated the darker parts of his own family's history, he did not flinch. Instead, he examined the shortcomings of his own enlightened parents and told how even a liberal minister is guilty of the pacifying paternalism many White Southerners still regard as the foundation for proper race relations. Amid all this grisly deconstruction, Tyson does something else unexpected: he entertains, employing a born-raconteur style that this humble blogger can only dream of one day possessing.

Needless to say, I identify heavily with Timothy B. Tyson. Seven years my senior, this fellow outcast of the 'New South' witnessed his destiny in an Eastern North Carolina town barely a hundred miles from the one I begrudgingly grew up in. Though his childhood was far more dramatic (and tragic) than mine, I recognized many of the Southern-fried archetypes he describes: winking, bigoted authority figures that for the longest time made me ashamed to be a white guy from the sticks. Tyson, however, does my breed of thinker proud, by refusing to gloss over the many ways we all fall short of the glory. By doing so, he rights some of the wrongs of our forefathers while making even the most sanctimonious of us re-think opinions we didn't even know we had. Tyson's landmark work is haunting in another way as well. It makes me ashamed that I'm wasting this strange writing compulsion on something as patently vapid, as instantly disposable, as achingly empty as TV News.'Blood Done Sign My Name' is more than a painful chapter of my own region's past. It is a challenge for all would-be writers to dig deeper, until they find a subject matter that sufficiently hurts.

Challenge accepted...

Monday, June 12, 2006

So That Others May Preen

In a recent thread focusing on the various ways broadcasters go about filling their newscasts, Frank McBride revealed a clever, albeit crass war cry often overheard in his neck of the newsroom.

Launch the Probe!” a desk dork would bellow as an unfortunate photog loaded up in a live truck and steered it into the abyss. Cute … I can just see the deskies high-five each other as they chortle over their air-conditioned brilliance, all while someone with twice the experience and three times the tripod scars ventures off into the storm, the ghetto, or worst of all - the incalculably protracted County Commissioners Meeting. As one who has spent the last decade and a half staging these unlikely sorties, I gotta tell you, the fun (and the frustration) is in the field. Besides, who wants their news served to them on a silver platter?

Not me. I’d much rather cross my fingers behind my back while I sweet talk the guy at the roadblock, than pace under a bank of TV screens and claim victory based on freeze-dried clichés, revved-up graphics and the cruelties of counting backwards. That way I remain seaworthy, a modern day news pirate who isn’t afraid of hostile waters and competitors’ carronades. If I’m mangling metaphors, forgive me, but I’m transcribing from notes I took while circling the block for a better view of some temporary tempest. Judging from my penmanship, I was quite stoked at the time - but that’s what happens when you spend a lifetime turning today’s scanner traffic into tomorrow’s water cooler chat.

Trouble is the open news road is the path to career-long obscurity. No matter how quickly we photogs take that next hill, it is the manager, the producer, the main anchor who swoops in at the last moment and plants the flag in the name of the almighty affiliate. Oh well - at least I have my pride. That and the quiet knowledge that I stand a better chance of making history than my newsroom bound brethren. After all, if nefarious aliens ever do crash land their vessel on our heartless orb, it’s a safe bet some news photographer will be the first schmuck to get his melon scrambled. Look for that footage on the six o clock news. While you do, I gotta boogie. Seems there are some glowing rocks making weird noises out in Lake Cesspool and the desk wants me to ‘put some eyes on it’.

Anybody seen my sunglasses?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Photog at Dusk

The hulking Kentuckian known only as Smitty cuts a lenslinging silhouette in this self-portrait purloined from his own accomplished blog. With his stark posture cutting a heroic hole in the night sky, one gets the impression that no horizon is too distant, no deadline too stupid, no rent-a-cop too pissy to stop this photog from bagging that next needed shot. Then you notice dude is sportin' Adidas flip-flops, and you realize he's just walking his camera out to get the evening paper.

Still, I like the cut of his jib...