Thursday, August 17, 2006

Miscreants and Grandstanders

I was leaning on Unit 4’s back bumper and daydreaming when the blasted cell phone rang.

“Green van, green van!”

The edge to Danny’s voice told me as much as his two repeated words. Instantly awake, I lunged toward my tripod and wrapped myself around it. As I did, the chain link fencing across the street roared to life. By the time it began to lurch leftward, I was at one with the lens, pressing my flesh into the rubber eyepiece and flipping switches by feel. Inside the viewfinder, the tiny blue and white monitor felt like a movie screen as it loomed just inches from my eye. I rode the focal tube until the snowy blue static morphed into a clear picture of the retracting metal gate. As it slid out of frame, the stylized grill of a late-model minivan broke through the shadows, until the shimmering windshield filled the screen. With a surgeon’s touch I widened my shot, steadily tracking the government vehicle as it poked its nose into downtown traffic. When it turned before me, sunlight glinted off the tinted windows just right and I caught the slumped profile of the backseat passenger. Yahtzee! - I thought as the van disappeared into a sea of brake lights and bumper stickers. When it rounded the corner, my cell phone rang.

“You get him?” Danny asked.

“Yeah, you?”

“Oh yeah,” he said, “orange jumpsuit and all.” I could hear the satisfaction in his voice as his car’s door alarm pinged in the background. “See ya back at the ranch.”

I thought about The Job all the way back to the station. As cinematic as I like to make it sound, my chosen gig can be most mundane. Just ask my pal Danny, who spent the better part of the day loitering outside the Federal Courthouse, his camera trained on a certain back door. Fully aware of who he was waiting for, the veteran photographer’s initial disgust faded to an echo as the hours slowly passed. By the time the heavy brown door finally opened and detectives ushered out a shackled figure in bright orange, the photog in Danny no longer cared what the bad guy did. The only thing that mattered was keeping the detainee in question crisp and centered as the Federal Agents placed him into the waiting van. Danny did just that and twelve seconds after the men emerged, his all-day photo-op was suddenly over. That’s when he dialed my number to let me know that the police chief accused of distributing child pornography was heading my way.

But that’s what’s so endearingly weird about my craft. The most unlikely of scenarios spools out with alarming regularity, until you promptly stop paying attention. We focus so much on the framing, that the miscreants and grandstanders at center-stage become part of the background. Just when you think you’ve shot it all, a variation on a theme crops up and you find yourself forging new ground in assorted repetition. Today, a career cop facing the most heinous of claims was the image in demand. Tomorrow, it may very well be Chuck E. Cheese.

And you ask why I blog?

Monday, August 14, 2006

No Business Being a Photog

Real-World Criteria, with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy...

If you’re unable to walk backwards down a twisting stairwell with one eye closed and a shoulder in pain - or unwilling to apologize to those you trample in the attempt - then you’ve got no business being a photog.

If you haven’t taken the time to learn what every button on your camera is for - and figure out which ones you can afford to ignore without getting fired - then you’ve got no business being a photog.

If you’re appalled by the idea of missing hours of sleep because some cross-town psycho you don’t know shot his wife and is now waving his pistol at the SWAT team - then you’ve got no business being a photog.

If you don’t know how to color-correct a bad white balance, tweak audio from the comfort of an edit booth, or at least convince some uppity producer you’ve already done so - then you’ve got no business being a photog.

If the idea of parking a rickety satellite truck right by the ocean as a Class 3 Hurricane slams onshore doesn’t strike you as most probably a damn good time- then you’ve got no business being a photog.

If you don’t grow noticeably stoked at an unexpected reflection, a natural silhouette, the pleasures of compression or a well-placed backlight - then you’ve got no business being a photog.

If a volunteer fireman with a walkie-talkie, a fancy flashlight and a small man’s complex is enough to convince you the road ahead is indeed closed - then you’ve got no business being a photog.

If you’re uncomfortable being the only person at a stuffy formal affair who’s dressed like they’re about to do a few upside-down keg-stands at a buddy’s picnic - then you’ve got no business being a photog.

If you’re afraid of being flipped-off in traffic, pawed over at football games, shunned at the shopping mall and heckled at the crime tape- all in the same shift - then you’ve got no business being a photog.

And finally...

If a giant mother-ship of a UFO swoops in on your ribbon-cutting and starts picking off local politicians with purple laser beams to the chest while the rest of the crowd flees in terror - if your first and only instinct isn’t to lock in and follow the action ’til you possibly catch a bolt of your own - then you, sir or ma’am, got no business being a photog.

Otherwise, you’re good-to-go!

Jorge, Smitty and eWink

There I was, locked in quiet combat with a blinking cursor when a great and terrible trembling overtook my upstairs lair. Suddenly, the lava lamp simmering to my left threatened to topple and before I realized it was hot I almost reached out to steady it. That’s when the first jolts hit me, sending shards of blue lightning skittering across my wrinkled Hawaiian shirt. Before I can think to react it is over and I find myself slumped in the dying light. It is then I realize I have just experienced a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

Okay, maybe I’m overselling it, but the truth of the matter is photog-bloggers are dropping like Imperial Stormtroopers and it’s getting this Jedi down. First, Jorge Guapo rides off into the sunset with little more than a discernible grunt, then the mercurial Erin Winking shutters his site amid a clatter of corporate posturing…now the formidable Smitty, an insatiable communicator and photog-vlogging pioneer announces he’s done with the practice of occasional dispatch. What gives? Why have these three once vibrant sites sputtered to such an unceremonious halt? The answers are as different as the three men themselves, but the end result is the same:

The Photogra-blogosphere is shrinking. For as long as I’ve operated this humble site, the ’Photogs Who Blog’ section has steadily grown - with news shooters from around the nation and globe adding their viewpoints to the mix. That didn’t surprise me, as most news shooters I know are excellent storytellers and it’s only natural that they take to the web along with every other sector of the planet. But to lose three of our more stalwart voices in such a short period of time, well, I didn’t see that coming. Now that I think about it though, I kind of understand.

Blogs are incredibly easy to set up, but somewhat difficult to maintain. While we all harbor noble intentions of adding to them often, little things like family, work, home and self constantly keep us from weighing in with any regularity. That certainly includes me - as the hens in my roost insist I play an ongoing part in their daily lives, thus keeping me from concocting as many narratives as I might wish. That’s how it should be, I guess but it does pain me to neglect this weirdly addictive process of adding to this site - even if I’m doing so in the name of family, health and fortune. A time or two I’ve considered pulling the plug myself, but have refrained due to my twisted literary ambitions and fragile ego.

How long I will feel the need to push-button publish remains unseen, but I suspect it will be a while. Hopefully, new and old voices will join me in the dissection and lampooning of my once noble craft. Turnover, I take it, is only natural. But to lose three vibrant sites in such short order is reason for pause - even if I have no idea where this discussion is leading us. Simply put, downsizing sucks. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go scour the recesses of my day for something to blog about tonight: maybe an existential rant on the power of the press - or a goofy picture of me in a bad haircut - or a scathing expose on the number of ketchup packets in my news unit's floorboard - or a...well, you get the idea. Maybe those guys were right...