Friday, May 04, 2007

200,000 (and counting)

Lost in ProseNormally I don't delve into the 'blogonomics' of Viewfinder Blues. Hey, I'm all for transparency - but pet photos, lunch menu summaries and tortured dissertations on possible template changes are a large part of what makes blogs so laughable. Still, I'm poking my head out from behind the curtain this morning to note a small milestone and impart a word of thanks. A couple of nights ago a reader from British Columbia hit the trigger on their mouse and became visitor number 200,000. That's a miniscule amount of traffic for a professional site, but for a guy who slather his thoughts on-line so he can sleep better at night, it ain't too shabby. So please take out of your moment out of your busy Friday to pat yourself on the back, as your continued visits here have truly enriched my life. Thanks to your efforts, the ramblings of a camera-schlepping nobody have found a home in cyberspace and a silly user name has become something of an alter-ego. I may shrug it off in person, but it means an awful lot to me. I don't know that I would have stuck with this late night endeavor had I not known someone out there was actually reading my drivel. So while I scream for Tito to bring me a tissue, click over to the other photog blogs and give 'em some love. But please(!), come on back when you're done. I swear someday, I'll make it worth your while...

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Schmuck Alert: LAPD,WTF?

A big dip of the lens to El-Guapo for reminding me of my civic duty. Thus, I'm issuing a Class 5 Schmuck Alert to the Los Angeles Police Department for their chaotic mishandling of an immigration rally in MacArthur Park. Apparently worried the Rodney King legacy of years past was fading from our collective memory, officers opted to go medevial on a group of protestors, bystanders and - gasp! - journalists. As I often tell my children, that's inherently uncool. What I cannot explain however, is what convinced the dudes in riot gear it would be wise to attack the crowd with batons and rubber bullets. Among the many victims were news crews from Telemundo and KCAL (home of beFrank!), soem of whom were briefly hospitalized after the inexplicable assault. Truly it's hard to know where to start with this one. Was it simply pack mentality? Mob rule? Too much caffeine? Whatever the trigger, it's awful hard to explain why an officer would knock a working photog to the ground, then smash his station-owned fancycam. Was the camera protesting? Did a retired Darryl Gates issue a fatwa on all landborne media? Do these pants make me look fat? Wait - don't answer that last one. Just repeat after me:


Stalking Leatherheads

Damn that George Clooney. After months of avoiding my lens at different Leatherheads shoot, today he and his crew popped up in plain view at War Memorial Stadium in Greensboro. Problem was, I had very little time for the Sexiest Man Alive. Why? It’s Sweeps, baby. Instead of traipsing around the Piedmont with the soft news assignment of the day in my pocket, I’ve been teaming up with our hard-nose reporter staff for an endless series of lead stories and live shots. Ugh. I’d much rather go solo and turn the kinds of stories that stick with viewers far longer than the breathless babble that makes up the front of your average newscast. What kinds of stories are those? The ones built on striking visuals … like, say, a gaggle of grandmothers swooning every time a globally known actor tears himself away from chatting up starlets long enough to graze on a few munchies at the craft services table.

That was exactly the scene unfolding this morning as reporter Angela Rodriguez and I rolled up on Greensboro’s crumbling showpiece of a historic baseball stadium. That’s where Clooney and crew were shooting scenes for his upcoming movie about the birth of pro football. The palette was staggering. Extras dressed in ‘20‘s garb, Model T’s sputtering in the mist, film crew hippies fiddling with lighting rigs, local cops corralling a horde of hyperventilating housewives and smack dab in the middle of it all, Clooney himself - loitering, laughing and sending shockwaves through the crowd with his every glistening dimple. A one-eyed hobo with a broken surveillance camera could have made award winning TV out of that scenario. But all I could do was spray the place - for A-Rod and I were soon due elsewhere downtown to shoot a story so boring I’m almost afraid to link to it.

So did what I could. Firing up my camera, I zoomed in on the matinee idol in the distance and clocked his every tuxedoed move. Why exactly he was so dressed up I’m not really sure, but I feel certain the clutch of female fans plastered around my perch could have explained every facet of the movie in the making. But there was simply no time. All I could do was curse the weakness of my extender lens, collect a few more cutaways and confuse the hell out of newspaper reporter Tina Firesheets by calling her by name (and what a name!). Had there been more time, I would have gladly interviewed every hysterical woman that could still form words. Instead, I could only throw up in my mouth a little every time the 75 year old lady beside me screamed for Clooney to 'show that sweet bod'!!!

I hate sweeps.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Secrets of the Telegenic

Jeff on PostThere will be many truths written in The Book of Lenslinger, from proper tripod storage to when not to piss-off a rent-a-cop. But aside from all the tactical claptrap, I hope to include a few of the intangibles. Of those there are many, for the newsgathering craft is riddled with misplaced innuendo. Consider the following case of pseudo déjà vu - a recurring sensation felt by photogs since the very first widow’s porch was conquered in the name of news...

Awkward Situations and Pretty People

Ever accompanied a former beauty queen across an angry picket line? Ever escorted a reality show runner-up through their very first fatal fire? Ever loitered outside a Wal-Mart as your toothpaste model of a partner cajoled the indifferent into an on-camera rant? I have - and I’m here to tell you, folks do respond differently to the acutely telegenic. Be it a homicide scene or a hillbilly hoe-down, nothing greases the wheels of stranger exchange like a chiseled jaw, envied hair-do or well-placed set of dimples. As a distinctly average forty year old, I’m used to amassing interaction withOUT the lubricant of matinee idol looks. No sweat. I got other skills: a gift of gab, familiar logos and an acute sense of lunch time motivation. On any given day, I can usually sway even the numbest among us to fake a pulse or two on-cam. But my meager skills of inquisition pale in comparison to those gifted with a visage more suitable for billboards than my furry mug. It’s this sort of viewer swooning that rightly infuriates the Print Contingent. Let’s face it: skinny notebooks, advanced degrees and a sense of entitlement still won’t get you as many juicy quotes quicker from the flattened trailer park as will an overly-logo’d Ford Explorer and an ex-thespian with really good hair. If that peeves the newspaper people in my life, I can certainly understand - but I for one am still glad that pretty people open doors. It’s facet of the grab I’ve known about for years. But today it occurred to me anew, as I watched our newest easy-on-the-eyes reporter, work a surly parking lot full of would-be demonstrators as if she were a game show host sleepwalking contestants through yet another lighting round.

I love it when they’re tougher than they look.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Fairly Unbalanced

Affixing your name and phone number to the shell of your fancy-cam: highly prudent. Slathering your batteries in Metallica stickers: dated but acceptable. Gluing novelty-store eyeballs to your fuzzy microphone cover: one of my favorites! Flying a Mexican flag off your camera's antenna while covering a pro-immigration rally; uncool on either side of the border. But that didn't stop this KPRC photog from representin' while on the clock - a bonehead move that earned him justified heckles from counter-demonstrators gathered outside Houston's Mason Park. Hey dude, I'm all for regional pride, but what part of 'neutral observer' don't you comprender? I got myself got plenty of opinions, but I can wander both sides of a Klan rally with a poker face and half a pack of Tic-Tacs. Try it sometime. For now though, help me out with a little translation. What's Spanish for dumb-ass?

We Are Not Alone

Pilot MountainCall me Richard Dreyfuss, but I can’t drive by Pilot Mountain without envisioning a giant alien spaceship hovering overhead. ‘What would happen if a massive mother-ship lowered slowly from the clouds?’ I wonder - until I usually miss my turn. One thing I know. Unlike the 70’s Spielberg classic, today’s otherworldly encounter wouldn’t be so easily suppressed by government forces. For soon after the giant craft cast its shadow over ‘The Knob‘, a glittering convoy of TV trucks would also hove into view. The cops could try and stop them. But with the vast ship visible from miles away, authorities couldn’t possibly stop the gawking. Before most locals had a chance to even look up, images of the slowly spinning saucer would ricochet across the heavens, before bouncing back to blanket the Earth in high-def chopper-cam frenzy. As mankind stopped to ponder it all, media outlets from every nation would dispatch crew after crew to sleepy-ass Surry County. As the giant ship slowly rotated in silence, a sat truck hive of apocalyptic proportions would ring the base of the famed monadnock. I bet they’d even serve refreshments!

Even still, the End Times would surely be nigh. For even if the life-forms behind the wheel of the incalculable vessel came only to peddle Amway, we in the Fourth Estate would surely trigger Armageddon. It could go down so many different ways. All those upturned satellite dishes down below could reak havoc with the spaceship’s tractor beam, causing it to suddenly crash and creating an intergalactic incident. Or the sentient beings sipping space-coffee deep within the colossal star-liner could simply stumble across our many TV signals. One trip around the cable news dial might render them agog - the shrill hype and dizzying graphics enough to convince any advance race to zap this wretched rock for the good of the cosmos. Or perhaps they wouldn’t have to watch any local tube to opt for annihilation. One sweeping glance into the sat truck encampment below would reveal enough about our society to ultimately do it in. After all, how many screaming logos, hairspray clouds and hacky-sack matches can a space traveler endure before kicking in the afterburners? Especially when there’s some guy with a ridiculous moustache pounding on the outside hatch, demanding an exclusive interview, access to the flight deck and if at all possible, a triple-lit sit-down with the the big greasy Martian that ate Al Capone.

Why, it's almost enough to make a cameraman stop carving cliff faces out of his mashed potatoes. Almost.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Trains, Pangs and News Mobiles

Train 1I didn't really want it until the cop tried to wave me off. Until then, I'd been merely going through the motions, leaning on my tripod by the crossing arm as my perched camera rolled on a passenger train stalled on distant tracks. Fifteen minutes earlier, I'd sauntered into the office, my head still very much stuck in Weekend Dad Mode. But all thoughts of paternalism dissipated when an assignment editor rushed me right back out the door with a vague address and only one word: Train. Having raced toward localized apocalypse with f-a-r less information than that, I did what I've been doing since 1989. I 'put some eyes on it'.

Train 2There wasn't much to see at first, just a handful of cop cars parked in the middle of an inner city street. Further investigation revealed a clutch of uniforms loitering on the nearby train tracks. Parking my camera atop the tripod plate, I recorded the scene. When a portly officer noticed my silhouette, he waved me away. He should have just beckoned me forward, for his dismissive gesture energized me anew. Jumping back in Unit 4, I drove off, crossed the tracks, parked my ride and hoofed it on foot. Minutes later, I popped out of the woodline - incredibly close to the gathered officers. They didn't see me. They were too busy pointing at the ground. When the one cop who'd waved me off bent at the waist and pulled back a white crumpled sheet, I suddenly wished I'd listened to him earlier.

Next time, perhaps...

The Edumacation of Joey Flash

When Joe Avery first joined our staff, he didn't have alot of newsgathering experience. But his journeyman camera skills, quirky exuberance and unmistakable tone intrigued the suits enough to offer him the job anyway. Knowing he was in for a whirlwind tour of gear-portage and drive-thru food, I congratulated him while trying to avoid any real eye contact. Ever since though, I've enjoyed watching this elfish young stranger transform into full-fledged photog (though I do reserve the right to deny any and all involvement should litigation ever come to pass). Consider this: In his three months at El Ocho, Joey has grooved in a room with Hall and Oates, roamed the grounds of fresh tragedy at Virginia Tech and, just this weekend, weathered a verbal attack worthy of a Stage 3 Schmuck Alert. Yes Sir, I see a real future for this kid...