Friday, May 11, 2007

Stringer and The Man

I didn't begin this blog to keep track of photog altercations, but since I need fresh content, let's get started! Lately, there's been some bad voodoo between cops and news shooters, two groups that most often get along, albeit begrudgingly. The most recent case happened just down the road in Smithfield (home of Ava Gardner!), where freelance photographer Carter Rabil got a free ride downtown after refusing to move for law enforcers. Holy F-Bomb! I'm no expert in police-media relations and aside from a few half-watched Matlock episodes, I don't know diddly about the law. But even a rube like myself knows better than to hurl obscenities at a uniformed officer and expect him to do anything but decorate my wrists in court-appointed bling-bling. Did I just say 'bling-bling'? Egads...

Perhaps I'm just rattled by all the conflict. Like Rodney King, I just want everybody 'to get along'. Unlike King, I ain't got a rap sheet that dates back to 1987. Which makes me the average photog - a working class lenslinger who will do anything to get that shot, 'cept curse a cop and go to the pokey. There's just no honor in it. More often than not, such crime scene shenanigans are showboating anyway; puffy-chested posturing by cops who hate photogs or by photogs who hate cops. Fellas, please - is one more shot of crumpled sheet-metal worth a night in the slammer? And officers, why must you single out the lowly photogs when Sally Sue Sixpack and her six ugly kids are trampling through the debris field even as we speak? Huh? If there's a lesson here, it's simply this: Don't tell the cops to' get the $#@! out of your way' - unless you got time to kill and a real hankerin' to be on YouTube. Remember, can't make slot from the back of a squad car.

You can however sample the most troubling of aromas, but that's the subject of another post.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Scenes from a Dream

Fantasia UnfocusedWe all have ‘em, those custom-made frustration dreams that make our favorite blankets all sweaty. Mine usually involve flashing lights, steep gravel driveways and lower back pain. There I’ll be hoofin’ it uphill with tripod and heavy-cam in tow, trying to make it to the hazy news breaking over the horizon. Scanner traffic crackles behind me and sirens wail up ahead as I stumble and climb but never, ever reach the peak. Sometimes I’m carrying 1950’s era broadcast gear, other times sky-filling spaceships rotate overhead. Occasionally I’m dressed as a British school girl, but I don’t want to talk about that right now. I’d rather discuss occupational imagination residue , that familiar but mystifying imagery that permeates the screen of our deepest dream theater. A little clarity amid the disposable vignettes is all I seek - without all that gold medallion over black turtleneck shit.

I’m a TV News photog - so it would stand to reason my dreams reel out in highly-sequenced ninety second chunks, laced with off-screen narration and syncopated natural sound. It’s true - I fantasize in wide-medium-tight, but more often than not my eyelid cinema is directed by someone else. I’m just a runner, a secondary shooter often unable to accomplish the simplest of task from the cameraman’s manual. I suppose postal delivery people dream of rusted shut mailbox lids and apocalyptic Dobermans. Me - I mostly keep it real, when I’m not sporting a plaid jumper and pigtails, that is…

There’s that dream where I’m riding shotgun with that guy from Wildest Police Videos. I try and frame up a shot as he takes ghetto street corners at top speed and spits out weird Shatner-esque rejoinders. These joyriders thought they could get away…but they couldn’t outrun -- the dream police!” If I’m lucky, I wake up screaming.

One recurring nocturnal vignette is based on a true-life incident I remember well. Having sped to Raleigh for a Governor’s press conference, I’d neglected to check if my batteries were charged until I was firmly wedged in a gubernatorial scrum. With every inert brick I pulled out of my runbag, even the Governor noticed the cameraman melting down in the corner. Somehow I got through that day, but in my dreams I’m still yanking EverDead batteries out of a day-glo fannypack.

Other times my head trips are so staggered and jumbled nothing makes sense. The ever -present camera on my dream shoulder is merely an afterthought, just another lowly appendage that fails to explain the situation I find myself in is so damn incongruent. It’s these times I’m most confused. After all, who can tell if you’re dreaming or not when you’ve spent endless hours walking backwards with one eye closed?

Then there’s the most disturbing dream of all. In this nightmare landscape, I’m a badly aging veteran photog stuck in the doldrums of a medium market career. Ribbon-cuttings, ride-alongs and road-rage stretch into the distance as I scribble overwrought prose in tiny notebooks and choke on dollar menu combos. Just when I feel on the verge of cleverness, my cell phone digs into my hip and I’m off to another ground-breaking. I’m telling ya, it’s chilling.

Hmm? What’s that? Oh...yeah. Scratch that last one.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

CSI: Enough Already

I know I’m just a lowly cameraman, but can I call for a moratorium on all things CSI? Granted, I don’t watch the silly network shows, but even an avid Caruso-hater like myself can tell when a phenomenon has jumped the freakin’ shark. Case in point: In the past two weeks, I’ve shot multiple stories involving fake crime scenes. First it was the Elon Law School in downtown Greensboro. When Charles Ewing and I strolled through their newly hallowed doors, no one much noticed. They were all too busy huddling over a splayed-out mannequin, who - from the looks of it - had been attacked by a pack of dummies from the wrong side of the thrift store. Hey, I’m no fancy-chancy law student but wouldn’t that gaping head wound pretty much rule out accidental drowning? Forget I mentioned it; just know that no matter how much you wrap the lobby in crime tape, it doesn’t proximate the feeling of an inner-city shooting after midnight. For that you need sleep in your eyes, mismatched socks and an indignant crackhead or two. Then, and only then, can you properly cue The Who.

Now, before I proceed, your honor, can I approach the jury? See folks, I’m no prude. Long before it was cool to scrape for DNA, I was living vicariously through forensics. It began in grade school, when I ran across a most intriguing Readers Digest collection: Great True Stories of Crime, Mystery and Detection. I must have read every word of those London Yard stories a dozen times, before losing the book during the fog of adolescence. When I spotted a tattered copy of my beloved tome lying in top of a church book sale pile, I almost caused my own crime scene by bum-rushing three grandmothers in order to grab it. Years later, I rediscovered my affinity for investigations while posing a bored sailor out to sea. A buddy passed me a torn paperback edition of The Stranger Beside Me. In it, writer Ann Rule describes how the handsome young fellow working the suicide hotline alongside her was far creepier than at first glance. His name was Ted Bundy and I was enraptured. After that I read every serial murderer tome I could lay my hands on, until a skeevy shipmate noticed my true crime tastes and invited me to his satanic church meetings. Check, Please!

Mmm-Hmm. Sorry about the flashback. Truthfully, I haven’t thought about those dark days underway in a l-o-n-g time. That’s a good thing - for certain memories should be forever buried in a shallow grave. But enough about my mental scars - I was talkin’ True Crime. For the most part, I grew out of it (though may I heartily recommend Sebastian Junger’s creepy remembrance of a childhood handyman/monster in A Death in Belmont? Good stuff). No, these days, I’m only vaguely aware of the forensics renaissance in popular culture. It’s an easy enough feat. I abhor the hour-long drama and visual violence as entertainment struck me as dumb around the fifteenth time my old roommates insisted we watch Commando, starring a young and apparently bulletproof Arnold Schwarzenegger. Since then, I’ve handily eschewed this national fascination with rigamortis. But today, as I trained my lens on a group of seventh graders measuring fake blood splatter, a question I couldn’t answer popped in my head.

What ever happened to The Hardy Boys?

Monday, May 07, 2007

News Crew Cuffed, Stuffed

How can I work on my memoirs when news crews keep getting tangled in the Thin Blue Line? This time it's Memphis, where cops cuffed and stuffed reporter Jeni DiPrizio and photog Eli Jordan. It's hard to know why, exactly. On assignment for Eyewitness News Everywhere (I kid you not), the newsgathering duo were working the fringes of a tile plant fire when a nearby police lady decides they have to leave. Now! Ever tenacious, DiPrizio stalls the officer and gets the newsroom on the horn, while photog Eli wisely keeps rolling. What follows is a ramped-up exercise in foregone conclusions, ending with the ratcheting clatter of shiny metal bracelets. Did the cops overreact? Seeing how the news team were released after only a couple of hours of stewing in a squad car, one would assume so. Could DiPrizio have handled it better? Hard to say; debating property access and media rights with someone wearing a bulletproof vest is a dicey venture at best. I'll give her mad props for stickin' to her guns, at least. And Eli's video? Riveting.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I was somewhere between newbie and burnout...

Get My Good Side...

The voice on the phone probably sounded familar. After all, Paul Broussard was no stranger to the staff of KLFY. A TV-10 news crew profiled the self-described security consultant earlier in the year, when he announced a less than magnanimous campaign for Governor. This time however, it wasn't gubernatorial glory the local man was seeking, but the chance to explain why he'd just been forced to shoot a cop. Cue the furious hand-motions. Moments later a TV-10 camera rolled as Broussard explained via speakerphone how he and his assault rifle had been taking a walk when they were accosted by State Police. Demanding he drop his piece, the troopers fired on Broussard, who returned the favor with lead of his own, winging one officer before barricading himself in his mobile home. That's where 'Colonel' Broussard was calling from now - the very same trailer KLFY had interviewed him at a few months back. Wouldn't they to like to rush on over now?

They would, and did. Soon a TV-10 live truck joined the fleet of squad cars and unmarked Crown Vic's parked askew outside Broussard'd door. Neighbors only did a half double-take when they heard the commotion - even as the old coot's showdown with the PO-lice forced them to evacuate their own cribs. 'Whadaya expect from a guy who rides around pretendin' to be a cop?' some weren't heard to say. I'll tell you what to expect: extended megalomania. Sure, I don't know Broussard myself, but anyone with a cop fetish, political aspirations and the local TV station on speed-dial will regularly use all three to pedal crazy. Trust me on that one. Or, consider the conclusion of this protracted stand-off: Sensing his fifteen minutes was just about up, Broussard pushed the hyperbole into overtime by demanding a TV-10 camera accompany police to come in and get him. KLFY photog Keith Verret answered the call, suiting up and moving in. Wisely, it seems police kept him far enough back to avoid any spontaneous acts of armed granduer on the part of Broussard. Instead, a Governor's incumbency was peacefully spared, a local affiliate got one hell of a freebie and an old man with more sidearms than sense went to jail.

Wonder if he knew it was Sweeps?

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Oh, the Inanity!

When the Hindenburg hove into view over Lakehurst, New Jersey seventy years ago, it was running late. Headwinds had pushed the German dirigible two hours back and the small clutch of radio and newsreel press awaiting below probably probably couldn't wait for the damn thing to land. We all know what happened next. The massive zeppelin caught fire, crashed to the ground and a radio reporter named Herbert Morrison immortalized it all with a simple, heartfelt screed. One can only imagine what the giant airship disaster would have been like had it happened today...

Surely someone would have thrust a camera phone upward as the flames rippled across the bladder's surface, recording a shaky pixelated account that would be later celebrated for its cutting-edge clarity. Audio lifted from the jittery footage would air almost immediately on-line, making for an instant podcast classic. Not to be outdone, the corporate press would swoop in from Manhattan, surrounding 'the incandescent tangle' in sat trucks, HD cams and celebrity journalists who only go by one name. Simultaneously, a smilar firestorm would erupt across the blogosphere, sparking flames wars that condemned everything from German engineering to the idea of airflight itself. As the sun set over the smoldering pile, spotlights would illuminate the field, not to clear the path for first responders - but to max out the background for Chet Graytemples' closing stand-up. Off camera interlopers would joust for the attention of surviving passengers - until all who could talk were booked solid for a whirlwind tour of global live shots.

In the end, the same thirty-five people would have died, lighter-than-air flight would have been largely crippled and those scheming Nazis would have had to been dealt with. But the catastrophe itself would soared to even loftier climes of speculation and conspiracy in the 24/7 cable news atmosphere. Though never more powerful than an impromptu, sincere recording, the rabid blather of today's well-equipped press would bleet and howl over every scrap of burned fabric, until the simple crash of a newfangled airship was lost in the tabloid static.

Talk about a loss of humanity.