Friday, June 29, 2007

Fire on the Bayou

We now take you live outside Baton Rouge, where photog-blogging phenom Rick Portier files a report on a garden variety apartment fire. Not only was it the second-most watched video on the CBS feed, but this two alarmer provided our loveable 'Turd Polisher' with an opportunity to bag a smattering of jaw-dropping shots and feel good about the people he works with. That IS news...

Jonesing for an iPhone

I Phone BluesWith a Molly Hatchet 8-Track still in my glove compartment, I'm no early adopter. But thanks to the camera on my shoulder, I do get access to the latest gadgets and silliest of trends. From PS2 to Y2K - I've profiled, previewed and pimped 'em all. Today, it was the iPhone's turn. But it almost didn't happen. All day long a series of top secret calls were placed above my paygrade, requests made, embargoes cited. By half past three this afternoon, I figured negotiations had broken off. That's when my hip began vibrating. Ten minutes later I pushed my way past a clutch of smug technogeeks camped outside an utterly forgettable AT&T store. Inside, the harried manager whsiked me to a back stockroom, where a man from Cupertino sat waiting quietly in the shadows. His face I couldn't really see, but his name tag read iCarl. Weird, that.

He spoke little and when he did, it was mostly platitudes. Setting up my tripod, I kinda stopped listening as he half-babbled hackneyed Apple mantras. Not until he whipped his shiny widget out and waved it around, did this man with no face hold me and my dusty camera entranced. That's no easy feat; I catnap at hurricanes. But I was smiiten and riveted the very moment my key-light bounced off this space age Zippo. Just as it did, iCarl barked liks a dolphin and the damn thing glimmered to life. I jumped and jiggered my shot, before collecting myself and tweaking my focus. Images danced on its oblong screen and boops and beeps burbled as it bathed the man's hand in warm gold light. I swear I even smelled fresh baked brownies too, but that may have been wishful thinking. Either way, I stared at the ballyhooed contraption like it was father's lost lightsaber, until it flashed the time and I realized my breathless report was due to air in two short hours. With a start I dropped my sticks and prepared to go, until it occured to me to ask a favor.

"Hey, think you could dial up a websi--" Before I could finished the sentence the omniscient doohickey sensed my intention and shone its answer in glorious Viewfinder Blue. I swear I'm gettin' of those things... right after I upgrade my Walkman.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Wishing for Oblivion

The Dill-Weed BeatAsk me to name my most feared assignment and I won’t cite the late night drive-by, won’t mention multiple murders or scribble a list of hurricane names. No, my worst case scenario is a lot more bloodcurdling than that. For the one shoot that strikes dread in the crusty heart of this lenslinger is … The Budget Meeting. Be it county, city or haughty suburb - there’s no place I’d choose to loiter at less than a contentious summit of low-level politicos. I’d rather chase cadaver dogs into the woods. Even the old ones that pass gas when they run. That would still be better than choking on the noxious fumes that stain the ceiling tiles of your local County Commissioner Chambers. Sure, it’s odorless, tasteless and otherwise invisible. But something inside those musty halls makes the clock hands slow to a creep, causes my calf muscles to ache and gets me mulling over the upside of a good ole fashioned lobotomy. I know it sounds extreme, but sit through enough line-item reviews and all manners of madness will run through your skull. That is, before you forget your name completely.

Bored SillyThe only solace is, you rarely suffer alone. Take yesterday in Wentworth -where I peered through the haze of egocentric blather to lock eyes with a doppelganger of sorts. He was the only familiar face in the jam-packed galley, but I didn’t know his name. That’s damn rude of me too, since we’ve both made hollow chit-chat at countless camera conventions over the years. But as I studied his lack of expression, his chosen moniker escaped me. That’s okay for I could feel his pulse from across the room. It came in low and slow and I began to realize my cross-town competitor was hibernating on his feet. Sure, he was functioning on some physical level, propped up on his side of the hall as some blowhard with a chintzy necktie placated his constituents ... but his gaze was as empty as the vaulted chambers were full.

Wallflower PhotogPulling back from my own viewfinder, I stopped to admire the chrome on his thousand yard stare. That’s when the head Commissioner began railing on ‘The Media’, taking a local newspaper reporter to task for coloring his words. Scanning the room for said offender, he came up empty, settling instead on your truly and his trusty Sony - neither of which penned the article in question. “You people in the press should be ashamed of yourself”, he said as he bore a hole into my lens. I just smiled weakly and tried my best to flip him off with my mind. It didn’t work; he just babbled on with the self-satisfaction of a small market news anchor watching hid first promo. Ignoring a few snickers from the crowd, I looked over at my semi-conscious colleague for support,. He just stood and stared, but he blinked back his own message in photog Morse Code…

‘Kill Me’, I think it was. I’ll have to ask him for sure at the next train wreck.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Disco Stew

Disco Stew
Normally a twisted peek into the photog psyche, the edit bay dry-erase board features other fine art as well. For example, the current exhibit includes this masterpiece of collaboration - an impromptu scribbling by a couple of photogs with nothing much better to do. Hey, I'm no art critic but I do believe that's supposed to be me with a butterfly collar shamrock shirt, poofy chest hair and day-glow Amish headwear ... It's Perfect! Okay, so the wife might not let me park it over the mantle, but I do appreciate the effort. Kinda reminds of that classic WKRP episode - in which Dr. Johnny Fever ditches his rock and roll street cred to host a cheesy disco TV show. All I can say is, long live Howard Hesseman...

Why I Don’t Do Logowear

I was plowing through a most righteous bowl of banana pudding at one of those buffet places today, when I heard him.

"Channel 8! Channel 8! Where’s Channel 8? There’s a Channel 8 truck in da parkin’ lot . Where dey at?"

Looking up, I saw a bee-hived waitress escorting a man in bib overalls and scraggly white beard to a nearby table, in much the same way you’d make sure that scary uncle had a comfy, distant seat at the family picnic. But he wasn’t studyin' the salad bar.

"Where’s Dan Scranton? He’s my weather man! He’ll put me on Tee-Vee. Dan Scranton will, yes sir! Watch him ever’ night on the forecast. Where’s Channel 8?"

By now others were watching the old hillbilly. My waitress even glanced over her shoulder as she walked up to top off my Iced Tea. Scooping another exquisite lump of bananas and vanilla wafer into my mouth, I chewed slowly as I watched the man, trying to decide whether he was drunk, delusional or being paid to screw with me by an incredibly desperate Ashton Kutcher. Either way, he was just getting warmed up.

"Channel 8, by God! Why, they transmit from the capitol to the coast! Winstum-Salem, High Point, Randleman. Dey on ever’where!" Caught up in his soliloquy, the man seemed oblivious to everyone him, most who were cutting eyes back to their table-mates and whispering the old man’s chirpy mantra…

"Channel 8? Channel 8! Channel 8!?! Channel 8! CHANNEL 8!?!?!"

The sound of tumbling ice cubes brought me back to the Earth and I looked up to see my waitress still standing over me, slowly pouring tea in my glass. We locked gazes and her eyeballs flickered down to the table. Following her line of sight, I looked at the astronaut memoir beside my plate and noticed my bookmark, a worn business card bearing a bright red Channel 8! I locked eyes with the waitress again and cocked a desperate, pleading eyebrow. A glimmer of a grin flashed across her face and she sashayed off without a sound. I dug in my pocket for an extra dollar, took a long pull off my straw and waited for the dude from Deliverance to look away. When he did, I got up and slunk off, passing right by him as he directed the attention a curious diners to the slightly grimy Channel 8 truck sitting in the parking lot. Once outside I walked ever so casually toward another group of cars, before turning sharply and making a beeline for poor Unit Four. Hopping in, I cranked the engine hard and took off without ever looking back.

Only when safely on the highway did I chuckle to myself and quietly thank God for giving me something to write about.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cancer and Creativity

Just when I thought I knew all the bloggers 'round these parts, I meet someone new. Jayne England Byrne has been push-button publishing since June 2006 - soon after she was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. In that time, the Guilford County resident has written insightful, lyrical passages examining every facet of her treatment, providing hope and understanding for countless other Breast Cancer patients. Recently, she even allowed Julie Luck and me inside her home to shoot a quick profile. That piece aired tonight and I hope the finished product helped ease her initial reticence. News crews can be invasive - even when they mean well. Personally, what I know about Breast Cancer can be spray-painted on a Tic-Tac, but when Jayne speaks of the therapeutic wonders of sharing her story with others - that, I understand...

Riding Rockets

Normally one finishes reading a book before reviewing it, but I'm so taken with Mike Mullane's irreverent take on astronaut immortality, I simply cannot wait. Riding Rockets is the memoirs of a shuttle-era astronaut - a bracing, funny look at the thrill of manned space flight and the soul-crushing bureaucracy behind it. Make no mistake, this ain't The Right Stuff... But then again, driving space trucks ain't exactly a moonwalk, either. To hear this military man tell it, NASA's second generation of space explorers weren't all cast from the square-jawed, flyboy mold. Instead, the shuttle crew candidates of 1978 included overly-schooled doctorate wonks, pasty scientist-types and humorless pioneers of the Feminist movement. Mullane's account of the resulting culture clash of these very different overachievers is worth the price of the paperback alone, and I got three hundred more pages to go! I can't wait to see how this gifted writer describes space flight itself, or how he handles on page the dark days following the Challenger and Columbia disasters. Whatever the case, I got myself a new favorite astronaut - not so much for his in-flight service, but for the unobstructed view he shares with the rest of us terra-firma schlubs. It's enough to convince this author-wannabe to get his schtick together - for like Blue Blood, Kitchen Confidential, Newjack and Rivethead, Riding Rockets is the exact kind of book I'm trying to write. Just replace 'space shuttle' with 'live truck' and you pretty much have 'Viewfinder BLUES'. That may not sound like high praise, but it is. I mean, what else can you say about an autobiography that opens with the author in mid-enema? You won't see that on C-Span...

Monday, June 25, 2007

VJ and The Hair

Wookie Mullet
9 pm/ET FOX ... Calamities ensue as a young Lenslinger fumbles a furniture spot, stumbles into a stand-off and ends up a wanted man in the News Director’s office. Will he forget everything he’s yet to learn about shooting business exteriors for an apprenticeship in the Art of the Grab? Will he ditch his dreams of New Car Lot Commercial Director of the Year for the seedy lure of a rusting news unit? Most of all, will he shear his Wookie mullet and stop wearing those zebra print wrestler pants so his grumpy new boss will freakin' chill?!? Tune in to find out...TV-14 (CC) 30 min

"We Don’t Do Shout-Outs..."

...but if we did, we'd extend mad props to one JL Watkins, aka Lost Little Robot - who picked up three (3!) more Emmy’s this weekend for his madcap work as photog /tech geek impresario way down there in the Upstate. Not bad for a nerd from the great Northwest.

...We’d also like to dip our lens in the general direction of Winston-Salem, where one Jon Lowder tries his hand at cameratology and gets a bad case of the shakes. In Lenslinger I Ain’t, the otherwise respectable family man laments his lack of acumen and credits me with being far better than I am.

...Lastly, there’s a loyal reader and casual acquaintance I must acknowledge, because he insists on acknowledging me. I don’t know Charlie Layno well, but the El Ocho engineer seems to read my thoughts daily and he isn’t even afraid to admit it. Thanks, Charlie. Remind me to break something in your honor very soon.

More pointers to recriprocal love as they come in, but remember - we don't do shout-outs...

Perpetual Egress

I hate to drag this played-out clip to the surface, but the damn thing’s racking up hits on-line and I can’t really figure out why. After all, its been almost three years since a remote-controlled vehicle tried to kill me and my newsgathering brethren. It’s a l-o-n-g story, but let’s just say when the demon truck turned our way, no one on Tripod Row was the least bit surprised. Maybe that’s why we shagged-ass so early. What none of us saw coming that day was the rise of on-line video, an unthinkable medium that would extend our then predictable dash into internet perpetuity. So far, its garnered thousands of hits on YouTube, and the soon to be ubiquitous TV. That’s fine by me, though I do find it weird that somewhere in cyberspace I’m scrambling for cover like Wile E. Coyote running from some horrid ACME product gone awry. Still, with comments like ‘Big truck go rampaging like angry elephant’, who can complain about being a cartoon character?

With Apologies to Letterman

Top Ten Reasons I’m GLAD to be back from Vacation...

10. I’m in the mood to hunt for borrowed camera batteries!

9. Dressing like a tourist is even more fun when someone is paying you.

8. My lower back hasn’t ached in days; I need to know I’m alive!

7. Enough sun and sand, bring on the cadaver dogs!

6. Twenty minutes with my coworkers and those punks at the food court seem real mature.

5. I miss press conferences!

4. Photogs get a lot more respect than suburban Dads! No wait, scratch that…

3. I haven’t hauled ass to a ribbon cutting in more than seven days!

2. My right eye now sees as well as my left one. We’ll fix that!

And now, the number one reason I, Lenslinger, am GLAD to be back from Vacation…

1. Now I have time to steal the Paris Hilton interview away from the corpse of Larry King!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Searching for Genaust

Joe Rosenthal endured a lifetime of attention after capturing the iconic conquering of Japan's Pacific stronghold in 1945. But the marine who recorded the same flag-raising on 16mm color film did not. In fact, Sgt. William H. Genaust never made it off Mount Suribachi. Killed by machine-gun fire days later as he helped fellow Marines secure a cave, his remains were never recovered. But now, thanks to a Pennsylvania businessman, the 38-year-old combat photographer may finally leave the battlefield. On his own dime, Bob Bolus began researching the possible location of this lost MIA, reminding everyone Genaust deserved better than to be left in a creak of a crag-heap. Now the military is on-board, with their own experts pouring over the topographical maps, GPS coordinates and DNA samples gathered by Bolus. With forensic teams now scouring Hill 362A, perhaps this forgotten photog can be brought home. How about Arlington?

Pop Quiz, Hot Shot...

School Bus WreckGarrett was unconscious when the call came in. Wedged back in a corner of The Pit’s skanky sofa, he’d dozed off to the dulcet tones of Bob Barker sleepwalking through another episode. But about halfway through Plinko, Hector burst into the tiny alcove yelling something about a school bus wreck, Camilla and Live Three. Suddenly he was up grabbing keys and batteries as he headed out the door, Camilla behind him, wrestling with her bag and one of those cheesy News Leader 3! jackets. Outside, Garrett realized why. The late morning sky was purple and gray, low clouds with the makings of a midday monsoon roiled in the distance. Looking at the live truck keys in his hand, he read the letters etched into the plastic orange fob. Live 3. Damn! Spotting the relic parked in a corner spot, he headed that way. As he did, the first of a million raindrops began to fall, the larger ones darkening his threadbare shirt. By the time he’d slung the rest of his gear into the faded white Suburban and backed it out of the lot, the shirt hung like a wet beach towel on him. Riding shotgun, Camille cradled a cell phone and scribbled down directions. Garrett pulled a knob and encrusted wipers skittered across antique glass, turning the windshield into an abstract canvas, slathered in pollen, mud and bug guts. Halfway down the driveway, the fabled news chariot back-fired causing a fat squirrel dash from a nearby bush. Turning out on the street, Live Three rocked from side to side before centering up, at which point Garrett looked in the rearview mirror and reviewed his new assignment.

“This s-u-u-u-u-u-cks…”

Thirteen minutes they pulled up on scene, a dipping curve in an otherwise featureless country road. The ride over had not been pleasant. As he always did, Garrett drove like a pyro en route to a barn fire, causing Camille to not once, twice but thrice curse his choice of RPM’s. It didn’t help that the rain really picked up just as they got on Highway 42, a twisting country corridor known for it’s own collisions. And then there was Live Three - by far the hoopty of the lot. Garrett and the fellas had been trying to kill Live 3 for years, but the ’83 SUV with the stubby mast and peeling logos just wouldn’t die. Nor would it hydroplane, a fact Garrett tested several times on his way to the ‘bus ax‘. Anything to piss Camille off, a woman he’d despised since she introduced him as ’her photographer’ to a deputy he’d drank moonshine with the weekend before. Arrogant shrew, he thought and chose to avoid her. But on occasion he couldn’t help it, like when the News Gods hurled down ill-timed thunderbolts in the form of crumpled school buses. Garrett’s only consolation were in the odds. Eight out of ten school bus wrecks turn out to be mild fender-benders, usually involving pissy kids and hidden mailboxes. In fact he would have bet the six dollars in his pocket that this would be the same, until the hospital helicopter flew overhead.

“Showtime…” Camille said, as they parked behind a row of fire trucks.

With that, she gingerly pulled the hood of her freebie jacket over her carefully coiffed hair and jumped out of Live Three. Jogging ahead, she held a thin reporter’s notebook to her chest, head down, her matching pumps kicking up water with every step. Never sure how women could run in those things, Garrett didn’t have time to ponder. He had a mast to raise, a signal to establish, lights to rig up and a tripod to deploy. That didn’t include the umpteen shots of the broken bus he’d need - provided he could even get to it through the growing maze of pick-ups ambulances and fire engines. Throwing open Live 3’s back doors, Garrett reached in and flipped the sticky toggle switch that fired up the generator. For once, it sputtered to life easily, freeing him to scan the air above the live truck for any overhanging obstruction. Look up and live, he thought as he threw the lever that pumped air into the broadcast mast’s age old cylinder. With a heavy wheeze, the telescopic pole inched upward - its faded red cable unfurling around it. As it grew, Garrett gathered gear around him. Camera, sticks, microphone…he was almost ready to go when 'Tri-City's NewsWatch Five' pulled up, a gleaming red satellite truck slathered in grinning anchor faces. "G. Lee on the scene", the truck’s tattooed driver cracked from the dryness of his cockpit.

But Garrett didn’t hear him. He was too busy running.

(To Be Continued...)