Friday, September 21, 2007

Feeding the Beast

Anyone still hanging around this dump should immediately proceed to the home of Turd Polisher. Seems the Baton Rouge photog was recently drafted into satellite service, forced to point his Raggedy Dish Wagon towards nearby Jena and not stop 'til he got there. Egads. That's one camera crush I'd rather watch from afar than smell up close. I don't care what your politics are (really!) - you get that many TV news crews in one place and whatever message you champion gets lost in the exhaust of all those sat trucks. Already, the pictures coming out of that tiny Louisiana town remind me of the Virginia Tech camera massacre - with a little Duke Lacrosse thrown in for color, of course. Speaking of color, can't we all just get along? Not likely, I know - but if the race card's gonna be used to once again fan the flames of controversy, I'd just as soon sit this one out. Besides, I've already chased Jesse through a broken landscape - and came away feeling dirty for the part I played in the ensuing photo-op. Which is why I feel so lucky to have one Rick Portier on the case; his lovingly irascible account of the fustercluck that is currently Jena, Louisiana is rivaled only by his outstanding images. Go check 'em both out and perhaps you'll understand why I'm so eager to buy my kindred spirit a drink or two someday - just as soon as we washes all that exploitation grease off him.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stickless Stew

Thanks to the always effervescent Cara Michele of Chosen Fast for snapping this picture at yesterday's bus tour and reminding me I'm in dire need of a haircut. And perhaps a tripod.

Chopping the Pollards

It sounded simple enough. Go cover the emotional homecoming of a young family injured in a head-on collision. Caron Myers worked the phones for details and barely flinched at their estimated time of arrival - 3 PM, a full three hours before the story was scheduled to render the entire region verklempt. That's less time than we'd like, but to a couple of meatball surgeons like ourselves, it was hardly reason to panic. Besides, tearful reunions are pretty easy to shoot: just point the big end of the camera at the emotion. It may not win any awards for cinematography, but a shoulder-rolled rendezvous can choke up a soybean farmer from across a crowded truck stop - especially if his grandbaby's with him. With that in mind, Caron and I rolled up at quarter 'til without too much concern - though to be honest, the live truck did smell like old cheese.

The Pollards on the other hand, could not have been more agreeable. Anxious to have their family members home from the hospital, they gathered by the newly constructed wheelchair ramp and praised their maker for needing it at all. Jeremy and Tiffany Pollard were taking their 16-month-old son Stephen to a revival service a few weeks ago when they smashed head-on into another car. Doctors were pessimistic at first, but all three family members have made what some are calling a miraculous discovery. Less miraculous was the fluid execution of coming home. When four o clock came with no hospital van in sight, Caron and I prepped the truck, doing all we could to save precious moments come crunch time. By five o clock there was still no movement on the horizon and my lower left leg fell asleep in protest. It dozed 'til around quarter to six, when word of the van's imminent arrival caused me to wiggle and shake like Elvis on amphetamines. Once all feeling in my leg returned, I used it to pace back and forth by the driveway, lens hoisted, ready to pounce.

Five minutes later I got my chance. The van rolled up quickly, family and friends descended upon it and the wheelchair bound couple emerged tired but smiling. Someone handed them their baby, who'd just been released from the hospital a day later, and grateful tears fell. I rolled on it all, with one eye on the clock. By the time we broke away and bolted for the live truck, the opening theme to the six o clock news filled the air. With eight minutes to go before they introduced our piece, we huddled over the laptop, dropping shots and bouncing sound until something close to lucidity was achieved. At 6:08, they took our live shot; Caron espoused into the lens while I mentally broke down both the truck and my gear. As for the resulting piece, no one will ever stick it in a time capsule, but I guarantee you somewhere out there, a viewer's lip quivered right on cue - not due to my camera acumen mind you but because of the simple shot of a toddler in a neck brace.

So drive carefully, and if you feel compelled to help the Pollards in their long recovery, you can start right here. Thanks...

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Follow That Bus!

Having just helped Weaver decimate a Chinese buffet, I rolled up to my afternoon shoot fat, dumb and groggy. Good thing I was early. The two chartered buses I was assigned to follow were still idling outside the courthouse, their human cargo still milling about. Pulling in behind the bus, I threw Unit 4 into Park, sank back in the seat and paid for staying up so late the night before. Through the windshield, I watched the students, candidates and other policy wonks slowly board the bus. But the picture grew fuzzy as my eyes relaxed. Soon, I was no longer loitering in a parked news car; I was drifting off to that seductive place down by the shore of slumber and consciousness. FA-WITTT! With a jolt I awoke, the hiss of the bus’s air brakes still filling all my senses. Blinking away the sleep, I was relieved to see its pudgy driver still hitching his belt by the door as a few stragglers did what stragglers do. Closing my eyes again, I once again sought repose, smug with knowledge those same loud brakes would wake me again when the driver did decide to pull away…

I was wrong, for when I next opened my eyes, the buses and the people in them were nowhere to be seen. I cranked the key on instinct and achieved a screeching state of re-ignition. Backing off, I dropped it into Drive and hit the gas, nearly clipping a row of newspaper boxes that had mysteriously jumped into my path. As the stop light ahead went yellow, I fell in behind a UPS truck and followed it left, scanning the rearview for any police cars that might be pulling out of their headquarters behind me. Seeing no light-bar silhouettes, I looked ahead to see a brown wall with angry red lights rushing toward the windshield. I hit the brakes and jerked the wheel to the right, turning on the wipers by accident. The dusty blades smeared a brittle bug carcass across the glass and I had to hit the fluid doohickey to clear the view. Ahead, the white rounded top of the tour bus appeared in the distance, just a sliver of it visible over the roofs of the dozen cars between us. With a heavy sigh I maneuvered my way past traffic marveling at how quickly a stolen catnap could morph into an old episode of Mannix.

Sixty seconds later, I drafted into the shadow of the second charter bus. Not sure exactly where it was going, I let off the gas, knowing only it was in search of substandard housing. It being East Greensboro, that could have been just about anywhere and I correctly guessed it would turn down Martin Luther King drive before the first turn signal started flashing. Once on MLK, the first bus pulled over to the curb and when the second bus fell in line I followed. The next ten minutes were a clinic in cameraman land tactics. Grabbing my camera and tripod, I made a beeline for the bus door, recording shots of the passengers as they disembarked. Spotting the tour leader, I chatted her up while attaching a microphone to her lapel. A few soundbites later I took it back and assumed my position back by the front of the bus. I chilled there with my sticks until the bus rumbled past; is ass-end taking up much of my screen. As it grew smaller I tweaked my focus and for not the first time wondered what I might be doing these days, had I only followed my teachers advice and applied myself back in middle school.

Oh well.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Stalking Chris Paul

Guarding Paul
Okay, so before last Friday I couldn't have picked Chris Paul out of a police line-up. Not that he'd ever appear in a line-up, for the former NBA Rookie of the Year seems like decent enough peeps. As a former Wake Forest University player, he's also a walking legend around these parts - which is precisely why the suits insisted I document his every good deed during his visit to Winston-Salem. That of course, is far too cushy a gig, so what was left of Tropical Has-Been Humberto dropped by and shat all over me. Soggy britches aside, it wasn't a bad way to spend a morning. And what a morning! Paul cut the ribbon on a Habitat for Humanity house, mucked-up his high-dollar kicks while picking up trash and even helped pass out food to needy families. Dude's either at the center of a highly-orchestrated PR blitz, or else he's running for Pope. Whichever the case, I've lionized lesser men, so believe me when I say your soaking wet lenslinger was genuinely impressed with the man some people call 'Nut-Punch'. I'd pretend I don't know what that means, but that would be putting my Man-Card at risk, and I've already revealed too much.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Dress for Access

What the PIO seesAfter a most punishing summer, it’s finally beginning to feel like Fall in the Carolinas. About damn time. Now, granted - mild weather ain’t much to write about - but since I spent so much time bellyaching’ about the cloying heat - I feel I must make amends. Besides, even my fellow news shooters are breaking out the long pants, signaling some kind of Autumnal Photog Equinox. This probably pleases me more than anyone, as most of the photojournalists I know would happily dress like they’re leaving on an Outward Bound trip year round if they could. That’s cool, but I’d rather adorn myself in fabrics that don’t bring to mind the first day of middle school, thank you very much. It’s not that I’m all that fashionable; there are way too many coconut and palm tree shirts in my closet for me to ever claim sartorial superiority. It’s just that … I’m forty years old … shouldn’t I at least pretend to be respectable?

I have a dear friend who drops by to see me whenever he blows through town on business trips. “Man, I wish I could dress like you!” he says - taking in my cargo shorts, cabana shirt and tennis shoes. Of course, he says that while draped in a dark business suit, the kind of outfit that - while perhaps not all that comfy - comes in damn handy when you’re applying for a loan, picking up the kids or some other adult endeavor. I always shrug it off and tell him he may not be so fond of the weekly stipend that comes with the casual wardrobe. But he’s got a point. Several times in this last decade, I’ve turned down opportunities to leave the world of newsgathering, to go do something that would require a more mature look than say, wrinkled cabanawear and scuffed Nikes. Each and every time however, I’ve chickened out - not for the change in wardrobe a different gig would bring, but for the freedom a fly new suit would take from me.

See, a photog must be ready for any assignment. City Council Meeting, Water Park Visit, Prostitution Round-Up -the sky’s the limit, as is the gutter. With that in mind, we news shooters dress for comfort, if one can be comfortable stuffed into the shotgun seat of a speeding squad car’s cockpit. Of course, we stand just as good a chance of being sent to the Governor’s Mansion as well - a fact that rarely stops us from wearing something the roadies at OzzFest might shake their mullets at. But that’s okay too, for interloping in something wildly inappropriate is intrinsic to the photog lifestyle. Just ask the dude who wore flip-flops to the flashflood, or that chick in greasy culottes hobnobbing with the Senator's wife, or even that jackhole who sported wrestler pants and bedhead to the country club breakfast benefit. (Hey, I overslept!). Yeah, when I think about it, the things we photogs wear just make sense - about as much sense as that goober walking through the cornfield in a three piece suit, furrowed brow and oversized microphone.