Saturday, October 06, 2007

Scorning the Oracle

Michael Rosenblum is alive and well and won’t shut up. These three facts infuriate the photog nation, many of whom would like to stuff this self-proclaimed oracle into one of those gray, pockmarked camera cases and ship him off to Tibet. Maybe then they wouldn’t have to hear him wax enthusiastic about the erosion of their beloved discipline. See, Rosey wants to take the crew out of news crew; he favors equipping individuals with stripped down gear and diminished expectations. Nothing new there - people have been committing television all by their lonesome since the earliest mini-cam threw the first spinal cord out of whack. But lenses shrank over time and the microchip revolutionized news acquisition. Today, any punk with a nose ring and a laptop can crank out the kind of whiz-bang effects I used to have to bribe control room directors to give a go after the show. With that evolution in play, is it any wonder a new breed of newsgatherer rose from the primordial news? No at all. But a rogue insider dressed all in black spouting all kinds of broadcast blasphemy? What is this - a Stephen King novel?

Nah, it’s true - and like a lot of real life, it’s complicated. WKRN, the first affiliate to drinketh from the VeeJay cup hasn’t exactly shattered any scared tablets. Rumors have it they’re even trading in those nifty new consumer-cams for the heavier lenses of traditional TV news. But across the globe, ABC News is working on the one person news bureau, launching seven such operations with lots of gadgets but only one heartbeat involved. That - as I understand it - ain’t a Rosenblum joint, but the initial description of tech-laden correspondents closely mimics his VJ model. Amid all these murky triumphs and ballyhooed disasters, Michael rolls on, popping up in pulpits near and far - whereupon he’s heralded as a new messiah - or just another charlatan pedaling half-baked parables. Who knows how it all went over at the White House Press Photographer’s Conference in D.C. today but he felt comfortable enough after his keynote speech to play grab-ass with friend of the show Jim Long, so I’m guessing no one came at him with any burning pitchforks.

So what do I think? I’m glad you never asked, because the answer will easily provide the two paragraphs I need to round out tonight’s missive. Now, I’m no VJ. What I yam is a local TV news photographer who prefers to work alone. That’s right, I said prefer. Whereas the vast majority of highly talented news shooters are so because they eschew doing much of anything else, I’m something less of a specialist. Instead I focus on shooting, writing and editing said segments of the day, a habit that affords me better story selection than if I were simply ferrying gregarious hair-do’s from victim’s porches to the courthouse steps. My philosophy has raised may an ungroomed eyebrow, but I beseech not the opinions of the average photog. Nor do I wish to trade places with them come dusk, when I’m hitting the singletrack bike path while they shine lights on toothy prom queens downtown. Having said that, a whole newscast of my stuff just wouldn’t fly - not in an industry that’s hammered shiny tassles over the bones of vaudeville for so long that even those old farts in the cheap seats get lost in the gleam.

Did I answer your question? If I did, I wasn’t really listening, so why don’t we review? Rosenblum yammers, the industry hammers and I remain off camera because of a shaving disdain and the occasional stammer. I’m okay with that, but then again I could be accused of watching the wheels go ‘round and ‘round. Well, if was good enough for the cleverest Beatle, it’s good enough for me. I just get all antsy when I see my camera-hefting brethren dismiss a certain self-proclaimed messiah as the freakin’ antichrist. More likely, he’s an overzealous apostle - one who fell out of a tree perhaps. He should be allowed his sermons and followers without the worst of us hurling stones his way. If that’s too biblical for ya, consider the secular approach. Michael Rosenblum cannot portend the future, but even the quickest review of his dogma proves he clearly understands the state of local television today. That’s enough for me to hold off launching any pitchfork crusades - even if it wins me no converts in the temple of the lens.

Hope I don’t get excommunicated.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I Love a Parade...

I really do - and not in a musical theater kind of way. Rather, I dig the lines of the approaching column, the pastiche glory of homemade floats, the wheezy blather of a fat kid playin' tuba. But it's not just the pageantry that keeps me backpedaling all these years. It's the trance I fall into when the drumline gets going - a syncopated dirge that punctuates my fannypack's every move. Knowing when to move in close, where to pop off a few shots from the grassy knoll or how to dodge that steaming dollop of showhorse shit ... these scenes aren't covered in most camera manuals. No, that knowledge can only be picked up on the street, where cub scouts throw gang-signs at friendly lenses and wrinkled vets flinch in the hard-candy crossfire.

But enough of my babble, let's talk about South Davidson High. Perched outside the tiny town of Denton, the rural school's had a bad time out of it on the gridiron this year. Six games into the season, they've yet to win any. The townfolk of course are vexed by this abysmal record, but they're not about to round up their pitchforks. Instead, they've sough to to conjure up a little mojo by throwing the kind of homecoming parade they used to stage back in the day. That's where I come in, for celebratory soft news is a specialty of mine and no glittering slog's complete around here without your humble lenslinger running alongside. The TV piece that aired a few hours later 'twernt bad for the effort involved. Apparently it as good enough, for shortly after the broadcast the hapless Wildcats of South Davidson snapped their losing streak by laying waste to da Chatham Central Bears.

I love it when a plan comes together.

Photog Hobbles Jock

Here's hoping the cameraman who careened into New York Yankee Doug Mientkiewicz has already found another gig. Seems the Cleveland freelancer was doing the one-eyed backstep up a Jacobs Field ramp on Thursday, when he came into unplanned contact with a certain first baseman's ankle. Said balljoint did roll and now Mientkiewicz is iffy in the heroic poses department. Now, unankling a base-stealing Yankee is enough to get the average photog shot, so perhaps we should be grateful the unidentified shooter was only canned - and not made to sleep wif da fishes. As for the injury-prone Mientkiewicz, he's no doubt back in the dugout - keeping his eyes peeled for any incoming cameraman and hopefully saving his money to buy a few vowels. Play Ball!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Only the Good Die Young

Canaan's MomI never met Canaan Miller, but after spending only a few minutes with his friends and family, I really wish I had. Fresh out of high school, the grinning kid with the oversized 'fro was soaking up the last of his childhood. Skateboards, playing the drums, volunteering; these are the things Canaan did in the tiny town of Denton - even as he quietly weighed the scholarships in his pocket. For no, he worked. He was in the middle of a landscaping job on that day back in August, when he briefly stiffened before going suddenly limp. Doctors still aren't sure exactly why - but they Say Canaan most likely died before his body ever hit the ground.

I scarcely knew any of this yesterday when I met Canaan's mother. All I knew is a Davidson County woman wanted to honor her fallen offspring by bringing a skateboard park to distant Denton. Upon arriving, I had no more emotional investment than an overwhelming desire to get done early. But then Jennifer Miller produced a box of pictures, and her dead son's story came alive. A happy, handsome face winked at my viewfinder; a freewheeling bohemian who'd figured out life early. I could only nod quietly as the mother of four fought to process her loss. Thinking of my own kids, I sifted through now priceless photos and, for not the first time in my career, prayed I'd forever remain on this side of the victim's gallery.

Selfish? You bet - but we all gotta get through our day. Good luck on yours.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Glass from the Past

You Call that a MINI-cam?
Sure it looks doofy now: the surveillance type lens, oversized camera body, that weird robot-like support arm. Hell, even the birth control frames on that dude's nose scream 'Old School High Tech'. But back in the early 70's, that was considered a mini-cam and Mr. Whipple there was no doubt a pioneer. How else could the two of them landed smack dab in Television Newsfilm Techniques - an antiquated publication that landed on my desk - courtesy of one Joey Flash. I've yet to fully peruse it myself but Weaver spent a few minutes with it this afternoon and laughed so hard he was asked to leave my edit bay repeatedly. Sure, retro-tech is funny - but anyone who thinks a picture from their past won't age just as disgracefuly should take a long, hard gander at this.

Squids of Discontent

Stew SquidleyThough it was in theaters at the time, the movie Top Gun had nothing to do with my decision to join the Navy. Good thing, for not once did I glimpse Kelly McGills and the one guy they did call ‘Goose’ earned that sobriquet in a gentlemen’s club - not in the backseat of an F-14. No, if there was a theatrical release I’d have to compare my naval stint to, it would be Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H, for a sardonic contempt for blustery authority figures permeated every second of my time in uniform. That attitude’s no recipe for advancement, mind you - which may explain why no one in charge ever described me as Officer material. That’s okay. I wasn’t really interested in the admiralty, anyway. I was far too busy drowning my frustrations in self-pity and grog. At least I wasn’t alone.

Beastie Boys of the SeaFor some reason, the ship I spent the most time on was filled to the gunwales with young enlisted malcontents. We couldn’t have all seen that silly Tom Cruise movie, right? It’s a question you learned quickly not to ask, which was tough since that maddening Kenny Loggins dirge came on the radio every fourteen minutes. To this day, I can’t hear' Danger Zone' without suffering the kind of flashbacks one usually associate with combat veterans. Which brings me to a very important point. We were NOT combat vets. We weren’t even battle-tested pansies. We were simply young men who missed our girlfriends, our cars, our hometowns and everything we ever hated about them. Worse yet, we all found ourselves scraping paint in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean for one unfathomable reason: We’d freakin’ volunteered!

Danny CarterThat maddening fact bonded the underclass of the USS Mount Whitney together like glue. At least in my division. ‘Scope Dopes’, they called us - for the primary duty of the Operations Specialist was to operate radar. I can still recall endless hours out to sea, hovering over a green glowing screen and pretending I knew what I was looking at. Luckily I was so junior, it never really mattered. Every other time my Senior Chief noticed me, he’d order me out of his precious Combat Information Center and into a ten man working party. ‘Chief Starr’, his name was - I remember it well, since I used to mutter it under my breath with seething rage as my buddies and I wrestled hundred pound acetylene tanks down endless hatches and ladders. In our shared hatred for this senior enlisted despot, the dregs of the Mount Effin’ Whitney became shipmates to the end.

RackmatesThere was Carter - a Texas smart-ass who would talk shit to the pope - or the Officers Club bouncer, whoever got in his grill first. The last time I saw him, he was moon walking across the messdecks in civilian clothes, celebrating his last day in ‘The Nav’ by paraphrasing an LL Cool J song he’d just heard on the radio. Goin’ back to Dallas, Dallas…‘ I still smirk every time I remember his joy that day. Hope it lasted. And what about Frenchy - the laidback West Virginian with a heart of gold and body odor that would peel six layers of haze gray paint. He actually re-upped, blowing his re-enlistment bonus on a spiffy new car and a weekend road trip I'm still trying to piece together. And who could forget Jobmann - the funniest person I’ve had the pleasure of doing time with. He once made me spit bug juice out of my nose with his Carl Spackler impersonation. Later that night he made me cry with a haunting poem he’d grease penciled onto a glowing green radar scope. Years later, he’d attend my wedding before vanishing into private life...

Chris JobmannFunny how time works. What was a seminal part of my early adulthood now feels like a crazy midnight movie that I’ve only seen in parts. The very few shipmates I’ve managed to stay in touch with confess the same. I’ve rendezvoused with a few and it’s a touch awkward - for the insolent pricks we were back then are very often nothing like the middle-aged civilians we’ve become. Thank God. After sharing a few war stories and a few more shots, the conversation grows stilted. I’m proud of all that my ex-squid friends have accomplished, but nothing they can do compares with the sepia-tinged scenes that play in my brain ... Like the night Olt fell off that tugboat. That time we gave the new guy a hook and walkie-talkie and convinced him to stand mail buoy watch all night ... Or how about when Edgerton and Cransky beat the crap out of each other while dressed in their skivvies - after differing sharply on key plot points of the movie ‘Dirty Dancing‘.

Surely, I didn’t dream THAT up ... did I?

Monday, October 01, 2007

One Crusty Shutterbug

Further proof the media landscape is quaking underfoot: Darrell Barton is shooting stills. Who's Darrell Barton? Only the crustiest TV news photog you'll ever meet, a legendary lenser wherever his many network assignments take him: from the Holy Lands to Afghanistan, from freelancing for 48 Hours to his annual gig in Norman, Oklahoma - where every March he can be seen reducing fully grown news shooters to quivering sobs with his unique blend of 'That sucks' and 'You're not good enough'. When I attended the NPPA workshop back in 2000, Barton didn't come near my reel, but it was an honor to buy him a drink anyway, knowing I was in the presence of the O.L. (Original Lenslinger)

Now however, Barton's taking his sniper's eye and excess street cred to that other realm of non-fiction image gathering: stills. Imagine Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry character setting aside his .44 Magnum for a weeklong seminar in crossbow hunting and you have an idea of what the instructors at the Missouri Photo Workshop were up against. Reportedly though, all survived. In fact, much visual evidence has surfaced that suggests we TV dweebs and newspaper goobs aren't all that different from each other after all. That may be no News Flash to you civilain types, but in the fractured world of the Fourth Estate those who capture freeze frames have held those who roll tape in achingly low esteem (and versa-visa). Now of course all that's changing, and while you shouldn't hold out for any campfire singalongs anytime soon. the off-camera world did just get a litttle smaller. What's next, though? A local TV news photog who fancies himself a winning memoirist? Like that'll happen...

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Knocking Down Sunlight

I've not worked a nightshift in many a moon, but from what I recall, they can be laborious. See, the freaks do come out at night. They like to light protest candles, stab their baby's mama and hold county commisioner meetings - usually at the most inconvenient times... Sure, there are some perks. Parking improves when the suits leave for the day and the hassle-factor plummets. Not that the average shooter spends alot of time in the newsroom. More likely, they're crisscrossing the Tri-County Metroplex, dashing from the home-schooler's prom to that wicked curve out by the dashboard factory, from the Inner City fish fry to the old lady axe murder. "Just chop-chop, wouldya? We need you to swing by the airport for the Balloon Glow. Starts at eight. I'm sure it won't take long. Hey, have fun with it!"

And so it goes for the nightsider. Sure, some evenings are spent with reporters, hammering out a singular piece and finding the perfect empty building to drench with light at ten o clock. But many more dusks are schizophrenic; sunlight fading over scribbled directions as lone photogs gather up the flotsam and jetsam of the evening newscast. It's all enough to make one feel like an outsider, albeit one with an 'in' all over town. Like the midnight cab driver and the third shift traffic cop, the folks who work the late shows traffic in happenstance and pageantry. I'm not saying it's easier on days, but if a flying saucer crashes into Lake Lookie-Loo in broad daylight, I know I'm not the only logo on the clock. The nocturnal set, not so much...

All of which brings me to the old warehouse fire on the edge of town. No, it wasn't on the rundown, but it seems some kids thought it would be a good idea to fire bottle-rockets into the dry cotton storage bins, so could you roll on it? I know it's half past midnight and all your batteries are dead, but Lenny's not answering his pager again and we heard on the scanner that The Deuce''s sat truck just pulled up. They're probably gonna stay for their morning show but we don't need you to. Just get some flames on tape, milk a few gawkers for some on-camera sound, give the cops your business card and maybe do a phoner or two. C'mon, that onion burger combo you got riding shotgun will wait just a few counties longer. Hmm? I hear the industrial park is lovely this time of night...

(Thanks to Cadencefilm for use of his excellent photos)