Saturday, September 06, 2008

Standing Down

I fell under the spell of many Steves when I was young: Spielberg, King, Ray Vaughan. But in the Fall of 1978 I held no Steve higher than the white-suited Mr. Martin. From his banjo-laden stand-up on the Tonight Show to the astute silliness of Let’s Get Small;. I considered myself an early disciple of the man who would become The Jerk. This was less sanguine for my family; most of whom didn’t quite get the spastic new comedian, let alone my eleven year old interpretations of say,The Cruel Shoes. I however smelled Comedy Gold, and long before he hit critical mass with SNL and King Tut, I studied every dorky nuance of this swaggering idiot’s stage persona. I even headlined a week of campfire performances at Boy Scout Camp once, recycling much of his cleaner material to an audience of sugar-fed Tenderfeet and their ember-throwing elders. It was an inauspicious beginning and merciful end to my stand-up career...

Young LoserThirty years later I'm still a Steve Martin fan, as long as you don't try to drag me to one of his movies. Whereas my kids think of him as Father of the Bride, I know him better as that guy in the white three-piece suit and bunny ears. Which is why I consider Born Standing Up to be such treasure. Smartly written and w-a-y too short, the book recounts Martin's journey from intellectual goofball to cutting edge comedian, with every painfully bad performance along the way. If his fledgling act doesn't win you over, his work ethic and determination certainly do. I found it every bit insightful (and inspiring) as Stephen King's On Writing and a good deal giddier. In my favorite scene, a young Martin huddles in a comedy club in nearby Winston-Salem, circa 1975. "This town smells like a cigarette." he writes, wallowing in his backwaters journal. Months later his luck would change and within a few years, nerds like me would sport arrows through their heads in drooling supplication.

No wonder he quit doing stand-up...

Friday, September 05, 2008

Processing Chaos

There is much to sort out from Thursday night's mass arrests of protesters and journalists outside the Republican National Convention and just as soon as I sleep off the work-week, I'm gonna jump right on it...

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Better to Burn Out...

No shade in a vineyardForgive me if I'm not smiling in the attached photo, but I'M SWEATIN' MY GRAPES OFF! I know, I know, it's only September, but can we get a little Autumn up in here? If I soak through one more of boxer shorts before noon, I swear I'm wearing a wetsuit to work. Maybe then the housecats won't freak when I come back from my shoot looking like I took the Nestea Plunge. But I didn't log in to detail my personal grooming habits, nor did I plant myself in this swivel chair just to post another photo of me with a fancycam (Up Yours, Varner!). No, I took a few minutes out of my strict physical regiment to explore the transitory nature of my chosen profession...

See, despite all these self-aggrandizing snapshots, I am by definition one melancholy S.O.B. It's a defense mechanism, really. Years of spotlighting the plight of the vanquished and the vain have rendered me more than a little cynical. It happens to a lot of photogs. We go about our day joined at the hip to those who are better dressed, better paid and better received. Together we bumrush the downtrodden, placate the monied and titillate the shut-in. If that's not soul-eroding enough, we do so in a most scattershot fashion, glossing over details and polishing hype before rushing back to our live trucks as if our passel of pixels amounts to a hill of beans. At the end of our shifts we answer our cell phones, only to pass them over to our on-air partners so management can laud and applaud them for all our hard work. Is it any wonder we grow a little crusty?

No, it isn't. But neither is it an excuse to go through life a committed reprobate. That's why I've campaigned so vociferously to work alone whenever possible. It's not that I'm anti-social (much, anyway). It's that gathering data sans reporter removes much of the cheese from the TV News souffle. Though not a totally pure form of storytelling, lens-centric photojournalism focuses more on the subject at hand and less on that hair-do behind the mic(rophone). It's also strong medicine for a camera junkie like myself. Case in point: today's story on grape-growers scrambling to harvest their crops before Tropical Storm Hanna's ancillary rains drain the flavor out of their collective fruit. It is, at best, fodder for the b-block; the kind of story you watch out of the corner of your eye as little Johnny hides garden peas underneath his plate. But for a guy like me - who values story arc over top billing - it is a chance to cash in my chips, to hobknob with everyday folk and learn a thing or three about the art of vinification.

Overall, not a bad way to spend a Thursday morning - even if I do prefer my wine goblet filled with Maker's Mark...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Adam in '08

Adam Butler at the RNC Convention
Sarah Palin may be geting all the groovy close-ups at the Republican National Convention, but I've been straining MY eyes looking for one Adam Butler. He's there somewhere - hoisting a lens for News Channel 14 and cracking wise at every opportunity. That's Adam. Actually, I barely know the dude. The one time we did meet I was six imported beers into my 40th birthday celebration and the thrash metal funk band desecrating the Blues Bar we were in rendered nuanced conversation pretty much impossible. Still, Adam's every other word thoroughly cracked me up - as I suspect it does a lot of people. Since then, I've closely monitored his own blog (which, contrary to its title, does NOT suck) and only wished he posted more often. Little did I know it would take global politics to really get him going. Boy, has it. Since first touching down in Minnesota, he's filed his own reports from the convention floor - not to mention a few Twin City pubs (That's Adam). I'm just hoping he doesn't clam up again once he gets back to Charlotte. If he does, I may very well have to jump on I-85 and hunt him down. All I'll have to do is ask for the photog with the endless one-liners, the encyclopedic knowledge of Queen City watering holes and the two thumbs permanently thrust upward. That's Adam.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pawns Before the Storm

With Gustav already fading from the national consciousness and a slew of storms queuing up in the Caribbean, a time honored broadcast tradition is taking place along the Eastern seaboard. It's aritual as old as Dan Rather's rain slicker and almost as musty; an age old practice in which promises are made, deals are struck and favors called in. That's right, I speak of the Hurricane Haggle - that previously unseen bartering session between camera crews and the overdressed executives who hurl them into the void. Trust me, it's no day at the beach.

Unless you gave up television back in the Seventies, you know the scenario: a gleaming correspondent - clad in logo'd poncho and brand new ball cap - dodges sheet metal and drops clichés as a disembodied hand dabs madly at the lens. But before said news team can expose themselves to hundred mile an hour winds and dozens of granola bars, they have to convince their bosses they're worthy of such punishment. Pity The Suits who must suffer these endless appeals, for it's not every middle manager who has to listen as their underlings beg to be abused. And beg we do. I know of no other business where employees plot and scheme for a chance to deprive themselves of sleep until they forget their agent's name, to shack up with co-workers they don't even like, to take a clandestine dump between sand dunes - all so they can provide color commentary to winds with a nickname...

Of course for on-air talent, a hurricane live shot can be money in the bank. Yes, the chance to brandish a wireless microphone and a false sense of entitlement while coconuts and trash can lids fly just inches above your designer raincoat is a veritable right of passage for those who's stations are within a hundred miles of an open sea. Countless are the reporters who've placed footage of themselves lashed to a telephone pole and waving one of those wind-speed thingie onto the very beginning of their escape - er, resumé tape. Far-flung news executives - especially those trapped inland - eat that shit up. It tells them said reporter is a trusted member of the team, I guess - that or they have just the kind of harrassment prowess needed down at city hall. Either way, there's a long list of reporters I'd like to maroon along some storm-ravaged coast - with or withOUT a camera crew.

But it isn't just the hair-do's who beg to abandoned at continent's edge. We folks behind the lens also volunteer to eat sideways rain for days on end. Unlike our prettier partners we have more to keep dry than just a stack of headshots. Cameras, lights, tripods and scrotums - all must remain mositure-free if we're to do our thankless jobs. And rarely is there a raise or promotion waiting for us when we finally dry out. Instead there are only bragging rights, the ability to name-drop the latest storm at the very next keg party; it's the TV news equivalent of getting a new tattoo. Sadly, I myself am not immune. Hell, I've documented storms from both sides of the lens, cat-napped through the eyewall of a Class 2 'cane and of course taken a fancycam for an impromptu skinny-dip. You'd think I'd had enough - but still, I threw my packed bags on my bosses desk this morning (metaphorically, anyway) even though all I gotta do to witness the effects of Hurricane Hanna(h) is open the door to my eleven year old's bedroom.

Like I said, it's no day at the beach...

Life of Brian

All 015.001
Tonight's post is dedicated to one Brian Hall, fellow photog from across the proverbial street. I don't know Brian well, but I see him everywhere: at train wrecks, bake sales, hostage stand-offs and ribbon-cuttings ... you know the same places YOU run into colleagues. Lately though, Brian's been Missing In Action. His co-workers say he banged up his ankle, but I'm not so sure. See, Brian's one of those guys who's popped up on this blog a lot; not because I'm particularly enamored with his rugged good looks, but simply because he's been around whenever I fished out the digital camera from my oh-so stylish fannypack. Case in point: the above photo, in which Brian's very facial expression screams, "Dude, hurry the #$@&% up!" So here's to you, previously unidentified photog guy, your hairy mug and quizzical looks have really brightened up the place over the years - even if I've never seen you wear long pants ... Don't ask.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Spell on Two Wheels

ShocksWhen the house filled with womenfolk, I took to the woods. Actually I slunk to the garage where remnants of my mountain biking glory rested lay unmolested among the usual detritus of suburban life. There - behind those lawn chars - is that my helmet? And who let all the air out of my Trek’s tires? They were both rock hard when I checked them, I dunno, eleven weeks ago. You know - the last time I vowed to get back on the bike… Back then summer was just getting started and - having logged a long day with cycling enthusiast Chad Tucker - I came home with a hankerin’ for some root-ravaged single-track. Filling my tires with air from one of five (5!) bicycle pumps I found that day, I launched a hard-target search for my MP3 player and promptly got sidetracked. That was back around Memorial Day and the ensuing swelter of a Carolina summer zapped any ancillary energy I possessed for something as frivolous as recreational cycling. Now, however, the calendar read September 1st and as my quiet Labor Day around the house turned into one long Hannah Montana episode, I found myself fantasizing about my once mighty mountain bike.

Single Track GrimaceI blame Chad. Over the past year the king of King has transformed himself from a casual admirer of chain-driven conveyance into a lung-powered apostle of sorts. From the bike rack that hangs off his SUV to the self-satisfied glow he emits when describing his morning ride, the dude is ‘ate up’ with the idea of two-wheeled transportation. Rather than open his car door and push him out at interstate speeds, I’ve chosen to humor my reporter pal whenever he broached the subject of my former passion. See, I used to be equally fanatical about the fat tire life, logging mile after mile of deep-woods solitude in every kind of weather. Unlike my TV stevedore duties, it was exercise I actually enjoyed; that’s saying a lot for an inveterate bookworm like me. But having grown up on a variety of bicycles, be it my Schwinn ten-speed or mismatched BMX, I suppose it was no mystery that I rediscovered their virtues in my mid-thirties. However, just as suddenly as I picked up the two-wheeled habit, I stopped.

Tire RootI can’t explain why, really. Partly though, it was due to this very blog. How easier it seemed to slump down in this office chair and take my mind for a spin than climb atop my Trek and hammer the trails until my lungs bled fire. Cue the spare tire - no, not the one hanging underneath the bed of my pick-up truck - but the one that makes my tropical shirts rumple in all the wrong places. Vanity be damned I thought, equating my expanding gut with a new appreciation for middle age. I’ll just pull a Deniro, let everyone think I’m bulking up for a noble role - not just because I’m too damn slack to saddle up and hit the many twisting trails around my home. Well… today, I finally broke that impasse, thanks to a rare Labor Day off and an impromptu tween dance-off erupting in my upper lair. Forsaking the ritualistic equipment assemblage of previous expeditions, I simply clicked into my pedals and propelled myself toward the woodline. There I found a single track I'd all but forgotten and within a few revolutions of the foot, I found I still had the muscle memory required to stay aloft. Rocketing down a narrow cut in the wilderness, I couldn't help but grin between desperate gasps of air - for I was once again falling into that earth-surfing altered state.

I should have stopped right there - for on the very next blind corner, I ate a whole family of bugs.