Friday, December 12, 2008

Might As Well Jump

House Fire Escape WindowWhen a High Point woman dove through the glass of her bedroom window the other morning, she didn't just escape her burning home. She did it in an interesting way. Had the 48 year old woman found more reasonable egress, chances are two news crews wouldn't be circling the block. But puncture the panes she did, falling a good four feet before crumpling in the dust - bloodied, stunned and badly cut. Neighbors noticed the smoke and the broken lady under the tower of smoke and clumsily punched 911. Seconds later, cooler heads within City Dispatch flipped the alarm switch, causing more than one crosstown fireman to pull up his pants. When the boops and beeps subsided, a leathery voice came over the air and crackled the facts... Structure Fire, Jefferson Street, One victim injured after jumping through a window... Miles away, a mornng assignment editor looked up from her beatchecks and scanned an empty newsroom. No one here yet, she thought - but when a dayside photog rolled in, she'd have him 'put some eyes on it...'

That smoke plume was enteringthe stratosphere by the time that I arrived. The lady too was gone, scooped up by paramedics and whisked away to the nearest E.R. Even the firefighters were rolling up their hoses. No sweat; that smoldering carcass of a house stood firm: hole in its roof, water on the porch, a smear of blood under a front bedroom window. I parked my car up the block and pulled my gear out of the back. Twenty seconds later, I power up, switch to Filter 2, zero-out timecode, turn to white-balance on Unit 4, wedge earbuds in and ROLL ... Looking around, I locked eyes with a few bystanders while picking my next shot. Wide, Medium, Tight - it ain't rocket surgery. After finding a few, I picked up my rig and moved closer in, stepping over hoses and nodding at guys in turn-out gear as I went. They nodded back, some hoping to get on television, others wanting to turn the hose on me. I smiled like I'm invited all the same, taking special care to stay out of their way. Mostly I just slow-danced with my tripod, using my lens and powers of observation to illustrate the story taking shape in my head. But was there enough story there - something to strecth ot past the point of a twenty second blurb on the evening news? too early to tell, but the way I look at it, if I'm I'm gonna smell like a house fire all day, it damn well better be a package.

Package: that's Tee-Veese for a pre-edited reporter-narrated news story, the kind of thing Chet McDimplechin likes to toss to well before Weather. Usually they're produced by two people but I tend to work alone, shooting, writing and editing a piece that an anchor will voice. 'Anchor Packs' we call them - after the person least involved in the process. Anyhoo, all the shimmering cinder shots in the world won't result in a package without some SOUND, so seconds after I pulled up to 703 Jefferson, I began profiling the crowd. See it's not enough to score a story's backdrop, you need some characters reciting their lines. Chances are the lady who took a plunge through two panes of glass was going to show up any time soon, so I'd have to start with some supporting players ... like that fire chief talking to the cop over there. Have I ever told him how my brother's a career fireman? Turns out I hadn't and after a delghtful conversation about Greenville nightlife he happily pinned on my microphone and held forth about the fire and the body's strong will to survive. Best of all he stoos State Trooper still the whole time, allowing me to frame him tight and step to the right of my viewfinder. This came in handy a few minutes later when a passing cousin wandered into my wide shot an danswered my every question, all while holding his pants up with one hand and gesticulating with the other. He even toned down the huther-mumpers, so I wouldn't have to spend extra time bleeping him out. Who says there's no hope for the youth of America?

I just wish the piece turned out better.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Headbangers, All

I miss the 80'sTonight I had every intention of weighing in on the steady evisceration of my chosen industry, but quite frankly, that's some seriously depressing shit. So instead, I'd like to examine something that's brought me an abundance of joy lately ... Facebook. Now before you roll your eyes and click away hear me out: I'm well aware that when a 40 something father of two raves about a certain social network, then said site has more than jumped the shark. But like Fonzie in a leather jacket and swim trunks, I'm choosing to ignore any sense of fashion.

Why? Because Facebook has brought me back in touch with people I thought I'd never forget. Sure, I've been 'friended' by old co-workers, eager readers and current colleagues. And hey - I'm narcissistic enough to welcome them all. But nothing makes me grab my mouse quicker than a name from my distant past, names that are as familiar to me as my very own - even if I haven't heard them in a decade or so. And it's not just names! Give it a click and you'll find yourself loooking at a picture of a childhood chum holding kids of their own. It's enough to make one sit, stare and pour a stiff drink or three. Lately I've been doing that a lot, as blood brothers appear from the pixelated mist. Embarassingly, many of these long lost souls only live an hour or two away, but the insulation of wives, lives and suburbia has kept the old gang splintered and torn. No more.

Another facet of all this social networking is equal parts thrilling and scary. I'm talking about the mass uploading of old pictures. Ask around, there's nothing more worrisome than a message in your inbox that a person you haven't laid eyes on since the Reagan administration has 'tagged you in a photo'. One doesn't know whether to click on the link or go into hiding. Of course, I've never been afraid to share shots of myself in a dated haircut and - as the above photo proves - neither are my old running buddies. Then again, we were children of the 80's and like teenagers since the beginning of time we embraced the fashion of the day assuming they would be timeless. Turns out they weren't. But that just adds to the fun doesn't it?

Speaking of fun, my old crew excelled at it. Borne of a small town and intimate with excess, we raged at unseen machines, imbibed as if we invented the very idea and pretty much partied like rockstars long before it became a commercial catchphrase. This of course, makes me and mine no different from your old gang. But I have to say, the examination of transgressions past has made me rethink my roots. My small town inside Wayne County felt like a prison much of the time, but I couldn't have chosen better cellmates. Badly Aging RebelsThe greasy details of which I'll wisely deny, but let's just say it's a miracle many of us ever reached middle age, let alone retained the capacity to use a computer. Yes, children - back in the 1980's you could consider yourself an intellectual and still rock a sleeveless Queensryche t-shirt. Just ask your neighbor's Dad, the one with the the paunch and bald spot. He thought he was cool once, too. In fact, his Facebook friends just posted a whole gallery of photos to prove it.

Hmph. With entertainment like this, is it any wonder local TV is dying?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kinescope at 11

Sit down and strap in, we're setting the Wayback Machine to 1914. You heard me: Nine-teen For-teen. That's the year attached to the above photo, on cyber-loan to the Lenslinger Estate from the Amanda Emily Collection. I could look at it all day. In fact, I have - stealing glances between non-linear edits, wondering if the three proto-photogs (Dick Sears, James Hutchinson, Jake Coolidge) had any idea what pioneers they were as they filmed newly elected Boston Mayor James Michael Curley. Did they know those cumbersome cameras would one day be replaced with sleek shoulder-mounted models, slathered in logos and empty promises? No way. Did they suspect the then-embryonic form of communication would one day grow bloated, shallow and ubiquitous? Not likely. Could they have forseen a future in which field camera operators would forgo the scratchy wool suit look for the easy-wash wardrobe of a roadie for Hoobastank? Doubtful. Did they have the slightest inkling that the balding underling in the doorway there would be replaced by an army of incredibly hot yet weirdly stern PR chicks? Something tells me no. Is there any way they would have fathomed that in less than century the moving picture news business would be rendered nearly irrelevant by globally-connected cyphering machines, a crumbling American economy and ten decades of unabated newsgatherer hubris???

Come to think it, I didn't see that last one coming either. Guess that makes me a pioneer, too.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Jousting for Sound

The Scrum, by its very nature, is a fleeting, amorphous thing. Like a dust devil rising up from the desert floor, these swirling summits can take shape and dissipate before even the most seasoned ‘slinger can shoulder his rig. Personally, I hate them. Elbows bent, back strained, head cocked at the most untenable angle…I’d rather interrogate a mime than throw in on a little elbow fiesta. But TV news photogs don’t get to call the shots; only compose them. As much as most of us would prefer to frame our vignettes in a vacuum, newsgathering is and always has been a contact sport. Thus, if you’re not up for smelling what your cross-town competitor had for lunch, you may want to stick to polishing light bulbs in the studio. It’s safe in there, but rarely ever breathtaking.

Of course, stagehands don’t have to bum-rush the subjects of their close-ups. Nor do they have to avert their gaze and compartmentalize their feelings as wreckage smolders just off-screen. That’s just what was happening when the great beFrank snapped this shot of an impromptu debriefing at the scene of yesterday’s tragic F-18 crash down in San Diego. As pictures go, it’s pretty pedestrian - but if you’ve ever responded to such calamity, the image comes alive. I, for one, wonder what’s behind man in the middle’s gesture, how many batteries are in that photog’s knapsack and if first responder shouts and pesky backlight marred the shot. I guess that makes me more of a technician than a storyteller, but at least I know when to keep my eyes moving, my camera still and my mouth shut.

No matter how much my back hurts.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Room to Write

Lenslinger CentralSorry about the recent lag in transmission, but Lenslinger Central is undergoing renovations. Actually, the Missus insisted I clean my room and somewhere between waxing the action figures and polishing the lava lamp, I managed to unplug my mojo. No bother; I’ve been at this blogging thing long enough to recognize its rhythms, to understand when my late-night keyboarding is producing un-bruised fruit and when I’m just punishing my knuckles. Lately, I’ve been somewhere in between and while I’m more than willing to examine my methods, motives and many moods, I’d first like to pull back the proverbial curtain on my upper lair. Sure, I’ve called it ’The Lenslinger Institute’, The Center for Advances in Cameramanthropology’, ‘VBU’ (Viewfinder BLUES University, natch), but it’s really more of a bonus room over the garage. Actually, it’s not even the whole room, just the one corner of the home where I’m allowed to cower, decamp, and occasionally imbibe.

Lenslinger CentralSee, I live in a house full of females. Strong-willed females with lots of ideas, instruments and constant wardrobe changes. ’This place is like backstage at the Carol Burnett Show!’, I often remark as I step over a pile of feather boas - to which my eleven year old asks ’Who’s Carol Burnett?’. Latter day vaudeville’s hard to explain to a kid with an MP3 in her ear, so I usually just mutter something about the genius of Korman-Conway before slinking away to my little corner of the cul-de-sac And what a corner! Books, hard drives, books(!), nautical flotsam, books(!!!) and enough broadcast detritus to adorn the local wing of the traveling Newseum. Sure, it’s nothing more than junk to most folk, but to me strewn tomes and dusty trinkets are nothing less than talismans: earthbound objects that enable your lowly photog to achieve a higher state of consciousness. A trance, if you will. That’s exactly what it’s like when the words come easy, when I watch my fingertips dictate straight from my head. Not bad considering I type about as fast as Sheriff Andy Taylor struggling over a Mayberry arrest report.

Lenslinger CentralNow, where was I? Oh yeah, NOT enjoying that transcendental feeling of effortless writing. For a minute there, it felt like I was struggling to describe the very artifacts I stare at every night about this time. How lame is that? Next thing you know I’ll be scanning the web for retro news crew photos or searching my private archives for unpublished mullet photos. Hmm? Yeah, I guess you’re right: I’ve done all that, more times than I care to admit. Still, I can’t get too mad at myself, for despite all the filler I’ve foisted upon my small cadre of followers, I’ve developed the kind of writing discipline I yearned for all these many moons ago. If all this self-aggrandizing blather brings me nothing more than that, I can quit now and be happy. But I can’t quit. Four years into this experiment, I’m still as stoked about the results as ever - even filling these pages does occasionally feel like a second job that doesn’t pay. But what do I know about pay, anyway? I’m a photog - one who’d rather fiddle with figures of speech than focal lengths.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the wife says I have some dusting to do. At least I have my freedom.