Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Meanest Mom

So, you have a Ph.D. from Duke in Medieval Literature and four kids climbing up your back, whadaya do? Reinvent yourself! That's what Jana Mathews did, using her polished synapses and knack for narrative to emerge on-line as The Meanest Mom! Of course, that's mostly hype. When Bob Buckley and I visited Jana and her blonde-headed brood the other week, she seemed no more maniacal than any other highly educated woman held hostage by fidgety midgets. Hell, I'd yammer on the computer too! In fact, I do - something I divulged to Jana as we banished her kids to the backroom just long enough for a sit down interview. Halfway through, the little crumb-snatchers broke free from their cartoons and surrounded our little production, which was fine since we were doing a story on a blogging mom swamped in offspring.

Only one teensy problem, I was in such a hurry to capture the ensuing madness, I neglected to re-white balance after shooting the computer screen, a rookie move that turned the lionshare of my footage a sickly, jaundiced yellow. Oopsie! Oh well, nothing a few more drops and drags in the non-linear suite won't (almost) fix. Anyhoo, from the sound of the comments on her site, her legion of Fanmoms didn't notice; they were just stoked to see their hero on the tee-vee. Ya know, when we shine a spotlight on a lowly blogger, I almost feel like we're using our powers for good and not evil - a warm and fuzzy I'll no doubt cling to until the next time I'm knocking on some widow's door and asking for a photo of the recently deceased. Is that harsh? Maybe - but just like Jana Mathews I write what I know. So far, no news crews have knocked on my door to discuss it, but when they do I hope I'll be as gracious - and widely-read - as The Meanest Mom.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go conjur up a cool, on-line nickname...

Friday, January 30, 2009

Class of One

Nearly 600 pages about a man hunched over his drawing table may not be your cup of tea, but I for one willingly ingested Schulz and Peanuts. In it, David Michaelis' traces one man's rise from a weak and wobbly tot to the undisputed King of syndicated cartooning. Unsure of everything but the pictures in his head, the kid called 'Sparky' knew he could draw from the start. So he did, suffering the wrath of schoolyard brutes as he pondered, jotted and pndered some more. It took World War II to make him a man. When he returned, the modicum of confidence he'd earned overseas helped hone his single-minded pursuit. Soon he was working at Art Instruction by day and on big-headed children by night. You probably know the rest: Midwestern minimalist re-draws the comic strip, imbuing his charming doodles with all the pathos and bathos of the baby-boomers around him. By sketching his interior monologue across the newspapers of America, this Minnesota scribbler found himself lauded as visionary, an exciting new existentialist who seeded doubt where 0nly gags used to go, who dropped philosophy in thought bubbles, who hooked the planet on the thoughts of a dog. Sure, he licensed the crap out of his characters and made a gajillion bones, but besides the damage that turbo Snoopy toothbrush did to my eight year old palette, what's the harm? None that I spot, but it's easy to see why this exhaustive look at the lonesome soul behind Lucy and Linus has its detractors. Schulz's own son has slammed it for painting his father as petulant and depressed. They'd know better than I but, hey, the dude who never let Charlie Brown kick that football won't be remembered for his eternal optimism. He'll be forever renowned as the sadsack who dreamed up that round headed kid, the self-proclaimed 'nobody' whose relentless wit and drive turned a knack for daydreaming into the enrichment of the Twentieth Century.

Not bad for a blockhead...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Leah's Last Stand

Leah's Last Late Live
Brad Ingram was snapping photos of a favorite coworker the other night, when he caught the essence of the late shift live shot... a swath of blacktop and a lens, a brackish mix of street lamp and moonlight. Anyone who (still) thinks their local news reporter has a glamorous job never babysat a parking lot in a dodgy part of town. Leah Beno has. For two years she and an El Ocho photog have crisscrossed the Piedmont, pixelating intrigue long after I've locked myself in my upper lair. Any general assignment shift can wear you down, but nights - with its morass of meetings and sprees of inner city subterfuge - can erode your social skills and eff with your head. Which is why I've (and others) have always been so impressed with Leah. Capable, poised and striking, this Michigan native has maintained her decorum while dealing with city politicians, fresh felons, and - UGH - TV news shooters. Through it all, she's brandished the manners of a delightful garden party guest - albeit one who'd grill you if the punch tasted funny. After tonight however, Leah Beno will no longer be with us. Instead, she'll address viewers closer to home, a big city move that leaves some of her more ardent in-house fans seeking therapy. Me - I'll remember the day in Durham during the Eve Carson case, when we jumped into Unit 4 and I backed into that telephone pole. Your reaction was priceless, Leah and unlike mine, obscenity-free. Good on ya!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Action Jackson

We stateside shooters who complain when the ribbon-cuttings run long aren't fit to polish the lens-cap of those far-flung photogs who carry glass into battle. Case in point: Chris Jackson. Last August the young freelancer was traveling the backroads of Afghanistan with none other than Colonel Oliver North and a caravan of U.S. Marines - when 50 pounds of homemade explosives ripped open the Humvee he was riding in. The blast sprayed Jackson's leg with shrapnel, but he and his Marines were able to escape the burning vehicle. Except one. Sgt. Courtney Rauch remained inside, injured and unconscious. Chris Jackson could have shouldered his camera and captured some dramatic footage, but instead he chose a higher assignment. Rushing back into the flames, Jackson pulled Sgt. Rauch from the wreckage, saving his life and earning the adoration of a fierce and elite fraternity. These days Chris Jackson slings a lens for CNN and didn't think much of a briefing he had to attend a before leaving for all of places, India. That's when Marine Major General Paul Lefebvre pinned the Distinguished Public Service Award on the photog's chest, thus awarding him the the second highest award given to civilians by the Navy.
"This was not an everyday action." said the General. "It came from somewhere deep inside and shows such a level of courage and commitment."
Jackson, who's accompanied servicemembers into combat zones since 2001, said he didn’t think twice about risking his own life to save someone else’s - just like, uh, we would, should the next artichoke festival erupt in combustibles. Until then, we ain't worthy...

Monday, January 26, 2009

As Seen on TV

Stoneville StretchYOU THERE, lounging in that office chair, how'd you like to work off those winter pounds without ever stepping foot in a smelly health club? Care to crisscross the globe - or at least the six closest counties? Wanna be a first responder, but not really help anybody? Have I got a job for you! TV News - that fleeting discipline known to millions and loved by dozens could be your ticket out of that comfortable cubicle farm! Who needs coffee breaks when you could dine daily on fresh tragedy, an endless buffet of broadcast clichés and enough live truck generator fumes to fool you into thinking you're making a difference in the community. Not only that, you'll fatten your closet with garish logowear, build up those apathy callouses and slim down that pesky wallet! But wait - THERE'S MORE!

Fergie Logs TapeTake advantage of this special offer within the next ninety seconds and we'll whisk you away in an authentic TV news live truck that smells of flopsweat and cheesy poofs! Once onboard, you'll enjoy the latest in yesterday's technology! Lights! Cameras! Laptops! Grizzled specialists are standing by to school you in every aspect of 21st century rumour-mongering! You'll learn firsthand from hollow-eyed pros how to simplify complex issues into cheeky bromides, how to fillet footage 'til it's relevance-free, how to stuff a minute-fifteen of nearly free airtime with the kind of sights and sounds that illustrate, distort yet say nothing at all! But don't take our word for it - ASK ONE OF OUR SATISFIED CUSTOMERS!

Audio by KepleyOn second thought, shut yer piehole! That way you'll be sure to soak up every syllable of available copspeak - all while reveling in the joy of working holidays and learning to chain-smoke! Soon you'll be the hit of the cocktail party circuit with your true-life tales of crime-tape flatulence! But that's not all! Call within the next commercial break and we'll throw in the handy-dandy fast food identifier kit! Before you know it you'll be reciting dollar-menu items from the safety of the interstate! No more drab salads - you'll gnosh on the latest drive-thru sensations before their tested on the general public! If that's not enough, we'll throw in a year's supply of visits to your favorite economy chiropractor! Flash 'em your press pass and they'll drop everything to help plan that knee replacement procedure you'll be needing in a couple of years! ORDER NOW and get the Soul Erosion Travel Pack FREE!

(Lenslinger Industries is NOT responsible for chronic disillusionment, nuclear family breakdown, increased barbitute usage or crying jags lasting more than four hours. See your physician should bridge abutments start looking attractive. All claims, images and delusions the sole property of that skeevy guy who sleeps in his news car out back. Any reproduction of the above - whether written, electronic or via smoke signal - expressly forbidden without the written permission and paid kickback to a licensed schmuckologist. Show up at our office with an affidavit and we'll surround your loved one's home with logo'd news units and lisping entertainment reporters.
No photogs were praised in the making of this ad.)

Afflicting the Pickle

Cordan Grills Pickle
There’s an old maxim in journalism: Comfort the afflicted, hassle the cat in the cucumber suit. Okay, so that’s really more of a personal mantra, but the fact of the matter is I wasn’t born with this outlook. No, I learned it from a few key elders; masters of street corner cinema who took this bleary-eyed doofus and made a one-man-band out of him. Chief among those tutors was the great Andy Cordan, whose balls-out approach to newsgathering left deep imprints on my neophyte psyche. I never really considered A.C. a mentor until I took over the bureau job he vacated so many moons ago. What followed was a difficult time for your somewhat humble lenslinger who alienated Andy’s contacts by aping his every other move. Too bad I could never fully emulate his chutzpah. But then again, few could. I have a fond, distant memory of him shoving a lens in a freshly shackled bank robber’s face and ’suggesting’ he show more emotion. Good. Times. These days, Cordan’s still at it, exposing all That's Messed Up for the oft-maligned WKRN. Say what you will about theVJ schtick; nobody’s got the stones to pull it off like Andy ‘The Man’ Cordan, even when he’s simply - AHEM - jerkin' a gherkin.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Glass of the Past?

How long before a gathering of glass like this look as old-fashioned as a fedora with a press pass stuck in the hatband? Don’t ask me; I’m just a photog. But even a lowly lenslinger like myself knows the media landscape is changing -- and quickly. The reasons are myriad: quantum leap equipment, a faltering economy and that series of tubes known as the internet. Together, they’re about to reconfigure the way we collect and disseminate information. Whether that’s a good thing or bad depends on just what part of the Fourth Estate you call home. Me, I tend to straddle the line between shooter, writer and editor. Occasionally I get ‘em all right, but most often I make up for a lack of acumen in one department by upping the ante in another. That of course offends some purists in my field, who believe excellence lies in the separation of TV stevedore and glossy correspondent. Mayhaps, but if you’re a young person itching to get into the biz, you’d better take a long look at the above photo and know it ain’t gonna be like this much longer.

Sure, cameras will always collect at the scene of breaking news, but the full-bodied heavy glass rigs of today are soon to be replaced by visual recording devices the size of baked potatoes, operated by folks who have more in common with ordinary fry cooks than highly specialized technicians. Does this make me happy? Not really; I’ve spent nearly twenty years whittling away at my craft only to see its very value plummet. Was a time a TV news photographer could draw oohs and ahhs simply by shouldering his brightly logo’d axe. No more … not when teenagers slice and dice video on family laptops, not when cell phones and music players record sight and sound on the side, not when the very idea of waiting for a newscast strikes my daughter as laughable as Daddy’s 80’s era mullet (Wait ‘til she sees my collection of Members Only jackets).

Anyway, what’s my point? I don’t know that I have one, but one thing IS for certain. The future is nearly upon us, for those of us who still have a future in this silly business. Think the move from film cameras to videotape caused a rift in the TV station time-space continuum? You ain’t seen nuthin yet! Large market reporters schlepping their own gear, photogs doubling as talent, producers learning to edit, CATS AND DOGS LIVING TOGETHER! If you think I’m full of shit, you better wake up and smell the dung heap - or better yet, go ask your old ex-coworker … you know the one who’d gladly learn a new skill if only to get back in the game. Don’t get me wrong: if you’re certain you’re safe doing only what you do, more power to you. But of you’re like a lot of us, you’re not quite as cocky as you once were, for the thinning of the herd is upon us. Will this blazing new paradigm result in some uglee Tee-Vee ? You betcha!

But maybe, just maybe this inevitable schism will lead to a better place, where station strewn across the land don’t so closely resemble each other. I mean, have you seen a newscast outside your immediate area lately? Dispatches from the Great Northwest shouldn’t look just like Southeastern broadcasts, but they do. Much like the homogenization of local radio, television news has grown fat, dumb and way too happy with itself. Once upon a time neighborhood newscasts were as unique as the areas they so claimed to love and cover. These days, it’s all so much cookie-cutter, shallow pap. Ever wonder why snooty newspaper people look down on their broadcast brethren? It ain’t ALL jealousy.

Much of it has to do with the dumbing-down of the form, the consultant-driven delirium, the profit-driven cannibalization of a once potent platform. But hey, who gives a hoot what a bunch of ink-stained wretches think? Their medium is dying! Here’s a clue: So is yours. There’s still time to revive it, of course but vital signs won’t be regained by the status-quo. Rather, it’s going to take a revolutionary procedure to revive this beast; if you want to be a part of the cure, you better scrub up and be prepared to leave that caveman medicine at the door. Me, I’ll be working on my bedside manner.

(Dip of the lens to beFrank, whose (above) picture got my noggin throbbin’.}

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Greatest American Blogger
I don’t know what’s more disturbing: the fact that Jamison Forst cranks out photoshop masterpieces like this on a daily basis OR the fact that I look so damn good in red tights and blonde curly locks. Whatever the case, one fact is clear: I gotta get Jamo a new headshot of me. I look like a clown molester on holiday. Still, he who lives by the web is sometimes embarrassed by it, so as long as my fellow photog sees fit to include me in his delusional doodling, I’m gonna share them with you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go look for my dignity. I last saw it in that phone booth I changed clothes in…