Friday, August 06, 2010

There Will Be Mud

Tog-Off 2
Just as America was trying to push those gnarly tar balls out of its collective consciousness, yet another tragedy has struck the Gulf Coast, Okay so maybe it's not a tragedy, but it IS disturbing. I'm talking about the great Lens Schism of Twenty Ten. Sure, details are sketchier than an intern with genital warts, but as this recently unearthed snapshot proves, something is happening along our mottled shore. Theories abound as to exactly why, but it's clear from this photo (and a sharp drop in area fast food sales) that certain members of the media are turning on each other. Perhaps predictably, it's breaking down along long-held grudge lines. Example:
In coastal Alabama, a vacationing family reported watching two newspaper employees chase a TV news cameraman through a Waffle House parking lot. Witnesses aren't sure what started it, but they say the two ink stained wretches were trying to garrote the news shooter with the lanyard from his own press-pass. Actual bloodshed was avoided when the portly trio became overly winded and retreated to neutral sides of the breakfast bar .

Up the road in Thibodaux, a pair of hapless newlyweds left a still photog and a videographer arguing in a fancy reception hall. Party-goers reported hearing girlish screams and the clang of foreign made metal. When the young couple returned, all they found was a steaming pile of entrails, cargo pants and dirt-weed.

A postal carrier in Mississippi was slightly injured when she tried to break up a scuffle between a local print photographer and a network sound-man. No one's sure what started it, but eyewitnesses say the out of towner got the better of his older foe by wrapping his boom pole around the man's throat. It may have ended there had a group of passing fireman notpummelled the two men into submission with their wet, musty turn-out gear.
Some might call it natural selection. Others say it's survival of the fittest. Fans of the original Highlander flick can only think of it as The Quickening. Whatever you name it, one question remains: WHY? Did the recent oil spill upset the natural order of things? Was the brief uptick in freelance opportunities enough to push these fragile egos into apoplexy? Or is the widespread bouts of rage between newspaper photogepahers and their moving picture counterparts somehow connected to all that Kool-Aid that BP was pushin'? Hard to say, but until the matter is resolved no crime tape is safe. Experts worry it could lead to widespread discord, should the unadulterated rage spread to people the public actually cares about. At this printing, the U.S. Government is denying any involvement, but reports of black helicopters and and a roving band of mysterious census workes are causing worry all along the Gulf Coast...

Personally, I blame Anderson Cooper.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Artful Lodgers

Scott and MadelynI'm not sure what I was expecting the other night when I arrived at a house to shoot a story on body-painters, but Madelyn Greco wasn't it. A plume of shocking pink hair, cleavage 'til Tuesday and enough effervescence to fuel a Girl Scout troop, you could say the lady packed a visual drop-kick. With little more than a giggle she beckoned me inside the rambling home and my gear and I followed. By then it was damn near sundown and I'd already shot, written and edited my way through a full workday. In short, I was tapped. But stepping inside that house felt like taking a mild stimulant (if not a hallucinogen), so I trudged inside and waited for my eyes to adjust. When they did, my fatigued orbs feasted on the kind of eye candy that gives prescription lenses cavities. Paintings, sculptures and enough photography of decorated body parts to make even a seasoned lenslinger eyeball his tripod.

But I wasn't there to get off on the decor. I was there to work. So Madelyn - who I wasn't surprised to learn enjoyed a local following as a burlesque dancer - ushered me to an inner room. There, a mysterious figure stood hunched over a slender blonde woman and slathered paint on her far from repulsive stomach. Actually, 'slather' is the wrong word. Rather, Scott Fray applied deliberate dabs of color like the incredibly talented artist he is. About that time, Madelyn squeezed in the room, said something I didn't hear and joined her fiance in turning an attractive young woman into the kind of creature you might see spinning in circles outside Burning Man. Slowly I looked around at my three new friends and smiled. Clearly, these people needed a cameraman in their lives...

So, I did what I always do: I made small talk while convincing the trio to ignore me. Once I'd set up a single light (it was late and I was feeling lazy), I shouldered my miniaturized axe and moved in. As Fray and Greco worked on their art, I worked on mine - though fatigue, distraction and one tiny ass workspace prevented me from obtaining the kind of wide shots I'd yearn for later in an edit bay. Oh well, if I didn't match the creative duo's advanced technique with my own, I more than made up for it in the interview. Actually, that was on them too, for Scott and Madelyn displayed a trait not often found in unbridled artistic types. They were ... lucid, tangent-free, cerebral. Best of all was Scott, who - when not deferring to his more telegenic partner - let loose with a treatise so reasoned, so focused, so cogent, it was the kind of verbiage you'd expect from a court-appointed attorney, not some dude who paints otherworldly splendor on ingenues' private parts. As for slathering anything on ME, there's only one problem...

Too furry.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Pretty Fly (for a Camera Guy)

Say what you will about gatherers of the past, but they sure were some dapper broadcasters.What else do you call a guy who - with half a dishwasher strapped to hsi back - STILL cares enough to rock a woolen suit, shiny wristwatch and six hardened ounces of Bryl-Creme?And don't tell me it's just an ad. Amanda Emily has unearthed stacks of actual photos showing cameramen (always men) dressed to impress with one eye open. Did they stay that way all dy? Did the razor sharp edges of all that technology snag their pleated trousers? Did that pre-space age antenna tousle their high and tight? Did they ever 'pit-out' like a modern day news warrior decked out in cargo shorts and a greasy T? Don't answer, just know any surviving shots of yours truly and friends won't age quite so gracefully. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to glean my least-wrinkled flowery shirt from the bottom of the closet... Tomorrow's picture day.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Grief on Demand

As one who craves indelible images, I can tell you yesterday slaked my thirst in a most unsettling way. It began with a smoldering home; a modest trailer soaked in cinders and warped by lethal heat. It caught us by surprise. Sure, Sheeka and I knew we were headed to a fatal fire, but between the GPS and the dashboard chatter, we almost forgot why we were racing to Boonville. That changed the moment we arrived, for the family members pouring out of the gutted mobile home were inebriated with grief. I can't blame them. Nor can we as news-gatherers really help them; the most we can do is spotlight their plight and hope some benevolent spectator soothes their wounds with generosity. Try telling that to a couple of teenage boys as they bury the dog that died by their Mother's side the night before. Or better yet, don't. They'll notice you and your lens in time.

Approaching a loved one as they mourn is indelicate, at best. Handled wrong, it can be horrific - but with enough empathy and tact this grim business can be settled quickly, with neither survivor or spy losing too much of their soul. I know it sounds harsh, but the gentle inquisition of a victim's friends and family is as much a part of newscasts as the heavily edited press conference. I didn't exactly blaze a path up the widow's porch; that ground was covered long before I took up the lens. But in twenty years of television, I've had to knock on more mournful doors than I try to remember. But when you've zoomed in on as many tears as I have, those memories stick with you whether you want them too or not. So I follow my own prime directive: Do No Harm. It's a rule we followed far more often then the enemies of the Fourth Estate would have you believe, but since when do self-appointed experts really know much anyway?

Not very often, I've found - which is why I ignore convention avoid bad karma. You want me to bum-rush a funeral and demand some answers? Not gonna happen. You need to me to appear on the edge of some stranger's heartbreak, maybe ask for a picture or two? Yeah, I can do that. I've done it reluctantly a hundred times and while it's never easy, it's possible to pull off without causing too much collateral damage. Take yesterday. When Sheeka and I got out of the car, the sorrow was as thick as the humidity. Youngsters wept as they pulled what they could out of the trailer's remains. One boy in particular stalked back and forth with a pistol jammed in his waistband. Sheeka and I exchanged looks but little more. Instead, she approached the first adult she could find and quietly introduced herself. I meanwhile hung back and shot video from the safety of my sticks.

That seemed to be all the space the family needed, for they went about their grim tasks without demanding I ground my lens. Had they done so, I would have complied, for though it may irk some of my perceived superiors, I'm not going to do anything with a camera that'll make me stare at the ceiling all night. My less than heroic moments tend to play there on a loop. So I keep my karma clean, knowing no TV news story is worth me enhancing someone's misery. Besides, more often than not, the people WANT to talk. I can't explain it, I don't know what it says about our society. All I can tell you is that most folk want to brag on their beloved, effect whatever message might be brewing and maybe even set the record straight. I can help them do that and more times than not that tearful interview is followed by a thank you and even the occasional hug.

Too bad we don't put THAT on the air.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Eyes Without a Face

Even though I can't see Sean Browning's lips, his latest self-portrait speaks to me. Maybe that's because it encompasses all that I loathe and adore about our lowly craft. The coiled adrenaline, the assured discomfort, the press-pass that grants admission to the next twenty misadventures. It's the very same verve that caught my eye so long ago, when I looked up from a ballgame I hated to see a version of my future I'd one day learn to love. He was a newspaper photographer slumming his way through another assignment. I was a boy thunderstruck by the notion that you didn't have to join some stupid club just to belong. Not when you could arm yourself with lenses and push your way past the pack. I knew then that photojournalism was for me; I just wasn't sure the discipline. Years later, I conned my way into a job that offered far more than shitty pay and unreasonable hours. It afforded me unending access to pabulum, gasbags and tragedy. It promised me years of indelible images seared into my frontal lobe - all for the price of a little lower back pain. It gave me a backstage pass to more passion plays and crash scenes than I could ever to learn to stomach. Most of all, it taught me no heavily-edited retrospect could replace the sensation of being there, boots on the ground, lens in thick of it. Thus, when I run across a shot like the one above, I don't need a lot of background to know that behind that mask, our heavily weathered subject is grinning, if only a little.

Just don't ask him why. Some things are hard to explain...