Friday, September 17, 2010

"Pretend I'm Not Here..."

Lunchtime Hunch
A seasoned 'slinger knows how to blend, all right, but there's only so much camouflage you can manage when you're the proverbial bull in the all too real China shop. That's why when you see a pro like Weaver hunched over at lunchtime sans tripod and light, you can guarantee you're having a better day than him. That's because unlike what most people think, TV News Photographers aim for realism. That's right, if we'd wanted to sit around twiddling C-Stands and reciting bad movie dialogue we'd have gone to film school. We're way too impatient for that! Give us the open road and the jack-knifed semi, the police car cockpit and the hopped-up SWAT cop, the eternal meeting and shiny-shovel pre-speech. And yes, give us the charity bake sales and all-night diners, somewhere right in the middle of everything where there's lot of foot traffic and absolutely no expectation of a cameraman. It's there I'll thrive, for as a fully licensed photog, I’m most comfortable at being uncomfortable.

And not just physically, either. Any camera carrier worth his (or her) weight in dying batteries can suffer the slings and arrows of public opinion with the toughest tax collector out there. Why, in many ways we’re protected from heckling, impervious to nerves and unaffected by shunning. How do we work up such callouses on our candy-coated shells? Exposure to the elements, I guess. I know in my twenty years behind the lens I’ve learned when to cower in the eye-cup, when to stop, drop and (always) roll, and of course, when to sling it around the room a little. As a result there are few places I won’t trod - provided I have a highly logo’d camera to hide behind. Otherwise I’m a bit remote, difficult to pin down, harder to impress. Maybe that’s because I’m used to folks talking into my shoulder, calling me “Mom” or struggling just to spell Tee-Vee as I pass. Hey, I’m not ignoring you. I’m extending your dignity with one snug-ass lens cap. Don’t worry, you won’t thank me later.

But what does the preceding screed have to do with my partner in crime all bent over the baked goods like that? Meh - not a lot. But something about that lady’s expression plus the posture of all involved in said snapshot tells me there were some awkward moments there in the sweet shoppe. I don’t know why some folks get so vexed whenever something shiny points their way. Some are simply not where they’re supposed to be: off work, up and around, entwined in the limbs of some unauthorized other. I get that - and will do my best to protect your identity if not infidelity. Flash me a badge and I’ll really stay out of your way. Still, even at his svelte new weight, Weaver’s a little big for a fly on the wall. So just keep walking and no one gets hurt for while there’s no need to reach for that swatter, it’s equally unjust getting your muffins in an uproar.

Besides, that kind of thing usually costs extra.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Glower at the Tower

Cell Phone FumblingThere was a time TV News Photogs spent every second of a breaking scene buried in the cup: inspecting crevices and scanning canyons for shots the other guys ain't got. These days, we stand around and fiddle with our phones. It's especially vexing to a gentleman of my vintage. The first cellular device I had was the length of a lava lamp; it came encased in a black (p)leather shoebox with a quick-snap lid in case you wanted to ring up Marty McFly in a hurry. Back then, whenever I bailed out of the capsule over a raging breaker, the horn stayed in the floorboard. Back to the future however, the lowly phone has achieved a magical status: a palm sized portal that's holding the globe's attention - one distracted driver at a time. Which is why it's not unusual to see a flock of photogs standing by the highway, surrounded by thousands of dollars of highly sensitive recording equipment, yet jabbing at a handful of plastic.

Ultralight Stake OutIt happened again just yesterday when a cop car party broke out around a broken ultra-light; an underpowered parachute thingie with more style than lift. Two men tried to steer it skyward, but it only got so high before suddenly plummeting. The pair escaped serious injury, but in their ambulance's wake microbes formed, surly parasites wearing long-winded stares and cargo shorts. I was among that scrum and while the PO-leece stopped us short of encroaching upon the lack of wreckage, we three did our best to stretch the view. These days that includes pleasing whatever web editor has your digits, for the only way he's gonna bet the other station's web staff to the virtual punch is to post whatever gossip and flotsam they can harvest from those folks in the field. That's where I come in, squinting intently at a loaner phone as my competitors scrunched their own brows in solidarity.

More Cell Phone HellActually, the others guys filed their photos, such that they were, with little to no headache. I however fat-fingered the alien icons in a vain attempt to find the camera-phone's zoom control. I never did, but in further molesting the touch-screen I managed to 1.) order a cheese pizza, 2.) vote for that Goth Kid on last year's American Idol and 3.) totally chafe the house-cats, who couldn't fathom why their windiest lenslinger couldn't come up with a closer shot. They're right: Google Earth provided better coverage, but until you can train a satellite how to bluff his way past a volunteer firefighter, I'm not worried about being replace by Sputnik. Besides, it takes more than plugged-in chutzpah to earn your keep in this not so brave new world and he moment I think of them, I'll send it over in a shiny new text message. Meanwhile, has anyone seen my Box-Phone? Faces are fading on the Polaroid in my pocket and I gotta make a call...

As soon as I find a quarter.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Wild Goat Chase

Hippy Hippy Shake

A lot of reporters I know wouldn't grab the camera if their photog got sucked into the belly of a spaceship. Not Bob Buckley. No sooner had I wandered back to the car today when El Ocho's seen-yore reporter grabbed my rig and got all bent. Look at that form! Knees relaxed, lens low, fingers all a tingle ... a classic cameraman crouch. Of course, most news shooters would rather their partners keep all paws off the axe, but for this erudite explainer of all things esoteric, I'll make an exception. After all, I've know him since he was 'Bob Buckley, BIG BOARD SPORTS!'; I've dodged flying stop-signs while he waxed poetic on Mother Nature's wrath; Hell, I even drove him over the Tennessee mountains once without ever tossing his wretched Van Morrison CD's off a single scenic overlook. After all THAT, what's a little grab-glass between friends? Or even longtime co-workers? Don't answer, just know that as I watched Bob close in on his favorite goat (don't ask), one thing occurred to me...

'He's gonna write to this...'

Monday, September 13, 2010

Glints of Contentment

Parade RestLet’s see: twenty years into a dead-end job, diminished vision from decades of eyepiece abuse, callouses on my soul the size of truck-stop omelets... yeah, for a career camera carrier, I’m right on schedule. Problem is, I’m nowhere near as miserable as I should be right now. Oh, don’t me wrong. I won’t be leading the company cheer anytime soon. Nor will you see a flock of songbirds trailing behind me (unless they’re looking to take a Number Two on Unit Four). And can still pick a name from the seven dwarf’s roll call to describe my mood (Is there a “Pissy”?) Still, for a guy who toils at the bottom of a business that’s rapidly collapsing onto itself, I got a pretty good attitude. Why is that - you didn’t ask... I’ll tell ya, smart -ass! Soon as I figure it out. Until then, stand by while I spin my wheels for a few paragraphs....

Certainly, a good portion of my Zen-like tendencies stems from the fact that I (most often) work alone. What can I say - I like me better than you. That, and I’m a lousy collaborator. Blame the late great Roy Hardee, if you must - for he taught me long ago the value of doing it all. It is a skill-set that has served me well over the years. In fact, I dare say it’s extended my career tenfold. If I had to pilot a live truck from one humdrum conundrum to another, I’d find another way to make a living - and perhaps join Triple AAA! As it is, I change my own flat tires, but more times than not when the news unit’s rubber hits the road, I’m behind the wheel in an otherwise empty cockpit - only the previous night’s half-remembered blogpost to keep me company. Most days, I love it. Even when I don’t, it beats carting around some hair-do from victor to vanquished every third hour.

It’s an odd accessory, this new found peace. And who knows how long before it turns my neck green? My head to shoulder connector is already a little red - and not just because I cut my mullet lo those many years ago... No, this mental feng shui comes from rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic blight that was my bad attitude. Funny thing, that - for I was counting on my surly outlook to see me over the next several months. See, the last five years of my so called career have been field research for a book I’m justnow figuring out how to write. And since all that angst contains potent story-juice, I kinda wanted to savor my rancor. That’s when I wake up with this peaceful easy feeling inside, knowing that whatever the News Gods demand of me, I’ll simply cough it up and scram. Great, now I have to write a gritty memoir while humming the theme to Mr. Rogers under my breath. What’s next, total enlightenment?

I’m not sure I need that right now.