Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Story of Us

Insider. Outsider. Gate-Crasher. Ghost. The television news photographer is all of these things - often within the course of a single shift. Nature dictates that we don't fit in.  So we lurk around the edges, training our spotlights on the triumphant and befuddled while we think, mostly, about lunch. I suppose it's always been that way. Shortly after the founding fathers fashioned the first TV test pattern out of a stolen Indian blanket, it occurred to someone in a suit that a new breed was needed. Up from the dust, the first photog rose. No one bothered to learn his name, but all understood that this restless, jaded beast would come in damn handy. So the suits sent this new creature to the edge of happenstance, armed with heavy glass and the odd notion that he'd be welcome anywhere. It shouldn't have worked. But as their lack of luck would have it, vagabonds, stragglers and the criminally insouciant took a liking to the lens. Soon, a craft of sorts was forged - one that required patience, a steady hand and, tragically, cargo shorts.
I should know, for I count myself among their diminishing number. We all have different origin stories. Some are failed athletes, relegated to the sidelines of life. Others are film school nerds who lacked tuition or A/V geeks with more free time than friends. Me - I blame Steve Bottoms.  It was that smug bastard who showed up to my house one late 80's day with a newfangled camcorder under his arm. Dude let me look through it and I was hooked. Something about the viewfinder's soothing blue shine drew me in and I've been loitering in its dying light ever since. Years later, I'd barge into my first TV station, blustering my way into a minimum wage position I was in no way qualified for. Looking back, I should have aimed higher than the six o clock news. But when you're 22 and high on other people's lives, that bolder on your shoulder can feel like a pair of wings.  Since that fated day, I've driven all kinds of cars slathered in peacocks, eyeballs and foxes. I've floated over school buses, flattered world leaders, flown in everything from balloons to bombers and dropped in on more sudden deaths than I can possibly recall.   

But a strange thing happened on the path to backache. The business changed - or to be more precise - never stopped changing. Cameras shrank, as did budgets. Edit bays turned into laptops and lumbering live trucks became magic backpacks. But nothing transformed more than the women and men behind those unblinking lenses. News crews of two shed a full sized human. Folks who once refused to pick up anything heavier than a microphone grew Sonys of their own. Kids mastered the art of editing on their parent's iMacs and the rise of Youtube made it okay for video to look like shit. These days, your average camera scrum features more polished presenters than true blue news shooters. But don't get me wrong. Some of these youngsters - with their plastic cameras and winning grins are fiercely talented. Most, however, are not and while this bothers me more than it does you, it seems to upset viewers not one whit.Which leads me to this existential question...

Serge Brockman Reporting
"Stay Classy, Greenville!"
If a tree falls in the forest and the news crew that comes to cover it consists of a bored nihilist with a camera the size of a baked potato, does anyone (besides a few funky photogs) care? Most probably not and those that do can trace their ancestry directly to those gasbags who lamented the loss of the buggy whip industry circa 1908. That ain't me. Hell, some of my best friends are Multi-Media Journalists! That's what we call One Man Bands these days. And while that old term is probably considered impolitic these days, I utter it with reverence. For way back in the butt-crack of 1990, I considered myself just that and I got the goofy pictures to prove it. So don't take my diatribe as (just) the ramblings of a soon to be artifact. I got much love for anyone who wants to point a lens at something unplanned. It's a weird way to want to spend your day, but I can tell you from experience that if you stick with it, you're sure to become the most interesting person at the party ... wearing cargo shorts.