Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Best Picture of the Year?

Saw this on Twitter:
: 2010 is almost over. How about sending us a link to your best pic from 2010?. We'll RT selections. Use hashtag

Thought I knew instantly what I wanted:

This is from Election Night, a moment after the broadcast where the Producer, Assignment Editor and News Director meet with the anchors to review the work and plan for the later newscast. It is a "Decisive Moment" -- one of those instants where everyone sems to be in just the right place.

But then I remembered this:

It's from a concert I videoed (what a ghastly verb, but I feel guilty saying "filmed") by the Rockbridge Choral Society. Again, everything just sort of fell into place; I looked down from the balcony where I was set to begin shooting, and there he was, warming up. I particularly like that little hit of color from the music on the chair.

But now I'm thinking: With all the actions of the past year, all the crises and catastrophes in my life, with all the efforts I've made to make good if not great photos, have I missed something -- blinded by the most recent?

It's a cliche to say it's like asking a parent about her favorite child, and I'm not sure really accurate. It's not that I don't prefer some pictures over others -- I do, returning to particular favorites with a sense of pride time and again -- but that I'm totally involved in what is going on now. My current pictures are my favorite ... unless things aren't working out. Then I hate them with a passionate disgust.

So I guess Election Night will stand ... for now. I mean, I haven't processed the film in my camera yet...

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Meanwhile, in America...

I hope, before 2011 is out, to have a couple of new projects on public display. I have been purposely laying traps for myself, so that I can't escape working on them.

One is Camera Aperta, the book project on the history of photojournalism that I really, really want to get serious about doing. Another is an attempt to document the folk and traditional music scene here in Rockbridge County. To that end, I've been telling others -- mainly those connected to the music scene -- about my ideas. It not only serves to get me more into the circle of knowledge and social scene associated with it, but forces me to get to work. Eventually, all these people are going to look at me and wonder when I'm going to get at it...

But, finally, I hope to start bringing "Meanwhile, in America..." into reality. This doesn't require much in terms of practical application -- just the continued effort to photograph life as I see it while out there -- but it does require me to get my act together in terms of learning web site design. I think this is a project that should be a web site, but one that brings the viewer a book-like experience, reminiscent of Frank's The Americans. This is in contrast to, say, the Rockbridge Music idea, which I think needs a web site that exploits all the aspects of the internet: sound, sight, video, text, look, etc., etc., etc.

And then there's the question of blogging the creation of these things and others, like the continuing efforts to edit the films on the VMI cadets who marched to New Market in May 2009 and Phil Welch's artwork...

Anyway, in the meantime, here's a couple more Meanwhile, in America ... pictures:

This is a search dog waiting for his turn ... after all the bloodhounds. They were doing weekend training in a park in downtown Roanoke, and we filmed a story on it. It nearly killed me. Running after dogs on a scent on a cold, windy, winter's day while carrying (and trying to get a decent shot with) a broadcast TV camera is a lot of work. I was wheezing like a bad accordion at the end of it.

Here we see Virginia Tech's football team during an indoor practice in anticipation of their forthcoming bowl game. Significantly more comfortable, especially as, at this moment, the sports reporter had taken hold of the camera, leaving me to shoot my own personal stills...

And here, the infamous Viking helmet. Bob Grebe was handed two of them while covering a "Viking Festival" in Roanoke years ago, and put them on his desk when he got back to the newsroom. One disappeared sometime in the last year, but this one remains as an odd sort of test. Bob waits, wondering how long it will remain there, on his desk, until it also disappears ... or he is told to get rid of it. If you watch News 7, you can often see it in the background.

As for the book, it is a recent arrival. We receive many books form the authors, hoping to arrange interviews, etc., as part of their promotion tours and so on. Makes for an interesting juxtaposition with the helmet, though...

The pictures were shot on a Leica M4-2 (a recent acquisition, and a story unto itself) with the now omnipresent (in my world) Kodak BW400CN film, using a 21mm Zeiss f2.8 lens.

Amusingly (perhaps to me only), I've put the Leitz 50mm f2.0 on the M4-2 lately, as people around the station have begun noticing me more as I make their picture. It's getting harder to sneak up on folks. However, I now understand why Cartier-Bresson preferred the 50mm, while (given the choice) I'd rather use the 21mm. You don't get the sweeping, dramatic lines and distortion the ultra-wide-angle lens provides, but you get a bit of distance that makes you a little less intrusive and noticeable.

Welcome to my world...

Monday, December 20, 2010

About those Christmas songs...

I went on a story Sunday that required a two-hour drive each way to reach it. That makes for a lot of time in the car, and my reporter has recently taken to insisting on having the stations that play holiday music on the radio.* So he had to suffer through my occasional random thought processes...

See, the song "Do You Hear What I Hear?" came on. In one lyric, "said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, 'Do you hear what I hear?'" At which point, all I can think is that said shepherd boy looks down and says, "A TALKING LAMB?!" However, I managed to hold my tongue until we reached the lyric about, "a child, a child shivers in the cold," whereupon the song suggests "let us bring him silver and gold," which perhaps might be good to have in the long run (and an able and charming rhyme) but might not be as useful at the moment as, say, a blanket.

The reporter said I never failed to astonish him. I'm hoping it was a compliment of sorts.

At any rate, this is all by way of preface to an actual meaningful thought on Christmas lyrics, though those of a somewhat less pious song: "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town."

About halfway through that upbeat number, the mildly threatening lyric says that "He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake." Now, it seems rather straightforward on the face of it, with a clever use of a stock phrase we toss off -- much like "God knows" -- without giving much thought to its literal meaning, as well as rhyming tidily with the earlier "awake."

But it has occurred to me that the literal sense -- be good for goodness' sake (with that important apostrophe emphasizing the point) -- is a worthy thought for Christmas, as well as the oft-said (and with an equal loss of meaning, if not literal meaning) desire to act like it's Christmas all year long.

In an age when being bad means merely getting caught, when national figures try to convince us that, if they didn't manage to accomplish some underhanded deal, then it's all okay, when we expect rewards for merely doing what's minimally expected, perhaps we should think for about being good ... because it's good. Be good for the sake of goodness ... and no other reason. Really, is that so hard?

*This isn't really fair. For a good part of the ride, each way, we listened to NPR, which is usually my choice. Oh, and there was about a cumulative hour of football. But there was a lot of holiday music, which can get old fast...

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Breaking News...

It has become one of my pet peeves that the term "Breaking News" has been abused -- particularly by the cable news networks -- to the point of becoming nonsense. It already was pretty bad; I regularly joked with friends about how, "When news breaks, we'll fix it!" And one friend remembered a TV station in Pittsburgh that released an expensive promotional campaign for its evening news show under the catch phrase, "If it happened today, it's news to us." No one caught the potentially oblivious meaning of the phrase until it was actually on the air. (I can see how they made the mistake. Read with the intended meaning, it's a pretty clever local news campaign.)

But real breaking news -- that fast-paced, rapidly changing, developing story so perfectly caught by Ben Hecht in "The Front Page" and perfectly portrayed in the movie adaptation "His Girl Friday" -- that is something special, the Holy Grail of journalism. It's the rush that keeps you in the business.

It looks like this:

This is longtime WDBJ reporter Joe Dashiell (on right) and News Director Amy Morris working on a script for a voice over. But I get ahead of myself...

The story for a week has been the murder of Tina Smith followed by the disappearance of her 12-year-old daughter and live-in boyfriend (that is, Tina's boyfriend). Tina was found by co-workers when she didn't come in for work on Monday, but apparently had been killed Friday. An Amber Alert was immediately issued for the girl -- what had happened? How was she involved? Was she at risk as a witness? What was up with the boyfriend?

It became the week-long obsession of every newsroom in the area ... and a few nationally. The Nancy Grace show on CNN featured it for several days (to the general amusement of the local media, who found her stuff shallow and often idiotic), and I spent the better part of a Saturday trying to figure out how to feed footage of news conferences at the Roanoke County police department to both CBS and CNN.

The girl and the man were in Wal*Mart. They could be anywhere. North Carolina? Still in Virginia? Ohio?

And then an urgent notice. Florida! Police were called to a gas station. We went into high gear....

That's Bob Grebe, morning anchor, who's usually condemned to features about the Greek Festival and Haunted Houses at Halloween, working the phones for more details. As I walked through the newsroom -- at loose ends because I had no particular story to work on that day -- he was calling out that I should quickly cut together a couple of 30-second sequences of the footage coming down from the network from Florida, just so the producers putting together the news interruptions -- yes, we actually cut into the vapid morning talk shows with updates -- would have something to show. He was on.

And that's what it's all about. It's why you're a journalist, a newsman. It's what keep you showing up every day for lousy pay and bad attitudes from "civilians" -- those people who think you're out to get them when you show up with a camera to let them tell their version of things -- and basically a guarantee of obscurity. (Seriously, how many journalists can you name? Now, how many idiotic, drug addled, sex-obsessed Hollywood actors?)

It's BREAKING NEWS. It's happening right now, and no one -- but you, after you've called the guy on the spot, or the person who is inside, or the one who has the real details -- knows what's happening. It's happening right now, and you're putting it all together, and you're going to understand it and explain it better than anyone else ... because you get it.

Look at that first picture again. Look at that lean in that Joe is doing -- the search for the right term, just the right word, to make it perfect. Look how Bob's eyes are in the second image -- normally a photo problem, a "blinker," but no, because he's listening with care to every word. Vision would distract him.

Look at this:

It's the calm after the storm. We now know the guy in Florida was just some OD case, not the people we were looking for. The urgency has passed. Amy is putting together a summary for the evening news, but again, look at her eyes -- the intense concentration to find just the right thing, the right turn of phrase, to make the story clear in the least number of words and seconds.

Yet, the story still develops. And tomorrow, there will be another. And sometime soon, there will be more breaking news -- there always is -- and once again, we will all know why we are in this business...

Welcome to the world that has made me show up for work for ... Good God! ... 22 years ...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Stop that...

These are my daughters in full cry, headed towards an otherwise perfectly innocent Christmas tree, garland in hand, for the grand decoration. Behind them, you can see the house in chaos.

I find myself suffering an odd longing these days. Perhaps it's because, now that I'm on a more reasonable schedule at the station, I'm able to drop the older girl at school as I leave. Or perhaps it's because she's been in a particularly good mood these past couple of days as I've dropped her at school. At any rate, as I drive away and begin the long, stately hurtle down the interstate, I feel this regretful tug, this arch pain of absence, like a homesickness, for the girls -- for their delight and hugs, their giggles and even their demands.

This is not to say I'm normally ambivalent about my children; I do enjoy them, even as I grow frustrated by their refusal to go to bed or their demands, as part of the refusal to go to bed, for one more cup of Orange Crush, and other such ... "delights." But this is oddly special.

It's a fear, and a sadness. It's the palpable sense that time is slipping, streaming away, leaking out through my fingers like so much water. It's the knowledge -- the sure knowledge -- that I won't have this time, this minute, this effervescent instant ever, ever, ever again. It's a crawling, cold horror, like the fear of death, but the fear of the death of ... joy. The death of a moment, the death of a feeling that I would like to cuddle up into, warm and soft and safe. And it's a fear for them, of their loss of being little, and happy, irresponsible and uncaring ... and safe, wrapped in my arms, sleepy and content.

With a sigh, I push it away. I am powerless against this fear; there is nothing to do but ignore it and pretend that this dark, invincible force just isn't there. And I have work to do, and places to be.

Welcome to my world...

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Selfish, Unconcerned Photographer...

"A blog is a means of sharing your pet peeves and off-the-cuff theories of everything with the entire planet."

-Louis Menand in the New Yorker

I have a confession to make. Though I love Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eliot Erwitt, Robert Frank and any number of others in their tradition, I am not, as Capa's brother Cornell termed it, a "Concerned Photographer." The main thing that concerns me is making a picture ... and making a living at it.

This confession was finally triggered by a number of things, most recently this Tweet:

@: Just launched, the Magnum Emergency Fund site, supporting photographers with a commitment to documenting social issues.

My first thought? "Damn, wish I had some 'meaningful' (done with those finger quotes) social issue thing."

Okay, so maybe I'm old and cynical, though I think I've always felt this way. It's just that I'm not in journalism in general and photography in particular to change the world. As a matter of fact, I think it's pretty freaking rare for either journalism or photography to change anything in any significant way.

So, if I'm not here to change the world, just what do I think I'm doing? Mostly, satisfying my own curiosity. I like to know.

And I like to make pictures

I don't know if it comes across here, but I do feel a bit guilty about this. It's like that debate about if there can be a thing as true charity, or if we still do it, in the end, because people thank us and act like we're so good for being so generous. As a matter of fact, this posting is the product of days of work, not because it is such finely crafted language, but because I have struggled over what it is I mean and what it is exactly that I mean to say.

I asked my wife (who is now more than used to my guilts), telling her about what I was writing, and she (as always) explained it for me instantly. "I don't think it's a good thing to be a 'concerned photographer,'" She said. "That implies there is something to be concerned about, that you find some part of the story right and some part wrong, that you're biased. What you are is a curious photographer." I'm not, she explained, going in with a point of view, just a desire to see what is.

Former AP Director of Photography Hal Buell seems to agree. "To take a position of hate or love in order to be a war photographer," he told News Photographer editor Don Winslow in a piece in the November issue about war photography, "is to be an advocate, and advocacy leads to spin and distortion. For the advocate, one side is right, one side is wrong, and the pictures must show that in order to validate the photographer's reason for being there."

Don's piece starts with Robert Capa's premise that "In war, you must hate somebody or love somebody; you must have a position or you cannot stand what goes on." Buell dismisses Capa's thought as "romantic." It was Capa's brother, you'll recall, who coined the term "concerned photographer" -- apparently romance ran in the family. I'll have to ask Don to get Buell's thoughts on the Cornell's ideas. (And, by the way, if you're a member of the NPPA, you're in for a real treat -- Don's article is a work of art as good or better than pieces in the New Yorker.)

So what am I? Curious? Definitely. Concerned? Apparently only about myself. Typical? I dunno'. Maybe all that counts is whether I make a decent picture...

NOTE: This one took a while to crank out. As I discovered with the election pieces, apparently the blog places them as they were started, not finished, so it may appear this was written longer ago than it was. As I post, it's Dec. 5.

Once again, I promise to do more, more often...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Meanwhile, During the Election...

This is Morgan Griffith, Republican candidate for the 9th District of Virginia, campaigning in Pulaski, deep in the Southwest of the state. It's the Saturday before election day, and I was filming the rally -- which seems a rather grand term for what it was, truly, a gathering of about 30 or 40 people at a landscaping company, standing about amidst bins of gravel and mulch -- for WDBJ. My reporter, Chris Hurst, can just be seen behind Griffith, between him and the garden shed. He's holding a radio microphone, so we can get better audio of the speech.

Griffith was a long shot. Although he was the majority leader in Virginia's legislature, his opponent, Rick Boucher, was a 20-plus-year veteran of the US House of Representatives. As anyone with a passing knowledge of American politics takes for granted, an incumbent is difficult to dislodge. A 20-plus-year incumbent is all but undefeatable. It's a "safe seat."

However, this year, the tide was turning, and Griffith sensed the flow. As he said during this speech, if others in Virginia -- like Tom Periello in the nearby 5th District, a one-termer -- lost their races, pundits could say that the seat was traditionally Republican, and thus the election just a readjustment to the norm. (Periello defeated longtime veteran Virgil Goode, riding on the coattails of President Obama.) But, Griffith said, urging his followers to action -- specifically the action of voting -- if Boucher lost, then it would be a real sign, a symbol that the recent liberal actions really were rejected by all the voters.

This is Rick Boucher that same day, just a few miles away and a an hour or so later, being interviewed by the competition after a rally. The chairs were all full when he and Sen. Mark Warner spoke, and the followers enthusiastic. As I left, I overheard one say, as he walked out the door with a friend in front of me, that he couldn't understand the polls. From what he saw, Boucher should win by a landslide.

However, the polls -- especially WDBJ's Survey USA poll -- showed a dead heat. Our most recent results actually had Griffith ahead by a point. Boucher was adamant, in his speech (when he pointed out our camera) and in an interview afterwards, that his poll results showed him ahead. It was just bad methodology.

That was Saturday. On Tuesday, as the results came in, the "shellacking" -- as the President would later term it -- became clear. And in the 9th District, there was a double surprise: Griffith not only won, he won by a margin large enough to have that election called before the long doomed Periello race in the 5th. As Griffith predicted, I think, his race is symbolic. There was more than a pendulum swinging back to the center here.

and that's how election day went. Welcome to my world...

Excitement on order...

This is what election night looks like, literally behind the scenes. You can see the teleprompter there, in the center of the scene in the background, Behind the prompter, of course, is a camera.

Election night is an interesting phenomenon in the news business. It's breaking news, but breaking news you can plan for. Usually, breaking news is unplanned, something that just happens, like a plane crash, but an election is constitutionally scheduled. You've known it's going to happen for 200 years.

All the same, it's exciting.

Here we see Producer Cara Stein working with the anchors Jean Jadhon and Keith Humphrey. As you can see from the pile of papers, there's a myriad of details and information to work out.

Of course, if you're the weather guy, it's just another night. Jay Webb, the meteorologist on duty that night, filled his time with texting.

I was the "night shooter," basically on duty in case something unexpected -- actual breaking news -- happened. This year it didn't, so I had some time to make pictures on the set. They've gotten used to me and my Leicas at WDBJ now -- even looking forward to the pictures -- but I had some extra insurance that night: in the background of this image, back behind the desk and slightly to the left, you can see Lawrence Young (no relation), the chief photographer at the station, with his digital Canon also making still photos on the set.

Back in the newsroom, the Assistant Producers gather data and deal with the detail work. If you watch News 7, you'll know that you actually can see the newsroom in the background during the show. Again, this is the view behind the scenes, so it's a reverse view. You can see the lights and set in the upper left corner of the picture.

And here, we're on the air. Actually, we're just about off the air; the floor director (in the center) is indicating to the anchors that there are only seconds left in their cut-in. This is a rather remarkable picture -- everyone on the set gets a little uncomfortable with people wandering around the cameras and stuff while we're live on the air. Trip over one cable, drop something with a loud THUMP! and out it goes, live, to everyone who owns a TV.

It's only my known position -- and some trust that I know what I'm doing -- that let me make the picture...

And now's the moment to confess: I've taken a small liberty with the pictures -- or rather one picture -- in this post. The first image is actually the last. It shows the anchors, Producer Cara Stein, Assignment Editor Dave Seidel and News Director Amy Morris meeting after all the cut-ins, late in the night, reviewing what they did and how well it went. (It did go well, aided by the results quickly indicating the elections' trend.)

But it was the best picture of the bunch; one I'm rather proud of. Stepping aside from the subject of the election, it's one of those pictures where everything falls into place: the legendary Cartier-Bresson "Decisive Moment." (I read recently he came to dislike that term; it drew away from what he really meant to say.) And look at how the lens -- a Zeiss 21mm Biogon -- reacts to the lights shining into it. It's just a ... nice image. Welcome to one of my tiny pleasures ...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Short One...

So I pull out of the station with the reporter on the way to a Kidney Walk -- that's a fundraiser for kidney disease research and patient assistance -- when I look into the vehicle's side mirror as we come onto the highway. Back, at the intersection of the branch road we're pulling onto (581) and the main interstate (81), some two or three miles away, I see a big, black cloud of smoke.

Now, a range of thoughts flash through my mind. Black smoke is bad. Aside from indicating there's no new Pope, outside of the Vatican it indicates a petroleum product burning, like plastic or rubber ... as in a car or a plane or something. (Houses tend to burn white -- wood and fabric -- until it gets to the furniture and stuff, and fires being extinguished put out white smoke, from the water.) So my first thought is this is something bad ... and newsworthy.

Then I remember that sometimes heat plants and diesel generators (petroleum still) often put out black clouds when first fired up, sort of like that big black cloud from the tractor trailer when it first accelerates. So I hesitate.

But then I decide to say something. "What the hell is that?!" I say, still looking at the cloud in the side mirror. The reporter, seated next to me, answers with a tone of surprised disdain. "An Escalade," he says, naming the car passing us. I realize he can't tell I'm looking in the mirror.

"No, behind us." He sees the cloud. "Turn around," he says, and we do. An RV was burning on 81. Traffic had just begun to stack up; we skipped around it on the shoulder. Good footage.

Welcome to my world...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Private Lives ...

So it's been a while, and the New York Times has an article today that reminded me of something. It's about web privacy and how the new HTML5 provides more opportunity for data tracking with cookies, etc. And I've heard these worries before with other systems, like Facebook, and -- with concessions I'll get to in a moment -- I'd like to say: I don't care.

That's right, I don't care. They can follow my boring shopping and reading habits until their eyes bleed, for all I care. As a matter of fact, it's worse than that. I actively hope they follow me. If they can do stuff to more quickly and accurately bring me stuff that I want with less effort on my part, good! My life was just made easier.

I'm tempted to go off on a short side rant about how, when these stories come out, they so often are written in a breathless tone of horror that a business should want (God forbid!) to encourage people -- actively encourage them, by use of all means available -- to buy their products. (Long pause, á la Jon Stewart.) Really? This is a moral crime of some sort?

But instead (that was sufficient, I think, and any more would draw us off in some tangential direction), allow me a short aside on the actual moral crimes possible. The ability to muck around in my life and personal data is not something I want anyone to be able to do with reckless abandon, but I don't mean to say this in contradiction to the above. Rather, what I mean to say is that there are indeed bad people out there: those who would steal identities, blackmail, steal assets, pry into stuff that's none of their business, etc.

Now, this is the very argument that many "privacy advocates" would make in answer to my opening statement, but I think that is a red herring. The bad people are just that ... BAD people. They are engaged in activities that are morally wrong, and generally illegal already. If we didn't have computers and the internet, they would still be doing whatever nastiness they do by whatever analog means available. There was fraud in the 19th Century -- check out Huckleberry Finn -- and even, I venture, in the time of Christ. Some caveman probably ripped off another by lying and saying he knew Ug from the next cave over, when he really didn't.

Evil and theft, like the poor, shall always be with us. The Eeyores of this world can kill any idea by pointing out the ways it can be misused. The fault is not in our technologies but in ourselves; we can't legislate behavior and we can't prevent, by technical means, badness.

So track away, dear businesses, and bring me those obscure products that I just can't live without, but would otherwise live in ignorance of.

Then again, it would help if I had any money. Maybe they'll figure that out, too, and leave me alone ...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Autumn that Wasn't ...

"Have mercy on me, God, have mercy..."
-Psalm 57

This was going to be the Perfect Autumn. The Center for Civil War Photography planned their annual seminar to be at Gettysburg, with the main attraction being the reclusive William Frassanito, the dean of Civil War photography analysts. A former photo intelligence officer during the Vietnam war, Frassanito was the first to apply the techniques he learned to pictures shot by Brady, Gardner and others, exploding dozens of myths.

Then, the Leica Historical Society of America scheduled an epic trip to the heart of Leica: Wetzlar, Germany. Factory tours, seminars and the general atmosphere of the town where the Leica was born in the 1920s and is still assembled today, just one year after the premiere of the game-changing digital M9.

Naturally, both would be of great interest to me, just as a general principle, but it was more than that. I think I've mentioned Camera Aperta. It's a Grand Idea -- the equivalent, for me, of the Great American Novel that every journalist is famously working on. However, it's not a novel; it's nonfiction, a work in the first-person tradition of Tom Wolfe, or newer works by Michael Pollan or Jennifer 8 Lee. It's a history of photojournalism by way of the equipment and my personal experience with it. So, for example, when the Leica rangefinder came into use in the 1940s and (particularly) the 1950s, how did that affect news photography, and its style and content, and thus news in general? Where did it come from, and why do people still use it? Why was it important? I plan to deal with these kinds of questions, but in a firsthand, conversational sort of way, a way the makes it more like the chats I have with people who stop me at work and ask advice, or are curious about photography.

But now, they're over ... at least for me. LHSA's Carl Merkin is posting his pictures from the German trip on Facebook (a particularly agonizing one was a view of happy fellow travelers gathered around a table of tall glasses of lager in a tiny cafe, a view of the Teutonic village through the neighboring window), and I await the updates from the CCWP. The seminar doesn't start for a couple of days, but it has been sold out for weeks.

But, as you may know, there's no money (let alone time), so no conference. On top of that, I thought I had the perfect situation when NewsTilt arrived. I would be able to write the chapters and sub-chapters, send them out as articles, and thus provide some income as I ground away at the book. Or at least have an outlet. Not so much, after all.

So, the Perfect Autumn evolves into a disappointment, a reminder that I can't just blow through the drudgery of common life, that a great idea isn't enough -- logistics are required -- that just because I've been able to do stuff, I can't always do whatever I want. A little humility is in order. And a great idea deserves a little bit of effort.

I'm not letting go; someday you'll be seeing Camera Aperta, even if it's a soiled, wrinkled typesheet I force into your hand. But, I guess, it's gonna' take some work...

"I will turn their mourning into joy.
I will console and gladden them after their sorrows ...
and my people shall be filled with my blessings,
says the Lord."
- Jeremiah 31:13-14

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Remembering NewsTIlt...

It's dead, and even my early thoughts of continuing my content somehow have been lost in the chaotic life I've been living lately, but one of the founders of NewsTilt blogged a post mortem.

It's interesting how he sees it, and explains a few things. For one thing, it turns out their plan was nothing like what I thought I signed up for. They thought they were building a great commentary site for each individual journalist -- post the story and wait for dialog with readers. I thought that's what this is. If I wanted a glorified blog, I'd rebuild Cat Typing into that.

I thought they were building something that could perhaps be described as an online catalog of stories available for resale to other outlets. I was very excited about that thought. I produce material enthusiastically and often, but am a terrible marketer. If someone was going to do all the marketing (and incidentally, all that complicated internet coding crap, which I could learn but don't want to), then great: a perfect match. But in reality, not so much.

I've got to say, he raised my hackles a bit with the comment that the journalists weren't "hungry to succeed," but I think he's just choosing his words poorly. I think his idea of product is just different from mine, perhaps most sharply shown by his frequent admission that he isn't a big news reader. I am a constant news reader. I am a journalist by definition; it's not my job, it's what I am. I am one of those people who, as Christiane Amanpour described it, will run towards the big scary thing everyone else is running away from.

He is a computer guy. He clearly thinks that short stories, delivered quickly and frenetically online, with lots of reader commentary and interactivity is journalism. I thought NewsTilt was an opportunity to work on some of those big think pieces that I had been meaning to get around to. I wanted to do New Yorker, while he was building Gawker or TMZ.

And, apparently, they were expecting me and my fellow contributors to drive readership to NewsTilt, where I expected NewsTilt to drive readership (or rather secondary outlets, and thence readership) to me. See above: I thought it was a marketing scheme. If I could somehow create vast legions of readers, why would I need NewsTilt? Again, I'd just monetize this site somehow. (And, by the way, thank you once again six followers. I know where my readership is...)

The pity is I'm back at Square One, still with product and no outlet or marketing scheme. When I finish moving and various other things, I guess I'll go to Word Press or some such place and rebuild my site with the former NewsTilt content, but then what? How do I go about monetizing this stuff?

Anyway, I forgive him for implying that I wasn't willing to produce product and wasn't hungry for success. But am I the one he mentioned as an Emmy winner when speaking in the same breath as a Pulitzer winner?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Meanwhile, In America...

Okay, I know I'm no Robert Frank. (Makes me think of The Online Photographer's immortal comment about how to shoot with a Leica. He said, when suggesting using a 35 mm lens, "I know Cartier-Bresson's favorite lens was a 50. You're not Cartier-Bresson." I can't find the link, but this is the start of the thread...) But I'm still stuck on my concept of "Meanwhile, In America ..." -- a modern, more upbeat version of Robert Frank's The Americans. So now you must suffer through more pictures of the sort I would do for that project...

Here we see the talent and producer (Kim Pinckney, the one holding the papers, is the producer) of WDBJ's weekday morning news show, Mornin'. (Yes, absent the G -- it amuses me.) They are looking at the ratings. They're number one.

Inside a Roanoke, Virginia, firehouse, shortly before it was closed and replaced with a new, more modern facility nearby. The stairs lead from the garage-like area where the fire trucks are kept to the living quarters for the firemen.

Jefferson Street, downtown (it always amuses me to say "downtown" in a town of 7,000) Lexington, Virginia.

The owner of Roanoke's Putt-Putt golf course, during a tournament involving both amateur and professional players. Yes, professional Putt-Putt golfers. Really. There's a tournament circuit, just like Tiger Woods plays, but with giant gorillas and giraffes and windmills and stuff. That's not why he's laughing; he was once a pro himself.

The president of Roanoke's Tea Party, shortly after I interviewed him for WDBJ7 at a July 4 rally in Elmwood Park. As I've mentioned before, I think the Tea Party movement is something to be respected and attended to, not ignored and dismissed. I still haven't grasped what it is -- and I asked him for the opportunity to talk some more in hopes of getting closer -- but I sense a geological force (not a "shift," as I think it taps into something quintessentially American, whatever that might mean) that the Tea Party represents.

I think there is a really important article, or story, or book maybe, to be done about this -- one that isn't snide or superior or disdainful. Something not written in the tone of an educated elite regarding the boobocracy as if they were animals in the zoo. Something not written by today's H.L. Menckens.

I had read about George Plimpton's fascination with fireworks a long time ago, but it stuck with me. I saw my opportunity this July 4, and convinced the station to let me cover the setup for Lexington's fireworks. I was surprised; just two guys, a lot of wood planks, some PVC tubes for mortars, and boxes and boxes of explosives shipped all the way from China. (That was a somewhat scary thought, I've got to say, when I learned it. There must be shipping containers full of high explosives [!] on the Pacific as I write.)

The guy in charge, shown here, just started when a friend suggested he help out on a show. His day job is as a barber. He's going to beautician school now, to expand his business.

Pray and Play, and effort by a black evangelical church to occupy youth in a poorer neighborhood in Roanoke. I ended up covering it when the minister called the newsroom one Saturday seeing if we were interested.

A gospel rap group, associated with the church, was also there. I gave them my card, and I hope they call. That would be a good story, I think.

This is Josh Harvey, a friend, playing organ for a wedding in Lee Chapel on the Washington and Lee University campus in Lexington. A nice picture of a nice guy.

All of the pictures have been shot with a Leica M3. For some I used a 34mm Leica Summicron, some a Zeiss 21 mm Biogon. Most were shot on Tri-X, though Josh's is on Plus-X, and I shot one roll of Fuji B&W film because it was in the fridge. (I'm working my way slowly through everything in the fridge, as I can't afford to buy new film. I'm also now out of negative sheets.)

NOTE: Keep checking back. On my first upload of these pictures, it's ten o'clock at night and I don't have all the data -- like names and dates -- in front of me. I plan to keep updating these entries as I get the chance.

Also, check back on previous entries. I've been adding pictures as I get them processed and scanned.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Damned if I do ...

So I'm browsing the competition's website, when I see that the city will be closing a street in downtown Roanoke that morning so a crane can be used to work on the Dr. Pepper sign. The sign, about 20 feet across, is one of three iconic signs over the city (the others being an H&C Coffee sign in neon and, of course, the Mill Mountain star). It's the classic Dr. Pepper clock, with the hours of 10, 2 and 4 writ large -- the ideal times for a Dr. Pepper according to the soda's early advertisements. Now the sign is showing some wear.

Anyway, once the morning show gets underway, I drive down there to see if it's at all visual, and I've got to say that this is when my inner devil and angel war. The angel hopes for something really spectacular: a rosy dawn breaking behind a crane lifting some large piece of the sign. My inner angel is often disappointed.

The devil is looking at the fact that, even though the temperature remains high and the air thick with humidity, a light to medium drizzle is falling. Simply walking through it becomes a sweaty struggle. The devil wants to go down there and find nothing but empty streets and a homeless guy. The devil has a higher success rate than the angel, perhaps explaining his continued longevity.

What I find is something more typical: a scene that splits the difference. The road is closed, filled with a giant crane that does reach up to the Dr. Pepper sign. The light's okay, though the sky ranges from overcast white to threatening gray ... but not in any useful photogenic way. It's visually interesting, but not really amazing. So I get out the gear and shoot it.

My typical approach for something like this is to start far back and get the overall scene. Then I move closer and closer, getting more detailed shots, but also moving more into areas where I might be forbidden. By the time I walk right up to the crane the operator steps out and welcomes me.

He explained what they were doing -- a platform needed to be welded onto the front of the sign so scaffolding could be put on. The scaffolding would then allow repairs to be made to the clock face. He showed me all the parts. And then he repeated the phrase with which he greeted me: "You want to go up on the roof?"

Crane owner and operator Barry Blount explains to me how the Dr. Pepper sign used to be on a neighboring building, but had to be moved when the Taubman Art Museum was built. Shot on my Leica M3 with 21 mm Zeiss lens.

I'm looking tentatively at the crane when he explains that I would take the building's elevator and then climb up a ladder through a hatch. He guided me there, and up I went.

Stepping from the polished interior of the building (watercolors on the hallway walls, small oriental rugs on the floor) to its infrastructure (concrete stairwell with a 12-foot metal ladder bolted to the wall) is always interesting, but my mind was on a quandry. That camera and tripod are big and heavy, and 12 feet is way to long to simply push them up and out. I'd have to climb the ladder with one hand, then lift each item past my head and out onto the roof. But I'm game.

I start with the tripod. If it doesn't work, I can simply drop it with a minimum of damage. Step, step, grab. Step, step, grab. My right arm hangs out to the side, holding the tripod. Each grab involves me wrenching my body forward, hanging momentarily free before I grip the next rung up and prevent the inevitable fall backwards.

Yeah, it's a bit scary, and a lot of work, but I get to the top and swing the tripod through the hatch to the roof. Now, I think, I could climb out, go over to the guys on the roof, borrow a rope and haul the camera up that way. That involves, even after befriending them, climbing down and up and down a couple more times ... or I could just go down there and do this -- exhausting and painful though it is -- once.

Yep. That's right. Down I go, pick up the camera (which, it occurs to me, is heavier than the tripod) and start up. Step, step, grab. Step, step, grab. The camera pulls a little more, so that grab is a little harder, a bit quicker. Still, I'm going okay. I'll be okay. Look, I'm just below the hatch. Now I'll just bring the camera up and over ... and just in the nick of time.

Or not. I can't muscle it past my shoulder. It's just too damn heavy, and the space at the hatch is just too tight. I lift and angle, twist and heave, my muscles screaming with each attempt, but I just can't get it over my shoulder. And now I have a problem.

I'm a good ten feet up, hanging on with one hand while being pulled away by the camera. I'm too tired to go up, and I can't go down. I just can't let go of the rung, or the camera will pull me away and down we both go to the concrete floor. Nor can I just wait and rest, as this thing is heavy and my grip is getting weaker all the time.

It's one of those moments when one turns philosophical. You review how you got to this place, how stupid you were. What people will think, what will they do. And, really, I don't want to die. I'm sort of detached ... and panicked. Seriously, what do I do now?

Well, one thing at a time. I bring the camera up and across my chest, so I can use my left arm to help support it. Unfortunately, I can't switch hands -- no way to support it well enough without actually holding on. But now I can step up another rung. And another. Finally, it's high enough, and the camera goes up and over the top.


But alive.

I wish I could say it was all worth it, that the pictures from the roof were spectacular, but it was much like earlier -- alright, but not great. I did wish I had brought the Leica up, but then I realized the situation would have been even worse. Instead, I made do with a couple of pictures from the street afterwards.

I borrowed a rope to lower the gear down.

Welcome to my world, which continues despite my best efforts ...

UPDATE: They've done the repairs now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

And then I got to drive ...

So yesterday I just missed a story, arriving too late, which is rare enough to be worthy of mention, but that's not why I bring it up here. It's worthy of note more because of the scene when I arrived. It was a Shriners picnic for disabled children, and after covering a heritage festival, I just got there too late. The kids were all but gone, and the area was being cleaned up. By clowns. Real clowns, in the baggy pants and big shoes and stuff. I pulled up to one, and he explained it was all over. It was just surreal.

But a while back, I had another strange experience, from start to finish.

Every year, Roanoke has a Motor Madness weekend. Classic cars cruise up and down Williamson Road -- a major avenue into town -- on Friday night, and then on Saturday they park the cars downtown, closing off several streets. While I was shooting the display for the station, I came across a red Ferrari. Perfect. Bright color, easily recognizable to the viewers, sleek and pretty.

As I shot it, the owner, Dan Ragland, struck up a conversation. We talked for a while -- probably longer than I should have hung around, but it was fun -- and in the process he told me about a garage he uses outside of town. It's just a little country garage -- literally called "Jake's Garage" -- where Dan has basic maitenance done on the car. On top of that, this is not the only Ferrari that goes there, and on the following Tuesday Dan said three would be there at once.

Well, by that time I have my notebook out, taking down names and numbers, and by Monday I had the
Managing Editor sold. Calling (I just looked up "Jake's Garage in the phone book), I talked with Bill Conner, the slow drawling owner and sole mechanic, who was okay with me coming by, and everything was set.

Jake's Garage just outside Roanoke. Two Ferraris wait outside.

Finding the place turned out to be easier than I thought. It sits on a major road running out of Roanoke, and the bright red of a Ferrari that had been dropped by earlier that morning marked it as the place to be.

Ironically, that easy marker made my heart sink a little. Part of the story all but required me getting footage (and sound -- that unique growl of a Ferrari engine) of the cars pulling in. But no worry: two more were yet to come. Soon, Dan pulled up in his, and a bit later the third -- this one a white hard top -- arrived. I shot like crazy.

The thing is, I tend to be a very passive journalist and photographer, and oddly, despite the somewhat calm atmosphere of a story like this, a lot is really happening all at once. Features are made by catching telling moments, and you never know when that moment is going to happen ... unless you sort of take control of the situation and ensure things are occuring only when you are ready for them. I don't do that control thing well, or at least happily. So, I was jittering here and there about the garage, catching Bill as he did some work while organizing everyone into their interviews.

Finally, I began to feel confident we had pretty much what we needed. The car owners were ready to head out. All that was left was to get some cover shots when Dan turns to me and says, "You want to ride in it?" Uh,

I climbed into the tight passenger seat, setting the TV camera on my shoulder (as much as an excuse for my joyride as for any useful footage ... but who knows?) and we pulled out. Dan really likes his car. He accelerated out the winding country road at rocket speed, shifting so quickly that it would push me back in the seat each time he changed gears. The landscape blurred past in the viewfinder. I shot about three angles as we went down the road; it wasn't easy in the tight confines of the Ferrarri cockpit with my massive TV camera. Then he slowed and turned into a small sideroad. "You want to drive?" Uh, yeah.

Here's a bit of trivia you're not likely to know: A Panasonic AJ-SPC700P television camera fits perfectly into the under-hood trunk of a Ferrari convertible. Something to keep in mind. Anyway, it had no clutch -- reminscent of the Sportamatic transmission my uncle had on his Porsche back in the 1970s (that was a great little car) -- but it did have paddles on the steering wheel for shifting the gears, like a Formula 1 racer. So now I'm in heaven, especially as I manage to pull away without causing the car to lug. (Dan said that's typical for first-time drivers; apparently it usually takes a few tries to understand how much gas to give her when pulling out.)

We drove up the side road a little, into a development with only a couple houses built, then turned around and headed back to the main road. I hesitated, but he said I should just drive it all the way back. Uh, okay.

I didn't have the courage to really wind it out. I'm probably incriminating myself to say I got it up to 60, but I've got to say that it was as smooth as can be. The steering was tight and sure, and the growl sounds just like you've heard it in movies, even when you're inside and driving. It was a really cool experience. And then we were back.

Behind the wheel of the Ferrari after my joyride. I think the TV camera is still in the "trunk," which is under the hood. Behind you can see the ride I came in on: Channel 7's Ford hybrid SUV.
Photo shot on my M3 by Dan Ragland, the car's owner.

I think Dan would have let me drive a lot more if I'd asked, even though he had stuff to do that day -- that and he was letting me play with his $700,000 toy -- but it had been a perfect experience, a delicious taste. I'd rather have a glass of really fine wine than get slobbering drunk and have someone be afraid of ever letting me have more. It was time for me to step away from the car, slowly.

Mike Redding, the Managing Editor, reviewed the interviews and footage, writing the final story for me, which I edited over the weekend. It became a really fine piece, the first I've bothered to save since starting to work at the station. I'm really proud of it, but I'll always savor that drive.

Next, I have to figure out how to get to Ferrari Racing Days in Budapest. Now that seems like a perfect combination of factors. Welcome to my fantasy world...

NOTE: I don't have a link to the story right now, but I'll work on it. The station is still transitioning to a new web host, so some of the archives are still slowly coming in...
POST SCRIPT: (September 18, 2010) I don't think I'll ever be able to build a permanent link to the story. Apparently the archiving system of the station's website has a rolling delete setup, where everything more than a set age goes away to be replaced with new material. I guess it saves on memory or something...

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Amazing, Fascinating Stuff ...

This is amazing:

It's about 30 minutes long, but worth every minute. Amongst other things, he gives me hope for the future of photojournalism and the internet and a bunch of other stuff. He simply articulates a lot of things I sensed, but couldn't really get a grasp on...

From the website "Thoughts of a Bohemian."

Friday, July 30, 2010

About that news site...

You'll undoubtedly recall (having followed my posts here in detail) that a while back I proudly proclaimed the creation and premiere of a new journalism site, NewsTilt. Don't worry if you get a blank page on that link, I'm about to explain: Poor thing didn't last two months.

The guys who ran it were very nice, and I think had a great idea: Find journalists who produce good product but don't know how to market and distribute it, build a syndication site, and voilá: everybody wins! But building a market is harder to do than to say. Personally, I think they gave up too quickly -- USA Today planned to lose money for ten years when it began -- but you can't force people to do things. I hope to transfer all the material I had there to a new site of my own soon. However, that takes time, and as my last post explained, that's a rather precious commodity in my life right now.

Welcome to my hectic world...

FOOTNOTE: On the subject of links that don't show anything, I've discovered that a lot of my links in earlier posts -- the ones to stories on the WDBJ site -- just take you to the front page now. The station went to a new host for its website, and I guess that is one of the defaults. I'll try to see if I can get them so they'll take you to the stories again, but I'm afraid that's also way down on the priority list. Like, after I move the NewsTilt stuff. That far down...

Monday, July 26, 2010

Selling Out ...

I just checked the date on my last entry, only to discover it was in MAY! May? Really? That's embarrassing. Actually, it's worse than embarrassing. It's humiliating.

For one thing, I'm one of those people who gets frustrated when a website -- any website, but especially a blog -- is left idle for extended periods of time. The ease of use, not to mention the rapid pace of the internet, all but demands constant updates and changes. If a blog I follow doesn't update regularly (ideally daily), I get frustrated. If it sits idle for two months, odds are I'll get bored and move on. (You don't want me to have the TV remote control, either.)

Now I have had a couple of excuses. For example, while I have several entries I want to put in (and will put in immediately after this one), they have photos that go with them. And it has been a while since I got into the darkroom as well. Now I have the negatives, and just need to scan them.

Also, it's not like I have a lot of idle time these days. I'm full time now at WDBJ, which consumes a remarkable amount of time and (to my surprise, actually) energy, both physical and mental. I'm lucky if I get home and have the time to read some blogs, let alone write one. However, I have resolved that that is going to change. And my life is all about change these days.

You see, the biggest reason I haven't had the time or concentration or, frankly, creative heart to produce this stuff is that I'm bankrupt. Literally.

That's why I chose the title above, a phrase that strikes me as having a useful meaning (if counter to its commonly used one). We're selling out of our overwhelming debt. The bank is taking back our house -- a particularly poignant aspect of the whole thing, as we built the place with plans to never leave. I used to joke that, one of the great pleasures of moving in there was that I'd never have the chaotic agony of moving again. And that's just one small part of it.

We now live in a cash economy. I'd read about this -- usually about poor people and illegal immigrants (and I realize that is often redundant) -- but never thought I'd experience it. (If you're curious, it's because the credit card companies will go into your account to get payments, even though a declaration of bankruptcy is supposed to stop that. And it simply became absurd; the account was more often than not overdrawn at the end.) I simply cash my paycheck the day I get it on the way home, and we dole out the money on gas and groceries, etc., through the two weeks in anticipation of the next check. Happily, the check cashing place also sells gas and fried chicken. (Welcome to the American South.) So everyone gets a treat on Friday.

Needless to say, there's much legal activity involved. And it is surprisingly expensive. Why does a process to declare to the world you have no money require a fairly substantial chunk of money? Where exactly do they expect us to get it? It's not like we have thousands of dollars laying about; don't they think we would use it to pay our bills to, oh I don't know, keep our house?

However, I've got to say, the legal process is sort of confessional. You have to delineate all your debts -- and thus face what you've done -- and all your assets. It's a good thing to do, placing yourself in terms of exactly where you are in the physical world ... and in my case, causing me to ask how we got there. And where we go from here.

I don't mean to make excuses. This is no one's fault but my own. I can see where I could have done better, how I've had a pretty comfortable life. After all, I'm a photographer and writer. It's not like these are real jobs. I get to do what I like ... and I plan to continue, but with a wiser eye to money and monetizing the process, and with a firmer hand on self-indulgence.

So now we're moving -- a smaller rental house, but big enough for the traveling circus that's my household, and it's kind of cute. We're painting this week, and have to be in soon, because the bank's goon squad will be at the door in about a month. But I'm gonna' get on this blog thing. You'll see...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What, No Grease?

So I'm looking at the Washington Post website today, as I do every day, and one of the features is a picture series on the annual Herndon climb at the Naval Academy. As the academic year ends at Annapolis, the first year students -- Plebes -- are sent out to climb the large obelisk and retrieve from its top a Midshipman's hat (one styled like the standard naval officer's saucer cap) and replace it with a Plebe's cap (which looks like a traditional sailor hat, but with a black stripe around the edge). It is a final bit of struggle, signifying their promotion out of the purgatory that is being a lowly first year student. However, this year, for the first time ever, the Herndon Monument was not greased.

Anyway, it cast my mind back.

Plebes climb the Herndon Monument, 1996.

First, I thought of the above picture. I'm proud of it. It gives me real pleasure, and I have given it a permanent place in my portfolio. Ironically, the story behind it can leave me nervous and frustrated to this day, although it confirms my decision to move to Lexington and make a try at documentaries.

In the spring of 1996, shortly before I quit daily news work in Washington, the Chief of Naval Operations committed suicide after he was accused of wearing ribbons and medals he had not earned. The Navy and its traditions were very high in the news, and so my boss at Reuters decided that year to cover the Herndon climb, about which we had shown no interest before. Off I went to Annapolis...

I had been given little background or even information on the event. I sense the idea to cover it had been a spontaneous act, and I was seen as expendable for the day (my boss and I did not play well together). Arriving that morning, I asked around to find out what a "Herndon climb" was, and found the event was not until the afternoon. Nice enough -- who am I to refuse a lunch in Annapolis, especially as Jennifer had come along.

Returning, I positioned myself with several other photographers and TV to watch the festivities. Jennifer comfortably ensconced herself amongst the watching crowd, apparently near some alumni. And the event began with the Plebes roaring up to the giant, stone edifice and flinging themselves at it like Vikings at a particularly rich castle.

Jennifer learned from the alumni that this enthusiasm either drives them directly to the top through sheer momentum alone, or breaks against the stone, dissipating in increasingly frustrated efforts until someone finally organizes a proper human pyramid to get the thing done some hours (yes, hours) later. This, it soon became apparent, was going to be one of those hours-long days.

Climbers formed a base, layers were pushed and pulled up, then slid down. I began to notice that the girls seemed more intellectually adapted to the job, trying to make their carefully conceived plans heard over the macho drive of the boys. It was a perfect photo op, giving me time to get past pure coverage to look at opportunities for more interesting angles and moments. I shot close-ups of reaching hands and straining faces. And then it happened: I saw the Plebe pause and look up as he took a breath before continuing, standing on layers of his classmates. I shot it. I knew it was great. It was one of those rare, special moments (lost now that digital allows you to immediately check on your pictures) when I saw the moment in the viewfinder and knew, knew I had the picture. I checked the frame number, and made a special note on the film envelope -- Go to THIS frame.

I forget now how long we stayed -- I want to say it was three hours -- before deciding that to wait longer would put us back in Washington too late. We left them still struggling. And I can't remember if Reuters ever shipped any of the pictures. The two top guys there had little regard for me or my work by then, and it wasn't unusual for my stuff to be completely ignored. (Sometime I'll tell the story the return of Air Force pilot Scott O'Grady to Andrews Air Force Base, but then I'd have to find the pictures from that...) Fortunately, I do know my note was completely ignored, and when I retrieved the negatives, that picture was among them.

We moved to Lexington a year later. I welcomed my new world...

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

... and one thing leads to another

A series of things have struck me in quick succession lately. They could be a bunch of blog posts ... or one long one. I think I'll do the latter.

One thought -- a short one -- occurred to me Sunday while covering the VMI graduation. In a relatively calm moment, I realized that, of all the colleges around here with graduations clustered together this May, it is the Virginia Military Institute that is the only one that doesn't set off explosives right next to our house to celebrate.

Here we see Janey and Caty watching the late night festivities for Washington and Lee's law school graduation. The light coming through the window is just from the fireworks. It's a 5-second exposure on a Nikon D80.

Then there was the moment, as the morning show prepared to start Sunday, when the producer turned to me and said, "You want to go check out a Car-B-Que?"

It took me a moment to figure out exactly what he meant, and then I found it rather funny in that dark, newsroom sort of way. He explained that a "Frito truck" -- that amused me too, for some reason -- had caught on fire, and he would like me to go out and get some footage.

After a quick look at the map (and a good thing too -- Route 220, a road that passes through Roanoke, but also heads up north and west of the city to Daleville, which was the location of the fire; I very nearly headed south and east), I shot out, onto 81 and off at the exit. On the crest of a hill a short distance from the interstate, flares and State Police cars marked my target. I quickly parked in a nearby gas station ... only to find after topping the hill on foot that the actual truck was some 200 yards further down the road. But now I had the camera and tripod out (and bloody heavy they are, too, I'd like to say), and it seemed more work to go back, load up again, get in the car and drive down there than to just walk the distance.

I stopped as I went, shooting wide, then close and closer, until I finally was in the midst of the firemen, who were cleaning up as the fire was long since out. One came up and explained the details, and later I heard the voice of another from the other side of my camera. "Hey, News 7," he said. I turned to see him. "Do ya' know what caused it?" Innocent that I am, I was about to explain that his colleague had just given me the information, when the smiling fireman answered by holding up a charred bag of Extra Hot Barbeque chips. "They just got too hot!"

The "Car-B-Que" on 220. Firefighters shovel Frito bags clear.
Shot with my M3 on Tri-X.

Still chuckling to himself, he then tossed the bag into the heap spilling out of the charred tractor trailer. Which was quite the surrealistic scene, I thought. The first fireman had explained that the entire load would have to be trashed because of the fire, so the cleanup involved literally shoveling piles of potato and corn chip bags away from where they'd been hastily pulled out to get at the fire. Not something you see every day.

I got back before the morning show was over, and so had the tiny triumph of getting it on the air. (News is all about right now, so when you get on the air with pictures of an event that happened after the show began -- as opposed to the older, pre-canned stuff -- it's better.)

And speaking of newsgathering (and lunken segues), I had the unfortunate experience of encountering a Nikon D5000 commercial again the other day. I've managed to avoid the recent Nikon campaign starring Ashton Kutcher lately because the ads tend to frustrate me, but sometimes one tumbles across these things all by accident, and there you are, suffering through it again. Interestingly, it's not on YouTube, although a couple of the other insufferable Kutcher ads are. I'm amused that, in searching for a link to the ad, I found that others hate it as much as I do, and that there is a much better ad concept for the camera as well.

However, this particular ad makes me nuts because it places him at a fashion show, where he is shown supposedly making pictures just as good as the professionals there (at one point tumbling across the runway itself, causing a chorus of protests from the pros as he blocks their view) because he has this whiz-bang camera. The theme, I guess, is that it not only lets this bumbling idiot make great pictures, but that his amiable anti-establishment attitude pricks the snooty, self-important bubble of the fashion world. This I think is supposed to make him appealing.

Anyway, if they hadn't lost me the moment they hired Ashton Kutcher, they certainly did when he gets in the way of the pros. Because, as you might have noticed, I'm one of those pros, and our job is hard enough without a bunch of goofy, self-satisfied prettyboys stumbling through the middle of everything because they think their do-it-all-for-you DSLR will let them do a job I've worked at for over 20 years. I tell you what, how about I shuffle onto some movie set and take the star role for a while, and he can forfeit his big paycheck to me for the day? How's that for fair? You are not welcome to my world ...