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...