Thursday, December 29, 2011
In retrospect, I’m surprised the picture isn’t blurry given how much my hands were shaking. In fact, I almost put the camera down and considered deleting the picture. Instead I took a breath and kept shooting, ignoring the sorrow flowing through me.
The photograph shows Connie Cruz at a memorial in November, clutching a photo of her late-daughter, Monica Calderon, and sobbing.
Monica, 24, was one of five people to perish in a fire at a Marina care-home for developmentally disabled adults in Marina earlier that week.
I was one of three photographers and a handful of broadcast cameramen covering the memorial. I questioned what my photos of grieving loved ones would bring to the story. I had photographed Cruz two days prior at a press conference where she was also crying. It’s stories like this I bring up when people tell me I have the best job ever. I reply to them with, “Well, sometimes… ”
I discussed the fire memorial photo the next morning with a friend and colleague from another paper who had been standing next to me in the church.
“You have to have conviction when you snap the shutter or else the photo is done in vain,” he said. “You have to feel that the photos you are making are important.”
That was a good reminder of what I hope to accomplish with my photos. I want people to look at my pictures and feel. If appropriate, I want people to be disturbed and to think about what is going on outside of their comfort zones – and, hopefully, nudge them toward some kind of understanding they might not have otherwise obtained.
This year brought a stream of “hard news” photo opportunities before my lens – and a handful of personally difficult shoots. There was a police standoff in Seaside when Frank Reynolds shot his ex-girlfriend, Eva Rodriguez, outside of her home on Mariposa Street, barricaded himself inside and killed himself as the SWAT team surrounded the area; a neighbor let me climb onto his roof for a better vantage point of the police operation. The photo of Jose Guzman (p. 22) and his daughter for a piece on kids diagnosed with terminal illnesses is still in my mind. The experience of sitting in on an autopsy at the coroner’s office also sticks with me. Over the summer, I ran across the street from our newsroom in Seaside to an auto shop where a car had slipped off the lift and hit the working mechanic. He died from his injuries later that day. I posted a story with photos; a few days later, the man’s wife chewed me out over the phone. Both the photo and her reaction caused me to lose sleep.
I emailed Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Greg Marinovich, co-author of the book Bang-Bang Club: Snapshots from a Hidden War, and asked how he coped with many of the hard scenes of death he photographed in South Africa. Marinovich graciously took the time to reply, saying, “Essentially news is not nice to the people involved, and that is a fact. You just have to deal with it.”
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The racing world watched as the defending Moto Grand Prix world champion Jorge Lorenzo made a simple mistake during practice at the U.S. MotoGP at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this July. It resulted in a massive high-side crash where he and the bike were inverted for a moment at turn 5. I was one of only a few photographers to nab the freeze frame. The Weekly ran the photo online and Sports Illustrated and Cycle World magazines ran it as well. Lorenzo walked away and started the race from top spot the next day, finishing second.
My excitement was electric as I ran back to the media center to show the photo to a few friends who are regulars on the MotoGP circuit. It felt good to see photographers wandering back to their desks do a double-take on the crash photo. It is not that we hope for crashes, but if there is one, we want to capture it, especially if it has the potential to be a pivotal moment in the season.
I often joke my life is fairly boring, that I live vicariously through the people I photograph. That is not entirely true, but I am affected by how their stories impact my understanding of the society and culture I live in. After a while, I start to notice little details in people, in the way they look or the way they interact with others, and these are the things that, if focused on, make for good photos. While photographing Jacob Miller in the hallway of the Monterey County Superior Court, I noticed he has the same, upside-down smirk as his father, Sheriff Scott Miller. I notice how Pacific Grove poet-in-residence Barbara Mossberg talks a lot with her hands when discussing poetry passionately: Her fingers hold the air, like she is using a tiny orchestra conductor’s bow. Keying in on these traits help bring that person’s character into their portrait.
There is a difference between taking and making a picture. Any good photograph is thought out, even when it is done quickly or maybe even subconsciously – things like backgrounds and composition convey meaning and emotion in a creative, storytelling way that inspires people to take notice.
That is why I do it.